How to build a steady stream of wedding photography clients.

This article is about helping you become an established wedding photographer with a steady stream of customers. We asked 4 established wedding photographers who have a combined experience of over 50 years shooting weddings: “How do you get your clients? Where are you seeing most of your clients come in?” This article summarizes the main take-aways from the experience shared by our panelists. What’s more, our marketing team who deals with customer acquisition on a daily basis also contributed valuable advice to this piece.

The first part of this article covers the customer acquisition process to help you strategize, assess, and optimize your client acquisition stream. The second part of this article provides more hands-on advice on how to go about setting up an effective wedding client acquisition engine.

Related: If you are getting started in wedding photography, we also wrote about How to book your first wedding.

country wedding photography


Put simply, customer acquisition is about creating an engine that brings you a steady stream of customers at the lowest cost and effort possible. The goal is to spend more time doing what you love instead of chasing customers. This way, you can also relax about generating sufficient income to live your passion full-time. In this article, 4 experts share how they have managed to accomplish just that. It is also laced with valuable advice from our marketing team who deals with customer acquisition every day. We cover theoretical advice before diving into practical advice to build a successful client acquisition engine in the wedding photography industry.

Theoretical advice: customer acquisition 101. 

It’s important to understand the customer acquisition process to figure out what works best for you and the factors that you can impact.

Generate leads.

The first step to acquiring a customer is to generate leads. There are tons of ways to generate leads:

  • Social Media
  • SEO (Google Search)
  • Networking with vendors, locations, and other wedding professionals
  • Word-of-mouth
  • Referral from past clients
  • Advertising
  • Directories – like Yelp or Google My Business
  • Vendor platforms, like The Knot or Wedding Wire

It is clear from our conversation with our 4 experts that networking and word-of-mouth are their dominant client acquisition channels. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that these channels are always better than others. For instance, if you are very good at marketing yourself on social media rather than networking in person, maybe that’s the right channel for you. The key is to understand the numbers. As Evan Chung attests, it’s about understanding where you succeed so you can focus on that. This involves answering 3 questions: Where are your leads coming from? How well do they convert? How much does it cost you? 

Answering these questions involves a little bit of math, but mostly tracking data.

Track your data. It’s very important. Figure out where you get your wins and spend more time doing that.

Evan Chung, Evan Chung Photography

Keep track of your leads.

The first step to figuring out how to build an effective client acquisition engine is to keep track of where your leads are coming from.

I know that the majority of inquiries come from Yelp, then Google Search, then vendor referral, then referral from past clients, and then word-of-mouth, and then everything else.

Evan Chung, Evan Chung Photography

Understanding where your leads are coming from allows you to ponder important questions like:

  • Should I stop wasting effort on a channel that doesn’t generate leads?
  • If a channel doesn’t perform well, is there a way to optimize it?
  • If there is a channel that you feel less comfortable with but seems to bring you leads, should you spend some time getting better at it?
  • Can I possibly multiply leads that I get from certain channels, or is there a limit to them?

Keep track of your strike rate. 

The second step to figuring out how to build an effective client acquisition engine is to keep track of your strike rate. Put simply, your strike rate is the conversion rate of a lead into a customer. 

You can calculate your strike rate by dividing your number of booked clients by your number of people (leads) who contact you about your services: 

  • [clients] ÷ [leads] = [strike rate]

For instance, if Yelp brings you 100 leads that result in 1 client booking, your strike rate is 0.01, or 1% [ 1 client ÷ 100 leads]. 

This metric is critical because it allows you to understand the effectiveness of your efforts. In other words, if a channel generates a ton of leads that don’t convert, it is truly not worth spending your time there. 

Laura Grier illustrates this well with the example of networking with wedding coordinators. The time she spends building a relationship with the coordinators in turn brings her qualified leads who have a high likelihood of conversion.

When I work with coordinators, they’re only sending their brides 3 choices. So there’s a 33% chance [of getting the job]. So when they call, they’ve almost booked. They’re not wasting my time. That’s why building these relationships [with coordinators] saves you a lot of time because they’ve done the initial work of getting them excited about you.

Laura Grier, Beautiful Day Photography

Understanding your strike rate allows you to ponder important questions like:

  • Which channel brings you the most qualified leads?
  • Is there anything you can do to improve your strike rate? See a great tip in the next section to improve your strike rate.

PRO TIP: Engage prospects to maximize your strike rate.

If you find out that your strike rate is poor for some channels, this may be a signal that this channel is not worth your time. Nonetheless, there may be ways for you to improve your strike rate. A great tip shared by Evan Chung was to simply engage with prospects as an effective way to significantly increase conversion rate.

Only 10% of Yelp inquiries book [directly]. But if I can get them into a conversation, my close rate becomes 77%. If I’m looking at Google search, I have a 13% close rate, but if I can get them to chat with me, it’s an 83% close rate. Same with referrals from past clients, 50% of them book. But if I can get them to talk, then it’s 77%. For vendor referral, 39% book without talking, and 85% book if I can get them to chat.

Evan Chung, Evan Chung Photography

As seasoned marketers, we second this advice. If you see very clear winners early on, this may be your fastest path to growth and success. But if you see signs of failure or fatigue, do not give up quite yet. Instead, try to figure out if there are any experiments that you can try with limited time and investments to build a proof-of-concept. This will help you validate whether you should dedicate more time to making a particular channel work – or discontinue your efforts. 

The goal is to make a channel work without wasting time and money. The previous testimony is a great example of this. Evan saw widely varying strike rates on every channel. He tested the hypothesis that “engaging with my prospects would improve his strike rate”. As a result of this experiment, he managed to bring every single channel up to an excellent conversion rate.

Deduce your cost of acquisition.

This is the most important metric to maximize the profitability of your acquisition strategy. It flows from the other metrics that you track and it ties directly to how much money you can bring to the bank. The goal here is to figure out how much money it costs you to acquire a customer. As such, this is the supreme metric that helps you prioritize your efforts to build a streamlined and successful acquisition engine.

There are 2 ways to calculate your customer cost of acquisition: 

  • [money spent] ​​÷ [customers acquired]
  • [money spent] ​​÷ ( [leads generates] x [strike rate] )

For instance, if you spend $100 every month to treat a vendor to lunch who brings you 5 referrals per month that convert at 33% into a customer, this means that you spend $1,200 per year to score 60 leads which convert into 20 clients. As a result, your customer cost of acquisition is $60:

  • $1,200 ​​÷ 20 customers
  • $1,200 ​​÷ ( [60 leads] x [33% strike rate] )

Successful destination wedding photographer Laura Grier attests to this by turning lunching with coordinators into a profitable acquisition channel:

I would rather take that [advertising] money and take a coordinator out to lunch. When I work with coordinators, they’re only sending their brides 3 choices. So there’s a 33% chance [of getting the job].

Laura Grier, Beautiful Day Photography

Understanding your cost of acquisition allows you to ponder important questions like:

  • Given your limited time and budget, are there acquisition channels that are not worth your time?
  • Which channel brings you the most qualified prospects? Should you do more of these? Do you even want to be doing it?
  • Is there an acquisition channel that you prefer but need to improve upon?

Confirm and maximize profitability. 

Chances are that you’re an independent entrepreneur. As such, you want to make sure that you can pay the bills. So the last step to figuring out how to build an effective stream of clients that generates a profit is to understand how much money is left after your cost of acquisition (and other costs) are factored in. 

Once you’ve figured out your cost of acquisition, you can factor it into your profitability calculation. The formula is:

  • profit = price ​​- [cost of acquisition] – [all other costs]

Understanding your profitability allows you to ponder important questions like:

  • Does the cost of acquisition on a particular acquisition channel squeeze my profit margins so much that it becomes unviable? 
  • How can I improve a particular acquisition channel to increase my profitability?

All this advice is aimed at maximizing the profitability of your acquisition strategy. This way, you can spend as little time as possible chasing customers and you can spend as much time as possible living your passion. But at the end of the day, if you hate acquiring customers through a certain channel, that’s all fair because you are an independent entrepreneur and you get to choose how you spend your day. 

In conclusion, the main advice here really centers around understanding all the ways to find customers and the factors that impact your profitability at every step. Hopefully, this will help you devise a customer acquisition strategy that aligns with your goals.

LONG-TERM TIP: Diversify your acquisition strategy and business. 

If the pandemic has taught us anything is to plan for contingencies. An acquisition strategy that hinges on a very limited number of channels or contacts may leave you one hiccup away from losing your life-line. So, while it is critical to work your way toward becoming self-sufficient and profitable as fast as possible, it is also good advice to keep spending time on diversifying your sources of acquisition and revenue once you are self-dependent. Read this article on how to recession-proof your business. 

Practical advice: Fastest way to success.

The previous section focused on providing more theoretical guidance on how to build a customer acquisition engine by using a lot of business advice from our marketing team. This section focuses on offering more practical advice from our panel of established professionals.


There is consensus among our panelists that word-of-mouth is an important way to acquire clients. The bonus is that this channel doesn’t cost money or effort. In this article about how to score your first wedding customers, we advise that offering a few freebies at first is a great way to build experience, confidence, and also get your name out there to get the word-of-mouth ball rolling. In our experts’ experience, the ball will keep rolling from there and pay more and more dividends as you score more and more clients.

It’s just word-of-mouth for the weddings I book myself.

Amanda Whitegiver, Wild Orchard Studios

The more you progress and the more you do throughout your years, the more it becomes about […] referrals from vendors and past clients.

Jeramie Lu, Jeramie Lu Photography

Network with your fellow photographers. 

You may feel like other local/regional photographers are competitors whom you should stay away from. But remember that you probably have the same goals and that you have nothing to lose by engaging with them. If there is enough opportunity in your local market, you can share into it. There are certainly always mutually beneficial ways for you to collaborate. For instance, you can form a group with trusted local photographers where you refer each other when a client inquires about a date you already have booked.

Alternatively, you may find work amongst your local network of fellow photographers as a second shooter. This is also a free acquisition channel. The bonus is that your peer does the selling and you just get the booking. 

I mainly second shoot. So I am mostly doing a lot of my wedding related work by just knowing other photographers that are local to me.

Amanda Whitegiver, Wild Orchard Studios

SIDE NOTE: Your local competitors are not your sworn enemies. You may find useful avenues of collaboration with them. For instance, you could build a common book that local vendors can show to their clients. This would make your local vendors’ life easier to recommend different photographers to their clients. That would make you stronger together by ensuring you are systematically among the 2 or 3 recommendations that come through.

Network with vendors and local professionals

A great piece of advice from our expert guests is to become part of a local network of wedding professionals as a constant source of clients.

For instance, Jeramie Lu is president of the Weddings of the West, which is a community of wedding professionals in California and Nevada. This gives him the opportunity to interact with many local vendors who give him referrals as his primary source of clients. 

At this point, it’s just about referrals from vendors and past clients. I am president of an organization in our area. Luckily, I get to network with a ton of vendors.

Jeramie Lu, Jeramie Lu Photography

Based on the advice from our experts, it is important that you focus on networking with local vendors directly. Indeed, there are more global platforms out there that allow clients to connect with vendors – including The Knot and Wedding Wire. According to Jeramie Lu, networking with local vendors directly is a better alternative to those more global platforms.

When I started, I tried The Knot, Wedding Wire, and all that. Nothing happened for me at all. I felt like I wasted my money. So that vendor stuff is better. Do vendor things.

Jeramie Lu, Jeramie Lu Photography

Think twice about advertising

Another great advice to book wedding clients is to consider staying away from advertising and focus on building relationships and word-of-mouth instead. Again, these are clearly the best acquisition channels among our panel of established experts. Indeed, if you are not a seasoned marketer, it could prove difficult to set up an advertising campaign that is profitable. In other words, there appear to be less risky avenues for you to explore before you dive into advertising.

In Laura Grier’s experience, advertising never paid off because it didn’t generate leads. 

I have been anti-advertising my whole career. When I was working for a photography studio, I would track their leads and none of them came from their advertising. It never paid me back.

Laura Grier, Beautiful Day Photography

As an alternative to advertising, Laura Grier found more productive avenues to acquire customers by building relationships with local wedding vendors and professionals.

I would rather take that [advertising] money and take a coordinator out to lunch, or make a book and leave it at a location. When you advertise, you’re only hitting one set of brides at one time. When you make relationships with coordinators and locations, they’re forever referring stuff to you, for years. It’s just a better investment [than advertising] to invest in them.

Laura Grier, Beautiful Day Photography

Again, this is not to say that advertising never works. For instance, it would be easy to promote a Facebook post that targets local brides. Nonetheless, if you do that without prior experience, we recommend starting with small budgets and measuring impact! 

There is consensus amongst our experts, the secret to building a client acquisition engine that consistently delivers wedding clients fits in 2 words: word-of-mouth and networking. So if you are getting your client acquisition off the ground, consider starting with those to minimize risk.

Food for thought

All this theoretical and pragmatic advice assumes that your passion is to shoot weddings rather than score customers. So we focused on how to generate a strong client acquisition strategy that is as effective as possible to make you self-sufficient. But picture this: if you turn out to excel at scoring customers effectively, what prevents you from outsourcing those clients to other photographers and turning a profit from that? After all, our panelists demonstrated that, over time, you can build a diversified client acquisition engine and become the heart of your local network.

Want to learn more? Watch the full webinar:

YouTube video


  • Amanda W

    Amanda is a Content Marketing Associate at Zenfolio and the Owner/Photographer of Wild Orchard Studios photography. A BFA graduate from Maine College of Art and Design and professional Lifestyle Family and Branding photographer for over 10 years, she thoroughly enjoys drawing from her experiences to guide new photographers as they are starting out. Amanda lives in the wilds of Maine with her husband and two imaginative daughters. If there’s such a thing as too much dark chocolate, she hasn’t heard about it.

  • Jeramie Lu

    Jeramie Lu is a photographer, father, husband, creator, dreamer and educator. Founder of the membership based photography studio Hatch, he has built a community of photographers who live by the motto of #communityovercompetition. He feels everything happens for a reason and everything you do leads you to where you should be. Jeramie loves most getting to know people through his photography, and capturing emotions through images. Being able to translate feeling into image is always his goal; he's learned that the right question will spark the light within any person.

  • Laura Grier

    Laura Grier of Beautiful Day Photography has spent the past 22 years working as a photojournalist on all 7 continents and has made a life out of exploring the world, capturing, and writing about her experiences. She has been a platform speaker for WPPI, WIPA, Canon, Zenfolio, Step Up Women’s Network, and the Wedding MBA Conference. Presently, she is a Los Angeles and Miami based Photojournalist, Travel Writer, and owner of both Beautiful Day Photography (specializing in Destination Weddings) and Laura Grier Travel, featuring her Fine Art Prints, travel workshops, and behind-the-scenes of her jet setting around the world. Laura’s ability to combine her love of travel, adventure, weddings, and art into a chic, colorful perspective, has made her a renowned International photographer.

  • Evan Chung

    Evan Chung is a photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area, specializing in weddings and engagements. He loves creating photographs of intimate moments, melts when a solar flare peeks around a backlit couple at sunset, and can still be caught fighting back a tear during a wedding ceremony. Evan goes the extra mile to get to know his clients and their bridal party, and dancing at the reception with new friends is his favorite way to wrap up a wedding night.

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