Myself and fellow photographer Jason Black recently presented to a group of college photo journalism students on marketing and branding – which got me thinking about how to break that seal of getting your first real client.

Your entire outlook on the industry will change the moment you start cashing in those first real projects. So how does one make that transition as a model or a photographer to get that first paying client?

For me personally, there were a few instances to take into consideration. I worked in-house for both a magazine as well as a newspaper as a photo editor. Yet my first two freelance clients I obtained were a small fashion boutique and a local feature and lifestyle magazine.

There was not one singular action which yielded me these clients, but instead a culmination of various efforts working synergistically together. These included…

1. Build Relationships
People hire for emotional reasons and will hire who they want or like to work with. Don’t look at it as trying to grow a client list. It is about earning the trust of others to develop a working relationship with them. Once you’ve earned that trust, which is a scarce resource, you’ll be amazed at the infectious nature of great word of mouth referrals. So many of my clients I’ve received over the years, including the first ones I got, came from referrals of those I had built relationships with previously.

2. Be Proactive Not Reactive
Don’t sit and wait for work to come to you. Just because you put up a Facebook page or a website, does not mean the clients you want will seek you out, find you and hire you. Be diligent and persistent in showing your work and marketing what you do to those you want to work with.

3. Continue to Develop Your Craft
Even if you’re not being hired right now – use that opportunity to be your own client. Do personal work. Experiment, text and expand your capabilities.

4. Constantly Learn
Devour as much information as you can to learn, not only, about your craft but also the industry you want to be a part of. This includes doing a lot of research to determine what clients are out there, who the decision makes are and what the best ways to connect with them may be.

5. Connect with Peers
Finally, learn from others who are going through what you are going through. Photographers should be connecting with other photographers to learn and models should be connecting with other modeling talents. Read their blogs, check out their social media channels, look for opportunities to intern or collaborate. The more the industry supports itself, the faster it grows for everyone.

James Patrick
IG @jpatrickphoto