How to prepare for your first photography client’s call – Your First Customer Series, Part 5

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on December 20, 2009

in This is Business

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

So you’ve got your prices set, your most salable photos picked out and practiced, and your marketing has people talking about your business.

Then the unimaginable happens – someone actually contacts you to ask about your services! Life and small business ownership are sometimes truly unpredictable.

Make no mistake – if you are practicing your art and marketing your services to your target market, you will get clients a-callin’. Let’s explore how we need to prepare for this momentous, and nerve-wracking, occasion.

Your first contact

Not unlike how scientists are prepared to communicate with alien races when they come to take away all our cattle and chocolate, you want to be ready to take the questions your potential clients may have when they call and turn them into answers, education, and bookings.

Answering the phone:

  • Do: Smile (people really can hear it in your voice)
  • Do: “Thank you for calling James Taylor Photography, this is James, how may I help you today?”
  • Do not: “Hello?

Nothing turns me off faster than when I call a business, especially a service-based business owned and operated by an individual, that answers the phone like I just interrupted their dinner. “Hello?

Because then I have to sound stupid and ask, “Is this James Taylor Photography?”

To which they shall then eloquently reply, “Yeah.”

I’m officially done. I no longer care about whatever I called to ask about. You’ve lost my business and I’ll probably tell everyone I know.

As a part time photographer, your business phone is probably your personal cell phone – nothing wrong with that; that’s how I’ve handled my business for many years. But unless you know for sure the person calling is a friend or family member, always answer with your professional intro and a smile. Begin every call by giving the right impression.

Be sure you know your business, policies, and prices. Be ready to answer questions broad and specific.

The first question most contacts will ask is, “What are your prices?”

At this point, don’t become a smarmy, manipulative salesman. Grognards will tell you that the first thing you do when asked this question is to deflect and say, “Well our price depends on a number of factors. Tell me what kind of photos are you looking for?”

You know what? If I call someone and ask what their price is, and their response is to not tell me: yet again, instant turn off. Don’t start trying to play Salesmanship 101 with me. Tell me what I want to know, then introduce your hook.

“I charge no session fee and have no minimum order, you just buy what you love. Prints and files start at just $10…”

…then, without pause, extend the conversation…

“What kind of photography are you looking for?”

If you follow my suggested pricing structure for freshly-minted professional photographers, it would take quite a cheapskate to balk at your prices. You don’t want to flatline the conversation, though, by answering their question and leaving them to come up with a response. Warmly guide them into establishing a rapport and learn about their needs so you can better help them get what they are looking for.

Remember: In all acts as a small business owner, your goal is to help your clients. Approach all contacts as an opportunity to learn their needs and help meet those needs via the best experience to be had. It is most definitely not about manipulating and milking clients for all you can get out of them.

Be ready for anything

Be sure you are knowledgeable and confident about your business:

  • When someone asks your price for a 16×20 print, know it. (“16×20’s go for $80. Are you looking for some wall art to go over your fireplace?”)
  • When someone asks if you guarantee your products, know the answer. (“Any print or product you purchase from us is 100% satisfaction guaranteed. If you purchase a digital file from us, we will give you our recommended labs to get prints from, but of course we cannot guarantee someone else’s prints. That’s one of the benefits of buying directly from us. Some clients simply prefer the convenience of knowing we are handling and guaranteeing their prints.”)
  • When someone asks if you’re available this Thursday at 2 p.m. for an outdoor shoot, know your schedule. (“I do have an opening at 2 p.m., but the light is still pretty harsh at that time of day. I would suggest shooting closer to 5 p.m. so we can catch that lovely, soft evening light. Would that work for you?”)
  • When someone says they had a bad experience with another local photographer, know how to respond. (“I’m sorry to hear that shoot didn’t work out for you! I’ve always heard good things about Jane Doe Photography. We have no session fees and no minimum orders, and we guarantee complete satisfaction with all our prints and products. Tell me what went wrong with your other shoot and I’ll tell you how we will prevent those problems if you decide to work with us.”)
  • If someone asks you for anything outside of your limits, know how you’ll respond and still help them. (“No, I’m sorry, we don’t shoot on family holidays like Thanksgiving. Would the day before or after work? No? Hmm, let me call a couple of other photographers I know and see if they are open that day. Could I get your phone number and call you back in about 10 minutes?”)

Whether you charge $10 or $100 for an 8×10, whether you never shoot on Sundays or every Sunday, make sure you know and are confident in your policies. Some fish will swim away, and that’s perfectly fine. Even just starting out, you do not have to shoot for free or jump through hoops to build your business, and you never, ever have to suffer insufferable clients. Have the confidence to say, “I don’t think we are the right match for what you need, but let me recommend a couple of other local photographers I have worked with that may better be able to help you.”

Answer client questions directly and honestly. If you don’t know how to do something they need, or if you feel they need someone with more or different experience, don’t be afraid to tell them so. Don’t be afraid to tell folks that you are new to professional photography, that that is why you are such a good value, and why you’re ready to work hard to ensure they have the best experience possible.

And be ready to refer out: as someone just getting started in part time professional portrait photography, taking on a big commercial contract for an architectural firm is asking for a mountain of stress and one ticked off client.

Booking the shoot

When you feel like you’ve answered your caller’s questions and fairly educated them to your prices and policies, go ahead and ask for the booking.

“I have an opening this Friday at 6 p.m. Would that work for you guys?”

Put the ball in their court. Try to get a firm booking from them, but if they have to talk to a spouse or check their schedule, make sure their impression of you is a good one. Starting out, sometimes enthusiasm is all you’ve got – but that enthusiasm and attention can be big sellers to potential clients. They will expect, and receive, a better experience than a much larger, pick-a-number studio may provide.

If your art isn’t to the point of enamoring clients, make sure the experience you give them leaves them enamored with you as a person, photographer, and business.

When finalizing the booking, be sure to:

  • Ask for the client’s phone number so you can call to confirm the shoot the week or day before the booked date (and to get a hold of them if something comes up on your end – when I came down with swine flu this year, I had to make quite a few phone calls).
  • Ask for their e-mail address so you can send over a Session Prep Cheat Sheet (I’ll write about this in a future article). Ask if you can also add their address to your e-mail newsletter list. If newsletter subscribers get a little bonus like a free digital file or 8×10 with their first shoot (and they should!), be sure to mention this when asking their permission to add their address to your mailing list.
  • Repeat the date and time back to them one last time. “This sounds great! I’m very excited to shoot with you guys. I’ve got you down for Sunday, Dec. 20, 5 p.m. at the City Park. We will see you then!”
  • As soon as you hang up the phone – before, if you’re good at multitasking – get that booking on your own calendar in full detail. Be sure to include all the details of your conversation, your client’s needs and expectations, and their contact information. I use Microsoft Outlook, and put all this information right into the calendar; this way, when I sync my iPhone, I always have everything I need at my fingertips.
  • If you said you would send a follow-up e-mail with that cheat sheet or any other information, do so immediately.

So you’ve booked your first honest client! Not your sister, or your best friend, or your coworker – your first client to learn of your business from an outside source and proactively contact you to set up a shoot. Congratulations!

Preparation is key – I’d rather be ready than lucky any day.

The next three articles will close this series with how to prepare for and perform your shoot, how to make the most of your sales session, and how to follow-up with your client.

Thank you to all those readers who have visited and referred their friends and fellow photographers to this site over the past few months. It’s been great reading your comments and sharing encouragement with one another!

Next Steps

  • Review your prices, products, and policies – daily – until they are second nature to you. When a potential client calls, you want to be confident in answering their questions. Feel free to have mock conversations with family or friends, or by yourself – remember, practice how you will perform.
  • Call around to your local competition. Don’t be shy in playing the part of a consumer and seeing how they respond to your questions. See if they use a soft or hard sell, see if they treat you with respect and answer your questions clearly, see what their demeanor is like on the phone. Refine the experience you provide your potential clients on the phone to meet or beat their best.
  • Brainstorm session: Do you feel prepared to answer the phone when a potential client calls? What can you do to make sure you can speak with confidence and answer potential questions and curveballs? File this in your Brainstorms folder.
  • Encouraging, educating, entertaining, empowering content is the bread and butter of this blog. If you like what you’ve read today, please don’t hesitate to click the “Subscribe” link at the top of any page of this site.
  • What do you to prepare for incoming phone calls? What phrases and methods have helped you up your bookings over the phone? Leave a comment below, e-mail me, or call or text me at 830-688-1564.

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

LUIS BAZAN February 2, 2010 at 1:04 am

Am just sucking in all the info, lol. Great advice, you don’t know how much you’re time to advice us means. I am getting anxious to get my camera next month!

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor February 18, 2010 at 12:08 am

Thank you so much for your kind words Luis! I appreciate them and your readership.

You’re going to have a lifetime of fun in photography, starting with that very camera. Enjoy every moment of the adventure!

If there is any topic you would like to read bout here on PartTimePhoto.com, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

Thank you again!

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Kim September 22, 2010 at 11:46 pm

Hi James, I’ve just stumbled across your site having seen it referred to another photography forum I visit (sorry, can’t remember which one right now). As I’m looking to step things up a notch in my photography I am loving your practical, straightforward and open advice on how to get things moving.

Many thanks!

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor September 22, 2010 at 11:53 pm

Thank you for your readership and for leaving such a nice comment Kim! It’s easy to write straightforward when you’ve been there. Out here in rural Texas, you learn the real deal of running a small photography business, and you learn it fast. I’m glad folks like you are getting real benefit from the site, and I look forward to writing a great deal more in the near future. If ever you have thoughts on or suggestions for the site, they are always welcome. Thank you again!

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Dina August 19, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Love your articles thanks for all the information

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor August 19, 2011 at 8:59 pm

Thank you so much Dina! And thank you for your readership! Lots of cute kids in your portfolio; really enjoyed visiting it tonight.

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Blair December 26, 2012 at 7:13 pm

I’ve been looking at your blog for a while now (I’m a Professional Lurker!) 😉 and I just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to walk us through this. I’ve been shooting for two years and getting super serious about my business…..your knowledge is invaluable. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor December 31, 2012 at 12:15 am

Thank you for your comment and kind words, Blair! I greatly appreciate your readership – thank you! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures in 2013!

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Chase Griffith February 20, 2013 at 7:41 pm

Good afternoon! I was going thru my price list on my website, and I was curious which sizes to make available. What do you suggest? There are so many sizes to make available that I feel like it’s a little overwhelming for the clients (and for me also!)

Love the website! You have motivated me to take the next step in my photographic life! I am nervous, as I have not gotten my first client yet, but reading your site really puts my doubts out the window!

I look forward to your response and thanks again!

~Chase Griffith

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor February 21, 2013 at 3:18 am

Thank you for your kind words and readership Chase! I really enjoyed visiting your web site tonight – it’s a great site in itself, and your art is absolutely beautiful. You’ve got it man, you’ve got it – just keep moving forward.

I went to your Pricing page, and it came up as all while but for a couple links! When I selected the text, I could see it though. I’m running Chrome on Windows 8 if that helps with your troubleshooting.

What print sizes you want to offer (and if you want to sell prints at all!) is dependent on your market – who you’re selling to and what they like. Your market will probably look a lot like you in that respect, so start with yourself: what do you like? Digital files to share online? Big wall prints on your wall? Little wallets to carry around and share with folks?

I love digital, mostly sharing on my Facebook, and big gallery wraps in my home. So guess what I sell? Hi-res, fully processed files on CD, and big gallery wraps. At least that’s my focus. I’ll sell a client anything they want, but almost every time, they don’t really know what they want. You have to visit with each client to really get an understanding of how they would best enjoy your photography – and then make product suggestions accordingly.

A lot of photographers (so many people who sell anything, really) get hung up on the product – the 4×6, 5×7, 8×10, 11×14, 16×20, 20×30, lustre coating, cherry wood frame, gallery wrap, wall cling, good golly whatever looked cool in the last Rangefinder magazine ad. Honestly, most of your clients aren’t going to be photography experts – they might have an idea of what they want, but you’re the professional. You are the adviser, the expert whom they look to for guidance.

It’s the difference between the McDonald’s clerk who asks “Do you want fries with that?” and the waiter who can ask you the perfect three questions to give you the perfect suggested meal from the menu, down to the sides and specific preparation. And when you take that first bite, you never could have dreamed how much you’d love queso on your chicken fried steak (a revelation I experienced just last week in San Antonio).

So I’m taking forever to answer your question, but I hope you’re picking up what I’m throwing down. I’d say, make the world of photographic products available to your clients. But know what’s good, know what’s best for someone who lives in a small home versus a large one, for someone who lives in a two-story home versus a single-story, for someone young and digital-friendly versus someone who would love a traditional wall hanging. I wouldn’t even have a price list. Memorize what you charge for common products, and have a formula or easily-researched pricing for everything else. I don’t sell a lot of wall clings, but if I feel a certain photo from a certain shoot for a certain type of client would go great as a wall cling, if that’s how I feel they would most enjoy the art they’re buying from me, then I’m going to look up the cost and set a price I feel is fair to the client and to me.

Barring all that, offer digital files, 4×6 and 8×10 prints, and 16×20 and 20×30 gallery wraps!

I hope this helps! Thank you again for your readership, and please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Lisa February 25, 2013 at 10:22 am

I also HATE it when I call a business and get “Hello” – sometimes they even act surprised that a stranger is calling them, like when you dial the wrong number. But when I ask, “Is this such and such business?” it’s like they remember they’re running a business and are like “Oh, yes, hi.” Grrr. Anyway, for that reason I just designated my cell phone as my business number and plan to answer it professionally. You are so spot on with this article!

As for being ready when the first client calls, I just got that email a few days ago (first stranger). She wanted a photographer for her 5 year old’s birthday party. I can think of nothing harder to shoot than a bunch of little kids moving quickly through an indoor (usually low light) party space. But I also thought it’d be fun. However, I was totally thrown on the concept of pricing. She was talking more about time investment, “How much would it be for two hours of photographing” vs product or session or prints, etc. I didn’t know how to answer (luckily it was email LOL).

In the end the point was moot. I just moved hours away from that town and couldn’t do it. But I wouldn’t been a little bit stuck if I’d had to answer her question, so I’ve got some more homework to do.

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor March 11, 2013 at 11:31 pm

Thank you for your comment, Lisa!

I’m not partial to shooting events, but when I do, I again go back to finding out what the client wants to end up with.

Maybe they want you to shoot for three hours and then provide a CD with all the processed photos.

Maybe they want you to shoot and then provide the hostess with an 8×10 of each kid and a group photo for each kid, as part of the after-party thank-you gift.

Maybe they want you to shoot, and then see proofs, and buy their favorites – like a typical portrait session.

There are many ways to skin a cat.

I for one try very, very hard not to shoot anything I don’t like, or anything I’m not properly prepared for. Like you say, shooting a bunch of 5-year-olds running around in low light is just setting up your client for disappointment. With some flash equipment, and knowledge of the layout of the house, you might be able to do good work – but those are specialized talents you may not yet have practice or confidence with yet.

Turn down any unusual photography work that you don’t feel confident you can do great work on. If you feel like you’re missing a valuable opportunity in your market, turn that first job down, but then work out a way to get good practice in doing that kind of work (seek you local churches and non-profits, there are always many opportunities for all kinds of volunteer photography work to practice with). Once you’ve got that experience and enough good work to offer examples of your work in that arena to a potential client, you’re better able to – again – manage their expectations. There are many fish in the sea – it’s okay to let a few go back into the water.

When I do get roped into doing event work, I charge for my time and provide a CD of hi-res, processed files after the event (unless the client does have a burning desire for prints, for which I’ll do a flat rate bid up front). This is the same way I bid weddings, and it is the best combination of profit and simplicity for my style of work.

I hope this helps! Keep me posted on your experiences!

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Arnoldo Moirin April 14, 2013 at 2:23 am

A-ma-zing post series, thanks a lot for the valuable info and time to put it togheter!

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living room April 14, 2013 at 2:38 am

I have read several excellent stuff here. Certainly price
bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how much effort you place to make such a fantastic informative website.

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor May 28, 2013 at 8:47 pm

Thank you so much for your comment and kind words!

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lukman September 25, 2013 at 7:10 pm

Hi james, I just stumbled upon your blog today and fell in love with it.

I just relocated to the country from Africa, and I am planning of starting my photography big time, but I have this feeling potential clients won’t feel comfortable with me right from the second they hear my accent.

What do you think about this?

Thanks in advance and keep the charity work up!

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor May 26, 2014 at 8:41 am

Lukman, thank you so much for your kind words and readership!

I think personality and love will overcome any difference you have with your clients Lukman, whether it’s an accent or physical attribute or disability or otherwise.

Be comfortable with yourself, and realize that ‘your people’ are out there – folks who will love your art, love your personality, even love your accent. Maintain your hustle, work with effort and focus, grow as an artist and business owner, and always strive to be better and thus give more value with every shoot.

I’m fascinating by people, and am always captivated by the stories of immigrants – I for one love the accents, and the backgrounds, and the talk of food and culture and differences and similarities. There are many, many people like me out there, and they would love to have their portrait photographed by you.

Walk in confidence and know that if you’re giving your best, you’ll get the best from others. Never let an initial distraction like your accent get in the way of finding your people and blessing them with the art and experience you create for them.

Thank you again for your readership! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Jonathan September 16, 2015 at 5:53 pm

I’ve read many of your articles and just wanted to thank you for taking the time to write this, organize it and provide it to your readers. I frankly don’t agree with everything you state, and I know that that’s ok, no two business is alike, however you’ve sincerely helped in filling in some of the gaps for many of us. I genuinely hope you take stock in your value and put this into a book to publish. Thank you again.

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor September 23, 2015 at 1:55 pm

Thank you so much for your kind words and readership, Jonathan! I’m so glad you’re enjoying the site.

I always welcome alternative views – they only enrich the tapestry of the ideas here.

I’m working on an teaching + curriculum offering to help PTPs make their way up the mountain of success. It’s my calling to be truly helpful, to help people really move the needle and not just feel like it, so I’m working with my own mentors and peers to craft something that is truly effective at helping people make real progress.

Thank you for your encouragement, Jonathan! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures.

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Andy February 8, 2016 at 5:14 am

So…. first shoot booked! First proper one anyway, since I statred on my journey, and it’s not a wedding (which makes a change!).
A young lady piano player wants photos for her brochures and web site. She’s got a bunch of musical friends too so there’s potential for this to grow arms and legs!!
Now it’s time to re-devour all the posts on this website to refresh the brain cells…
Andy

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor February 8, 2016 at 12:22 pm

Congratulations Andy! What a huge step! That first client is a game-changer.

It sounds like a great shoot, full of opportunities for great portraits, creativity, and connections with a new social circle!

Keep me posted on how the shoot goes.

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Brandi August 18, 2016 at 6:26 pm

Hey I just have to comment that YOU ROCK!!!
I am so grateful I stumbled across your website when online trying to get some creative ideas to name my brand new journey I am starting in actually opening a Photography business. I’ve been taking photos for years of my kids, friends kids, newborns and it was all just fun for me as we own a construction company.
Well now that I’m not working in the construction office anymore I’ve decided after my son being a senior and graduating this past June and I was asked to take photos of some of his friends because these boys really didn’t care. They wanted to get their head shot done and would only let me do a couple outdoor shots. Damn brats. My son included. Lol.
Well my daughter is entering her senior year and this one wants senior pics done every season. Ugh!!! So we did one shoot about a week ago. She shared just two of the pictures and I’m getting calls asking if I would do this senior or that senior etc.
I also did my first real newborn indoor studio photo session and have others interested in hiring me for their soon to arrive newborns as well as family sessions. These are the things I want to stick with, Seniors, Babies, kids, and family sessions. With newborns sessions either at my home studio or in their home nersery being that they are brand new little ones. All others I will be doing Natural Light outdoor sessions.
I am wanting a catchy name. A creative but not long name with it ending with Photograohy by Brandi.
You are so creative and hilarious I am grateful for all your insight and tips and tricks on starting up. Just wanted to say thank you for your time you put into helping others like myself. Hey, if you have any name suggestions throw them at me 😁. I will take all the ideas and help I can get.
Thanks again James,
Brandi the newbie from Michigan 😏

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor September 1, 2016 at 1:36 pm

Thank you so much for your kind words Brandi!

Hehe what a fun backstory! I hope you’ll continue to tell that in your marketing and on your About Page.

You’ve got the best kind of traction: natural, organic expression of demand from the market. Ride that wave!

Michigan has tons of great history. Maybe you could draw inspiration there! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michigan. Also look to your roots, your heritage, ancestry, languages in your family’s past, and so on. Also of course interests, family, memories, and local colloquial words, phrases, places, nicknames, etc.

Brainstorm. Pick 10. Pick 5. Pick 3. Pick 2. Pick one. And be done. (see if you can sit down and force yourself into a decision in less than one hour)

Go with your gut – you can always change it later!

Please let me know what you decide on, and keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Brandi October 7, 2016 at 12:31 am

I got it 😍. And have secured my Domain 👍🏼
Everlasting Snapshots
Once I get to work on my website and make it live it will be
http://www.EverlastingSnapshots.com

Thanks for your feedback. 😁

Reply

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