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How To Create A Simple Photography Client Database

Upload from May 02, 2012

An incredibly valuable, but often overlooked, asset for any photography business is a client database. Early in your career you may find it easy to remember all the people you’ve worked with, but after a couple years the number grows and it becomes increasingly difficult to keep track of everyone.

Creating a database is easy to do, and totally beneficial. Here are some ways it can help!

Improves Client Experience: Access to names of clients, their kids’ names, their likes/dislikes, their previous orders, etc. lets you have more personal and meaningful communications with them, showing that you really care.

Improves Efficiency: Contact info that you can find and use quickly means you’re more likely to keep in touch with your clients, and it won’t take you as long to do it!

Improves Marketing Efforts: The ability to target your marketing to specific groups of clients is extremely valuable. For example, all your clients with families might want to know about your Mother’s Day sessions, but wedding clients without little ones would prefer to know about your newest line of wedding albums.

Even if a database can just help you remember the names of your clients, it will be well worth the time spent creating one. Consider this lesson from my favourite book, How To Win Friends & Influence People:

“Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language” – Dale Carnegie

Creating Your Database

Now, there are a lot of fancy programs to help you do this: some free, and some that you have to pay for. But, as you may know, we like to keep things simple. Simple systems get used!

So here’s a simple way to create a client database that will help you rock your business!

Step 1: Assemble all your client contact information.

If you’re just starting your business, you’re in luck because you can implement a database from the beginning, and don’t need to play catch-up. But I’m guessing most of you have had a few clients already, so you’ll need to collect that information. It might be on contracts, or their client files. Wherever it is, get it all together so you can input everything at once.

Step 2: Decide where to put the database

This is the tricky one. You’ll have to think about how you want to use the database to figure out the best way to store it. In the interest of simplicity, we like using the Mac Address Book. It syncs across our computers and our iPhones, so we have our database even when we’re out and about.

There is also the option of using a cloud service like Google Contacts. It will tie in nicely if you using Gmail (which you totally should—here’s how to set Gmail up for yourself), and can be accessed from any computer or smartphone.

Now, if you will only ever use your database at your computer then something as simple as a spreadsheet will do the trick! But consider how useful it can be to have that information with you everywhere. The more you shoot, the more you start running into clients! Mobility is important.

Step 3: Figure Out Backup Plans

If you’re going to put effort into making a client database, be sure to back it up. With Mac Address Book we can just put the database file in our nightly backups, and there’s nothing more to think about.

With Google Contacts you can back things up, but as far as I can tell you have to do it manually. That adds another step that could be forgotten. Something to think through before diving into creating your database!

Step 4: Decide What Information To Include

Stuff like names and contact information are standard for a database, but you can get creative with what you include in yours to really improve the experience you provide!

If you shoot weddings, you could include their wedding date, and then at the start of each year schedule first anniversary cards to go out. You’ll have all that info at your fingertips, so that kind of project will be quick and easy!

For families you could enter the kids’ birthdays, or the last time the family had a session, so you can drop them a line in a year or two to suggest another shoot (like reminders from the dentist, but way more fun!).

You can include what products the clients have ordered, so you can check up and see how they’re liking them. Or details like favourite movies or bands, so that when you meet them for a new session you can know what to talk about. These files can easily be updated when you learn new things about your clients! It’s like an ongoing way to treat them well and show that you care about them. Sounds good right?

Step 5: Enter The Data

Now that you have all your info together, and know where it’s going, it’s time to sit down and plug it all into your database.

This part can be a bit boring, but what I like to do is include a photo for each client. The nice thing is that usually we’ve already taken a great shot of them, so it makes the database look fantastic. And including photos will help you with recognizing faces, so win-win!

Step 6: Put The Database Into Your Workflow

The final step is to make sure you include maintenance of the database in your workflow. The database will only be effective if you keep up with it! If you use a workflow chart, you can put in “Add Client Info to Database” right after they book. Then, at the end of your work with them, you could have “Update Client Info”, so you can add a nice photo, and any notes you may have!


A client database is an easy thing to create, and can make a massive difference in the experience you give your clients. Better experience leads to happier clients, and that means more repeat business and referrals.

If you want to check out some other systems for creating your client database, here are a few options. Note: we haven’t used most of these, but you may want to see if they would work better for you! Some offer lots of other features as well, like booking systems, and workflow tracking, etc.

Do you have a client database? How did you put it together? How do you use it to improve your business? Share with us in the comments now!

Lauren Lim

Hey friend, I’m Lauren! I’m a photographer and head ninja here at Photography Concentrate. I’m downright obsessed with photography, and love sharing it with super cool folks like yourself. When I’m not shooting, or writing, you can find me cooking (and eating!), traveling, and hanging out with wonderful people.

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Discussion

14 Comments // Leave a comment

  1. I have never thought of this-what a VERY useful thing to have. I will definitely start a client database so I can keep everyone's info in one place. Thanks for the tips you guys! It is always extremely helpful & insightful.

  2. i have one, but it's more loosey goosey. i like all the things you include and that it is a place where you can add a photo. smart details too add too. i had thought of the kids birthdays, but not a lot of the others. thanks as always for the thorough topic. (:

  3. Thanks for the comments guys, glad you enjoyed this one! :)

  4. Mike Pianka says:

    I just started using bento, taking advantage of the trial, and really seem to like it so far. It's quite easy to use and there are a ton of different uses for it. I currently use it to store client info, keep track of gear inventory, store passwords and usernames (yes it's secure) and track client projects. Downside is its $40

  5. Mike Pianka says:

    Correction: $50

  6. Thank you for the detailed post.

    I have been thinking of this for the past year. as a photographer who specialized in weddings and kids, the data base is really important.

    for weddings, you can think of anniversary, of course, they will get a kid after marriage right? Yes, send greetings, the new born business is in your hand.

    for kids, yes simple, birthdays every year. you need to send promotions to them like a few weeks in advance.

    Yes as mentioned in the article, the things that dragging me to proceed is i have already have so many clients saved in Address book. and yes they are messy. so it is very time consuming to start over again.

    but i have decided to give a complete new start by using Bento after reading this post. To get your business grow, you must do things right and target your clients.

    Jack

  7. *@Mike:* Bento is pretty neat isn't it? I gave the trial a whirl as well and thought it was really nice to use. I ended up sticking with Address Book, but Bento would be great to keep track of other things, as you mentioned. Gear inventory is super important too! Thanks so much for commenting :)

    *@Jack:* Great point about wedding clients turning into family clients! Another fantastic reason to set up the database. I had the same issue, things were messy. But it doesn't take too long to get things in order, and then you're good to go!

  8. I use a Google Docs spreadsheet, but Google Contacts is a pretty good option. Some things Google Contacts is lacking is a log of your contacts with them (there is only the Notes field) and the ability to store files (e.g. PDF contracts – could be wrong about this? Google spreadsheet is missing this, too). Microsoft Access and Filemaker are good offline solutions, as well (they are not cloud based, but you can easily design a custom database in either).

  9. Thanks again! Another great post. Can i just ask, how do you go about doing any form of bulk mail-out using Mac address book & gmail. I agree it is great in its simplicity, but I'm struggling to see how i can use it to send bulk emails through gmail, for instance advising all my family clients of an upcoming mini session. thanks again

  10. Just stumbled upon this great article about keeping a database very very useful thing to have, user experience should be what it is all about and the best way to do that is to be able to remember all your clients and their needs. I recently came across a system similar to those mentioned above called Go Wedding Pro (www.Goweddingpro.com) it’s still in Beta but I have been playing with it and like it’s ease of use. I’d recommend it.

  11. i see this post is a bit dated. please pardon my being a little late to the party; i’m still catching up on your archives of blog content. are you still using Mac Address Book? or have you built one of the myriad studio mgt platforms (ShootQ, Tave, StudioCloud etc.) into your portrait and wedding workflow?

    • Lauren Lim says:

      We used Tave for quite a while and really enjoyed it. For us the best part was the online booking process, which made our work super easy, and our clients super happy!

  12. Hi Lauren,

    Thanks for this elaborate article, love your reference to the book ‘how to make friends…’ .

    I have created an app to facilitate rebooking your clients & organizing your work as a photographer, it’s called ShootZilla. You gave me some great ideas to improve it even further, like automating the remembering of special dates for your clients, adding kids birthdays and so on.

    I would be super thankful if you could link to ShootZilla as well, is this possible? Still getting the word out there about my brainchild ;-).

    Thanks!
    Esther

  13. Gia,

    (Hi, stranger – long time!) Automation helps us. A few years ago I realized that I could no longer keep all my clients info in my head, when I called the same client (with the same request) twice within 24 hours – and looked pretty dumb and neglected to call back another client – and lost business.

    I looked at a bunch of options – I wanted something more than just a database – a real Client Relationship Management (CRM) solution – and found SalesForce, which is one of the biggest players around.

    [I wrote a little more about that on “Strictly Business” the blog of ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers): http://wp.me/p3aHrW-so

    SalesForce captures client information automatically, when someone contacts me online, sends back a personalized email
    to them and alerts me that someone wants to talk to me.

    As the enterprise versions on this platform cost $1,000.- of dollars a month – and are just a hair out of reach for me – I use their group version for under $10 a month, it’s well worth looking into, if you’re looking for help on the organization side.

    SalesForce is a cloud based service, with some of the best security I’ve seen, syncs with my phone via their app and is (way) more powerful than a simple spreadsheet or database.

    You’re absolutely correct though that it is imperative to use these type of tools as a creative, especially if your a sole proprietor or run a small lean and mean shop.

    Thanks for your input (and let’s grab coffee one of these days …)

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