One of the most common reasons people reach out to me for coaching is that their bookings aren’t where they want them to be.
I often hear from people who are coming off a great year that they feel the current year is slower or that inquiries have dropped off, and they’re not sure whether or not potential clients can even find them.
There’s a sense of panic that things are falling apart, and then overwhelm because it can be hard to know where to start correcting course.
And that can be scary.
Fortunately, there are a number of practical strategies people can employ to get things back on track.
Much of this post assumes you’ve had work in the past. If you haven’t, and you’re just starting out, these tried-and-true strategies can still work, but they’ll likely take a little more time.
Understanding Whether There’s Actually a Problem
When I chat with people who are panicking over the number of bookings they have, I first ask them how this current quarter has stacked up against the same quarter last year.
Often times people don’t know because they don’t keep track of their inquiries or bookings. If you follow us, you know that I’m a big believer in keeping track of this information because it can reveal whether there’s actually a problem or not.
We highly recommend keeping at least a simple spreadsheet of the inquiries you receive that tracks where that inquiry came from and whether or not it turns into a booking. You can access a free inquiry tracker at the end of this blog post.
Keeping track of inquiries will help you better understand the seasonality and patterns in your business.
5 Tips for Quickly Finding Inquiries
Below are a few things that I would do today to find inquiries quickly.
Also, be sure to check out my notes about letters and gifts at the end of this post. None of what I recommend should cost more than $100 total, except maybe paid advertising (and I’d be hesitant to blow a big chunk of cash on any sort of advertising unless you’re super confident the return-on-investment is there.
So here we go…
1. Reach out to vendors you’ve worked with in the past or have a good relationship with.
Regardless of what you do, there are probably other non-competing businesses in your industry that you work alongside. Weddings, for instance, require a boatload of vendors to pull it off.
Who have you worked with in the past that might be able to refer their clients to you? Make a list of those businesses and then reach out to them.
You’ll likely make a better impression with a handwritten note on nice stationery. But if you just don’t have the time, a thoughtful email will do.
Explain how much you enjoyed working with them in the past, that you currently have dates available for the current year, and that you would love to work with them again in the future. You might also offer to return the favor.
Even competitors might be willing to refer you work if they’re already booked or otherwise busy. When we were wedding photographers, we had a list of 3-5 other photographers that were similar in style and budget that we would refer clients to when we were busy.
2. Start building relationships with people you’d like to work with in the future.
Sure, this might not get you inquiries today, but this often doesn’t take as long as people think.
Again, I’d start by making a list of other businesses that exist in your industry that you would like to work alongside in the future. If you’re in the wedding industry, this might be planners, day-of coordinators, venues, florists, or photographers.
Then I would send a personalized letter and small on-brand gift to the appropriate person from each business on the list.
The letter should introduce yourself, include a personalized note about why you want to work with that business in the future, and offer some sort of value.
For instance, if you’re a photographer writing to a venue, you might offer to take pictures of the property that could be used in future marketing collateral, or take new headshots of the venue team.
Regardless of whether they take you up on the offer, the gesture is kind and you’ll likely be top of mind when their next client asks for vendor recommendations.
3. Reach out to all former clients (that you enjoyed working with).
Former clients can be one of the best sources of qualified referrals. And if you had a good relationship with a past client, they’ll likely be very willing to share your business with friends!
Sometimes, though, they just need a little nudge.
You’re probably tired of making lists, but—again—that’s where I would start. I’d only include clients that you enjoyed working with and that you believe had a remarkable experience.
After that, I would send out notes explaining how much you enjoyed working with them, and how much you value referrals since much of your business comes from word-of-mouth referrals. If possible, send a small gift.
There are all sorts of excuses to reach out to former clients that don’t come off as begging for referrals. It might be a nice end-of-year ‘thank-you,’ an anniversary, or some other sort of special event.
In general, we highly recommend building follow-up into your client experience. Following up a few months after the event or project with a ‘thank you,’ and encouragement to leave a review somewhere, can go a long way in creating a flywheel of word-of-mouth inquiries.
4. Blog, share, share, and share. Then repeat.
It doesn’t have to be a blog, but are you creating content? This is one of the best ways to show off your competence. If you’re not, how do people know that you’re good at what you do?
This is one of the first things we look at when people tell us their bookings are down, and we often find that people are not consistently blogging or creating and sharing content.
Even if you don’t have fresh content to blog, repurpose old content and share it. This makes you look busy, and it gives people a reason to click over to your website. We created posts like this floral design one where we simply grabbed images from old posts to come up with new, helpful content.
And when you’ve created content, be sure to share it more than once. Share content until it’s no longer relevant or indicative of the type of work you want to do.
We often share new blog content once a week for a month, and then work it into our editorial calendar each quarter moving forward.
Don’t spend hours working on something if you’re only going to share it once.
As a side note: Another blogging mistake we see people make is not focusing on content that will actually lead to conversions. For instance, lots of people are trying to be ‘educators’ so they blog about business advice, etc. and then wonder why brides or consumers aren’t booking their services.
5. Advertise (wisely).
This is my last suggestion for a reason. The other four recommendations are definitely where I would start before exploring paid advertising.
The first thing you need to do before paying for advertising is to set up a way to track whether that advertising channel actually results in bookings. Otherwise, you’ll be left guessing as to whether or not it’s working.
We recommend exploring advertising on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest where you can get really specific when it comes to targeting the right people. Additionally, you don’t need a huge budget to boost a post or run an ad. You could run something for as little as $5/day.
These advertising platforms aren’t exactly simple, but there are plenty of resources out there that can help you get started quickly.
Sometimes vendors and event planners also provide opportunities to be part of paid referral networks. Essentially you’d be paying to be a ‘preferred vendor’ for that company. This is preferred over advertising in a publication because there’s a ‘personal’ aspect to it.
We’d only recommend this route if there’s an exclusivity factor (in other words, there aren’t hundreds of other vendors), and if you trust that business will verbally refer you, in addition to whatever space they give you on their website.
We’ve found that paid advertising in listings like the Knot and WeddingWire are largely a waste of time and money. The people we’ve heard from that have success in advertising in places like this are often lower-budget businesses. If you’ve had a good experience here, I’d be interested to hear more about it.
Under no circumstances would we ever recommend taking out a business loan to pay for advertising.
A Word About Letters, Gifts, and Referral Rewards
A handwritten letter is going to take more time than an email, but it often has a greater impact. And really, what’s the difference waiting the few days that it would take for a letter to be delivered?
A few tips for notes to vendors and past clients:
- Personalize every message
- Do not send emails to more than one recipient at a time
- Offer value before making any sort of ask
Likewise, a small gift is a nice way to show people you’re grateful for them. Gifts don’t have to be extravagant to demonstrate thoughtfulness. I’m confident that I could complete tips 1-3 above without spending more than $100 in total.
A few tips for gifts:
- Keep it on brand, but don’t stamp your logo on it.
- Try choosing something people will actually use or keep out in the open.
- Keep it small and light so postage isn’t expensive.
- Packaging goes a long way in making something appear ‘high end.’
We also never offer incentives for referring us, such as free sessions or monetary kickbacks. For us, we felt it just wasn’t on brand, and that it might potentially come off as tacky or desperate. This doesn’t mean it won’t work—we just haven’t explored it. We do, however, have an affiliate program for Davey & Krista that we have found to be successful. So depending on your business, it might make sense.
Don’t Fall into This Trap
The danger here is overthinking everything, and then never getting around to doing it. If you think you’re falling into this trap, just send emails and be done with it.
As with so many things, done is better than perfect.
It also takes a little vulnerability to reach out to people. Know that some people won’t respond, but that doesn’t mean there’s no impact. Relationships can take time to build, and you shouldn’t expect anything in return.
Many of these strategies work because it keeps you top of mind. When we were wedding photographers, we would usually send a list of 3-5 referrals. But if we knew someone on our list was in need of bookings, we’d only send their name for a while.
If any of these strategies work for you, we’d love to hear about it. Send us a message or leave a note in the comments.