Ep 133. Cultivating Relationships to Ignite Business Growth

I'm Ashley!

My mission at The Purpose Gathering is to help driven momtogs like you level up, so you can build a sustainable business AND a fulfilling family life. I do that through authentic brand photography for mompreneurs and my signature program for mom photographers: Side Hustler to CEO.

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It’s no secret that relationships are an important part of being a business owner.

I mean, if we were sitting down in front of each other right now, and I asked you, “what is one of the number one ways that you get business?”, you would probably tell me word of mouth, right?

Because when someone uses a photographer that they love, they want to share that person with everyone that they meet. The same is true with vendors.

If you are a great asset to a vendor team, they’re going to be so much more likely to refer you to their future clients.

But why is it that we know how important relationships are, yet we underutilize this strategy? We spend so much of our marketing efforts on social media, or in Facebook groups, just praying and spraying content and posting our link and just hoping that someone hires us.

Why do we not pour into these relationships?

In today’s episode, I’m going to share with you why we don’t utilize the strategy of cultivating relationships for business growth and how to overcome this. I’ll also share some simple strategies and steps that you can take to make this a really natural, fun, and consistent part of your business.

So if you are ready, let’s get started, my friend. Hey, Mama, welcome back to the show. I am so excited to be here with you today talking about one of my absolute favorite topics, relationship marketing.

Now, if I’m being so honest with you, I love talking about this. But also, it can be really hard to do. And so I’ve been putting off doing this episode, not because I don’t love it, but because I don’t feel like I’ve been doing it very well.

And so when I go sit down to record a podcast episode, I want to feel like energetically, I’m excited to share it with you. And I just haven’t been. And I’ve been putting this off for a few weeks. And I finally understood why. And it’s because I have been so busy doing other things in my business, getting ready for this summit that’s coming up, that I’ve taken a backseat on really building these relationships and cultivating them.

Now it’s funny because as I say that, I actually have been building and cultivating relationships, by reaching out to speakers and pitching them to speak at my Summit. We have 18 incredible speakers coming to speak at the summit in April, it’s April 17, through the 21st. And I have been doing this, but not in the traditional sense.

And so I just wanted to start this episode by sharing with you that there are going to be times in your business where this does take a backseat. But it’s important that you recognize when that’s happening, and then course correct.

It’s really important not to beat yourself up when you’re not doing this perfectly. And this outline that I’m going to give you today, it’s just that- it’s an outline, it’s a way for you to help stay on track. And it’s something that once you’ve taken the first initial steps to do it, it becomes an easy, simple part of your routine. But you have to stay consistent. And that’s important.

So I’m excited to kind of dive in and really share that with you. But before we get started, I want to take a quick moment and just introduce myself and say thank you so much for tuning in to today’s episode.

So my name is Ashley Freehan, and I am the founder here at The Purpose Gathering, which is an online community and education platform for mom photographers. And specifically to help you get really focused on your photography business, find more efficiency in your business, and get more things done in your business with less time. But not just any tasks, the right tasks. I’m really a huge proponent on making sure that you’re focusing on the right things in your business.

And then also, a huge aspect of The Purpose Gathering is to really enjoy your motherhood while you’re growing your business because, in my opinion, there’s no point in having a business if your home life is suffering and is just not enjoyable. The whole point of being a business owner is so that you have the freedom to enjoy both.

And so in today’s episode, I can’t wait to really dive deeper into what this looks like for building relationships for business growth.

While we are going through this episode, I want you to think of this question of the episode:

What are you doing every week to intentionally focus on building strong relationships that will help your business grow?

While you’re thinking about that, I hope that what I’m going to share with you will give you some tips, ideas, and a framework for you to follow that will really make this super helpful. Okay, so let’s go back to the question at the very beginning of the intro of the episode where I asked you if all of us know that relationships are so important to business growth, why do so many of us underutilize this strategy?

Well, I came up with a few examples and a few, I’m gonna call them, excuses as to why we don’t utilize relationship marketing on a consistent basis.

Reasons We Don’t Utilize Relationship Marketing on a Consistent Basis

1. It takes too much time

2. It’s just too complicated

3. It’s outside of my comfort zone

  • Especially if you’re an introverted person, the thought of creating and cultivating deep meaningful relationships can feel so daunting and really awkward.

4. There are just so many other priorities

So when I list those, I want you to think about which one is resonating the most. It could be that it takes too much time, it’s too complicated, outside of my comfort zone, and there are just so many other priorities.

Now, well, some of those excuses may have been true for you in the past, but I want you to remember something:

Business grows at the speed of relationships.

And so today, I’m going to help you simplify things. I’m going to give you an easy to follow actionable plan that will help you make building relationships very consistent and natural and just a fun part of your business. It doesn’t have to be complicated, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. And I want you to focus more on quality versus quantity.

So it’s not really the like the highest number of people that you can connect with. It’s more about how deep are your connections? How strong of a relationship do you have with this person? That is what’s more important to me than the quantity of people that you are connecting with.

Step-By-Step Plan for Natural and Consistent Relationship Building

Step 1: Commit

Okay, I think the most important part when you are developing a new habit is to commit to making it a priority. So I want you today to draw a line in the sand that says I’m done throwing, you know, spaghetti at the wall, I’m ready to have a more intentional marketing plan when it comes to growing my business and getting my name out there.

And the fastest way you can do this is by making connections and by creating and cultivating those relationships.

So today, you are going to commit to this process, okay? And I want you to set aside time in your schedule regularly for you to research and connect with people.

Now, if you’ve been listening to the podcast for a while, then you have likely already started to implement CEO time into your week. And if you don’t know what CEO time is, check out these episodes to catch up and dig into what that means:

But for those of you that already have started implementing this, or maybe you know about it, and you need to start implementing this, this is a great time to implement relationship marketing into your schedule if you’ve implemented already into your CEO time.

And maybe you just spend 30 minutes a week, maybe it’s an hour a week, really focusing on what I’m about to share with you. And once you put some of these steps into place, you can actually skip these steps. And just focus on the connecting and the engaging in the cultivating section.

Okay, so now that you have committed that you are going to make relationship marketing a priority, and you have set aside time in your schedule to actually get this done. The next thing I’m going to ask you to do is…

Step 2: Brainstorm all of the complementary vendors, businesses, and individuals that you can think of that know your ideal audience.

First, I want you to start with other photographers. This can seem a bit scary because they might feel like your competition. But it’s really important that you network with other photographers, who are not only in the same niche as you, but that are in a different niche than you, and of course this is for obvious reasons.

So if you are a wedding photographer, there are only so many wedding dates available in your area that are prime, right? And when one of your photography friends is booked, and they’re a wedding photographer, they’re going to refer you.

This happens with me all the time. A lot of my business comes from referrals, whether it’s from other vendors, other photographers, or just past clients, and so it’s really important that you utilize other photographers, and groups here and really get to know people in your industry that you can refer to as well.

Relationship marketing is not one-sided. And I want to make that really clear upfront. You want to make sure that the people that you’re connecting with are people that you actually would want to refer.

If it’s one-sided, and you just want their referrals, obviously, that’s not going to be a very meaningful connection. And so I would advise you to just avoid working with people that you don’t like to work with, or that don’t have a similar style to you. Unless that’s, you know, a great referral point, right? So maybe you want to market with some people.

You want to network with some people who have different editing styles than you in case you get someone that says, hey, I love your photography, but do you edit in a more moody style? Have you ever gotten that question before? I’m always like, why would I edit in a moody style? If all my photos are light and airy? So no, but I can refer you to someone who does shoot in that more moody style.

So diversify, who you are reaching out to, to connect with. And don’t be afraid.

I think this is really an important part to remember too, is that every other entrepreneur out there is also looking to connect. And if they’re not, then they’re not going to be in business for very long. So don’t let that kind of like hold you back or make you feel bad.

And we’re going to talk about that a little bit later. So after you’ve brainstormed some other photographers in your area, I also want you to…

Think about vendors that your ideal client would hire before you

So for example, if you’re a wedding photographer, you’re going to want to go to planners, venues, and dress shops, because those are the vendors that are going to hire you typically before they hire their photographer. And so it’s a really great opportunity for you to connect with those people.

And then as I mentioned earlier, when you’re working with a vendor team that gets along really well, they’re gonna refer you to everyone, they’re gonna say, oh, my gosh, do you know Ashley Freehan, she is such an exciting, super fun, amazing wedding photographer to work with. We just love her, we recommend her. I mean, literally, they probably don’t even have to meet you to book you because they just know that they can trust the wedding planner, or the venue that they hired.

So these word of mouth referrals are gold, and they are going to be what helps you grow your business at a much faster pace.

Okay, maybe you’re thinking like, okay, that works great for wedding photographers. But like, who hires? You know, I’m a brand photographer. So I don’t really have anybody that my ideal client would hire before me. I mean, they could hire a website designer. So that could be somebody that you kind of look to, you could also look for people who serve your ideal client.

So maybe that particular bucket of people to reach out to doesn’t really apply to you. And then think about local businesses that serve your ideal clients.

Okay, so let’s talk about maternity photographers, for example. You could go to moms’ groups, or birth centers, or connect with local doulas. There are a lot of other people that serve your ideal client. That might not be like my wedding example, it might not be as easy to kind of see in the hiring chain of who would come before them. But this is a really great opportunity for you to get creative.

I invite you to ask people that maybe aren’t even in the photography industry, ask them say, ‘Hey, I am a family photographer. Where do you think that families would hang out? Like, where can I connect? Who can I talk to that services, other families in my area?’ and just get a feel for what other people think.

I think sometimes we get so blindsided, because we’re so close to our business, that we have like tunnel vision. And we’re like, there is nobody I can connect with. Right? And we kind of go down this path of woe is me. I live in a small town, and my niche is too niche.

Nobody comes before me in this hiring chain. And you really just have to get creative. You have to think outside of the box. And sometimes that’s inviting other people to help you see what you cannot see. So the next group of people that I want you to brainstorm is your current and past clients.

Don’t overlook these important relationships. Don’t think that just because you hire someone hires you that like you can’t continue to cultivate that friendship with them. How can you reach out to them? How can you nurture that relationship through the booking process with you?

Maybe there are other vendors that they might be interested in hiring and how can you help them make their job easier by giving them your preferred vendor list right? So again, if you are a maternity photographer They’re probably going to want to get their hair and makeup done and maybe even their nails done, and maybe they’re going to need some wardrobe help.

So I know that a lot of maternity photographers offer a client wardrobe. And that’s another way to really create a great client experience, which is going to keep you top of mind when they hear of someone in the future that needs a maternity photographer.

Now, don’t also discount your past clients. So I always keep in touch with my past clients. And anytime I see them posting on Instagram, or Facebook, I am always like, just genuinely right. This is not like in a creepy way or an Oh, I hope you refer me way it’s in a genuine way. Like I really want to know what’s going on their family.

So I love to see updates in their family when they’re having kids things like that. And so I really make it a point to reach out and create a relationship with them.

Now something that I’ve heard, that is a great idea, I haven’t done this yet, because I focus more on the coaching side of my business than the actual photography side of my business.

But something that I think that you could do is create a nurture sequence after somebody books with you.

So once you’ve delivered the final gallery, create a series of emails that you would send to your past clients all throughout the year, that would help nurture them for when they might be ready to book again.

So now of course, if you’re a wedding photographer, we’re hoping that they’re not booking another wedding in the future, right? Or like if they’ve had their last child, we know that they’re not going to be booking a maternity photographer in the future.

But how could you sprinkle in some really awesome information that would help at least keep you top of mind when they know that someone is looking for a wedding photographer, or maternity photographer, or whatever niche of photography that you’re in? So don’t discount that at all.

Okay, so you might be thinking, okay, the current and past client thing I get, like, how do I find local photographers? How do I find those vendors that come before me? Right? How do I find other vendors or venues that serve as my ideal audience? Like, how do I find these people?

Well, number one is to look in your local network. So people that you know, okay, putting something out on Facebook that says like, Hey, I’m looking to connect with people that serve, you know, families in the Phoenix, Arizona area, please let me know if you have any ideas like I’m a family photographer, and I’m looking for more, you know, relationships so that we can refer each other to our clients. Next is to look for a borrowed network.

So that could be friends of friends, that could be going and connecting with someone else’s audience. So maybe doing like a Facebook Live, or a Facebook Live, I mean, in like somebody else’s group or an Instagram Live or an Instagram takeover. I know that I had a past one on one client, who was a maternity, sorry, newborn photographer, I guess she did both newborn and maternity. And she really wanted to connect with local birth centers and OB offices and things like that. And so she went in and asked if it would be possible for her to like, teach a class. And she just went in there, got some really great connections, and then was able to, like help facilitate some education. And she also was like, really into natural birth and like, wanted to talk about that. And then she was able to share about her photography services.

And so that was just a really great way for her to borrow someone else’s network and get in front of a brand new group of people without having to go you know, follow a bunch of people on Instagram and hope and pray they followed you back like that strategy doesn’t work anymore. So finding other people’s networks that you can borrow.

This also kind of goes back to this idea which is in person but like, what type of in-person communities can you go plug into and be a part of, and connect, there is just something so magical about meeting someone in person and you can go so much deeper in person with someone then you can just meeting them on Facebook or Instagram.

So don’t discount in-person events, even though it might be out of your comfort zone.

So maybe you prefer to do more, you know, one on one connections if you’re more introverted, or find a local photographer buddy, and go together. Make it fun. And then finally, the last one I think is just super simple. I think everybody thinks about this one. And that is going online, Instagram and social media and being able to kind of connect and find people there. You can find people in the hashtags on Instagram, which is really helpful. So if you’re looking for other photographers to connect with you can search hashtags like #Arizonaweddingphotographer or #Arizonafamilyphotographer. Obviously you’re gonna put your state in that in front of that. But these are great ways for you to just find the people to connect with.

So now that you’ve brainstormed this huge list of people that you can connect with, now it’s time to actually… Connect and engage with them!

Step 3: Connect and Engage

So that’s step three, connect and engage.

I want you to lead with service, curiosity, and compliments. Please, please, please do not lead with a pitch.

Okay, I have had so many people reach out to me with just like pitchy conversations, and I just like instantly want to block and delete them.

It’s just not a good feeling for you to feel like someone is using you. And so when you just lead, and you send me a pitch versus like, you even care to know about me.

Also, if you don’t even know my name, I’m just like, No, thank you, right?

So you want to address this person, as a human, right? Reach out to only people that you actually want to be friends with, with someone that maybe has values that align with yours, not just some, someone that you think could help you get ahead.

I think it’s really important that you find some commonalities, possibly between the person so like, if you’re reaching out to a fellow wedding photographer, I would just reach out and be like, Hey, I noticed that we’re both Arizona family photographers, I would love to hear how you got started in your business.

And just like, What is your favorite photography app that you’re using? or something like that. Just asking kind of like a silly question, but something that they would be like, Oh, that’s kind of an interesting question. Let me write back to this person, because the last thing that you want them to do is to completely ignore you, right? Or think you’re spam.

So even if you can pull something off of their Instagram feed that you read, like, Hey, I loved your most recent post, or, you know, I just commented on this post, I thought it was so cool. I grew up in Phoenix as well. And then I moved or whatever the case may be right. So finding those commonalities. And then just asking questions to keep the conversation kind of moving and flowing.

I think leading with a message with text first is great, because then they can read it. And then I think following up with a voice message is so extremely helpful. Or you could do it the other way around and send a voice message and then a text saying, you know, like a little bit about who you are, and what your voice message is because yeah, I don’t want to listen to random voice messages from people.

But if there’s a little context, and then it will kind of pique my interest to listen to the voice message, and then I absolutely will. But I’m telling you, people thank me all the time for sending voice messages, because it makes me number one: feel like a real person and number two: makes them feel so special, because I took the time to actually connect in that way versus like a copy, paste kind of, you know, generic template.

And so I really think that helps people just understand your tone, and that you’re genuine. I do this a lot when I’m reaching out to people. And it just I think it just accelerates the friendship so much faster, because then they can hear my excitement in my voice.

So I absolutely recommend utilizing the voice messages on Instagram and Facebook. I love Facebook, because they have a longer message time. So you don’t have to get cut off after a minute like Instagram does. But it’s such a great way to connect with people.

Okay, so once you have connected with these people, you’re starting a really genuine, authentic thread of messages, then it’s…

Step 4: Present the Collaboration Ideas

So you’ve established a bit of a relationship with them, and you’ve decided if they are a good fit or not, sometimes I reach out to people and I start to get to know them. And I realized, you know what, it’s actually not a good fit, right? Like, it’s not somebody that I aligned with value-wise. They’re not really the service provider that I thought they were or maybe they are not doing that business anymore. And so I decided it wasn’t a good fit anymore.

But if you decide that it’s going well, like you’re establishing a relationship, you’re interested in kind of continuing that relationship and presenting ideas. I would first ask them if they have any ideas, I would say something like, Hey, I would love to collaborate with you. Do you have any ideas on what we could possibly do to connect and further help out our industry?

Or do you have any ideas of anything that we can do that would really support both of our businesses?

You would be surprised that people sometimes have really great ideas that you’ve never thought of.

I’ll share a few with you that I think would be helpful.

  • So number one offer to bring them coffee.

I have done this several times, the few preferred vendors, when I was doing wedding photography that I love to work with, I used this strategy I reached out, I got to know them, I offered to bring them coffee, nobody ever turned down a free coffee. I brought it to them. And I had presented the idea of hey, I would love to get to know you, and what your venue offers, so that if I ever have a client that hasn’t found their venue, yet, I’m able to help point them in that direction.

And I never had anybody obviously hire me before they chose their venue. But I did do a lot of like wedding event fairs. And so I would get a lot of leads that needed photographers, but they hadn’t chosen their date or their venue yet. So I actually genuinely did have leads not clients I misspoke earlier, but leads from people who were still looking so it was authentic, I wasn’t being shady or anything like that.

Like I really genuinely wanted to be able to say like, Oh, hey, you guys are looking for more of a desert II kind of wedding, check out the Paseo and Apache Junction, Arizona, it’s great. Like it has beautiful views. I know the vendor team, they’re gonna take great care of you.

And so that’s what I led with when I went into these conversations with these venue owners or these people that worked at the venue. And so I never went in with the intention that I was going to be on their preferred vendor list. But because I took the time to actually chat with them and really got to know them and offered free headshots for their business, I was able to create that rapport with them. And every venue that I met with added me to their preferred list because of that connection. So offering to bring coffee is a really great gateway to just open up the door and see what is possible.

  • Another idea is to co-work and bounce ideas off of each other.

So I used to have a wedding planner friend that I would meet, we actually met at a wedding and kind of bonded over a bride-zilla that we were both working with. She was the wedding planner, and I was doing the photo booth at the wedding at the time. But I also still was doing wedding photography.

So we would go to dinner once a month, we would message each other, and we created this co-working bond. And we refer to each other a lot. So it could just be that you go together, you meet up and you like plan your social media content together, or you decide on you know, this next idea of hosting an in-person social event or a workshop and collaborating with another person for that this could be a really great opportunity.

And so my friend and I, we talked about hosting an event like this a social event where we would invite potential brides or engaged brides going to be married, they were engaged to be married. That’s what I’m trying to say.

And we are going to create this social event that would help them better be able to plan their wedding in one place. So I feel like there are so many opportunities, it’s endless. The last thing I did have here, too, was doing an Instagram live about a helpful topic or doing some type of like I mentioned in person workshop, like my past one on one client had done have had done in the past. So I feel like this could be really helpful as well.

Step 5: Follow Up and Repeat

So if you don’t hear back from someone, the very first time that you reach out to them, see if you have a mutual person in common and ask for an introduction.

If you don’t have anybody that can introduce you, perhaps try a different platform. So maybe they don’t use Instagram, so maybe try reaching out to them on their contact form instead.

And if that still doesn’t work, and they don’t get back to you try again one more time. And if that doesn’t work, then I just would move on and bless and release that relationship and move on to the next person.

So relationship marketing is definitely a long game strategy, but by prioritizing and implementing this easy to follow strategy every single week, you’re ensuring a steady flow of leads and future business all year long.

I hope that you found this episode to be helpful.

If you did, I would love for you to take a screenshot of it, share it out on Instagram and tag me at the purpose gathering. And I would also love to hear from you in my DMs over there.

If you have another strategy that you use like this, I would love to hear it and just chat with you about how you are cultivating these relationships in your business.

As always, Mama, I am here rooting for you and you are not alone on this journey.



  1. Related Episodes: Episode 83: The Importance of a CEO Day & Episode 123: What to Do During Your CEO Day
  2. Ready to get your photography business organized + implement the systems you need to help your business run on auto pilot? Join the Efficient Mom Photographer Program 
  3. Ready to get your photography business on the right track? Take the Free Passion to Profit Challenge
  4. Local to Gilbert/Mesa Arizona (For Mom Business Owners, Extra Meetups for Mom Photographers) Join our in person membership community
  5. Are you lonely as a mom photographer and lacking community? Join our Free Purpose Gathering Mamas Community
  6. Have a question for me? Or a specific struggle you’re dealing with? I’ll address your question on the podcast. Submit your ‘Ask Ashley’ question here
  7. Find me on Instagram: @thepurposegathering

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My mission is to help fellow momtogs (mama photographers!) experience success in business and in motherhood. As an Arizona brand photographer for mompreneurs, I’m passionate about capturing authentic images that show off my clients’ unique personalities so they can connect with their ideal clients. And as an online business coach for momtogs, I LIVE for helping mamas experience incredible transformations that help them build a business they love, without sacrificing their precious time with their littles.

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