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trust, honesty, respect

I’ve been a photographer for a good long while, and while I can’t profess to being good at every part of it (I suck at maternity and refuse to do boudoir) for the most part I feel good about the “Professional” part that I put in front of my chosen career when people ask what I do for a living.

Yesterday my professionalism was sorely tested by Helicopter Mom. 

Helicopter Mom called a few weeks back looking for photos for her high school senior daughter.  In the space of 5 minutes I was informed  of the following things:

Her daughter was gorgeous, and I mean GOR-GUshhhhhhhh and any photographer that was lucky enough to point their lens at her would be a very lucky photographer, indeed.

Her daughter was a world class athlete, a VERY BUSY world class athlete, who simply had a very tight time schedule that needed  to be accommodated. Oh, and she is going back to school next week so her time is going to be even more limited.

That she  had lots of “connections” within her daughters Academy that could possibly mean “big business” for me.

I wasn’t keen on booking Helicopter mom’s baby  but I’m a whore smart business person and I treated Helicopter Mom the way I would any client. I went over the packages available, made some suggestions as to locations for looks she would like and followed up via email sending my Pinterest pages for clothing suggestions along with the online scheduler with my availability for the next several weeks.  I told her that I was very booked with other clients in the coming weeks, but if there was a chance the times I had available meshed with their schedules I’d be happy to work with them.

She booked two weeks later after I totally forgot about her. I groaned when I got the notification that they booked.

The senior girl was in fact lovely but extremely nervous and not especially good in front of the camera. This was made worse by Helicopter Mom’s constant barrage of “not that smile” and “Your hair is too puffy”.  I immediately went to my go-to technique for getting a mom to shut up, I gave her a gigantic reflector and had her hold it up so it blocked her view of her daughter.  You’re welcome for that tip, by the way.

It didn’t last, she yelled from behind the reflector.  At one point told me “Make sure not to do side views, her nose is really crooked”   I sent the senior to change into another outfit and tried to chat with her about taking it down a notch and letting me do my job when she pulled out the big guns.

She took out her phone and showed me that she had brought her daughter to the location the day before and she took photos of all the poses and locations that she liked and wanted me to recreate them.

Horrible locations. Dappled sunlight. Cheesy poses like her hands on her cheeks while she looked off into the middle distance.By this point I was losing patience and I was ready to hit her with the litany of this is not what you hired me for, you pay a professional for a reason, no I won’t do that, when something made me stop. I was so pissed and so flustered that I ran out of words, unusual for me.  But I stopped and I said

“What about these photos do you like?”

Her responses were that this pose was “youthful” and this one was “Innocent” and this one was “the smile that she does when she is really happy”

And I realized that Helicopter Mom was just a mom who was having a really really hard time with her kid getting older and she was one of those types that simply didn’t like not having control.  Professional or not, I think my attitude of “I know better than you” was hindering the relationship.

I looked her in the eye and said “My last kid goes off to college on Sunday. It’s hard, isn’t it?  And Helicopter Mom and I shared a teary moment.   I said ” I’ll do these locations if they work and a few of these poses I can work with too. But you have to trust me and let me take the photos.  If you can help and get that smile that she does when she is really happy by telling her how great she looks the photos will be awesome.”

And then, it was.

Stop: Yourself from making this about you.
Drop: Your tone and body language that is off-putting to an already defensive client.
Roll: With doing things that is a compromise without compromising your final product.

In this busy season I wish for all of you… Stay Sane, Happy and Profitable!
~Kim

Rowing and Canoeing

From the moment the couple walked in, the dynamic was weird.  They barely responded to my warm you up chit-chat  “Did you find parking okay” and “Have a seat, can I get you something to drink?”  They  bee-lined over to the couch and started pawing through albums.   By the time I sat down and started with the “So, tell me about your wedding plans”  he had out a printed Excel spreadsheet and was peering across the line items and asked me “Is this the album that is included in the 8 hour package?”  When I said yes, he scribbled some notes on the spreadsheet and began peppering me with questions, completely ignoring my question about the wedding plans.  I tried to steer the conversation towards finding out more about them.

She said not a word and just quietly looked at albums.

He was having none of it.  He ignored my every attempt to find out about the wedding plans, instead bringing every question back around to pricing and what they “got”.  He then showed me where I landed in his spreadsheet of photographers. I was 41st  out of 50 .”This is arranged by price, so we need to know exactly what we get as you are almost the most expensive one in town”

That’s when I was done with them.

I smiled and said ” If you’re looking for the cheapest photographer, I won’t be one of them”.  He scoffed and said he knew that, but what he didn’t understand was why my albums were so much more expensive than other photographers. I told him I had no idea what other photographers costs were.  He waved the spreadsheet and said ” Well, I can show you if you want.  Then maybe you’ll be able to explain how your albums are twice as expensive as some of the others on here”  I said ” This is not a commodity.  If you don’t see value in my work, then it’s probably best that we part now so we don’t waste each others time”

They stood up and left.  She never once made eye contact with me and the entire consultation lasted 7 minutes.

What would have left me shaken and upset  back in 2003 was nothing more than a good story to share with my photographer friends later that day.  I’ve marketed to NOT that client for so long that getting one  felt like being punked because I’ve carefully crafted each part of my online presence  to not appeal to Mr Asshole Spreadsheetface.

Online forums and Facebook groups are full of photographers whining about how they are being treated by clients and their unreasonable demands and how they can’t seem to break away from the price-shoppers and blah blah blah blah blah.  All their clients are assholes, it seems.

If something keeps happening to you over and over in your business that you don’t like, there’s one common denominator and it’s you.

 

Going from that namby-pamby photographer who drove across town on Christmas Eve to the one that wasn’t going to waste 10 minutes of her time on a client I could never make happy was a process that involved a lot of self-discovery and a lot of research on how to market to the clients I wanted.   Believe it or not, before I found out how much I love telling photographers on the internet how wrong they are, I was a pretty nice person.  In fact, I was kind of a pushover.  So what changed?

I stopped thinking that saying yes to everyone equaled being a good person.

How did I find this out? I figured out that saying yes wasn’t making everyone happy, and it sure as shit wasn’t making me happy.  In fact, the more I said yes and buried myself in work, the more resentful I became of my clients.

I realized that discounts had no worth when I gave them just because someone wanted one.

Instead of being grateful for the “great deal” I gave them, clients asked for more.  More discounts.  More time on the day.  More retouching for free.  They were like children who had a parent who always gave in, and they pushed every button they could to get more out of me.  More resentment.

I learned to rarely say no, but rather to say how much.

When clients asked for special favors I learned to say that it would be my pleasure to include that service for “x”.  In fact, if you have kids you likely do this negotiation all the time without realizing it.  When your toddler demands a snack and wants a cookie you say ” You can have an apple or a piece of cheese.  Cookies are only for after dinner.  Would you like the apple or the cheese?”   It sounds simplistic but it works.  “I’d be happy to change little Johnny’s shirt from red to blue in photo #12.  The fee for the artwork for this is $25.  Would you like me to add it to your final total or invoice you separately for it?”

I learned that I am the boss of me and my business.

You can thank me later for this.   Here’s the phrase I use when a client comes back and questions a procedure that I have in place, 99% of the time one that they were told about in advance:

“It’s my studio policy”

 

It’s my studio policy that I do not proof portraits online.

It’s my studio policy that I do not discount wedding packages for Fridays and Sundays

It’s my studio policy that if you do not place your album order within one year of your wedding I will fulfill that album for you and ship it out to you.

It’s my studio policy that I do not do engagement sessions on the week ends.

 

And you know why it’s my studio policy?  Because it’s my freaking business and I said so. This phrase is not nearly as threatening as “You signed a contract and I am holding you to this”. You can pull out the contract card if you have to, but using the phrase “studio policy” first implies that this is how you treat all your clients fairly across the board.

I turned 40, and I learned it wasn’t personal.

I urge you not to wait this long if you are nowhere near 40.  But there is something to be said for age being empowering and it sure is a lot easier to say no to clients who are closer to my kids age than they are to me.

 

Starting today, our pal Jamie at The Modern Tog is opening an amazing class called Marketog.  If you’re feeling like you’re struggling with this issue of not reaching your ideal clients, you need to check this out.  It’s an intensive course, and starts at week one with this particular problem that many of us face, but branches out into so, so much more.  Stuff that literally took me 10 years and heartache to mire through Jamie covers in 6 weeks.  It’s everything you need to be doing in your marketing: defining your clients, getting your website up to date to attract those clients, turning inquires into clients, and more.

It’s the new year folks, this is the PERFECT time to get on this.  It’s self guided so you can go at your own pace, and there is a money back guarantee.  I also want you to know that it’s studio policy to disclose to you that this is an affliate link which means if you sign up  we get a wee bit ‘o income so we can pay the hosts and such for this blog so I can continue to tell photographers why they are wrong on the internet. It’s kind of like you are paying for my therapy, so you can probably write that off, too.  Ask your accountant about that.

 

ALSO…tomorrow at NOON we do the big giveaway for You Proof…Get on it, people!  We’ve got two free downloads to give away!

 

 

 

tab

Other than the two years I lived in the dorms in college, I have had at least one dog that lived with me.

Usually two, sometimes three.  And a cat…you know, here or there.  Oh those cats…they come, they go.  My last one walked in the door 10 years ago and announced he lived with me by jumping up on the couch and licking his balls as if he’d never left.  Despite being allergic to cats I admired his moxie, so he stayed. I’ve had 3 free range rabbits in my home and I’d really, really like a hedgehog.

So when Tab, my 13 year-old Springer/Brittney Spaniel started to age and had some failings I was very pragmatic about it.  “Well, you know, she’s just getting old, that’s what happens” I said.  Having had animals my whole life I’ve held some as they were euthanized and while it was difficult, I always knew was the right thing because they were very ill.

About a year ago, Tab’s bark changed and she did this annoying “Darth Vader Breathing” off and on.  It seemed to be just when she was agitated, like when I didn’t give her enough treats. Tab embraced old age like a Grand Dame demanding her due. She seemingly could turn this annoying breathing on and off according to her whim and the volume of Milk Bones administered until a few days ago.  When I saw she was gasping more than normal and refused a scrambled egg for breakfast I took her to the vet.  Immediately the diagnosis of laryngeal paralysis was administered by our hometown vet and she was off to a  specialist.

In the course of that 6 hour day from vet to vet, options and procedures were explained to me.  What became clear was that I had a perfectly healthy dog who was having trouble breathing because of a  common side affect of aging that could be reversed with surgery that put a small suture in her throat.  For $3600.  Or, I could put her down. Despite her age, she was healthy and I could not reconcile putting a healthy animal to sleep. But that price tag…I cannot lie, it still sickens me.

Every single time I turned around the vet called with an update and there was a suggestion of another procedure I “should consider”. $150 for “advanced blood-work” because her liver panels were “Oh, just a bit  elevated”.  $325 for an abdominal ultrasound “In case there is some kind of blockage”.  $325 for a “panel on her adrenal glands” and a suggestion for a dental cleaning that I stopped them from even quoting me for.

In each case, the Dr presented me with the options, but it was very clear that he would not make a decision for me nor would he guide me to the “what he would do” place. I finally got him to crack  when I bargained  for a free mani-pedi for her along with the procedure because if was spending that kind of money at least she could have pretty toes and the vet laughed and agreed to that.

I get that Veterinary Medicine is not an exact science and I know that these Doctors were covering their own asses as well as dealing with the what-if’s of a surgery on a older dog, but  I couldn’t help feel that at times I was being held hostage.  After committing to $3600, was I going to say NO to $3800? Of course not. I’ve done my own fair share of double-speak and I know when a Dr is saying ” This is your choice, and I can’t make it for you because you might sue me if I am wrong”.

That’s when it hit me.

Is this how our clients feel?  Mired in an emotional quagmire in a place they have never been before do they feel “hostage” to spending money on an event like wedding?  Do they feel like they have “no choice” but to spend thousands more than they planned on to get the photos that they want? Another $300 for those digital files, another $200 if you want an engagement session…

Do they understand what we mean when we tell them what a “file” or a “proof” is and are we taking the time to explain to them what the benefit our services are to them?

I’ve long been an advocate of the fact that photography is a luxury service.  You do not have to have a fancy wedding to be married, you don’t need photos to be married, and you do not have to spend $3800 on your dog to keep her alive to prove you love dogs.  These are, as the kids say, #firstworldproblems

So the next time I have a client sitting in front of me that seems overwhelmed or even angry at the process of hiring a photographer, I’m going to be a bit more sympathetic.  Maybe my price tag sickens them and I need to be a bit more sensitive to that.

Maybe I’ll even offer them a mani-pedi on the house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

family_clipart

99% of “stupid things I have done”  in client relations  have happened when dealing with friends, family and acquaintances.

A few years ago a woman I network with in a professional meeting every month wanted to hire me for her May wedding.  Early May is not a busy month where I am located as the weather is still very unpredictable so I was willing to work with her and told her that.

What I said: ” I have a 4 hour package that would fit your budget, but the only caveat would be that if I have an opportunity to book a full day wedding that day I will have my associate shoot your wedding”

What she heard: ” I have a 4 hour package that would fit your budget and if someone else calls for your wedding day I will have my associate shoot their wedding”

The contract wording was clear and spelled out that I would shoot the wedding unless I booked another event.  But as we know, people don’t read much these days.

So when the inevitable happened, I called to let her know that I had booked another wedding on her date but my associate was excited about photographing her wedding, she was crushed.  When I reiterated what we had talked about, she remembered  the conversation very differently.  “Remember how you told me May is not usually a busy month?  I thought you said you would send your associate to shoot any other wedding”

I told her May was not a busy month.  In her bride-addled brain, that translated to ” I  am sure I will be able to shoot your wedding because it’s not a busy month for me”

What she felt: She felt like I thought  the other wedding was more important than hers and I had willingly dumped her for a bigger better wedding for more money.  Which, technically speaking, I had.  To me it was business, to her it was personal. This was a person that I could not have told you anything more than her name, what she did for a living and that she liked the color pink a lot.   In her mind, we had “A relationship”.  I know this because it was the phrase she used over and over as she expressed her disappointment with the way I handled things.

What I should have done:   Contracted my associate for the coverage and all the verbiage and conversations with her should have specifically been about my associate shooting it. Then  at my discretion I could  have surprised her prior to the wedding that I was available and shot it.  The way I handled it caused hurt feelings and to this day we remain distant with each other.   She was “happy enough”  (her words) with the photos, but I am sure somewhere in her mind she feels like I sent out the second string.  Frankly, the photos were phenomenal.  But that doesn’t really matter, does it?

My contract may have been clear, but sometimes by being right you don’t win.

 
Kim’s Friends and Family Pricing, revised.

Family Pricing: Includes the people who are my parents, anyone married to one of my parents for more than a few years (yeah, don’t ask) anyone dating or married to me currently, my kids, my sister, my stepbrothers and their children.   These people receive my services 100% free of charge as long as I am am available.   They get their photos outright on a disk and pay cost for prints if they want them through me.   I also have a VERY select few good friends who are included in this list.  They are as close to me as family and they know who they are and are also sworn to secrecy that they are on the list.  It’s kind of like Fight Club with more awesome photos.

Friends:  Anyone that I know that does not meet the criteria of above, but is a friend.  Not just a Facebook friend, but a real live friend that I am likely to have lunch with/drinks with on a semi-regular occasion or extended family such as second cousins that I barely know.   They get a discount on my fees and a discount on prints.  If my prices are too high for them, they are welcome to use another photographer.  I let them know that shooting a portrait session is not ” stopping by and taking a few pictures” and a wedding isn’t “taking a few photos and putting the camera down to have fun”. I treat their session or their wedding exactly as I would a paying client and they need to respect that while I am appreciative they love my work enough to hire me, it’s still work and I am going to treat it as such. When  I am shooting a wedding I am working, and when I am done my camera goes into my bag and is put away for the night is when I turn into a guest and not a second before.

Acquaintances:  I like to call these people “clients”.   If  I know you, that does not mean I have to give you any sort of a deal or discount.  I can at my discretion throw in a free print or something if the spirit moves me but it is never promised or implied.  So for the sister of the guy I dated in high school, she’s an acquaintance.   The soccer moms that I have known for 10 years because our kids played together?  Still acquaintances. However, an acquaintance can be moved into friends if they ALSO provide a service for me.  My plumber gives me a discount because I’ve sent a lot of business her way, and that moves her into friends pricing even though we really don’t socialize in our day-to-day lives.

So, let’s hear it.  Your best horror story about the gig you never should have taken and how it turned out.  And somewhere in there, I want to hear you address two things:
How they felt and what YOU could have done differently.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

wedding hipsters

How many times a year do we hear this?  Am I right?  And, half the time, the wedding they describe is the same wedding we’ve shot dozens of times over… the bridesmaids are all wearing different colors and carrying a single flower down the aisle; the ceremony is decorated with hay bales; there’s a signature drink and mason jars; the bride’s wearing Vans instead of heels.  Not that this wedding wouldn’t be fun to shoot; it’s just not the MAKE OR BREAK PORTFOLIO OPPORTUNITY.

Now, the thing about the “portfolio builder” bride is that she usually thinks her wedding will be SO COOL that you’ll discount your services for the chance to be part of it.  Sometimes they even want you to shoot it for free.  And, once in a great while, their descriptions of this enchanted event are SO FRIGGING AWESOME that you’re almost tempted to waive your travel fee, or throw in some huge extra to make it work for them.

See, this happened to me once.

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Hoan_Bridge

Because I’ve been around *ahem* a while I got a message recently from a photographer I know asking for my advice. After the normal warnings that my advice may be worth about what I charge for it (free) I said sure, hit me up.

His frustrations were this: Clients that tried to bully him into giving them stuff for free.   Clients who had unrealistic expectations of the photography and gave him 14 page “must have shot checklists” on the wedding day.  Clients who expected him to be available 24/7.

Whoa Nellie. After explaining that this is really about a dozen questions with the different layers and things that need to be addressed in his business, I broke it down to what I feel is the most simplistic question

Who is your target client?

I know who mine is.

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I see it all the time on message boards and forums. Photographers posting about potential clients who have tons of stupid questions that they obviously got off The Knot, have unrealistic expectations about their wedding day or are challenging terms in the photographers contracts.

Generally it’s met with outcries from other photographers saying “Red Flag! Bridezilla! Don’t walk, run away!”

I don’t know of many other industries where artistic temperament is celebrated like it is with wedding photographers.

It’s considered a sign of success if you can hand pick every single client. We want them to be the finest of the litter, the yin to our creative yang.

We want to have Tapas and Sushi together over craft beers and discuss how Dave Grohl is the coolest guy in the world (he is) with them.

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