24 THINGS YOU CAN DO FOR BETTER CLIENT CONSULTATIONS

For many photographers, this is the time of year that you're filling out your calendar - especially if you're a wedding & event photographer.  Have you ever wondered how you can turn all of those client consultations into an opportunity to book more of the right types of clients?

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Here are 24 things you can do to have better client consultations this year:

1. When someone sends you an inquiry from your website, assume that means they want to meet with you.  Respond accordingly.

2. Offer people 3 choices of times to meet, and ask "which of those would work best for you?" 

3. If you don't have a studio to meet a client, instead of buying them coffee, buy them dinner.

4. Always let the client pick the location (if it's not your home or studio). "I'd love to buy you dinner at your favorite restaurant.  Where should we meet?"

5. Leave the sample albums at home. They've already seen your work. They like it.  That's why they're here. They want to like you.

6. Ask questions.  Then listen to the answers.

7. Assume they are there to book you.

8. Stop trying to find ways to save them money.

9. Ask open ended questions (tell me about... what do you think about... what are you excited about... what is your favorite... etc).

10. Have a copy of your agreement (contract) with you at the meeting.

11. Have a way to accept payment (square, paypal, etc) if they want to book at the meeting.

12. You should be talking less than 30% of the time. People like to talk about themselves. They don't like listening to someone else talk about themselves.

13. Never have a client meeting without a client.  Mom or dad aren't your client.  Bride and groom are.

14. Make a list of questions and practice asking them naturally. (more on this tomorrow).

15. When you talk on the phone, smile.  It makes all the difference in the world.

16. Be prepared to answer their quetions: "why are you so expensive?" "why don't you include a disc of images?" the more prepared you are, the more confident you will seem in your business.  Confidence builds trust.

17. Ask closing questions. "It sounds like we have a package that would meet your needs. So that we can hold your date, we simply need a signed agreement, and your booking fee.  Did you want to take care of that with a check or credit card?"

18. Agreement is a much more friendly word than contract.

19. When you want information, ask open-ended questions (how do you feel about... tell me about...).

20. When you want a client to take action, ask multiple choice questions (would you like to take care of that with a check or credit card? I have three dates available for a meeting, which works best for you?)

21. Never assume you are out of someone's budget.  If you are, they will tell you.  Otherwise, act as though they will pay your asking price.

22. Did I mention - it's not your job to save your clients money.

23. Always send a thank you note, whether they book or not.  And always hand write your thank you's

24. If someone doesn't book at the consultation, set an expectation of what comes next. "It sounds like you need a little time to think about your decision.  If it's alright with you, I'll follow up with you later this week to see if you have any more questions."

YOUR CLIENTS HAVE A PROBLEM

Every time your phone rings, it's because the person on the other end has a problem.  They have a problem - and their hope is that you have a solution.  If they went through the trouble to call you, it's because they believe that you can help solve their problem.  

As a wedding photographer, it's tempting to believe that our clients have a wedding photography problem.  We think 'these people are getting married, and they want some photos taken, that's why they called me.'  Not only that, but they clearly want the best possible photos that they can afford - so they called me, the best in town.  

In fact, more than a wedding PHOTOGRAPHY problem, our industry has tempted us to believe that our clients really have a "wedding PHOTOGRAPHER" problem.  We seduce ourselves into believing that it's about our style, our personality, even our ability to entertain and impress.  We have convinced ourselves that it's really not even about our photography - but about US.

I do think that there is certainly an important connection that we make with our clients.   And I believe that connection helps us to solve their problem.  The mistake we often make is that we're trying to solve a wedding photography, or wedding photographer problem.  It's understandable - since most of clients believe that is their problem as well.  

Unfortunately, it's not.  I think there's a different - deeper - problem that our clients really bring to us.  I believe strongly that the problem isn't that they need pretty pictures of their wedding, it's that they want to remember the way they feel at their wedding.  See, our clients call us because deep down inside, they want to know that they'll be able to experience their wedding every time they look through their album, or watch their slideshow.  

Clients don't hire photographers because they want to remember what their wedding dress looked like - they want to remember what it felt like when they first put it on and looked in the mirror.  They don't need detail shots so they can remember what the reception venue looked like - they want to remember what it felt like to walk in and be surrounded by the people they love most.  They don't care about first dance photos - they care about remembering the first time they embraced as husband and wife.

They come to us because they hope and trust that we'll be able to offer them a solution.  They bring us a huge challenge - to create for them, images that bring them back to the emotion of their wedding day.  

It's about them.  It's about their wedding.  It's about the story that started long before we ever got involved.  It's about the details, the people, the moments, the smells, the light, the color, and the excitement.  It's about everything they've dreamed about, coming to life before them.

When the phone rings, they have a problem.  They want to remember the experience - and the feeling - of their wedding.  Our job is to be the answer to THAT problem.  The photographers who truly succeed, and build businesses full of happy clients, are the photographers who dedicate their craft and their art to solving that problem.

The next time the phone rings - or you get an email inquiry - think about being the solution to the real problem.  What might you do different?  

DEALING WITH DIFFICULT CLIENTS

Run a photography business (or any business for that matter) long enough, and there's a good chance you'll encounter a client, that - for whatever reason - is unhappy no matter what you do.  You may have already experienced a client like this - the type with completely unreasonable demands, a total lack of appreciation for your time or talent, and an entitlement attitude that makes you want to quit photography all together.  Do youknow the type of client I'm talking about?  

 

Now, before we go any further, I think it's worth stating that no matter what happens with a client - even if it's not your fault - it's always your problem.  What I mean is, even if the client is upset about something that was beyond your control, or out of your hands, it's still your problem to deal with.  You have two choices: you can figure out how to solve their problem, or you can fire the client.  

The question that I think we all wrestle with is "how do I know when to try to make a client happy (solve their problem), or when to cut my losses because they'll never be happy (fire the client).  Let's look at a few ways you can deal with difficult clients.

1. There's a difference between difficult clients and clients with difficulty.

In fact, it's a HUGE difference - and figuring out which you are dealing with is more important than just about anything else.  Difficult clients are the ones that can't be made happy.  There's just something about them, that no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, no matter what heroic effort you make, they won't be happy.  

In reality, it's not your problem that they are difficult.  It's also not about you.  In fact, there's almost nothing you can do to help a difficult client - they're just difficult for the sake of being difficult.  They complain about everything, and expect you to bow to their every whim.  Amazingly, we often entertain this abuse, and allow these clients to suck valuable energy and life out of us.  We think that somehow we might be able to make them happy, and we're afraid of what they might do if we don't coddle them.

NOTHING THEY CAN DO TO YOU IS WORSE THAN THE LIFE THEY'VE ALREADY SUCKED OUT OF YOU.

On the other hand, most of our clients are reasonable people - but for one reason or another, we've either failed to meet their expectations, or they are experiencing difficulty.  These clients aren't difficult people, they're just experiencing difficulty, because their expectations aren't aligned with their experience.  Maybe they aren't happy with some of their photos, or they feel like the turnaround time is too long.  Maybe they're disappointed in your pricing, or they expected more "family shots."  Whatever their difficulty, there's a pretty good chance you can help them through it, and make them happy.

2. Fire Difficult Clients

No questions asked.  If there's nothing you can do for a difficult client, why on earth are you spending any time at all on the relationship?  It's your responsibility to fulfill any previous obligation to these clients, and then termintate the relationship as professionally - and as quickly - as you can.

3. Expectations Are Everything

On the other hand, you can often set yourself, and your clients, up for a win by taking time to clearly communicate expectations with your clients.  When we fail to create clear expectations for our clients, they fill in the blanks based on their assumptions and understanding.  If we don't tell them exactly what to expect, it's hard to fault them for being disappointed when we don't live up to their expectations.

From the very first encounter you have with a client, it's your responsibilty to be creating and managing their expectations.  Give them a clear undersanding of your process, how you work, what they should expect and when, and how to get ahold of you if they have questions.  By the time a client is asking you for something they thought they should already have - it's too late.

4. Take One For The Team

Often, we encounter clients with difficulty, and defenses go up.  We get defensive about their problem, and place blame and fault on the client.  Even if we think we've done everything right, the reality in front of us is that we failed to meet a clients expectations.  So what now?  How do we create a win for everyone invovled?

Usually the easiest thing is to ask yourself, what will it take to make this client happy?  What do I need to do to restore this relationship, and provide a positive experience for this customer?  Many times the answer is much easier than it seems.  Often a simple apology for the misunderstanding - along with an offer to make it right - will go a long way toward creating a win.  

I find that when I swallow my pride, give a sincere apology, and focus on how to make it a win for the client - I come out far ahead.  In fact, it's in the most difficult times that we have the opportunity to create clients for life.  We have the chance to do something unexpected that causes our clients to feel valued.  In the long run, that's far more valuable to me than standing on my ego and pride and refusing to budge just because I think my client is nuts.

 

How about you? How do you handle difficult clients?