Featuring Michelle Walker
Written by Sabrina Sabbagh
When 90% of your business comes from referrals, vendor relationships can make or break a wedding season for even the most established photographer. That’s why getting herself on as many preferred vendor lists as possible is not something Michelle Walker leaves to chance.
“I hustle for work every day. I hustle as hard today as I did when I was just starting out.”
The Bay Area photographer recently moved to Napa, and even though it’s only an hour away, she’s back to pounding the pavement to get noticed. “My goal is to be on everyone’s preferred vendor list, and have relationships with all of the popular area wedding planners.”
Taking Good Care of Her Vendors
Michelle has been working as a professional photographer since graduating from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco more than 20 years ago. Since she got her start before the rise of social media marketing and the influencing boom, Michelle had to acquire actual one-on-one communication skills and learn how to build relationships in person. Over the last two decades, the wedding and portrait photographer managed to not only stand out in a crowded photography market, she became someone venues, vendors, and planners requested. “Rather than spend money on advertising, I focused my time and energy on taking really good care of my vendors.”
Michelle decided that curating strong vendor relationships would serve her much better than curating content on social media. “I am not a celebrity photographer. I’m not the type of photographer that brides have heard of in every magazine and on social media.” Knowing she depends heavily on referrals, Michelle makes herself known to the vendors right away. “I send out an email to the vendors before every wedding explaining that I’m working for them just as much as my clients.” She lets the vendors know that she wants to photograph their work in a way that enhances their portfolios and social media. “I ask if they have any special requests and if there’s time, I go out of my way to shoot whatever they want.”
The email is a great first step in opening communication, but Michelle says the follow-through is what has served her so well the last 20 years. “It’s important to follow-up and give them links to the gallery. But even before that, I’ll usually do a sneak peek. A day or two after the wedding I’ll post my favorite images and tag all of the vendors.”
Michelle says her attention to detail with the vendors has kept her business growing and thriving. “Once the photos are in the gallery, everyone gets the link with a download code so they can pull them for their own use right away.”
Every once in a while, Michelle says someone will find her through her website or social media, but for the most part, the vendors are responsible for her success. Though, the value of using social media as a marketing tool is not lost on Michelle.
“It’s not my passion to do social media, so consequently I haven’t been as popular online as maybe I could be.” The energetic, warm-toned veteran photographer paused and then slightly backtracked, “Maybe I’m being egotistical,” she laughed. “Maybe I wouldn’t be popular even if I tried.”
During our 45 minute conversation, Michelle was candid about her passive interest in social media. She recently hired a company to handle her socials for her. It’s only been a few months so she didn’t have any analytics to report, but the numbers didn’t seem to matter much to Michelle. “The benefit so far is that it’s off my plate, which is lovely.”
Outsourcing for Time Management
Clearing your plate is imperative to maintaining a successful business and Michelle is a huge proponent of outsourcing. “If I can give away something that I’m not passionate about and get more of my time back, that benefits me more as a business owner in the long run.” Rather than sitting in front of a computer carefully curating content, or culling and editing images, Michelle has time to focus on building vendor relationships and having meaningful conversations with her clients about things she IS passionate about. Like prints.
Most of her clients spring for the wedding album, but not as many are connected to the idea of showcasing prints in their homes. When I asked Michelle why she was on a mission to convince her clients that prints were the way to go, she took a long breath and told me she might get emotional.
Michelle’s mother passed away when she and her sisters were very young, and those prints are all she has to feel close to her. “The photos that I have of my parents at their wedding, when they were dating and of them in college… they are treasures for me.” Michelle says the negatives are long gone, so the prints she has displayed in her home are the only ones that exist. “I look at them every day and it’s a reminder of how happy they were at that time. When they thought they had their whole future ahead of them.”
Michelle shares that story with her clients in hopes that they’ll understand the importance of images that don’t exist only digitally. “When I look at those prints it reminds me how fleeting and how precious life and love really is.”
Michelle Walker | Proud Member of the SDE Customer Base
Michelle has had an incredible career so far, and she shows no signs of stopping! Here at ShootDotEdit, we’re honored to have as a part of our SDE customer base. Her wedding photos never cease to amaze us!
“Hooking up with ShootDotEdit has been huge, especially with free Culling. That has been a game-changer for me! I send every job that I have out to you guys now and I love it!”
To see more of Michelle’s fantastic work as a Professional Wedding & Portrait Photographer, visit her Instagram (@michellewalkerphoto) or check out her website. We’re so happy we got a chance to catch up with her at WPPI!