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!