Business Networking for Photographers — Does it work?

Business Networking for Photographers

Does Business Networking work for a photographer?

If you want to know whether business networking works for a photography business, the simple answer is yes.

It works very well if you manage it well but it’s not a silver bullet.

Business networking is not a magic fix for a poorly performing marketing strategy. It also takes a lot of hard work. You only get back what you put in so if you’re of the mindset you turn up, eat your breakfast, get lots of new business, leave and forget about it until next week then its definitely not going to work for you.

How does business networking work?

Business Networking for Photographers

Business networking is a simple concept: it’s a group of local business owners who meet regularly to help one another get more business. The idea is to build a strong business relationship with the other members of your group and refer business to one another. The theory is that if I give you business, you will want to give me business. In practice it doesn’t always happen like this.

The biggest opportunities with any networking group lie within the extended network. That’s not the people in the room but rather all the people that the people in the room know. Your priority as a new member is to get to know as many people in the room as you can, not because you want to sell to them but because you want them to refer you to all their acquaintances. That’s the difference between “selling to the room” and “selling through the room”.


Why does business networking not work?

Business networking doesn’t always work. Your future success very much depends on the people in the room. Joining an active group of energised business owners will be a completely different experience to joining one full of members who rarely turn up, are very negative in their outlook or are there as a last resort in the hopes of salvaging their already failing business.

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Does the group have the right members?

Before you join a business networking group, you need to know who else is in the room. That means doing some research first. The questions you need to answer are:

Who are the members?

Go beyond the person’s name and the business name. Dig a little deeper to find out whether they’re the business owner or an employee.

In my experience, employees who regularly stand in for the boss are bad for a group: it sends a very clear message the business owner isn’t interested. Most employee representatives tend to be sales people who are measured by their ability to garner new business. Consequently, their focus is much more on selling to the room rather than building relationships. They quickly lose their motivation and enthusiasm too when the lure of a free breakfast wears off.

How long have they been members?

Ideally you’re looking for a group with a good mix membership lengths.

Long standing members, >6 years…

  • Provide stability
  • Can be set set in their ways and resistant to change
  • Prone to the domino effect: if one leaves, others will likely follow
  • Possibly there for social rather than business reasons

Medium term members, 2-6 years…

  • Fall into one of two camps: either the group is working for them or it’s not
  • This is where you’ll find the doom and gloom in the group if there is any

Short term members, <2 years…

  • Either their first year worked for them or they’re hoping the second year will
  • Likely to leave at the end of their second year and change group if they’ve milked the room

New members, <1 years…

  • Enthusiastic and full of energy — they’re still in the honeymoon period
  • More likely to sell to the room rather than through the room

Do they attend regularly?

Regular attendance is crucial to build business relationships. Members who don’t commit to the group often find business networking doesn’t work for them and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If lots of members aren’t attending that’s a signal to find another group to join. You won’t get any business from a networking group where hardly any members attend.

Do they attend lots of networking groups?

Members who attend lots of networking groups are prime candidates for being “Serial Not-Workers” — I’ve met a few over the years and often wonder when they get any work done. Especially as many of them hardly ever seemed to pick up any business.

The biggest risk with people who attend lots of different groups is they’ll very likely know several people who do what you do. That begs the question: to whom will they give the business?

I’ve been caught out by this before. A couple of members of my own BNI chapter frequently attended several other networking groups in the local area and met lots of other photographers. Headshot work that I’d hoped would come my way didn’t because another group offered free shoots to every member as part of their joining package. That’s the nature of the business I’m afraid, it’s dog eat dog out there.

What business are they in?

This is important and I can’t stress it enough! When you’re looking to join a business networking group you need to make sure the people in the room are likely to know your ideal client. If they’re not, you won’t get any referrals. Go and find another group.

Is their business complementary to yours or competing with yours? For example, if you’re a wedding photographer and you’re looking for brides you might find you work well with florists, venue hire and wedding suit hire businesses. All of you can work together and share clients amongst yourselves. Now, let’s say there’s also a videographer in the room who offers wedding photography as part of his package, now you’re competing with someone else for business.

As a rule, business networking groups fall into one of two distinct categories: Exclusive and Non-Exclusive. If you join an exclusive group as a photographer, nobody else in the room can offer photography services to the group. If it’s a non-exclusive group there’s no restriction and you’ll find yourself pitching in a room with several other photographers.

Who are their clients? Are their clients likely to be your clients?

We’ve lightly touched on this already but you need to know who the other members’ clients are and whether they match your own ideal client avatar. You’re never going to find a match with everyone in the room but you at least need half a dozen or more members who are marketing and looking for people who need your photography services. The more the better of course but too few and you’re going to struggle to pick up referrals.

Many groups also (strongly) encourage you to bring referrals to every meeting — this can be tough if you’re just starting out and the more people in the room with a similar client demographic to yours will make life much easier.

Types of members you’ll encounter…

Every business networking group is full of stereotypes. I’ve taken a rather tongue-in-cheek look at the different types of persona you’re likely to encounter to help you spot them.

The Social Networker…

…can be found hanging around, coffee cup in hand, looking for old timers and new faces to talk to. They mingle between groups with all the ease of a champion dance couple moving around a ballroom. Lighthearted, friendly and easy to they’re likely to be longstanding members, more for the company than the business.

The Serial Not-Worker…

…frequents any and every business networking group they can find. Often found in packs ‘doing the circuit’, one often wonders when on earth they have time to do any work. In essence, they’re not working rather than networking.

The Miner…

…is the worst type of member you can encounter. They join a group and milk it for everything they can before moving on, leaving a depleted mine behind them for the next person. Frequently (but not always) Multi-Level Marketing business owners these guys are definitely not in it for the long term and are only interested in selling to the room.

Mr. Doom ‘n’ Gloom…

…should be avoided at all costs. Meet one of these energy vampires and you’ll have all your positivity leached out in an instant leaving you feeling as it you want to slit your wrists at the earliest opportunity.

Warning: Get lumbered talking to this guy and you’ll never escape. Nobody else wants to talk to them.

The Trapper…

…locks someone in conversation making it almost impossible for them to move on. Get stuck talking to this guy and you’ll be lucky if you meet more than 2 or 3 people at that meeting.

If there’s one of these in the room (and there usually is) avoid walls, corners and loitering near the tea machine at all costs.

The Soloist…

…aka the lonely businessman. Often a quiet, shy and retiring type who doesn’t have the skills or confidence to work the room. They’re mostly harmless but are in danger of turning into a Trapper or Doom ‘n’ Gloom if left unattended. Nurture them, include them and help them gain the social skills and they’ll become a great networker.

The Joker…

…is a flamboyant, playboy character who doesn’t appear to take anything that seriously. They often make great entrepreneurs and chief exec’s as they’r not fazed by anything or anyone. Business is a game and revenue a way of keeping score.

The Joker brings life energy to a meeting but needs to be handled carefully to stop things getting out of control.

The Optician…

…we’ve all met this guy. Why is he an optician? Because he’s an “I” specialist. Very easy to spot too as almost every sentence starts with “I did this”, “I did that” or “I used to”. As you’d expect, a conversation with the Optician is very one-sided.

The King and Queen…

…every group has a King or Queen. I’m sure you’ve seen this personality type before: they have a certain air about them and attend in governance of the meeting, much like a monarch holding court. Very often they’re on the committee for the group and have to give approval for every major decision.


If you’ve never tried business networking, I’d urge you to give it a go. I’ve had a lot of success over the years with the different groups I’ve been a member of and in the early years it was without doubt the single best source of new business for Gavin Thorn Photography and ExecHeadshots.

Meanwhile, if you found this article useful, please let me know. I’m thinking of writing a follow up post about the different types of group and tips on how to work the room if there’s enough interest.

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