There are plenty of ways to spend money to try and get a leg up on your competition.
But there are equal opportunities to spend nothing and pull ahead.
One of the easiest ways to offer added value for your part time photography clients without touching your business checking account is to improve your response and turnaround times.
In case you hadn’t noticed, today’s society is deeply in love with immediate satisfaction, and consumers are willing to pay top dollar for convenience and speed – sometimes even at the sacrifice of quality.
Let’s look at the two biggest opportunities you have to serve your clients in a way the competition may be unwilling – or unable – to match.
“You’ve reached James at Outlaw Photography – please leave a message after the beep and I will get back to you as soon as possible.”
That’s what you’ll hear if you call my cell phone, assuming I don’t answer because I’m already with a client or (entirely likely) asleep at some random part of the day.
The clock starts ticking from the moment a potential client sends you an e-mail or leaves a voicemail message searching for a return call. It’s easy to gloss over these “call me back” messages and save them for batch processing later in the day…or week… But I don’t think I have to harp on the fact that procrastination will do nothing to ingratiate you to customers.
If someone has taken the time to e-mail or call, they’re as qualified a lead as you can get – they are interested in what you have to offer and are proactively trying to give you money.
If you want to pull ahead of the competition – don’t make a buying client wait.
A lot of newbie professional photographers have, like any human being, a notable fear of the unknown. Confidence takes preparation and time to build, and in the interim, picking up the phone to call back a potential client can sometimes be curiously challenging. Sometimes you feel like you barely know what you’re talking about, and you fear coming off as a sham.
Like breaking through the first 15 minutes of a good run or gym workout, you’ve got to muscle through the discomfort so you can get In The Zone.
Some obvious, but valuable and often ignored, protips:
- If the phone rings, answer it – preferably with a big smile and introduction. If I’m calling to spend my money with you, the two worst things you can do are to sound bored or answer with a frustrating, “Hello?”
- If you can’t answer the phone – for reasons of proper or illicit nature – have a nice, professional voicemail greeting recorded. Then get back to callers as quickly as you can – within minutes is best. As soon as possible should mean just that. The sooner you call back, the less time your client has to lose interest, or worse, shop the competition.
- Same goes for e-mails – keep an eye on your Inbox and get back to people as quickly as possible. If they leave a phone number, try calling first, unless it’s after dinner hours. Just as it’s easy for you to ignore an e-mail, it’s easy for clients to ignore or simply fail to respond to yours. If you can get them on the phone, you show a real interest in their business and they’re more likely to book on the spot.
- Even if you can’t answer a caller’s question immediately, such as if they want to talk about dates and you’re cruising on the Interstate, answer the phone or call back anyway. They will appreciate just getting to consult with you about the shoot, get their questions answered, and you can ask to call them later in the day when you’re in front of your calendar. They’ll already be sold that “you’re the one” and will wait for your contact instead of shopping around.
An example of this practice in action: I was working late at the office last week and got an e-mail from a woman shopping around for wedding photographers, the typical “I’m interested in wedding photography, please send me your prices and packages,” message. So I took two minutes to shoot off a quick response. We e-mailed back and forth a few times over the next 15 minutes, and set up a consultation at the coffeehouse here in Bandera.
When we sat down and visited, by the end of the conversation, my new client told me the number one reason she met with me was because I responded so quickly to her e-mail. She said she e-mailed a dozen photographers – half took days to get back to her, and the other half she hadn’t even heard from a week after.
Actually, it isn’t unbelievable – because it happens all the time. And this is yet another of the big, hairy, audacious opportunities that your competition is leaving open for you to take advantage of. Certainly not just for wedding photography, this applies to any client need – the faster you can turn around a response or request or order, the more impressed and loyal your clients will be.
I don’t buy the manipulative grognard horsesh*t of not responding “too quickly” because you want to look busy, and not desperate. Buyers are shoppers – if I’m hungry, the restaurant that’s open now is the one that gets my money. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve eaten at Church’s Chicken just because it’s walking distance from my office.
Much as we photographers, we artists, like to pretend otherwise, most clients are not anxiously waiting by the phone for our return call, desperately wanting to shoot with us and only us – especially at the start-up end of the market.
My new wedding client drove over an hour to visit with me out in Bandera, coming out of the metroplex of San Antonio – over a million strong in population and overflowing with photographers. And she volunteered the reason was primarily because of my response time. That’s knowledge you can take to the bank.
I can talk a blue streak just about responding to client inquiries as fast as you can.
Your second opportunity to use speed to stay ahead of your competition is in turnaround time, how long you take to turn around client requests and orders.
This is especially crucial near your local high schools’ graduation ceremonies. Parents love to have great, up-to-date photos of their seniors to send out with graduation invitations. But like most folks, they procrastinate until the month or so before graduation.
I used to tell people it would take about a week to turn around proofs. I mean, that’s what everyone else does, right? Don’t want to look too desperate – and we want to make it appear that we spent a lot of time being artistic in preparing these precious proofs!
Well, that was all BS.
The real reason was that I was lazy, and I justified that laziness with the idea of trying to mindfreak my clients into thinking I was busy being an in-demand artist.
That’s disingenuous and the kind of manipulation I abhor – as a consumer and as a businessman. As with an honest mechanic, if something takes 15 minutes, it takes 15 minutes; if it takes three hours, it takes three hours, not three days or three weeks.
I’ve refined my workflow to dedicate about an hour to post-process a shoot for proofing and sales. Barring dinner or other engagements, guess how long it takes for me to turn around proofs for my clients? That’s right – one hour.
Unless another photographer moves into Bandera County and starts shooting and selling portraits like a good rodeo or event photographer (two-person team, one shooting and handing cards to a second person who processes and has proofs ready as the shoot is ongoing), nobody could beat my turnaround times even if they wanted to.
And this is the point I don’t want you to lose in this sea of advice:
You won’t start out with the best art, the most business savvy, the best marketing – but you can start giving your clients an exceptional experience right away.
Ignore what the grognards do and say, or “how everyone does it,” and ask yourself how you can do better by your clients right now – ask yourself how you’d prefer to be treated.
Stepping up to a faster turnaround is a no-cost opportunity to add value to your professional photography services. You’re just shifting processing time from later in the week to immediately after your shoot. It takes some energy, some stamina to give your all on a shoot then get on your computer and start processing, but the good word of mouth will fatten your bank account much faster than procrastination.
- How fast can you turn around proofs on your next shoot? Race yourself, just for fun – apply the 80/20 rule and see what 20 percent of processing you’re doing that’s giving you 80 percent of your artistic results. Try to get your post-processing time below one-hour on a one-hour shoot – this includes all post-processing, including offloading the camera, backing up the shoot, culling, processing proofs, black and white conversions on your favorite shots, and walking away from the computer ready to show and sell. No room for self-indulgent perfectionism here. Keep practicing – it does get easier and faster with time.
- Brainstorm session: Take an evaluative look at your competition, any other photographers or studios marketing to your potential clients. Look at every detail a client might consider: artistic style, uniqueness of art, personality, session fees or minimum orders, print pricing, availability and pricing on files, forced package buys, friendliness of policies and treatment, speed to turn around proofs or orders, simplicity or complexity of their marketing message and policies, social proof (are they using testimonials well?), social media, permission marketing (e-mail newsletter), keyphrase-richness and personality of blog posts, professionalism and warmth on phone calls, informative content of web site, transparency and speed of e-mail responses, speed in returning voicemails, who their coop marketing partners are, so on and so on. Some of the best marketing education you can get is in shopping your competition. Which of their strengths can you match or better? How can you maximize on their weaknesses? Where’s the gaping hole of opportunity? File this in your Brainstorms folder.
- My writing at PartTimePhoto.com exists to serve your needs as an amateur photographer making the transition to paid professional. I appreciate and welcome your readership, and invite you to subscribe to my e-mail newsletter at the top of any page of this site.
- What’s your competition doing wrong? What can you do to capitalize on it? Leave a comment below, e-mail me, or call or text me at 830-688-1564.
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