How to earn lifetime photography customers with the perfect follow-up – Your First Customer Series, Part 10

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on April 10, 2010

in This is Business

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(Click here to visit the summary post for the Your First Customer Series!)

If you’ve completed the previous nine parts of this series, I commend you – you’ve read a small book’s worth of articles meant to help you get on your feet with your first customers.

As they say, the hardest moment in any journey is taking that first step. If you’ve read and followed along with this series, I hope that you’ve gained equal parts knowledge and confidence.

Here we come upon the final article in the Your First Customer Series. I’ll discuss what you can do beyond the art and experience of your photo shoot to keep clients coming back for more while referring their friends and family with reckless abandon.

A word about touchpoints

Waco, Texas, marketing guru Jay Ehret first turned me on to the concept of touchpoints – all the moments where we have an exposure to or interaction with our clients. All of these little touchpoints, from your advertising to your web site to your e-mails, phone calls, consultations, and follow-up contacts, are rich opportunities to add another layer of awesome sauce to your customers’ experience.

In any touchpoint, you can do what is expected – which often translates to mediocrity. Where the opportunity lies is in breaking expectations and giving clients something remark-able to experience.

Just as you want to answer your phone with a smile and be warm and encouraging during your photo shoot, you want your follow-up activities to reinforce your client’s great experience with your company. Continue to show your client appreciation and respect after they’ve already given you their money; it shows character, which is sorely lacking in most consumers’ buying lives these days.

Quality assurance = repeat business and referrals

Pick up the phone (or voice activate your Bluetooth, to be with the times) and give your client a jingle a few days after they’ve received their order.

Know your delivery times and methods. Know that if you place a print order with your lab on Tuesday at 2:45 p.m., your client will receive their print order sometime Thursday via FedEx Overnight shipping. Know that if you place that order at 3:15 p.m., your client’s order will most likely be delivered Friday. Pay attention and be aware, both so you can share this with your clients and so you know when to make that first follow-up contact.

When you call your client, your goal is the same as it has been all throughout your time with them: understand their needs and meet them to the best of your ability, with your best art and the best experience you can provide.

Here’s your checklist for the follow-up phone call:

“How are you enjoying your photos?” – Ask a few relevant and specific questions based on what your client ordered and what they talked about during your sales session. If a client buys a 20×30 piece of wall art, ask if they’ve had the chance to hang it; if so, ask where they went for framing and if they’re happy with that vendor. If a client buys a CD of digital images, ask if they’ve shared them with family yet, or ordered prints from their lab. Show an interest in how your clients are using your art.

“Did your order arrive on time and in good condition?” – Make sure the shipping times you are quoting clients match what’s being delivered by your lab or through the mail.

“All of the prints came out to your satisfaction?” – Give your client the opportunity to share concerns or problems with you. Don’t market a satisfaction guarantee if you aren’t willing to stand boldly behind it. Don’t beat your clients until they find something to complain about, but if they have a real concern, be sure they understand you are receptive to hearing it.

Those are your quality assurance questions. Be prepared for clients who may express dissatisfaction with some part of their order. Be ready to explain why an image looks different in print than on your laptop (ink vs. LCD), why their prints don’t have the same colors as what they see on their monitors (color calibration), why the print they ordered is “cut off” (cropping, image ratio vs. print size), why one print looks grainy and one looks clear (ISO noise, outdoor/studio lit vs. indoor/low light), etc.

Answer your client’s questions honestly and clearly. Most clients just need a bit of education and they’re satisfied. Be ready to stand by your guarantee, though – if a client is still not happy, offer to fix the problem if you can, or offer to refund that part of the order…

“Sure, I understand what you’re talking about. Because of the lighting, those indoor images do have more noise or grain in them. If I didn’t bump up the sensitivity of the camera once we moved inside, though, the images would have come out really dark.”

“I understand why you’re not happy with that print. If you’re not happy with it, I would be glad to do some Photoshop work on it and get a replacement print sent out from the lab. Would that work for you?”

“I understand why you’re not happy with that print. Because of the poor light, I’m afraid there isn’t anything I could do to fix that in Photoshop. If you’re not happy with it, I would be glad to refund your money for that print and you’re also welcome to keep it. Would that work for you?”

If you’re working with decent folks, and most clients are, they won’t ask for a refund or replacement if you explain why a print or image didn’t turn out the way they expected. If they ask anyway, you have to assume they are truly dissatisfied with that part of their order, and your best long-term choice is to cheerfully fulfill their wishes. Deal with the situation in a way that, if you were on the other end, would make you tell a friend, “I had a problem with one of my prints, but they took care of it, and quickly. No hassle. I’m very happy with them.”

If, for whatever reason within your market, you see too many requests for refunds or replacements (to the point that you’re losing an unacceptable amount of money), you may have to be less accommodating in order to run a profitable and enjoyable business.

“I understand why you’re not happy with that print. I would be happy to refund or replace the print for you, but I would need you to return the bad print. Is that alright?”

Some folks just like to complain. Some folks are happiest when they get something for nothing. By the time they get their order and complain, you probably saw it coming. But when you ask that kind of client to put in some time or effort to get their ‘freebie’ (as little effort as putting a 5×7 print in the mail to you), they’ll often just pass to avoid the bother. While I advocate above-and-beyond customer service, in no way do I suggest you should hurt your business to satisfy unreasonable clients.

A future article will address firing your worst clients, but in short, don’t be afraid to lose the business of a bad customer. And don’t fear losing their potential referrals – birds of a feather flock together; do you really want more clients just out to rob you blind?

That said, be realistic when evaluating how much damage your worst clients do. You don’t want to change a policy which hurts all of your clients, good and bad, when only one in 20 clients causes real trouble. Don’t overreact if one client now and then takes you for a ride. The many, many other good clients more than make up for that one loss.

But if your current market is overrun with foxes, don’t be afraid to guard the henhouse. Within a few months to a year, your client base will probably have upgraded by a level or two, and your ratio of BS to good business will have improved commensurate. Reevaluate your policies then.

Building long-term relationships

After the first half of your follow-up phone call where you ensure satisfaction, next work on the future of your relationship with the client.

“I’d like to stay in touch with you guys if I may. We have a fan page on Facebook and we send out a monthly e-mail newsletter with our latest specials, events, coupons and tips for clients to get the most from their purchase. Would it be okay if I add you to our list?”

If you haven’t already made this request during the sales session, make it now. Give yourself every opportunity to maintain a relationship and presence in your clients’ lives. When they or anyone they know are in need of a photographer, you want to be the first thought in their head – you want to be ‘top of mind.’

If they approve, befriend (befan?) them on Facebook (or MySpace, or Twitter, or whatever you use) and add their e-mail address to your newsletter list.

The referral engine – planting the seed

The referral engine, the processes you use to turn existing clients into your best marketing tool, has many small parts that make up the whole.

The first step is to simply plant the seed of referral in their minds:

“I like to ask all my clients, do you happen to know anyone who might be interested in our photography services?”

Referral incentive programs are worthy of their own set of articles, so I won’t go into them here, but if you have one, mention the benefits at this point.

You just want to expose your client to the idea of sending their friends and family your way. If they had an exceptional experience, they will likely do this anyway, but it doesn’t hurt to pose the question and help the wheels start turning.

Depending upon your sales methods (harder or softer), when a client does have someone in mind, you can either ask for that person’s contact information and permission to namedrop the referring client when you call, or you can simply offer to send your client a special e-mail to forward on to interested friends and family. Again, if you have a referral incentive program, mention the benefits.

Either way, let your client know that you’ll drop them a couple of follow-up e-mails in the next two weeks to make sure they get the most from their purchase.

The survey and the referral

Next up are a pair of e-mails to send to your client: a survey and a referral reminder.

I’m a big fan of the two-question survey:

“How would you rate your experience with our company and products on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being a perfect experience?”

“If less than a 10, what could we have done better to make your experience a 10?”

Shut up and get out of the way. Don’t obsess over controlling the direction of your client’s response with loaded questions meant to elicit specific responses about specific areas of your business. Let clients tell you, in their own words, exactly what comes to their mind that would make your business a better one.

You’ll be surprised how much difference there is between what your clients think about and what you think they think about. Give their thoughts the consideration they deserve. Often, it’s the little things that count.

Send out your survey e-mail one week after you talk with your client by phone. Begin and close it with some copy reminding your client that you’re always available to answer any questions they may have, and that you hope they’re enjoying their purchase.

Your next e-mail will provide your client with all the info they need to easily refer their contacts to you.

Send out this second follow-up one week after your survey goes out.

In this e-mail, provide in brief your marketing message, and ask your client to forward the information on to any of their friends, family, or others who may be interested. This is a nice, soft way to ask clients for a referral. It also educates them to your business’ talking points – the best reasons why clients choose you over the competition. Let them know what to talk about and they’ll be ready to share when the opportunity arises.

Staying top of mind

A good e-mail newsletter is a wildly powerful thing. It is so easy to collect opt-in e-mail addresses from clients, and then for pennies, send them newsletters packed with great marketing – news, offers, coupons, contests, etc.

Facebook and other social media provide you another, more personal and interactive way to stay top of mind with your clients. Here you can keep up with clients’ lives while sharing your own professional life for fans to read about. Once a person or family becomes a paying customer, they become a part of your client community. Treat them as you would a neighbor – chat over the fence with them. Be yourself.

To be exceptional as a one-to-one marketer, which I feel is far more effective and lucrative than mass media for doing business as a part time photographer, you want to cultivate a very thoughtful, individual relationship with each client.

Should you dive into their personal lives? Share your own personal life with them? Unless you are one of those rare people who can pull off that kind of involvement and interest without creeping people out, I’d say again, treat clients warmly, but as a neighbor or professional contact.

Consider the ol’ Clip-and-Share.

Assuming you keep a handy customer database (as simple as a text file with a lot of notes about your clients; ages, birthdays, anniversaries, pets, jobs, hobbies, interests, what photo art and products they like or don’t like…), you can maintain a certain level of awareness about your clients’ needs and interests outside of photography.

When you come across something that would interest one of your clients, because of its relation to their job or interests (or their spouse’s), clip it and send it to them – e-mail a link, share a tweet, snail mail a magazine article, etc.

For example, one of my clients is involved in fundraising here in Bandera for Project Graduation, a non-profit event that gives high school seniors an alcohol-free place to party on graduation night. When I come across an article that highlights a new service or innovative project for fundraising, I forward that information on to her.

I have another client whose son has Asperger syndrome. I’ve sent her items weekly at times – news articles, book finds, blog posts. Another client had to cancel a shoot because her baby went into the ER with a high fever. You bet I called her the next evening to see how that baby was feeling.

Thoughtful gestures like these are far more effective than farming your client base for birthdates, then sending out a generic, mass-produced set of “Happy Birthday!” postcards each month. My gym and insurance agent both do it. I don’t even warrant a hand-initialed note. I’m worth “Thank you for your business,” signed, “The Soandso Staff” in Times New Roman.

Yeesh. Ain’t I special.

Whether in an e-mail, hand-written note, via an e-mail newsletter or on Facebook, be attentive, thoughtful, and ready to share things with your clients that will benefit their lives. Don’t spam, don’t hard-sell and upsell, just maintain a positive presence in their lives. The word-of-mouth referrals will flow.

Be real: care, and the clients will follow

Personal attention is the new black, in photography and just about every other industry. People want to be respected and treated as individuals.

The way you handle your follow-ups with each client helps lay the foundation for a lifelong professional relationship. Become ‘their‘ photographer. Establish loyalty when they’re a high school senior, for example, and you’ll be shooting their engagement, bridal, wedding, maternity, newborn, baby, children’s, and family photos for decades to come.

Carl Sewell in his book Customers For Life talks about how a single car sale is only worth a few thousand dollars to a salesman or dealership. But once you add in service, maintenance, repairs, swag, trade-ins, returning buyers and referrals over the course of a lifetime, any given customer is worth over a million dollars.

Take the time to treat every client like they’re worth a million bucks.

Personal attention in the form of thoughtful gestures sprinkled here and there will set you apart from your competition and give you a special place in the entire spectrum of a client’s consumer experiences.

When’s the last time someone with whom you spent $5 or $5,000 bothered to send you, you personally, a link they found for an interesting article on photography?

There lies the big opportunity, my friends.

Whether you’ve read just this final article or followed along with the entire Your First Customer Series, thank you so much for your readership. If it has proven a benefit to your entry into the world of part time professional photography, I am truly thrilled. I am blessed to have the opportunity to share my experiences with you.

I have pages and pages of notes for articles and projects I’m excited to share here on – these two initial series just scratch the surface of what’s to come. I hope you’ll visit again. You’re invited to bookmark the site and/or click on the handy-dandy free “Subscribe” button at the top of any page of this web site.

Next Steps

  • Whether you’ve already shot one or a hundred clients, if you don’t have a customer database going, get started now. Start with your most recent shoot and go back from there. Write down names, family member names and ages, contact information, and everything you can remember about them that could be useful later on: jobs, schools, interests, hobbies, groups and associations, charities, supported causes, etc. Add as many clients as you can remember details for, and then as you gain new clients, add their names and information to your list. Study this list once a month to keep fresh in your mind the many opportunities to share beneficial discoveries with your client base.
  • Brainstorm session: What’s the best follow-up from a business you have experienced as a consumer? How many great follow-ups can you recall? Do you see the opportunity here for your own business? File this in your Brainstorms folder.
  • We have only just begun, mates. will continue to grow with new articles, videos, and other great content to help you make the transition from amateur photographer to part time professional. If you like what you’re reading here, feel free to click on the “Subscribe” link at the top of any page of this web site.
  • What have you discovered is your best way to stay top of mind with clients? What have you experienced as a consumer that made you say, “Wow, that company really goes above and beyond for its customers”? Leave a comment below, e-mail me, or call or text me at 830-688-1564.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Pam April 22, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Each time I read oneof your articles I become much more confident as a photographer. You’ve exposed (no pun intended) me to how to operate on a whole new level. I feel like a professional and my clients see me that way.
Thanks for all your help, its been invaluable!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor April 24, 2010 at 2:59 pm

That’s fantastic to hear Pam, thank you so much for your kind words. I’m so glad the site is helping make your business better.

I checked out your site and you have really, really lovely art. That baby with the pearls is precious. You have a great variety in your portfolio; you should have every confidence that you’re providing your clients with great art worth every penny you charge and likely more. Great work!

Thank you for your readership!


K May 23, 2010 at 4:10 pm

You know what? None of this works. I’ve been running ads since March in Craig’s List and haven’t EVER gotten a call. $10.00 for each pic seemed like such a great deal. Seemed so easy to advertise in a free online site.
Well, it also doesn’t work.
I don’t know what else to try to get a business started, maybe just keep on with stock photo but I’m done wasting my time on Craig’s List.


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor May 23, 2010 at 7:29 pm

Thank you for your comment! Different marketing tactics will of course work in different markets. And also, how you write your ad and where you place it on Craigslist can have a big impact on its efficacy. Check out this link,, for a great guide to marketing your business on Craigslist.

I’m sure others have had both positive and less positive results from Craigslist postings. Try reducing the frequency of your posts, and try placing them in different categories that relate to what your market may be looking for. Even if you just make one post per week or month, it only takes a few minutes, and a single response will pay for your time.

I continue to get good results from Craigslist, especially with baby photography. My usual client from Craigslist spends less than my average client, but my two best baby photography clients have come from Craigslist – so as with most marketing, it all averages out.

Keep practicing your art, growing your portfolio, and adding great images to your web site – with time, people will get to know your name and start calling you for shoots.


Maggie September 23, 2010 at 11:56 am

I was a bit skeptical about Craigslist as well, but I’ve had two cold clients come from it to book sessions. For a free vehicle, I thought it was definitely worth posting.


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor September 23, 2010 at 10:34 pm

How you present your services and your offer makes a big difference in who receives it, and how. It’s less about the tool than how you use it.


jay hughes February 11, 2011 at 1:25 am

Absolutely amazing set of articles, thanks for all of the information. I have so much more to do now to help myself out. I will use all of this information, check and recheck back for references. I thought I was excited to start this journey in my life, now i’m almost too anxious. I am in the process of setting everything up (website, etc) but will deff drop you a line and let you know how things go. When everything gets up and running later this year.


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor February 11, 2011 at 3:18 am

Thank you so much Jay! I appreciate your kind words and your readership! I’m glad you’re finding inspiration in the series!

As you have questions or ideas or just want to talk professional photography, don’t hesitate to post here, e-mail me, or give me a call. I look forward to hearing about your adventure into business ownership! Thank you again!


Essy March 6, 2013 at 11:04 am

Wonderful articles…thank you so much. I’m just getting started and I look forward to putting some of your suggestions into practice.


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor March 11, 2013 at 11:56 pm

Thank you for your comment and kind words, Essy! I enjoyed visiting your portfolio tonight! You have a great start to your business – you won’t believe how far you’ve come in just a few months, much less a year!

If there’s ever a topic you’d like to read about, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

Keep me posted on your successes and adventures this year!


Jasmine March 27, 2014 at 7:37 am

Just wanted to say thank you for this amazing series!! I have learned so much from it. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. 🙂


Brian March 28, 2014 at 5:57 pm

Great articles first and foremost. Secondly, the main reason I’m writing is that I know someone who lives in Bandera. Mark and Kathy Griffon. Happen to know them? Anyway, I’m seriously thinking about starting up part time and wondered if you would be willing to help a greenhorn with some camera questions once I spend a few months learning the camera. Once again great articles and I look forward to your response.


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