There are certain vendors that you will work with again and again, either the vendors that you use for your products and services (album companies, print labs, etc.) or vendors that are hired by your clients (florists, cake designers, dress shops, and venues). Though you will probably have different types of relationships with the two types of vendors, they can all potentially be part of your "team". I emphasize the word "relationship" here, because that is what everyone is trying to achieve. You and your vendors all want to build quality relationships with each other that can be beneficial to all parties involved. The best way to do that, in my opinion, is to focus less on "what can they do for me?", and more on "how can we help each other?"
Let's break down the two groups and detail the relationships a bit more. The first group is your vendors that you use for products and services. The great thing about these folks is that they really want to help you succeed. Their job is to get you all of the help and information that you need to create an awesome product for your client. The better that they do, the better you do (which makes you look good) and the better that you do the more people who are exposed to their products. Win-Win. These vendors also do things like promotional tours. They come to your area to let you touch and feel and learn hands-on. A lot of times the vendors (particularly album vendors) will do this in conjunction with a workshop or speaking engagement with a photographer. If you can get in good with the vendors, you have an open audience to hear you speak, come to your workshops, and you have a much bigger budget than your own doing the advertising for you. Now, not just anyone can walk up to the vendor and have this happen overnight, but it never hurts to have a strategic plan and goals in place to move you in that direction.
The next group of vendors are your peers who also provide services for the bride and groom on their big day. While you are at a wedding (whether as the official photog or as a guest - and especially the ones in your local area) be sure to spend some time getting shots of the vendors products such as flowers, cake, and of course the venue. One of the first things that couples book is their venue and the coordinators at the venue are a great source of referrals. After you shoot a wedding be sure to get the information of the vendors and then keyword all corresponding photographs for easy retrieval. Edit them up, make them look pretty and perfect, and then you can contact the vendor and use your photographs as a way to introduce yourself to them. My conversation would be something along the lines of "Hello. My name is Mollie Tobias, I am starting a wedding photography business in the area and I recently attended the wedding of (bride and groom). The (flowers, cake, etc.) were amazing. I really liked..... While I was there I took some photos of your product and I would like to set up a time to come and show them to you as well as introduce myself. What time is convenient for you?" When you are there you can either give them prints or a cd of the digital files for display at their place of business or use in their promotional materials. These are not something that I would ever charge the vendor for (you were already paid by the bride and groom after all). During the meeting you can show them a portfolio of your work, and if possible see samples of their work as well. Once again, you are building relationships, not bribing them to give you referrals. If they like your work they will tell people about it. If you like their work, return the favor and tell people about it.
Here's the deal, you can negotiate and say that if they can guarantee you with x number of referrals per month that you will give them y in return (a sample album for instance). I find that the people I refer the most are the ones that I like. Not because we have an arrangement, but because they have always been good to me and are nice to work with. People like to work with people that they like. So, I try to always be nice to people even if they may not be as nice back. I always try to deliver what I promise and if possible, more. I think that matters to people a lot more. That's just how I feel about it, I'm not a marketing guru, but that is what makes sense to me.
Hope that you all have a wonderful Wednesday!