by Scott Bourne
I am often amazed that many professional photographers don't understand this simple truth. If you make it hard for someone to do business with you, they will visit your competition.
It's not enough to have a great camera - a great studio - a great portfolio. You also need a great business model. And that business model better be customer-friendly or your business will be short-lived.
Here are a few steps you can take to make it easy for people to do business with you.
1. Be easy to find and easy to reach. Plaster your phone number, studio address (if you have one), website address, and your email address all over everything that you print, share, distribute or publish. If the customer can't reach you, they won't do business with you.
2. Have business hours that meet your customer's needs, not your own. I consulted with a new studio in Seattle several years ago. The family that ran it told me they wouldn't open on Saturdays because that was their day to have fun as a family. What? Saturday is the busiest day in most wedding and portrait studios. Your clients aren't professional photographers. They have other jobs and those jobs typically force them to work 9-5, Monday through Friday. That means you need to be open for them evenings and weekends. Yes that is hard. Which is why we call it a JOB!
3. Be sure your terms of service are customer friendly. Don't force your clients to sign 15-page contracts. That will scare them away. You should be able to get the basics down to one page or less.
4. We live in a digital age so get used to the fact that digital products are going to be important to your clients. The old days of hanging on to the files to force customers into a print sale are going away. And there's no reason to fear this change. Just charge more money to cover the cost of the print sales you might have made when you release the digital files. It's the money we care about not the format of the sale. Guy Kawasaku and I were talking about this recently. He made several good points speaking strictly from a consumer's point of view. He has a family. His wife and children have their portraits made. He wants the digital files. He's willing to pay for them, but the photographer says, "That's not my business model." To which Guy replies, "That's not my buying model." If your business model doesn't match your client's buying model then you are on your way out of business.
5. Have samples to show prospects. Remember that just because YOU know what that frame looks like, doesn't mean your client does. Good vendors like our partner Venice Album will help you with samples. Take advantage of this and make sure you have something to show your clients. You can't sell what you can't show. Conversely, you always sell what you show.
6. Accept all forms of payment. Worried about bounced checks? Do some due diligence. Ask for photo ID, only accept checks with the correct name and address on them. If it's a large check, excuse yourself while the client looks at samples and call the bank to verify the check. Accept money orders from major companies, then familiarize yourself with their samples so you know what to look for in case of a fraudulent instrument. Again, excuse yourself and call Western Union or the Post Office with the Money Order number and ask if it is good. Accept cash, and get one of those pens that verifies US currency if you live in the USA. Accept credit cards. A company called Square has made this terribly easy compared to the old days. All you need is an iPhone and a bank account. Accept online payments, while the default for many is PayPal, you can also try others. My favorite online payment gateway is Braintree.'
7. Offer guarantees. Zig Ziglar taught me that fear is the number one reason people don't go forward with a purchase. So help eliminate fear by offering guarantees. Most of your vendors will offer guarantees on the products they sell, so pass them on to your clients. Guarantee your prints. Since the incremental cost is so small to remake a print, it's worth the occasional make good to keep customers happy. (During 15 years of operating a retail studio I offered lifetime guarantees on my prints and never ever even once had to replace a print for a client.)
I could easily go on here, but I think you get the point. As I've shared in other posts on this site, when it comes to marketing, you are not important; your customer is. It's THEIR comfort and safety that matters, not yours. If you make THEM happy, then you'll end up happy. Make it easy for people to do business with you. It's simple. It's a choice. Make it.
Part of being a professional photog is knowing and guiding the client to make wise decisions. A sale of digital files, regardless of the price does not lend itself to displaying the portraits on the wall or desktop. Yes, some are printed, some clients print all. But Im pretty certain a poll would show that most clients look at them on the computer for a short time and put the disk in a desk, planning to print them all soon.
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