Magazine Article


Finding new clients in a challenging business environment

Jill Davidson

Jill Davidson

Jill Davidson

When I decided to commit to leaving the corporate world and open my studio, I knew I was going to be facing an uphill climb in introducing my studio to the community, as well as in changing the perception that people needed to drive 45 miles to Boise in order to obtain a quality portrait. I knew that I would need to find creative avenues of marketing in order to get the most return on my marketing dollars, and that I would have to introduce myself to my target market in a manner that said style and class.

Coming from the engineering field, where it's not abnormal for several firms to collaborate on a project, I decided to utilize this knowledge to approach other businesses in my community and invite them to co-business with me, tapping into one another's client lists to increase business for all of us.

These symbiotic relationships can be a good way to kick-start a buzz about your studio. A big thing that helps lend credibility when you're asking another business to partner with you is being a chamber of commerce member. This shows that you're truly vested in your community and not just looking for a free ride on their coattails.

My approach to any potential partnership is quite simple, and is also the manner in which I conduct business. I am very upfront with potential partners and direct about my goals; I'll ask if they'd like to meet with me to discuss some co-businessing ideas. I also like to let them know that my intent is that any relationship be equally advantageous to both parties.

I do like to exchange services with the businesses that I co-business with so that I can be honest in my referral to my clients for the services of the other companies. For instance, with the massage therapist that I partner with, I provided her with a headshot session, and she provided me with a massage. She's the only massage therapist that I refer, and I request that I am the only portrait studio that my partners refer as well.

I also co-business with my hair stylist, who is located at an upscale salon/spa in the community. With this relationship, I provided her with a free family session, as well as several logo'd 5x7 images to hang at her hair and nail stations. They are within her clients' line of sight and are brought up several times a day by her clients. I refer my clients to her, and I also suggest that my boudoir clients utilize her services to help them feel more glamorous for their sessions.

I've also photographed two other stylists from this same salon, and I'm working with the owner of the salon to provide logo'd canvases to hang in the salon. The canvases will be of hair models, and there will be one canvas for each stylist, as well as one for the nail technician's area that focuses on manicures.

In the near future, I'll also be photographing the family of the most popular seamstress in my community and will be hanging several 16x20 images in her store that will bear my logo. Recently I approached the one and only noncorporate bakery in my community about co-businessing, and we'll now be referring one another for product and services.

My theory is to always be open to working with other businesses in your community to tap into their client base, and direct-market to prequalified clientele. Where can you look to find those hidden client gems?
Hair salons/spas
Seamstresses (a great resource in a military community like mine)
Bakeries/cake shops
Upscale gift stores
Frame shops (if you don't do framing)
Private schools

I know that co-businessing has been working because people will tell me where they've been referred from, or that they saw my images at a certain business. If they don't tell me, I ask them how they found out about my studio.

For the most effective result, you need to make sure that you brand your studio and that you're consistent with your branding, as well as the feel of your work and studio experience. People are beginning to recognize my studio's logo and will comment that they're happy that they no longer have to drive 45 miles to get great images--more proof that consistency and co-businessing are working for me.

Co-businessing is simple, easy to implement, a good way to stretch your marketing dollars, and a great complement to any marketing plan.

Jill Davidson is the owner of Emotion Portrait Design ( in Mountain Home, Idaho. Her love of photography began at age 14. She's a member of WPPI, PPA, and a participating photographer with Operation: Love Reunited.