Meet Tim Williams, an amazing photographer from New Zealand who went from assistant to completely booked out by using the power of building relationships!

Tim Williams Photography

Favourite quote: “Don’t build your business, build relationships and that will in turn build your business”

This month we had the privilege of interviewing New Zealand photographer Tim Williams from Tim Williams Photography. He was just one of the nicest, honest and most down to earth photographers that I’ve ever come into contact with.

If you are looking for some inspiration from a true professional as well as some amazing insight into future proofing your career (which most of us don’t really think about until it’s too late) then this interview is a MUST READ for you!

I hope you find this interview as insightful and as inspiring as I did:

NINJA: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your photography business.

I’m a born and bred Kiwi living in NZ after spending 12 years abroad. When I was 18 I moved to Sydney to study music, met my wife in my last year of study, tied the knot, moved into business and made my way into business management. It was during this time in business that I picked up my 1st DSLR. Captured with curiosity and a sudden sense of endeavour, I ended up buying this second-hand camera, along with a lens, and that was the start of my photography journey.

One of my mates was a well known wedding photographer in Sydney and we had the pleasure of having him photograph our wedding. When I told him I had picked up a camera he had me out shooting 2nd with him that week. It was exciting and terrifying. I didn’t even know what aperture, ISO and shutter meant. If the photo was dark, I’d twist a bunch of dials until the image was right. None the less, it was this experience that got me into shooting weddings. I delivered the images from that 1st wedding to my mate and he passed them onto the couple. They came back to him and said they loved them – to my surprise – and it was that exact moment that made me think that I could be a professional photographer.

It wasn’t long before I started shooting my own weddings and within a year I was almost ready to go full-time with photography. However, we decided to do something crazy, and moved to London, where I’d have to start all over again! I managed to get quite a bit of work as a freelancer, shooting interior all over London and Italy (which consequently started my love affair with Sicily). Weddings started to pick up as well, right before our visas ran out and we had to jet it back to Sydney. Not great for building a business!! But, a good friend, Tim Pascoe, who had been mentoring me, took me on board as his 2nd photographer and it was in this time where I felt my career was fast tracked. I learnt so much during this period and credit a massive part of my success to him.

After returning from London, we spent 2 years in Sydney, had a baby and continued to build the business. From there we decided it was time to move to NZ and settle where we could set up home in a place that catered to the lifestyle we were after. That just so happened to be in Nelson.

NINJA: What is it about your business that separates you from your competitors?

That’s a tough one as I try to see all my competitors as friends doing the journey with me. I have always tried to break down walls of ‘cliques’ and build community. The only thing that I can say that is unique to my business is me. There are others out there that approach business a very similar way and they are successful in what they do. What I strive to give to my couples is an experience and not just a business transaction. If a couple are just looking to tick a box with booking a wedding photographer, I’m not the right person for them. I’m looking to work with couples that truly love my work and connect with me. If they don’t connect with me, I’m happy to let them know that I’m not the right photographer for them.

NINJA: How did you go from being an aspiring photographer to actually doing it full time?

Building relationships. It’s all about community in my experience. I don’t advertise or pay someone to do SEO for me. That’s not to say I won’t pay for advertising or ignore SEO, I just focus most of my energy in networking with other like-minded photographers who are willing to do the journey with me. I’d just reach out to other photographers through Instagram or FB, and ask other photographers if they knew of anyone I could connect with in specific areas. It’s always nice to be able to meet in person, however Skype and Facetime have also come in handy.

NINJA: How did you book your first paid job?

It was a referral through a mate that shot our wedding. It was a cheap one and I had no idea what I was doing… thankfully the couple loved the photos and I had something to add to my portfolio.

NINJA: Can you tell us one marketing strategy that is working really well for you at the moment?

Ha! Word of mouth/building relationships. I have tried doing Google Adword campaigns, paying for spots on wedding directories and blog features; however, I have realised that for me they don’t really turn into bookings. They are important in terms of building credibility and getting your name out there, but Word of Mouth is the best form of marketing.

I’m currently sitting on the fence with how visible I want to be with my SEO. I prefer most of my work coming in through referrals as the referral comes with an element of trust.

I’m not on the 1st page of Google. In fact, I’m not even on the 2nd but I’m almost fully booked for next season. I know that if people make an enquiry with me, they have either come through referral or have had to look pretty hard to find me. By that time I have filtered out those that are just looking to tick a box off their to-do’s.

NINJA: Can you offer one piece of advice that has really helped you to grow your business?

Build relationships. If you have read this whole interview you are probably starting to see a theme here… Network in a way that is to build lasting relationships. Don’t network expecting to get something from someone. Just make friends. Give referrals as well. Share and share alike.

Don’t be afraid to do freebies. I did a few styled shoots for a florist who was starting out and is absolutely smashing it now. That relationship was awesome in building a strong portfolio and networking with other wedding vendors. I was helping them as much as they were helping me.

Tim Williams Photography

NINJA: What would be one tip you could share for building better relationships with your clients?

Don’t be a tool. Listen and make them feel like they are your entire focus. It’s all about them! I have met a few couples/clients who have met with photographers to discuss their wedding or shoot and the photographer has turned the consultation into how they are going to fulfil their own desire. That’s not what we are here for… We exist to provide a service to the client, so look after them. When you do that, you can build trust with the client/couple and then they will let you do your thing and have creative control.

NINJA: If you were to pack up and move to another country to start over, what would be your first move to getting your business up and running again as quickly as possible?

Well, I have done this three times now… The 1st time was moving to London. I didn’t have any contacts except for my cousin who put me in touch with a mate of his who was a wedding photographer. From there he introduced me to a few others and we would get together and have dinner every month. There were a few referrals that came from that community.

The 2nd time was moving back to Sydney. I still didn’t fully understand and apply the importance of community as a photographer, but thankfully I had a great friend and Mentor in Sydney that helped me on my journey.

The 3rd time was moving to NZ. 12 months before our move I touched base with a photographer who had moved from Newcastle to NZ to get some hot tips. He put me in touch with some locals and they were kind enough to send me referrals, which turned into bookings before we even got there!

NINJA: Which photographers or business people influence you, and how did they influence your thinking, photographing, and career path?

Tim Pascoe – An Australian Master of Photography with over 20 years in the wedding industry. He’s been a mentor and friend for most of my career. He’s given me so much advice, encouragement and criticism along the way. Once I was ready he started to send me referrals which helped in my own bookings.

Fer Juaristi – A crazy Mexican Monkey. I attended his workshop in Queenstown and came away feeling super charged and inspired to take my creativity to the next level.

Ansel Adams – Need I say more?

Steve McCurry – His storytelling and documentary photography is one of a kind.

NINJA: If you could go back and do one thing differently, what would it be?

I’d have someone regularly do a portfolio review and ensure I wasn’t posting content that shouldn’t be up on my site. You want to have a portfolio that will attract your next client/couple.

Tim Williams Photography

NINJA: What are you doing to future proof your career to prevent burning out?

This is actually something that I have been very intentional on. It was 1st drilled into me by my mentor and then I started to see it happen time and time again within the wedding photography industry. I’m yet to meet a wedding photographer that has a solid and robust plan for how they are ensuring they don’t burn out and how they will transition out of shooting weddings. I know for myself, I don’t want to be 65 and photographing a 20 year old bride. There’s probably a select few that can successfully pull that off, but like any successful business I can’t rest on the fact that wedding photography will always be what it is now; so how can I ensure I can still support a family in 5-10 years time?

I’ve seen a lot of wedding photographers book themselves to the brim with 60-70 weddings a year and then get halfway through the season burnt out. So, I’m capping my weddings at around 30 a year. I owe this service to myself, my family and the couples. If I’m burnt out, it’s not fair on anyone, including myself. I’m also making sure I only book weddings that I know I have a connection with. For me it’s not simply about filling my calendar with 30 bookings a year, but ensuring they are quality bookings where I know I will enjoy working with the couples.

I’m not 100% sure I’ll be shooting weddings in 10 years time but I’ll give it a red hot go! Anything could happen to me or the industry in that time so I’ll enjoy it while I can, but also work on diversifying my income if there is ever a need to change careers. One thing we got into early was property. It’s a pretty solid and robust way to invest. We’ve made our equity work for us and made wise decisions and gone in with a long term plan of investment.

I have shot a lot of travel photography and commercial work in the last 5 years, so I have a solid portfolio that could keep me going if I wanted to continue shooting professionally but move out of weddings. I have also been deliberate to make contacts and build relationships outside of the wedding industry. Most of them have actually come through weddings I have shot.

My wife and I are currently working on launching an online business that will hopefully be another income stream and we have some other business ventures that we are planning at the moment and will look at launching within the next 12 months.

I have been intentional in dreaming with my wife and wanting to do something together, something that is ours and not just my photography business. She’s been extremely excited about that and it’s amazing how productive you are when you both can dream and keep each other accountable.

So, I’m confident that I’m not going to burn out and if in a couple of years there was a shift in the industry or something happened to me that prohibited me from shooting weddings, I’d be ok financially.

NINJA: Any last piece of advice or words of wisdom that you feel could help our community of photographers with their businesses?

Don’t be afraid to turn away work with clients/couples who you feel don’t fit with you or your business strategy. If you do, it can often turn out to be more work for you and less rewarding because they didn’t understand and have a clear expectation of what your product is. It will save you a lot of stress in the long run.

Be a good person and do business well. Pay your taxes and be generous in every area of your life. What goes around, comes around.

Thank you!

I hope you have found this interview as helpful and inspiring as I have! Also thank you Tim for giving away so much insightful information about you and your business!

If you would like to know more about Tim, make sure you go check out his website at – http://www.timwilliams.co.nz/

Also, if you have any questions, suggestions or feedback about this interview feel free to get in touch, I would love to hear from you!