Looking back, I think I was a little crazy. Why else would I have naively believed that transitioning my business from New York City to San Francisco would be a piece of cake? Sure, San Francisco had more potential for longevity than New York, and sure, I did miss my family. But my enthusiasm to return to the Bay overshadowed some important points—like the fact that all of my clients were on the East Coast—and I found that my expectations were dramatically different than reality. I hope sharing my transition experience will give those thinking of relocating some food for thought, and everyone else some great business building tips.
1. Expect the transition to be hard.
One of the biggest mistakes I made was assuming that transitioning would be easy. I thought I could just hop on a plane to San Francisco and have plenty of work upon landing. In reality, I had to start over completely. I spent the first year flying back to New York about once a month to maintain my clientele (and income!) while I became established in the Bay Area. I should have controlled my expectations and been prepared for the transition to be a journey, rather than a quick fix.
2. Research, research, research!
If you do nothing else, research the industry in your chosen location before you arrive! Find out who can help you get access to the clients you want. Use your connections as much as possible. Do you have an aunt who’s a florist? A friend from high school who’s now an event planner? I talked to family friends and scoured the Internet and Here Comes the Guide to find wedding coordinators who would have the type of clients I wanted, whose work I admire, and who would be a good fit to work with. I also researched venues that would attract the type of bride I was looking for, and other photographers at my price point.
3. Seek out networking opportunities.
After researching, I began contacting as many people as possible. I wrote letters to the wedding and venue coordinators introducing myself and asking for face-to-face meetings. I explained that while I was new to the area, I was not new to the industry, and needed help becoming established in a new area. I also asked for recommendations of other people to speak with and attended networking events hosted by Bay Area Wedding Network (BAWN) and the International Special Events Society (ISES). Before long, I had a list of vendors willing to help me, brides who were eager to work with me, and some great industry friends. It was also a HUGE help (and fun) having friends in the industry that offered me (and still provide) support, advice, and good company in a new area.
4. Play up your strengths.
Always try to highlight and use your best qualities. Are you a Web 2.0 guru? An expert blogger? Great at social interactions? Better in one-on-one settings? Figure out in what environment you really shine and use that knowledge to your advantage. For example, I’m a social person. I love talking with people and found that attending meetings, lunches, and networking events was a great way for me to strengthen industry relationships and meet new people.
5. Maintain the integrity of yourself, your products, and your service.
Sometimes when entering a new market, people lose sight of who they are and what they truly want. In their quest to fit in and gain clients, they may compromise the quality of their products or their level of service. However, long-term success depends on the way you treat everyone involved (brides, venue representatives, coordinators, etc.) and the product you deliver. I kept my overhead low (vs. cutting prices and sacrificing quality) so I could continue to deliver the quality that clients had come to expect of Catherine Hall Studios. It wasn’t fun keeping overhead low, but it was a sacrifice well worth the struggle.
Catherine will be one of our speakers at Wedding University PRO, together with Gene Higa who was named one of the top 10 photographers in the world!