Recommended Vendor Lists: The Moneysaving Marketing Hack Your Photography Business Needs

Last month, I invited our paid subscribers to vote on which topic they’d like us to cover next. The overwhelming winner was clear! You all want to learn about recommended vendor lists—what they are, why they matter, and most importantly, how to get on them. So, this month, we’re going in hard to help you land a spot on those business-boosting lists!

While this topic might seem specifically targeted to wedding photographers as they are the photographers most often collaborating with vendors, learning how to build relationships with vendors is a skill every photographer needs. Whether you want to offer hair and makeup as part of your service, add tailor-made accents to a session, or become a styled-shoot planning expert, laying the groundwork for fruitful vendor relationships is a secret skill that can massively benefit your business! So, even if you’re not a wedding photographer, you’re gonna wanna stick around this month!

OK, who’s ready to dive in? Who’s ready to learn about all things recommended vendor lists?

As a one-person show, photographers juggle the workload of an entire team. From customer service to sales, marketing to, ya know, the actual photography bit, you’re doing something Anthropologie pays hundreds of super-talented people to accomplish! But just because it’s next to impossible to do well doesn’t mean you can choose to check out. Failing to keep one of these balls in the air can actually be the death of a business. So, despite the extreme demands on your time as a photographer, you somehow have to make it work or risk hanging up the camera strap. 

This means the way you spend every single minute in your business matters. Spend too much time and energy where it doesn’t belong, and balls start dropping. Now, around here, we are huge fans of outsourcing (I outsource my graphic design, editing, and accounting!), but sometimes the budget limits what we can outsource. 

What if I told you a massive piece of your marketing strategy could be outsourced without spending a dime?

What exactly is a preferred or recommended vendor list anyway?

A recommended vendor list is, well, a list of trusted vendors a business offers to its clients. These preferred vendors often fulfill needs adjacent or supplementary to the service the business handing out the list provides. For example, a wedding venue, planner, or florist may offer a recommended vendor list as part of a welcome package that includes potential caterers, DJs, bands, rentals, and, you guessed it, photographers! Now, some vendors—often more particular venue managers—don’t leave it there. Some venues and planners have what are called preferred vendor lists and require that their clients choose only from their pre-vetted list of options.

Why bother with these lists though? Well, if clients choose from their list of trusted vendors, the person passing out the list can rest assured that unprofessional, unprepared vendors won’t impact their work!

But these lists aren’t just a benefit to the people providing them. They are best known for being extremely beneficial to busy couples who want to spend less time stressing over who to book and where to find the right vendors in their local area. Many couples rely on vendor lists to fill out their providers for the day, and if the word “destination” is plunked in front of a wedding or session, those lists become even more essential.

But recommended vendor lists (at least the ones you’re hoping to land a spot on) aren’t just thoughtlessly created and distributed. If a vendor on someone’s list turns out to be a dud…partial blame falls back on the person handing out the list!

Oh, wait. Did your heart just drop into your stomach because you realized YOU send out recommended vendor lists full of names you only kinda vetted? Mhm…we know. Photographers want to be helpful to their clients by lightening their planning burden a bit, aaaaand it doesn’t hurt that a recommended vendor list is a great feature to add to an expensive collection! But the issue is that these preferred vendor lists are often quickly (and kinda carelessly) compiled. And yep, if something goes wrong with a vendor on that list, it reflects poorly on you! That’s why we aren’t going to spend the month exclusively focused on how you can get on these lists; we are going to help you compile killer lists of your own! 

But more on that in a few weeks. For now, let’s talk about the incredible benefits of landing a spot on recommended and preferred vendor lists. 

Why get on a preferred vendor list? 

1. Busy couples use them as shortcuts to book!

As you’re more than aware, wedding planning couples are really, really busy. They’re juggling all the everyday pieces of work and life while trying to plan a wedding on top of it all! There are so many things to think about when it comes to a wedding, and doing research for every vendor can be just too time-consuming, no matter how detailed your wedding planning binder is. Particularly these days, wedding planning is downright overwhelming. 

According to a Zola survey, 40% of couples surveyed felt “very” or “extremely” stressed while wedding planning. In 2020, that percentage had increased to 72%! For this reason, making it easy for couples to find reliable, talented vendors is a renewed priority for many wedding professionals. That means two things:

  1. Plus Side: there are more recommended and preferred vendor lists out there for you to land a spot on!
  2. Down Side: the lists created by the best wedding professionals—a.k.a. the best lists to get your name on—are going to be pickier than ever before.

A recommended or preferred vendor list is a stamp of approval. It’s another professional putting their name and reputation on the line for yours. That’s huge! And it means you can’t just shoot off a quick, poorly written email to a vendor you’ve never spoken to before and expect to land a spot!

2. Stand out in a competitive local market!

Wedding photography can be pretty dang competitive! So, taking any chance to stand out from the crowd is a great idea. The seal of approval that comes with a spot on a preferred vendor list is just one way to show you’re both a reliable vendor and a skilled photographer. 

You can also list on your own website that you’re a preferred vendor for a venue or planner to build credibility with potential clients. With a market as oversaturated as photography, finding ways to stand out are a must!

3. Say hello to free marketing!

Last month we discussed the importance of having more marketing streams than just Instagram. This move ensures you’re not dependent on one platform and its unpredictable algorithm changes for your bookings. Getting your name onto these recommended vendor lists is just another way to evade platform dependence and create multiple entry points for incoming clients.

You can never guess when another Instagram algorithm change could be around the corner, so it’s essential to diversify your marketing funnels if you want to keep filling your booking calendar worry-free.

4. Collect higher-quality leads!

If you get referrals from a local venue, those leads are more likely to turn into bookings because someone else has already taken care of a few steps for you:

  1. Confirming that they are in an area you serve.
  2. Ensuring that they are planning a wedding in your style.
  3. And as we mentioned above, giving that all-powerful social proof that you’re good at what you do.

But this only works if you are picky about which recommended vendor lists you try to get on! For example, a florist specializing in mason jar and burlap centerpieces isn’t for you if you hate barn weddings. Similarly, partnering with a church if you prefer outdoor ceremonies would only lead to misery. 

Instead, the key is getting your name on lists for vendors with an ideal client like yours. But how can you find out if they share a similar ideal client? It’s not like you get to see their brand guide! We’ve got you. We’ll talk more later this month about the research you should put into finding these vendors.

But as long as you do put in that research, you’ll find that you can save a boatload of time while still filling your calendar with quality leads!

5. Make your job easier by becoming familiar with venues, planners, and vendors

Trying to learn how 25 different wedding planners do things each year can be absolutely exhausting and so can switching between different wedding venues every weekend. Of course, it’s always good to get out of your comfort zone a little and try new things, but there’s stability in knowing how long a planner prefers to leave for first looks and every secretly beautiful location for that first look in a particular venue.

But spending less time on pre-wedding emails and vendor walk-throughs isn’t the only benefit. The best thing about this is that you can build a reputation for being the best photographer at that location! Becoming a known expert at delivering perfection in a location or for a planner makes you a no-brainer booking for wedding planning couples…and that is a shortcut to a fully booked calendar for you!

OK, but what about the recommended vendor lists photographers make? What’s the benefit of those?

1. Add an extra dash of luxury to your experience

If we’ve said it once we’ve said it a billion times: luxury isn’t in aesthetics; luxury is in the service you provide. A pretty website and fancy words might fool some potential clients, but it definitely won’t fool them all…and it won’t fool anyone for long. Real luxury comes from regular communication, clear preparation, and ease of experience. And is there anything easier than saying “hey clients, choose from these two florists for your wedding?!” Nah. That’s about as easy as it gets!

But as we discussed earlier, that luxury can turn to dirt the minute a vendor fails your client. So, ensuring every single vendor you recommend is a perfect match for your ideal client and that they can consistently deliver perfection is a must. But more on that later!

2. Become the queen of breathtaking styled shoots…without the cost taking your breath away!

Styled shoots are the off-season photographer’s focus. They are a way to keep content fresh between sessions, explore new levels of creativity, revamp your marketing content, and (especially if you’re in a season of transition) communicate a new style or ideal client. They are extremely important! But they can also be a headache to organize. That is…without a golden list of talented vendors who adore you!

If you have a great relationship with local vendors and venues, you’ll know exactly who to reach out to when planning a styled session. And if the planning is more extravagant than you’re equipped to handle, you’ll have a planner on standby, too!

But a vendor list doesn’t just make your hunt easier; it makes payment easier, too! If you have a history of sending clients to the vendor and they know you’ll continue to do so, they are far more likely to offer a discount for their services. That could take the price of a shoot from thousands to hundreds in a snap!

3. Foster community with your local vendors

Nothing is tackier than reaching out to a vendor you’ve never met and asking for a spot on their preferred vendor list with nothing to offer in return. Ew. Doesn’t the thought of that email make you cringe? Instead, offering them a spot on your list as part of the conversation gives them a reason to care. It gives you an opening to get to know them better, confirm that they do in fact serve a similar ideal client to yours, and, in time, land a spot on their list, too!

If this sounds great in theory, but overwhelming in execution, don’t panic! As always, paid subscribers are getting a new customizable template this month, and this month’s template is going to be that introductory email to vendors! It’s gonna be a good one, and you won’t want to miss it!

How can photographers get on those high-quality recommended vendor lists and build high-quality lists of their own? 

Join us right here next week for a breakdown of exactly how you can get your name on lists for vendors you love. It’s a delicate dance of doing juuuuust the right amount of self-promotion while offering them a benefit too while discovering if you’re even a good match to begin with while showing genuine interest in who they are as people…I know it sounds exhausting! But with the right moves, you can totally nail the dance. And not to brag, but as a person who danced from the time she was three, I’m a pretty stellar dance teacher!

OK! I’ll drop the dance metaphor now! But I look forward to diving even more deeply into this subject with you next week. And if you have any questions regarding recommended or preferred vendor lists, drop them in the comments below! 

Did your ears perk up when I talked about the things that really define a luxury client experience? Do you wish your communication was more luxurious? Let me give you a hand, either through our signature two-day copywriting experience, the 90-minute strategy intensive, or the template shop!

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I’m Erica, the brains behind the clacking computer keys! I’m an introverted extrovert, a sympathy crier who also loves to box, a person who reads comic books while wearing floral dresses…and plants flowers in Wonder Woman t-shirts. I’m a crazy collection of opposites and beyond excited to turn your astonishing personality into words that will build your business.

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