Eric Kelley graduated from UVA in 2006, founded his own photography business in 2008, and in 2018 was named one of the 40 best wedding photographers in the world by Harper’s Bazaar magazine. Kelley attributes his meteoric rise in part to the generous help of established photographers when he was just starting out.
“The biggest thing I’ve been trying to do since college is to cultivate community,” says Kelley. “My dad always told me, everybody should have a mentor and everybody should be a mentee to someone else.”
Toward that end, Kelley’s latest project is Referral.Network, an online community of photographers intended to create a more efficient market for their services. “I’m building a network of professionals who share their day-by-day availability,” he says. “So if I’m contacted about a job and I’m not available, I can easily find others who are, and who are in the right price range for the job, and who I can endorse and refer to the client.”
For a stressed-out bride or harried wedding planner, a reliable referral can be a godsend. “The client is happy that I could save them a bunch of time and a lot of emailing around to find a photographer for their event,” says Kelley, “and at the same time, I can quickly identify a friend or colleague who can do the job.”
Kelley is always mindful of wedding budgets, and although he charges an average of $30,000 for his own jobs these days, the professionals in his network span a range of prices. A suggested referral fee of 3-5 percent for a successful booking encourages more popular photographers to actively participate in the community.
“Very rarely does anybody have exactly the right amount of work,” he says, “and this network is meant to address that problem in a way that I don’t see happening with other apps or tools.”
With a broad social network to build from, including 26,000 followers on his personal Instagram alone, Kelley’s new service has taken off. “I did a soft launch in September  and started with a network of 165 people,” he says. “At this point it’s 10 times that—1,670 people—and growing. I’m trying to build a scalable model here, and I see a lot of other businesses that could benefit from a service like this.”