I “met” Charo in 2002 on an online photography forum called Zuga. She was funny and snarky, and I loved her responses to people from the moment I read them. I curiously poked around on her website to learn more about her. Her website was not funny (A Thousand Words Photography…oh, the cliche!), it was the standard website of 2002, containing lots of dreamy grainy black and white photos with sloppy borders arranged in a collage-style fashion of the day. She might have even used Papyrus font, but she’d probably deny that.
But her “About Charo” ? She had, just as I had,written her about me in a style that made me feel like I “knew her”. I can’t remember it exactly, but it was FUNNY and it went something like she was in love with Eddie Vedder, she talked too much because she was Portuguese, she knew she paid the phone bill because it rang today, and that she couldn’t smell things without her glasses. This fit in perfectly with my about me where I disclosed that I love bananas but hate banana-flavored things, that I don’t think Mel Brooks movies are funny but like people who think they are, and that I have a superstition about driving behind car carriers on the freeway.
Without knowing it, we were embracing a marketing style that later Jasmine Star would become famous doing; Personality Based Marketing. That’s right, we were doin’ it before Jasmine AND David Jay. And who can retire from photography now? Not us. Idiots….
This marketing that we didn’t know we were doing brought us oodles of clients. Clients who would write us effusive emails, who would hug us like an old friend the first time they met us and potential clients who asked about our kids BY NAME on the phone. For both of us it was genuine and not contrived, it just made sense to us that anyone buying something as personal as wedding photography would want to know us personally, right?
Our blog posts were full of the wonder of our wonder of our clients love and how wondrous our lives were for getting to know these clients who allowed us to have this amazing, wonderful career. We were partners! We weren’t VENDORS…noooooooooooo, we were FRIENDS. We were Friendors!
Until suddenly, some clients were not so wonderful. The lines blurred, things went wrong. We started pet naming our bad clients, the very same clients we NEVER saw warning signs with when they hired us. There was “Light Switch Bride” who sent Charo a 62 page printout of other photographers’ images she’d found online that she liked better than Charo’s work. I had “You Made Me Look Fat” bride who accused me of sabotaging her wedding photos to make her look fat after I lost a bunch of weight before her wedding when she specifically hired me because “I was a chubby chick” like her.
I started struggling with blog posts. Most of my clients WERE wonderful. But some of them…weren’t. They weren’t awful, they were just like that girl in high school who was perfectly nice, you just had nothing in common to talk to her about other than other high school friends. And while their photos were beautiful, I didn’t have 3 paragraphs of things to say about them and their weddings. Then came the day when one bride called me on it and it was one of the worst emails of my career. I thought about pulling it up to share it verbatim, but even 9 years later, I’m still cowed by it and I really don’t want to read it again. Basically, she said that she loved her photos but she wanted me to know that while she knew her wedding wasn’t probably as “interesting” as my other weddings, I could have worked a little harder to fake it in the blog post because it was one of the things she hired me for and she was embarrassed by my “dialed in blog post” (this part I remember vividly) in comparison to the other weddings I blogged.
And also, WHAT??!! Clients were hiring me for my BLOG POSTS?
Charo began having similar problems, many of which she talked about in this blog post. Lots of “But I thought you said” and “Oh, but you don’t mind, do you’s”, because you know you guys, FRIENDOR.
Without knowing it, we made our USP (Unique Selling Proposition) more about us than about our work. And when the shit hit the fan, our clients were saying “What about the relationship you promised me?” when all we thought we had to do was give them pretty pictures that fulfilled the terms of our contract.
Making the switch to a more professional demeanor without having a business lobotomy was harder for me than for Charo (she’s more of a recluse than I am). It required me to take a step back and begin presenting myself as a photographer and a professional before my personality, which I have always kind of relied on. Because when people love you, they don’t notice that your photos suck quite as much
Next week we’re going to be speaking at the Online Teleconference Dream Bigger where we are going to go in detail about dealing with clients who may not speak your language, clients who don’t read anything, and how to learn to take your ego out of the equation when dealing with difficult clients. We’re going to take all that we learned from the mistakes we made in our combined 30 years of the Wonderful World of Wedding Photography with clients and give it to you straight about how we corrected them.
In this conference there will be more on “Light Switch Bride”, oh yes there will be. And “You Made Me Look Fat Bride”, and even…wait for it…”You didn’t Capture the Light of Jesus in my Son’s Eyes” Mother of the Groom.