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How to Grow an Associate Team

Wanting to scale your business and start your associate team? How do you find your associates? What about marketing them? How do you book them and use contracts? We are going to cover all of the ins and outs of how to grow an associate team and all the basics that you need to know. 

Grace Troutman is a Midwest destination photographer that runs a very successful associate team. She is a business educator now and is also a wife and a mom! After having a child, her business had to change. Now her family comes first, when before it was all about her business. 

Trying to do things in your business having a child around can be challenging. Your priorities change and you need boundaries. It means giving yourself grace when you can’t get everything done, but with limiting work everything gets done quicker, because it needs to. 

So with being overwhelmed by running a business and balancing motherhood, Grace began to outsource a lot of her duties to take the load off. This helps her give priorities the best attention. And now she has a successful associate team! 

So how can you start growing your associate team and what do you need to know? 

Why start an associate team?

Grace had become too overwhelmed with work, that she actually had to turn away clients. This also means it was a loss of income. So she was recommended to hire employees to help relieve some of her workload.

At first she was hesitant, as she was unsure how someone could provide the same experience to her clients as she does. But she realized that this just meant it would take training to ensure they shoot the same and provide this same experience.

She started by hiring people she knew, and that she knew had the experience that she was looking for. But Grace shared that the most important thing to keep in mind is to hire someone you trust. It’s not a good idea to hire just anyone. They need to be someone you can trust to do the job. 

Too many people just get caught up in hiring anyone and they don’t really know that person. They’re taking a risk by hiring someone that they don’t have full trust in. Grace teaches on finding someone that fits you and you can trust, and bring them on as a team member. 

The associate needs to understand that they are part of a team, and that this isn’t a one-time thing and they are accountable to someone. This helps build trust with the client and just keeps them accountable on the wedding day. 

Start with someone you trust or a friend you know that is a photographer. Or someone that is local and is a newer photographer that you can train to fit your style and experience. You can even find someone that has a well-established business but is just struggling to fill in those last 5 weddings in their books, and you have the inquiries to do so.

Bringing your associate team together

So once you have your associates, how can you really make them feel like part of a team and grow those relationships? Something that Grace does in her own business is she does team events with her associates to bring them together to socialize, as well as get some important information. 

This is a time she uses to share about what is coming and the details of shoots. This way she is setting her associates up for success. But it also gives her team a chance to just spend time together and build those relationships. 

Grace also provides a posing guide and a guide for the wedding day, that really lays everything out on what each detail of the day entails. It gives them the expectations for how to treat the clients and what needs to be done in the sessions. 

Do you have your associates shoot with you? 

Grace has all of her associates work with her at some point, whether assisting or observing. It gives them a chance to observe the day and not have to process each detail of the day and how she would do it. 

But if they don’t just observe the day, they will second shoot to really get a chance to see how she works and how she provides for her clients. 

Paying your associates

Although some do it differently, Grace pays her associate per hour, and it is subject to change. This is based on if they send referrals, which is an incentive for them, and they get an extra amount. They also get all travel fees on top of that, as well. 

There are some associates that want to send over referrals, because they have a different niche in their own business and would rather focus on weddings with Grace’s team. And they know that by doing this, they will receive that incentive. 

What does an associate take care of?

Another reason photographers on Grace’s team would want to send over referrals rather than taking the client themselves is they don’t have to do the communication, timeline, and don’t have to put anything together. 

They only have to show up for the sessions, and not do the behind-the-scenes. They don’t have to do any of that backend work, which may be a huge benefit to associates. Grace is the one working with the clients, but lets her associates handle all of the scheduling so she is not the middle man in the situation. 

Originally, she had started with taking all of the engagement sessions, because she was still so caught up in the fact that people knew her and her work. She figured that if she did the engagement session and her associate did the wedding, then at least the client still gets some of her own work. 

But what she had found is that, first of all, she was doing 50 or 60 engagement sessions a year, which was outrageous. She also found that it was breaking that trust with the associate and the client, as the associate was a stranger on their wedding day. 

So now, the associate does both engagement and wedding, unless Grace is specifically requested. It builds trust with you and the associate, as well as with the associate and the client. 

Associate contracts

So how do contracts work? Do you have a separate contract for your client and then your associate? Grace has between the couple and her, they are booking her business but through an associate. The booking and payment is all through Grace. 

But, the associate signs a contract for her for each wedding just to include all the necessary details of the day, as well as signing a contract when they onboard onto the team. 

How do you do training? 

The team days as mentioned previously is when Grace does the bulk of her training for her associates. This is the best time to get together and go over expectations and thoughts. 

But she keeps herself an open book, so if they want help with anything in their business, she’s always willing to help. She wants their business to grow as well, and understands that there is turn-over. She wants them to grow their own business and go away with knowledge. 

Grace has also done smaller shoots on the side to train associates and help freshen up their skills, and give them that one-one-one attention. 

It becomes more of a mentorship, which is an on-going and growing relationship that is mutually beneficial. 

How do you build trust with clients? 

How do you make a customer feel safe with using an associate? Is there a way to build this trust? You can do this from the beginning, by using your website, on Instagram, and before couples even inquire. 

She shares associate work, and she shares behind-the-scenes that associates may have so that clients can see that this person works with her. And once they book, Grace hops on a call with them and sends over galleries of the work that they’ve done. 

This helps explain the whole process, and the clients typically enjoy the fact that they are getting a team. Grace helps with the timeline, vendor referrals, outfit tips, and the client appreciates that it’s more than one person working with them. It feels like extra benefits being added to the experience. 

Sharing associate work

Clients know ahead of time that they need to tag her business, and they know this from the beginning. This is her work and she needs to be given the credit still for the images. 

As for the associates, they have it laid out in the contract that they have a certain amount of time that they can use the images, and only specific images that they are able to use. They also need to share that it was shot under Grace and still give that credit back to her. 

She wants the associates to be able to share this work so they can continue to grow their business and bring in their dream clients. Even shooting under Grace, it can still bring in those clients. 

Final thoughts

The biggest thing that Grace sees is that photographers have an issue with his really letting go and trusting the process about growing a team. It’s about reframing your mindset and understanding it is not impossible, and you can do it. 

You can create a brand around your associates that people love and trust. And you can hire people that you trust and know and will do a good job representing your business. 

But you can let go and trust! Trust that when you let go, more opportunities will come that are bigger and better, and grow in ways that you don’t understand right now.

how to grow an associate team

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