I have not paid for advertising since my first year of business. I accredit this to 3 things:
1. Being Nice to people.
2. Producing Consistent Work
Being Nice To People
You learned this in Pre-School. It is still a good principle today. There are several weddings I have photographed where people ask me for my business card before they have even seen a single photo. After giving them my card they talk usually talk about an awful experience they have had with a wedding photographer. I know that weddings are stressful and sometimes we can just be having an off day or are exhausted towards the end of the 'wedding season' and would rather be laying in bed than shooting in 100 degree weather, but couples are trusting us with the privilege of taking their wedding photos and often times investing a substantial amount of money...so when I feel like this, I choose to suck it up, refocus, and do my job.
I've also learned that it helps me to be totally ready to shoot the wedding the night before. Batteries Charged. Memory Cards Cleared. Clothes Clean and Ironed. Schedule Printed. This prevents me from rushing around and having a frantic start to the day. I also spend the morning praying for the couple. It puts things in perspective for me and prepares me to show grace to any potentially stressed/crazy family members and guests.
Producing Consistent Work
We are always growing as photographers and artists. This statement is not aimed at preventing growth in creativity of artistic vision. Couples hire You. And they hire You based on the creativity and quality of your work they have seen. Having a vision for your work and developing a style allows couples to see exactly what they are getting. I always show couples full weddings, usually in the form of an album, so they can see what a wedding I have photographed looks like from start to finish. This allows the couple to build confidence in your ability to tell their wedding day story from start to finish.
I know there is a lot of debate about whether or not photographers should give a disc of images to couples due to concerns about quality control and rights as an artist. I only want to share the reasons why I do it.
People love looking at photos. You know that even today you probably looked at the photos of a person you barely even know on Facebook or maybe even a complete stranger. Don't be embarrassed...we all do it. I want to share an example of what can happen when you give a disc of images to your couple. Today one of my awesome brides posted her photos:
Cara posted two albums totaling over 370 photos. She also went through and tagged most of the people in the photos.
Just take a second think about how many people have had the opportunity to look at these photos today. First of all this will pop up on most of the walls of Cara's 1,095 Facebook friends. It will also pop up on the walls of the friends of the people who were tagged in the photos. There are 10 bridesmaids tagged in this photo alone. It gets kind of awesome when you think about how far this can go.
These three things working together are really powerful for booking weddings. People can trust you because you shot "So and So's" wedding. If they still have doubts they can contact that person and ask what they thought of you. If you were nice and produced the quality of work the couple was expecting they will give you a killer reference. This makes it so easy for other couples to trust you and have confidence in the work you produce. It eliminates ambiguity and doubts from the wedding photographer booking equation.
There are several other elements that go into being a great wedding photographer, but I hope this has been encouraging for you.