Expert Advice: One-On-One Portfolio Reviews

- - Expert Advice

by Kayleen Kauffman, Wonderful Machine

One-on-one portfolio reviews should be an essential part of any photographer’s marketing plan. It’s a great opportunity to get your work literally under the noses of decision makers at ad agencies, magazines and design firms. We’ve found that creatives are more likely to work with photographers they know, and meetings are a great way to solidify those relationships. It’s your opportunity to present your brand, your work and yourself. However, many photographers find the idea of setting up meetings to be somewhat daunting, so I’ve put together a step-by-step guide to securing and preparing for your own portfolio reviews:

Preparing Your Promotional Materials

  • Make sure your print portfolio is up to date and well edited. Get a second opinion on your edit from a friend or consultant (see Sean’s Expert Advice: How To Edit Photographs).
  • Consider whether an iPad portfolio is appropriate for you. Print portfolios still get more attention from clients at our portfolio events than iPads do. But tablets are essential if you shoot motion and they’re also a nice supplement to show recent projects and to go into greater depth on a particular subject.
  • Have an appropriate leave-behind ready to go. A simple postcard can work. However, you’ll score extra points for something unique like a small booklet or even your own app (like Tony Burns’ Shooting The World). Whenever possible your leave-behind should be memorable, inventive and reflective of your brand.
  • Make sure your website is up to date and working properly. Nobody is going to make an appointment with you without first checking out your site. Make sure it’s solid (see Paul’s Expert Advice: Website Dos and Don’ts.)


  • Whether you’re traveling across the country or just across town, you’ll need to do some research to make sure you’re barking up the right trees. Check out each client’s website to make sure that your photography matches up with their needs, so you don’t waste your time or theirs. Start close to home and then branch out from there. You will only be able to meet with a relatively small number of prospects over the course of your career, so you have to make each appointment count.
  • Put together a list of 40-50 clients that you can tackle. List services are a great place to start finding appropriate clients and building prospect lists.  When we’re setting up meetings for a photographer, we’ll first search for prospects in our internal database. Then we’ll visit Agency Access for additional names. As useful as list services are, nothing is more valuable than personal networking. When you find one client who really responds to your work, ask them if they know any others who might be a good match for you.
  • As you start to cultivate relationships with prospective clients, it will be important to keep good records of your interaction with them. See Craig’s Expert Advice: Understanding Contact Databases.

Requesting & Planning for Meetings

  • After you have your list of prospects complied, start reaching out. We’ve found that contacting people roughly a week before you’d like to meet is a good rule of thumb. Do it too far in advance and you risk having them forget about the meeting or cancel on you. Too little notice may find them already booked up. Start with a casual email that includes:
  1. The prospect’s name.
  2. A little about how your skills and interests might match up with their needs.
  3. A link to your site.
  4. The dates and times you’re available.
  • Don’t attach images to your email. I find that this increases the chance of your email getting stuck in spam filters.
  • Give the impression that you’re going to be in town for other meetings (even if you haven’t set up any others yet). You don’t want anyone to feel pressure that you’re making a special trip for them.
  • Don’t ask for too much time. “A few minutes” is what you should ask for. If get more than that, great. Here’s a basic template:

  • After a day or two, if you don’t get a reply, follow up with a phone call. Yes, this can be scary, but it’s good to be proactive. Don’t create an awkward moment by saying, “I was just calling to follow up on an email I sent you…” They will probably not remember your email among the other 100 they got that day. Simply reiterate that you’re going to be in town next week and you were wondering if they might have a few minutes to take a look at your book. Keep it friendly, short and to the point.
  • Sometimes it’s helpful to write out a script and practice it so you’re comfortable with what you’re going to say. You might have to practice it a few hundred times so you don’t sound like a robot. But creating a really succinct message that you can deliver in a relaxed way, will give you the best chance of success. Creating an alternate script for voice mails is a good idea, too.
  • Be assertive, but don’t be a pest. If you send someone an email and you leave a message and they still don’t respond, you should take that to mean that they don’t want to meet with you at this time. There are plenty of fish in the sea. Don’t get hung up on any one client. Just move on to the next one.
  • Once you start booking meetings, make sure you give yourself enough time for each meeting and time to get to the next one. If you’re going to New York, try to book as many meetings as possible within walking distance so you can maximize your time. If you have to drive from one meeting to the next, account for the time it takes to get your car out of the parking garage and then find parking at the next place. Give yourself enough time for meetings to run long. It’s not unusually for a meeting with one person to turn into a meeting with two or three people.
  • Build an itinerary for yourself including time of meetings, contact’s name, phone number, email address, physical address. Plan ahead how you’ll be getting around. (By the way, TripIt is a great (free) app for keeping track of meetings.)

The Meetings

  • Now that you’ve booked your meetings, it wouldn’t hurt to do a little additional research on those clients. Check out their blog and social media sites in addition to their website. You’ll want to demonstrate that you know their business and you’ll want to have enough to talk about. If you’re meeting with an agency because you think you’d be a great fit for their client, make sure they still have that client.
  • Once you’ve arrived at your meeting, it’s time to turn on the charm! Be relaxed but energetic. Start with a little small talk. Then walk them through your portfolio, explaining your creative process and telling interesting stories about your experiences. Listen. Speak. Listen. Speak.
  • Don’t ask clients to critique your photography or your presentation. That’s not their job and it will make you seem like an amateur. Just guide them through your work, then express an interest in their projects. Show that you’re interested in what they’re doing, but no hard sell.
  • Don’t expect to get an assignment on the spot. The purpose of these meetings is for creatives to get to know you and to hopefully build a comfort level so that they will ask you for a bid when an appropriate project comes up.

Follow up

After your meeting, it doesn’t hurt to send a hand-written thank-you note. If you have any “swag” (t-shirts, mugs, notebooks, etc.) or other promo pieces, that would be a good time to send something! From there, an occasional email or print promo update is appropriate (every few months).

If you need a hand building a client list or setting up meetings, please call us. Or you can visit our consulting page to learn more.

There Are 9 Comments On This Article.

  1. Thanks Kayleen. Great information. I might add some advice I got from consultant Colleen Vreeland regarding how many times to call to set up a meeting. She suggested three times before moving on. In setting up meetings for photographers I work with, I have found that a lack of response after one call often means that the art buyer is simply busy (leaner staffs, tighter turnarounds…). Many have appreciated reaching them on the third call and apologized for not having time to return previous calls and are happy to meet if their schedule allows.

  2. Hi,
    information very usable!! nice work!!

    but.. since photography became hyper-democratic we must pay to an expertise analyse our to see our work..? it´s a new era device… I dont agree with it..but i understand!
    All the best!

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