We typically think about interviewing skills as they relate to hiring a new employee or applying for a job yourself. Well, think of each client as a new employer. Each step of the way is the same as getting hired for a new job. That future client might just be your next "new boss!"
Over the years we've all watched a lot of interviews on television. All of the talk-show leaders go beyond the script in the way they ask their questions or decide what question needs to come next. Each question takes the guest down a different path and most of the time keeps us watching the interview.
So, it's an easy segue to ask how are your interviewing skills when meeting your clients? Just like your favorite celebrity journalists, do you ask the right questions and pay attention to the details that will tell you who they are? Here's a checklist to consider, using bridal clients as an example:
- Ask about her gown. Knowing who made her gown will tell you two key things. First, it'll give you an idea of how much she might be willing to spend on photography. Second, the style of the dress, if you learn your designers, will give you a hint into the style of photography she's likely to be most interested in. If you've ever attended one of Bambi Cantrell's workshops this is one of her very best ways of getting to know more about her wedding clients.
- Ask how the couple met. Work to bring out the fun stories in their relationship by asking what's the funniest thing either of them has ever done. Again, you're looking for two things, more information about them, and you want to observe the expressions as they tell you the stories. Kirk Voclain uses this same practice in working with high school seniors. As they're talking about their friends, school, personal interests he's looking for the right moment to click the shutter. He's watching for the most natural expressions, that smile when there's a sparkle in their eyes.
- How are they dressed? A client in jeans and a college sweatshirt is going to have different tastes than a client dressed to the nines with matching bag and shoes. It's a perfect way to get a feel for casual photojournalism versus a more traditional look at your client's photography needs. (Note: But don't ever judge how much a client might spend with you by what they're wearing!)
- Show your clients different presentations. Have a slide show ready to go, a couple of different albums and even a few canvas prints around the studio or wherever you're doing their interview. Clients are influenced by the things they see in your studio, portfolio, and website. Show the things you want to sell, especially large and small framed prints.
- Be relaxed. The response you get from a potential client is a reflection of what they see in you. Most often clients will hire you because of your personality and the feeling of trust they have, starting with the very first impression. They already know you're a photographer and they assume you know what you're doing with a camera. What they're really there to buy is YOU! My old buddy, Calvin Hayes, has always talked about his clients hiring him because of his personality and that's a huge part of what he's selling.
- Be professional! Many of you have studios in your home and too often forget to lock up the family pets, get the kids to stay in another part of the house and shut off the phone or at least don't answer it. This is about giving your client your undivided attention. A very well-respected photographer could never understand why she didn't book more clients, as her four cats climbed all over me. Not everybody loves pets as she did and I'm convinced it was a turn-off to many of her clients.
There's an exciting quality to a good interview, and it's most often related to sincerity and establishing trust. It's about everything you've learned about customer service, your personality, and your listening skills. An excellent interview with a client can lead to a contract faster than anything in marketing, but a bad conversation and a focus on the wrong things will be devastating.
To be successful, you have to be able to relate to people;
they have to be satisfied with your personality to be able to do business with you
and to build a relationship with mutual trust.