Top 10 Skills to Master for a Successful Photography Business: Part Two
As business owners we have to sell our products and services. Without sales, there is no business. I can’t think of another industry where the goods and services offered by one vendor differ more from the next, than in our wedding photography industry. Portraits too; in services, deliverables, pricing, retainers, how we suggest added purchases to our clients, etc. As artists who love our craft, we’re probably less equipped than most other small businesses to sell our art. Many other industries sell a comparable product, and merchants compete mostly on price. A distant second is service. Each of us photographers, on the other hand, sell a very unique product. How do we persuade a prospective client to hire us to photograph their wedding? How do we convince them that our photographs will be better, that our albums will be more beautiful, that we’ll be nicer to work with than the other photographers they met with? Especially when they have to pay us before they can see the final product? And, when we may be more expensive than the other guys. Lately, we’re even competing with photographers who, just to get the job, are selling below their cost! The answer is VALUE. In my opinion, people spend their money on what they want, and on what they feel is important. They’re looking for value. Give your product great value in your client’s eyes and you’re half way there, give yourself value, and you have a sale. You have to attract the right client and be able to book them. If you learn how to do these two things well, your business will be successful.
These two images are from last year’s Recharge at Rancho, Portfolio Building Workshop at beautiful Rancho Las Lomas. This year’s Recharge at Rancho will be on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27th. In the morning we explain in detail how we sell during our client meetings, our branding and marketing strategy, we go over contracts, pricing, post production and album design. After lunch (provided) we photograph two great couples and a beautiful reception table for about 4 hours.
I’ll talk about attracting the “right” client in another post, because I think selling is the most important skill we have to master if we want to stay in business. You can be a great photographer, have gorgeous samples, even do a great job at marketing; your phone could be ringing off the hook, but if you don’t develop the skills to close the deal at a fair price, you’ll soon be out of business. There are brides that will check a photographers availability before booking their venue, and then plan the ceremony time according to the photographer’s needs so he or she can do the best job possible. That’s not only a client that considers photography very important, but a client that values their photographer’s skills and is happy to spend a larger than average percentage of the wedding budget on photography. You have to instill that mind set in your clients.
We go into how we sell, step by step, in our workshops, our WPPI Master Class and even more in our one-on-one sessions, where we can address each individual photographer’s needs. Sales skills also come to play after the wedding, when we suggest a larger album and other products to our clients. We’ll talk about that another time. This post deals with the initial sale of our services to wedding clients. Here are just a a few principles we think are basic when it comes to improving your sales skills. I hope you expand on these ideas on your own to fit your style and personality. If selling doesn’t come naturally to you, get better at it, your business depends on it. Read books on the subject, I recommend the newly revised “How to Master the Art of Selling” by Tom Hopkins, also, “The Psychology of Selling” by Brian Tracy, and find a good workshop with someone in our industry that you trust, with a good track record as a photographer, not just as a speaker. If your business does well, the whole industry, including our clients, will benefit greatly:
First of all, you have to believe in your product! Never stop improving your craft. That will give you the confidence to know you’re a great value. If you’re confident and believe in your product, so will your prospective client. It’s just as important not to be overly confident or conceited. Be confident in a modest way. Never say anything negative about your competition, and always resist the urge to ask your prospects what other photographers they’re considering.
When you get that first phone call, don’t pick up on the first ring. Use those few seconds to get yourself ready to talk with a new client. Relax, have your prices, calendar, pen and paper at hand. Be genuinly excited about talking with someone who just got engaged. Ask the big 3 questions early: When’s your wedding? How did you hear about us? and Where’s the wedding? Whether you make an appointment or not, this information is very important. After that, briefly describe your style, let her (or him) ask questions and answer truthfully. If you’re asked for prices, give a range. You may consider emailing them your price list after your conversation, and try to set up a meeting. That’s all that first phone call is about, scheduling a meeting. We don’t have a problem emailing a prospective client our price list after that phone conversation. You’ve qualified the client, and if you made a good impression you’re still in the running.
On the face to face meeting, everything counts. You’re now one of 2 or 3 photographers that made it this far. As in the phone conversation, you have to sell yourself before you can sell your services and products. The meeting location is very important, whether you have your own place or meet in a public venue, the environment has to be right. We can’t go into detail here, use your own instinct and put yourself in the place of your new client. Where would you feel comfortable?
Get to know the couple, find out a little about them, without being nosey. Be interested in them as people, not just as customers. Show your stuff, answer questions, explain how you work, how many people you bring, how the wedding day would unfold, etc. It’s always important to find out if there’s a wedding coordinator in place. If there is, things could go a little different, in fact, she or he might be at the meeting. When you’re done and they asked the final questions, ask for the sale. There are many ways to do this, and if you do it wrong you could shoot yourself in the foot, but you should give them the opportunity to book you right then and there. Bring a contract. I learned a great deal from Jerry Ghionis about customer relations and the whole booking process. The man is a master! Even comments he makes when first meeting a new client, the exact spot in his studio where he first mets them, etc. It’s poetry! He inspired us to come up with ideas of our own to make the experience better for our prospective clients. And of course, never try to change your personality. Be yourself.
More and more clients are booking on line and on the phone only, without a meeting. Every year we have one or two more that go that way, especially if they are out of town. Be prepared to head in that direction during the phone call if you think you’re talking with one of these clients. That’s why you should have a good website and an up to date blog.
When you find out you’ve been chosen by a new couple, be sure to go over the goods and services included, the schedule and form of payments and the non-refundable retainer. You can take a few seconds to do the happy dance, but right after that, get a contract out to your new clients. Make sure you stay in touch with all your clients and never give them a reason to second guess their photographer choice. Your clients will start referring you from the moment they decide to hire you.
I hope this post has gotten you thinking about your sales strategy. As always, I’d love your feedback…
Next post in this series: Never Stop Marketing!