We’ve all heard the expression “don’t put the cart before the horse.” That simply means the cart is the vehicle which is usually pulled by a horse, so putting the cart before the horse is an analogy for doing things in the wrong order.
That’s an important bit of advice for anyone with a photography business.
One way we can put the cart before the horse is by marketing for business before we have actually built a strong foundation for success. Obviously, we want to attract customers, but what would be the use of getting a customer that received a less than ideal customer experience? That client would not likely become a repeat client nor would they likely refer our business to others.
I feel there are at least five things we must have in place before we begin to attract leads to our business:
- Products and services – Many photographers just pull the trigger and open the doors for business by popping up a website of images and then trying everything possible to get visits to that site. They haven’t given serious thought to what products they want to offer. You need to answer questions such as: Do I sell digital files or prints, or both? What about albums? How many album choices? How many spreads will my base album have? How many photos will an average spread have? Cover options? Print finishes? What about sizes? What resolution do I sell digital images at? How long do I keep galleries live? How do I present the final images? Should I do in personal sales or sell online? There are many decisions to be made and many of them can actually have a big impact on your business. Having policies in place, having a carefully curated product menu means guiding your clients in their purchasing journey. What do I want to photograph and what jobs would I refer away to others? Making up your mind in advance to focus on certain genres makes it easier to turn away work that isn’t part of your plan.
- Pricing– After we have established what products and services we are offering, we must also determine how to price them. Just charging what the studio across town charges is not the way to price your work and yet many photographers start out by doing just that. They find out what their competitors charge and copy those prices (or undercut them) without any thought to costs or profit margins. Bryan and I have written a book on how to price your photography called Pricing for Profit that can help you get your prices where they need to be in order for you to be profitable.
You need to know what you charge for all your services and products and be able to communicate pricing with confidence.
- Turnaround times – In order to set proper expectations for clients, you must have figured out how long they can expect to wait after placing an order with you. You need to research how long each product takes from the time you order it from your lab or album company. Add a few days for possible shipping from you to the client. Take an average time for editing a wedding and then add a few extra days for safety and begin to create a repeatable workflow for your business. If you shoot a wedding or portrait session, build a workflow for downloading the images, culling, editing, creating a proof gallery or setting up a viewing. Create a systemized way of showing your clients what to expect.
- Response policy and system – Communication can make or break first impressions. When we get a lead from our website or phone calls to our studio phone line, how long do we take to respond to a lead? Do we follow up promptly? How do we handle problems or mistakes? Do we have a system in place to make repeated questions answered easily, faster and more efficiently? How often do we check for messages on the business Facebook page or Instagram account?
- Hours of business schedule– Too many photographers have not given thought to what their business hours are and answer direct inquiries at any hour, seven days a week. While that might seem like great service, it doesn’t allow much for a personal life with time away from work. Having set hours also helps with creating a repeatable work schedule. Block off regular time for editing and prepping orders each week. Appoint certain times in the week when you will book sessions, sales appointments and consultations. Having all these factors properly considered and implemented before the inquiries come in will help to create a better client experience. It is also incredibly important that you as the photographer, educate all prospects and incoming clients on all the relevant information that's applicable to their reason for coming to you.
Let's give an example of what I mean.
Let's say you get a wedding inquiry. You are available for the date and you reply saying just that.
“Hey thanks for getting in touch, I happy to say that I'm available for your date. Let's chat soon!
How much have you helped that client? Yes, you have indicated that you're available but imagine how much more you could have done to educate and inform.
What if you had said something like this,
“Thanks so much for your inquiry! I am excited to say that I am still currently available for your date. Congratulations on your choice of venue, I have photographed there countless times and it's one of my favourite venues. I'd be happy to show you some specific examples of wedding photography I've taken there.
It would be great to chat with you about the plans you have for your wedding. I'm available for calls Tuesday through Friday 9-5. or Wednesday evenings from 7-9pm. When's the best time for a phone call for you?
I'm sure you must have many questions about my services, so may I send you our studio wedding magazine? It has information about our style of shooting and what you can expect from the time you book our services to receiving your gorgeous wedding album. I just need to get your mailing address and I will express ship your magazine to you.
Let me know also a good time to get together for an in person meeting or a chat by phone.
Looking forward to hearing all about your special day!
Having all our packages already built and priced and delivering a known repeatable workflow to a prospective client, can easily build trust and credibility. Your role in the process is to be their guide and to effortlessly lead them from step to step, all the while educating and showing value. In the email above I ask for permission to properly educate them by sending them additional information by way of my studio magazine. I wouldn't want to send that by email for two reasons. First, all that information would make a very lengthy email indeed. If I sent the information in an attached pdf, (which I could of course), it wouldn't show the same level of value that a physical magazine would arriving in the mail.
When you have built the foundation for the five steps described above you can then confidently market for business knowing that anyone who comes calling will enter into a consistent and repeatable customer journey. A journey where you can anticipate their needs and questions and deliver the appropriate answers and steps at just the right time.