Running a photography referral program to get more clients.

April 25th, 2024
Referral marketing is the most powerful way to promote your business. People trust their friends' recommendations more than anything else. And because customers referred by friends are more loyal

If there’s one thing people trust more than anything else, it’s the recommendations from a trusted friend or someone they know personally. Whether it’s the hottest new restaurant, a reliable online vendor, or the talented photographer who shot the stunning birthday pictures they posted online, nothing beats the power of a trusted recommendation.

Referrals are such an important factor in people’s purchasing choices that it only makes sense to use them to grow your photography business. The idea behind referral programs is simple: ask happy clients to recommend your photography services to their friends and family and then reward them for it. This helps you save money, build trust, and bring in new clients!

Before you get too excited, let’s take a look at what a referral program is and how it works in the photography industry.

Understanding photography referral programs.

Just like any other industry, referrals are an important marketing strategy for drawing in new customers and building your photography business. Think of it as using what you have to get what you want. In this context, you’re using your existing clients to bring new clients without spending a fortune on advertising. 

So how do referrals work in the photography industry? It’s pretty straightforward. First, focus on making sure your work speaks for itself. Referrals for bad services won’t do much to help your business. It’s like pouring water into a basket—it just doesn’t hold. 

Once that’s out of the way, you can encourage satisfied clients to refer you to anyone they think might need your photography services. Offering them incentives—like discounts—in return for their referrals is a great way to sweeten the deal. 

Now I know what you’re thinking…

Are referrals effective in growing your photography business?

Let me ask you this. Which would you appreciate more: a sudden service ad interrupting your important online browsing or a friend’s genuine recommendation based on your needs? The latter, right?

That’s exactly what referral marketing is all about. While other forms of traditional marketing can be intrusive, referrals are more subtle. You don’t want to get all up in your potential client’s face. What this does for your business is:

  • Acquire new clients at a lower cost compared to other marketing strategies.
  • Build trust and credibility around your business since your existing clients are referring you to people they know.
  • Generate higher-quality leads and pre-qualified clients that are more likely to convert into paying clients.
  • Retain your existing client base, leading to increased customer loyalty.
  • Showcase a positive brand image that reflects your quality of work

If you think about it, when you add referrals to your photography business, the only way to go is up! Referrals are so powerful that just one satisfied client can bring in multiple new clients.

So, how do you take advantage of using referrals to grow your business? Here’s what you need to know:

6 best practices for a successful photography referral program.

Now that you’ve discovered the power of referral marketing in finding the right clients, the next step is setting up a successful referral program. While it may be tempting to jump right in, there are some steps you need to take first. 

Let’s explore them below:

1. Identify the goals of your program. 

Like everything else, setting a clear goal informs every decision. You don’t want to channel all your efforts into setting up a referral program only to get lost halfway through. 

When you have a goal in mind, everything else becomes relatively easier. Aside from giving you a sense of direction and purpose, having a goal motivates you to see it through. It’s a constant reminder of why you started in the first place. 

So, ask yourself: “What do I want to achieve with referrals?” Is it more bookings, higher sales, or increased brand awareness? Whatever it is, communicate it clearly to your clients and orchestrate your referral strategy with that in mind.

2. Create a win-win situation.

Let’s face it: Nothing goes for nothing. Who benefits the most from a referral program? You, the photographer. Why not make it easier for both your existing and potential new clients by offering a little extra to draw them in?

Put yourself in their shoes. Rewarding your existing clients for referrals not only shows gratitude but also motivates them to refer more people. Additionally, offering incentives to new clients boosts their confidence in your services and encourages them to book a session. It’s a win-win for everyone!

You can explore a tiered reward system with exclusive benefits based on the number of referrals. 

But remember, don’t overextend yourself or incur losses. The goal is to grow your business, not overwhelm yourself.

3. Offer tempting incentives.

Who doesn’t love a good deal, especially when it’s something they value? Providing tempting incentives to your clients is a guaranteed way to have them eagerly bring in referrals. After all, they’re going the extra mile to refer someone to your business, so a little something in return is the least you can do.

Here are a couple of creative incentive ideas that your clients won’t be able to resist:

  • Discounts on a photo shoot or professional prints.
  • Gift cards or vouchers for your photography services.
  • Giveaway for the client who brings you the most referrals.
  • Personalized gifts like photo albums, mugs, or frames.
  • Free photoshoots.
  • Exclusive editing services.

Whatever you do, the incentives must align with your brand image and values. 

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4. Keep it simple and transparent.

When running photography referrals, a general rule of thumb is to keep things simple. The entire process should be seamless and transparent. You don’t want to overwhelm your clients and potential clients with unnecessary details.

By keeping things simple, you make it easier for your clients and streamline the process of tracking referrals and effectively rewarding them.

With your clients doing most of the heavy lifting and marketing, here are some ways to simplify referrals for them:

  • Educate them about your products or services.
  • Provide them with ready-to-use referral templates.
  • Guide them on the best channels to refer you on.
  • Express gratitude for their efforts in referring others.

5. Introduce the program to your clients.

What’s the point of having a referral program if your current clients are unaware of it? Once you’ve set up your program, the next step is to introduce the program to your clients.

As easy as asking for referrals from your clients may seem, most people approach it the wrong way. It helps to establish rapport with your existing clients first before asking them the big question.

6. Promote the program to increase visibility.

Promotion is an effective way for your referral program to reach an even wider audience outside your existing clientele.

Luckily, there are numerous creative promotion strategies available that won’t strain your budget while maximizing participation in your referrals. Some of these strategies include: 

  • Promoting on social media.
  • Writing a blog post.
  • Using email newsletters.
  • Partnering with influencers or industry experts.
  • Sharing client testimonials.
  • Designing a referral landing page.

Managing your referrals.

So, you’ve started running a referral program for your photography business. Now what? Then comes the not-so-fun part—managing your referrals. 

Thankfully, Zenfolio’s platform makes tracking referral sources—from social media to email newsletters and existing clients—seamless. This way, you don’t have to rely on wishful thinking but rather on hard facts.

One big mistake anyone can make when running referrals is leaving the program’s performance unmanaged. This oversight can lead to missed opportunities, inconsistent follow-ups with potential leads, and more. 

That’s why actively managing referrals and evaluating the program’s performance is essential. By doing so, you can track their impact, pinpoint areas for improvement, and make necessary adjustments to drive growth.

Maximize your growth potential on Zenfolio.

Having a clear goal and implementing the practices discussed earlier can create a ripple effect that positively impacts your business growth. In addition, experimenting with different strategies to promote your photography business increases your prospects of reaching a wider audience. 

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Ultimately, it’s all about doing good work and establishing a strong relationship with your clients. Believe it or not, you can get multiple new referral leads just by treating one client well.So, are you ready to take your referral program to the next level? Sign up with Zenfolio for seamless referral marketing success and unlock your business’s full potential.


  • Cheryl Dell'Osso

    Cheryl is the Director of Content Strategy at Zenfolio and the Owner/Photographer at Portraits by Cheryl and Seniors by Cheryl in Raleigh, NC. Cheryl has mentored countless new photographers looking to build successful photography businesses.

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