How are you at listening?

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I have just returned from an amazing week at the annual WPPI conference in Las Vegas and I made some observations while there that I’d like to share with you.

I believe photographers attend conferences like WPPI for a variety of reasons. Some come to party, some to learn. Others come to teach and sell products, while perhaps some come hoping for some secret epiphany that will magically transform their business.

Bryan was teaching a master class this year and it was titled “Pricing for Profit” (also the title of our book available on the website).

I was in the back of the room where his class was held, which afforded me the opportunity to listen objectively to both the lesson Bryan was giving and the questions he was showered with throughout his slideshow.

Most of the questions were good ones, from photographers asking for clarification on the concepts he was presenting.

Unfortunately there were also a few photographers who seemed to be missing the point of coming to a class…

Instead of coming to learn, they seemed more interested in getting some kind of validation for what they were already doing.

When the topic of pricing your work was broached, some of those photographers complained of how clients were always wanting a discount, or all the files, or both.

Bryan had just spent close to twenty minutes explaining how you must first show value before the price you charge can make any sense to the client.

They seemed to completely have missed his point and just kept on wondering what they should do with their pricing to fix the problem. They were actually putting blame on their clients for being cheap. It didn’t occur to them that the problem might be less of a price issue and more of a “value for money paid ” issue.

Price is really not the problem, the question they should be asking is ”what kind of value do I deliver?

I don’t want to go into more detail than that on the discussion of price and value, as we have a lot of great articles already here on Sprouting Photographer which cover this topic (like this one).

What I want to ask is this;
[highlightcenter]“When we have a problem that we want to solve, how hard are we listening when someone offers a solution?”[/highlightcenter]

If we have our blinders on and close our minds to any ideas different to our own then we rob ourselves of opportunities to change. Obviously if things aren’t working the way we do them now, then we should be open to new ideas or alternative solutions.

A few of those photographers in Bryan’s class were stuck in a loop and couldn’t seem to break free. It hampered their ability to appreciate a new approach to an old problem.

I’ve been around long enough (thirty three years in the biz this year) to know that you must adapt and change – or be left behind. There are many photographers my age who left photography around the time we all switched from film to digital simply because they refused to change the way they did business. Many of them felt entitled because they’d been around for along time. They felt that years of experience counted more than a great client experience.

They thought that they had paid their “dues” and that clients should just be loyal because they could take a great photograph.

The writing was on the wall, but unfortunately for them they just ignored it.

New technologies emerged and along with it came new photographers hungry for work and ready to give their all for the client. Many of the film photographers closed their doors and left the industry bitter and throwing blame in every direction but their own.

So what are you missing? Are you listening? Do you have your ear to the ground? Do you hear your clients? Do you know what they really want? Are you actively looking for ways to deliver value to them?

I am really excited to see in our industry today so much emphasis on the client experience. Many of the speakers at WPPI hammered home the importance of creating customers for life by exceeding expectations and delivering incredible quality. More than ever we need to hear the message of meeting our clients at every point of contact and to realize that marketing means much more than beautifully designed websites and business cards. Marketing should be aligned with every conversation we have with clients, every email we send them, the way we talk to them and the language we use in our content.

I was fortunate enough this year to have many conversations with those that are at the top of our industry. I can tell you that they’re at the top of their game for good reasons.

They really know their stuff. They have studied and applied their knowledge before becoming teachers. They have invested in the right tools to streamline workflows and enhance their client experience. The most amazing thing that I observed in conversations with them was their willingness to listen. Many are still looking for ways to improve already streamlined and efficient systems.

Renowned wedding photographer Susan Stripling who already runs an efficient workflow for her business, spent time with us at WPPI because she immediately joined up as a Founding Member of Sprout Studio when it was announced and she wanted a first look at how it will work. [quoteright]The fact that she is always looking for ways to improve even when she’s already at the top of her industry is likely one of the main reasons she is enjoying the following she has.[/quoteright]

I am delighted to say that she was over the moon when she saw all that it will do and we were a bit humbled to see how excited she was for a new and more effective tool for her workflow.

Susan and others like her have a formula for success: Creativity matched with efficiency and innovation, combined with high quality products and service, and then always looking for ways to improve that formula.

Be that photographer. The listener, the one who doesn’t blame the client for poor sales. The one who innovates, and acts on an ongoing education. Be on the lookout for more efficient ways to run your business.

The one who is open to learn, and listen.

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