These days customers can be hard to come by for photographers. There are never enough of them and they have many options in today’s markets. Because it is tough to land a new client, it becomes so important to take care of the ones you have after earning their business.
Out of sight = out of mind! I was horribly guilty of being ‘out of sight’ in my early days. I should make no excuses, but it was a different time. In the ‘olden days’ we marketed by direct mail and sales calls and maybe a portfolio showing. Today is different. While I occasionally make sales calls I rarely get them anymore and I like it that way.
If I was an art buyer I probably would prefer to not get calls (some prohibit it) even though my job is to work with photographers. If I was a real art buyer, it might take a lot to get excited about another photographer knocking on my virtual door. But I would get excited if a photographer contacted me in a unique and interesting manner and presented work that made me think “wow”.
In the ‘olden days’ when a sale or assignment was made, I dropped a thank you note in with the invoice and mailed that. They were next added to my mail list and would receive my mailed promos. Today that would not be enough. The out of sight = out of mind is far too easy to occur. These days you need to treat clients like they are your only and your last client.
If you think about it, you need them and your business needs them but unless circumstances are unusual, they don’t need you. And unless you do something to change that, they become a past client.
Take the lead
Photographers need to create an environment where clients need them but even more importantly, they need to create an environment where the client wants them. Repeat customers come back because you have successfully filled the need and now they want you to fill that need again and hopefully every time they have that need.
Without customers you have no business, obviously, so look at each as a brick in the foundation of your successful business. While we all photograph because we love to, the thought process of photographing for the customer first and ourselves second, drives us to always think how we can help them. Customers are part of our business, the part that makes us successful.
Here are 5 ideas on how you can meet customer’s needs:
1) Don’t just take care of a customer’s needs, anticipate them and have a plan in place to do that. As an example, let’s say you made your first sale, images of wind farms, to an energy conservation magazine. They usually publish articles on green and alternative energy and now that you have the ear of the photo editor so ask what’s coming up. Better yet, anticipate what’s coming up. If they are publishing an article on green energy then they will most likely publish an article on fossil fuel energy like coal or nuclear. Plan to shoot those subjects as you travel between national parks.
2) Don’t miss a deadline or be late, in fact be earlier than promised. Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do right this minute. Even drop what you are doing if it is not that important. Customers like prompt service and are often impressed when it is done surprisingly fast, so products and services must be delivered as promised. When you get a call for an image and you are in the office, tell the customer that you will get on it right now, even if they say they won’t need it for another day. That prompt service dismisses any concern they might have in regards to their unfilled need. Today, you made their job easier!
3) Be affordable. How many times do you buy a product, service, or a meal and feel it was overpriced or even a rip-off? Sadly, while we view our photographs or photography service as a high value product worthy of every dime we ask, not every client or potential client feels the same way. The markets have squeezed prices and clients know it. Ideally, and within reason, you should be a great value to every client and that means affordable and fair. Clients will in fact, pay more for a product they feel is a great value even if a competitor is cheaper.
4) Be all they want you to be. If you are a niche photographer with a specialty not covered by many, then you will be marketing your niche subject. If they have an image need and you don’t have it, give them names of your colleagues who might, or better yet, work with your competitors and form a co-op relationship. Agree to help each other make a sale by sharing photo requests. If you don’t have the image, ask a friend to send a thumbnail to you and make the sale, taking 25% for making the sale. Clients will return when they know you are a great source for their needs.
5) Keep in touch and avoid out of site = out of mind. There is that saying that you should treat every client as your last client. The process of keeping a client is not too different than earning a client for the first time. You still have to have something they need for them to buy again. If you were a wedding photographer and looking to earn repeat business the chances to be hired by the same for another wedding is probably not going to happen. But if you shoot portraits as well, and you should, you can offer a sale to existing customers for an anniversary portrait or a family portrait of their growing family.
For outdoor photographers you won’t run a sale on photographing magazine stories or a ‘two stock photos for the price of one’ type promotion. That would be strange and buyers of stock photos are generally not motivated by sales. Instead look for ways that are unique to you in promoting yourself and staying in touch. Don’t try to keep selling and selling and instead, keep promoting the benefits of your products and services. Who you are working with, who trusted you to do the job, and the benefit they got.
Thinking of the alternative energy magazine again; a card that has a small image printed on it that relates to the magazine and includes a personal note, is quiet effective when you mention that you saw this “dirty coal burning power plants emissions on a recent trip to Somewhere National Park” and that you wanted to show it to them. This shows them you are thinking about them and their magazine while you go about your business.
If you sell fine art prints and for example, you just sold a 40×60 framed print to go on the wall of a custom log home. Assuming you made the deal yourself; ask that buyer if you can feature them in a blog post and other promotional efforts. Ask if someone could take a digital picture of them standing next to your picture and send it to you along with a quote. That picture and quote should appear on your blog post and any printed pieces, like a brochure, you might do. But to take care of that customer, send them a free copy of your calendar for the upcoming year or a 25% discount on their next print. Make them feel valued!
If it is broken, fix it
It is said that 90% of dissatisfied customers tell 10 people of that dissatisfaction while satisfied customers will tell on average 5 people. 90% of dissatisfied people will not buy from you again. 95% of dissatisfied customers will remain a customer if their complaint is remedied immediately. In photography there is no room for error. There are just not that many buyers of photography and related products out there.
I teach online classes and today I received this email from a student whose class session expired:
Thank you so much for this great class! Using Flash has been a challenge to me. I can confidently say I know how to use my speedlites now. This is my 5th class. Definitely, this is the best class I have ever taken. I’m looking forward to gaining knowledge and confidence in “Portrait Photography” which started this week.
I strive for these types of comment by taking care of the customer and in this case, a student. I answer all their questions in great detail and critique their photos with compassion. I love to teach and they can see that. They enjoy the class and return for another and hopefully this testimonial will sell other students on my courses.
Taking care of your customers is so important. You do that by making them feel valued and convince them you are a bargain and you enjoy helping solve their problems. This is crucial to any business and especially your business. Go the extra mile, throw in a little more, and do it all with enthusiasm and grace and when you take care of the customer they will return.
If you have any thoughts, please leave a comment!