Photographers, you aren’t in the industry you think you are

Every now and then I see something said on social media (read that as Facebook) by a photographer that makes the hair on my neck stand up.

Recently, yet again, I saw a thread where a photographer was asking other photographers what they thought she should do about a bride who wanted to change the coverage times she had originally booked.

Social media isn’t the best source of business advice. Try studying other successful businesses first.

First of all while Facebook groups are fun and social and all that, I don’t really recommend that we start using it as the basis for our own studio policy. First of all remember that what you are really getting are opinions and likely opinions from a lot of photographers you haven’t met. Would you take gardening advice from a neighbor whose garden is full of weeds? Probably not.  Please don’t get me wrong, photography groups and pages on Facebook can indeed be helpful and even encouraging. I just don’t think it’s likely to be your best source for business advice.

Anyway, back to the photographer mentioned above. They bemoaned the fact that their inconsiderate bride had the gall to ask if she could cut down a few hours off the full coverage she thought she wanted (or could afford). The photographer stated to her FB page besties that she had a contract and should she hold the bride to that and not back down. Wow, when speaking about a client how can you even use those words in a sentence? “I’m not backing down”

Re-framing what you do

You are in the “service” industry!

Just so I don’t get into a rant mode here, let me just make clear how I see our job as photographers. We are clearly in a service industry, we provide a service and a product, we are in the people business. It’s great to have some terms of business and some studio policies. That helps keep the expectations out in the open for everyone concerned. When it comes to weddings, to me at least, the customer experience is paramount to getting great referrals and repeat business.

The main purpose of a contract is to book a date well in advance. Don’t hold a “contractual gun” to your clients’ head.

The main purpose for me for having a wedding contract is to book a date well in advance of the event and to have an idea of some details, names, contact information etc for my records. It helps to have all pertinent data recorded in my calendars and wedding books.

Obviously this helps prevent the horrible possibility of double booking the same date with two different clients. The contract also can include what collection or package the couple might have decided on in advance, but I always keep in mind that since I haven’t actually performed any service yet, I would like to be flexible if they should change their mind on the size of the package or coverage.

I have a minimum collection that I offer and that for me has six hours. I won’t book a wedding in advance for less than six hours. So the option is there if a bride booked me at 10 hours and closer to the wedding calls to say, “can we downsize?”, I will always say yes in a cheerful and happy tone.

I have a minimum package that is profitable and in a given year I will likely book a few of them, I’ll also book some medium and top shelf packages as well. That’s how I can get an average sales amount, by selling differently priced options.

I’m happy to sell the six hour day because it means I can spend time with my wife at the end of the day without being exhausted. I like to sell the larger packages because it brings in more money and it’s fun to cover the whole day.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is to be happy that you got booked- period. Small wedding, big wedding, it just feels great to be working and I’m grateful for the work. I’m grateful for the referrals and perhaps I get those referrals because I choose to be customer centric instead of holding a contractual gun to a clients head and refusing to budge once a wedding contract is signed.

The customer experience meter starts running the minute they first call. I want to do everything in my power to make their time spent with me easy and enjoyable. By having sensible terms in place in the beginning and educating your clients on your policies in advance you will likely avoid any potential unpleasantness.

Getting it all right

How to perfect your customer experience

To me the best way to find great business advice, policies and terms of business is to study businesses that you use and admire. Next time you’re at Starbucks ask them what their policy would be if you ordered a drink that you didn’t enjoy.

Take notes at an establishment that you give your business to. Ask yourself why you go there. Try to list several things and then try to prioritize the list. Make a note of the #1 reason you’re a client there and see if there’s a way to incorporate that into your photography business. By spending time analyzing other successful businesses you will get a long list of tips and ideas for your own business that will give you a positive focus and put you on a path of higher customer service.

It’s often in the little things. For years I have lamented to my wife how awful the conditions typically were in gas station washrooms for men. Not too long ago Sunoco gas here in Canada made a commitment to keep their washrooms clean and maintained a cleaning schedule that you could comment on. I was pleasantly surprised on my next visit and made a mental note to make them my usual gas stop regardless of gas price.

After you’ve polled a few super successful businesses take the time to plan what you’ll do when things go wrong.

The customer is always right

Recently I had a client make an online order with me that came to about $1800. She got an automatic response from my gallery site showing what she ordered and it stated that it was an order confirmation.

Later, she commented on her order when I saw her in person, and I explained to her that the larger canvas prints took a bit longer than the prints. She then noted that she didn’t order any canvases, but had just ordered six 8×10 prints…

I could have argued that she was wrong and that I had documented proof that she had ordered more, and I likely could have pushed it to small claims court, but that would have cost me in time, aggravation, and maybe even legal fees depending on the outcome. More importantly, it would have cost me a client and a well connected one at that. I opted to swallow the small cost of the canvases and keep great client relations.

Call me crazy but I kind of count on a few losses like that every year. It’s awesome when it never happens, but I don’t get too bent when it does.

If you look at most business software ledgers there’s always a line there for bad accounts. It happens in almost every kind of business. I’m pretty sure that in her mind she was confident that she had only ordered 8x10s and I have given her the benefit of doubt.

Action item

What do do next?

Do an “internal audit” and ask yourself where you’re going for your business advice? Be sure it’s a trusted source.

1. Try to create policies that are good for you but are also meant to work in the customer’s favour.

2. Study existing businesses that have earned your respect and analyze what makes them that way.

3. Be sure to educate your clients of all your pertinent policies that apply to their situation with you.

4. Check your social media attitude. Are you seen as positive, happy, grateful? Or do you find yourself complaining, moaning or sharing what you shouldn’t? If your going to say anything on social media then think of what Sally Hogshead says, “you are either giving value or taking up space.”

Written by <br>Robert Nowell
Written by
Robert Nowell

Professional photographer, photography professor and co-founder at Sprout Studio.

Written by <br>Robert Nowell
Written by
Robert Nowell

Professional photographer, photography professor and co-founder at Sprout Studio.

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