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.
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!
- 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.
- What should I charge for my part time photography? – Your First Customer Series, Part 3
- How do I get my first photography client? – Your First Customer Series, Part 4
- Pricing for growth versus pricing for profit
- How to price your photography, Part II
- Debate: Is longevity the selling point for photography studio prints (and their prices)?