Talent Only Takes You So Far; You Have to Go the Rest of the Way Yourself


I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a photography job because I’m easygoing, friendly, reliable, or for some other reason unrelated to my creative vision, talent, technical expertise, and so forth. In other words, all those things that we worry about — “prime lens or zoom”; “iso100 or 400 to get a smidgen more depth of field”; “3200k or 2900k” — will only take us so far in our careers. How we relate to clients, more often than not, is the difference between success and failure.

Communicating with Clients

Woe be the photographer who does not respect the value of customer service as a key to their longevity in the business. Your choice of words, for example, makes a big difference when dealing with clients and can ensure that you keep them coming back. As Customer Service for Dummies will tell you, it’s never “I don’t know” — it’s “I’ll find out.” And it’s not “That’s not my fault” — it’s “Let’s see what we can do about this.”

I review, and re-review, all client interactions. “How could I have said that better?” “How could I have handled that negotiation, and counter-response better?” Or, “How could I have been more succinct in my thoughts?” The stammer, the “uhh,” and the otherwise non-thinking verbalizations mean my mouth wasn’t working in perfect sync with my head, and I am always trying to improve on that.

Putting the Client’s Wishes First

We are in the business of making pictures. Pictures people want, pictures people need. And those they want and need are the ones that actually fit into a story, or a mocked-up layout for an ad.

Like it or not, we are also in the business of taking direction. To presume that you wouldn’t deign to take direction, or, worse yet, you consider direction something to work opposite of, ensures that you will get a reputation for being difficult to work with.

If you want to try something edgy on a job, fill the client’s request first — then shoot your “something different” and offer it up. In this way, the client has what they need, and if they like your second image, they might go to bat for it.

Forcing a client to take what you’ve given them, and only that, places them in an uncomfortable position, against deadline, or additional costs for a re-shoot. Apply, instead, the “one for thee, one for me” approach.

The Value of Long-Term Relationships

Clients are worth exponentially more to you when kept over the long term, and are costly when lost.

You expend considerable time and money to earn a client — whether through mailings, meetings, phone calls, etc. Let’s say you get your first assignment from a client for $1,000. If it’s a one-off client who will never call you again, the fee might not even cover the cost of your marketing efforts.

But if you do well for the client, you’ll likely earn not just the $1,000, but the next assignment as well. That accounts for another $1,000 next time. Then another, and another, and another. Over time, a $1,000 client, properly managed and serviced, can generate $20,000-$50,000 or more.

If I said to you, after you botched a job or were lackadaisical in your service and followup, that you could end up losing $20,000 or more because of it, wouldn’t you begin taking your customer interactions a little more seriously?

[tags]photography advice, photography business [/tags]


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