It's a strange, but wonderful time of year as we all experience our own version of the Hobbit's middle earth, the time between the holidays. Christmas is over, some of you are busy with events and clients coming up, while others are done for the year and just kicking back thinking about 2014. It's the perfect time for me to jump in with one of my favorite topics - the dying art of conversation.
Fortunately, it's the biggest challenge for the texting generation. The world over thirty still knows how to carry on an interesting exchange. Regardless of where you are in your conversational skill set, here are some ideas to help you get better in breaking the ice with new clients.
Over the years we've all watched a lot of interviews on television. From Anderson Cooper to Barbara Walters, Dr. Phil, Bill Maher and even Oprah, they all have the ability to go beyond the script in the way they ask their questions or decide what question needs to come next. Each question takes you down a different path and most of the time keeps you 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 journalist, 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, starting with bridal clients:
- 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.
- Ask how the couple met. Work to get the funny stories in their relationship by asking what's the funniest thing either of them have 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 in your client's photography needs.
- 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 your website. Show the things you want to sell.
- 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 good buddy, Calvin Hayes, has always talked about his clients hiring him because of his personality and that's what he's really 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 like she did and I'm convinced it was a turn-off to many of her clients.
There's an interesting quality to a good interview and it seems to most often be related to sincerity and establishing trust. It's about everything you ever learned about customer service, your personality and your listening skills. A good interview with a client can lead to a contract faster than anything in marketing, but a bad interview and a focus on the wrong things will be devastating.
And from George Ross of Donald Trump's Apprentice series:
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.
Illustration credit: © Grasko - Fotolia.com