Creating the Perfect Sales Machine in 2018 with Michael Anthony
No matter what industry you are in, unless you work for a nonprofit, sales are the most crucial element to your success. Creatives often shy away from the sales process, but the most successful entrepreneurs in creative industries know that business must always come before creativity.
The trick to a fulfilling career in photography is to be able to get creative in business. Every year around December, I take a few weeks to rebuild all of our processes from the ground up. Since we started our photography business in 2011, our processes have evolved our business into what it is today. In 2012, we photographed seven weddings. In 2017, we photographed 132 weddings and close to 200 portrait sessions across our three brands. Our average wedding with MAP spends $10K to $12K, and $5K to $6K between our main and associate brands. Now, I understand there are lots of definitions of success, but I share these numbers with you to serve as inspiration no matter where you are in your career.
I will never forget back in 2013 when I was working a full-time job and I had asked an established photographer in my area if it were possible to gross $250K in sales as a wedding photographer. He responded in awe that I would even ask such a question: Of course it’s possible.
It is not an easy journey from part-time photographer to full-time photographer with a successful studio. It is incredibly difficult to establish yourself in a new market, and it is even harder to maintain your status. 2017 marked a year where more businesses in the United States closed their doors than ever before. Facing a sea of competition, businesses have to fight for every customer they get, and that will never change.
So with all of these challenges facing you, what is the recipe for success? The answer comes in three flavors, and today we are going to tackle them.
Branding & Marketing
Your branding is the number-one key to your success because it is the first impression that potential clients have of you. The cliché statement “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” never rings more true than in business.
So as we move into 2018, let’s look at your branding circle. Is your logo modern, or did you design it in Illustrator using a YouTube tutorial? Is your website modern, clean and cohesive? Does the imagery you show above the fold on your website match the style you convey to your clients? Do the first nine images on your Instagram account all have a cohesive style? Or are you trying to be bright and airy for her and dark and dramatic for him? The images on your website need to look like they were shot by the same photographer.
The questions I get asked most often by other photographers familiar with our business are: Where do I advertise? How do I get clients to inquire? The answers start with first impressions and end with the client experience.
Let’s talk about advertising for a second. The first step is to understand that nothing you do will work if your branding isn’t in order first. If people cannot recognize your brand, they will pass by any advertising they see. Don’t believe me? Can you name the last three ads you saw in your Facebook feed? Nope, and that is because you are immune to them. Millennials, especially, have developed a psychological defense mechanism to sales strategies that most businesses employ.
So what does that mean for you? It means that once your branding is in order, your advertising needs to provide a value proposition to your client if you want them to even take a second look at your business.
There are no secrets to where people advertise. If you don’t know, let me tell you. You can advertise online through Google AdWords, Facebook/Instagram ads, directories like TheKnot and WeddingWire, and a host of other websites promising more exposure. You can advertise traditionally by partnering with venues and small businesses, and by buying print ads in magazines or billboards/kiosks at the mall. You can be like a Realtor and buy a bench and put your images on it if you want. But with endless places to spend your money, where is the best option that will provide the most return?
Find ways to establish trust in your brand through third-party sources. Use them to promote your business. The easiest way to do this is to form your current clientele through passive marketing. Passive marketing is when your current clients or business partners sing your praises through actual experiences they’ve shared with you. Why does this work?
Millennials have that psychological defense mechanism against modern advertising. The reason for this is because clients know that you can pay money and write almost whatever you want about your business in the advertisement. There is no faith in that source, so those ads are largely ineffective. However, when Susie tells Sally that YourTown Photography was incredible because they offered her beautiful pieces of art for their home that turned out nicer than they could have ever imagined, and that the photographer offered a champagne welcome toast in a beautifully designed studio, Susie just established trust in your brand to Sally.
Now, when Sally sees that advertisement on Facebook, she is more likely to pay attention to the copy in it if she is currently looking for a photographer. This is a huge mistake that photographers make: They throw stuff against the wall to see what sticks and get disappointed that the ad was ineffective.
Just remember what I said in the first part of this section: Your branding has to be in order before you start paid advertising.
This is an area we can all improve on. Most of us are not business majors, so we often don’t understand how to control an impression of our brand. The easiest way to do this is to put yourself in the shoes of your average client. With every contact you have with them, you need to ask yourself, “Was this experience unique enough to leave a lasting impression?”
Is the client’s process of inquiring easy? Or do they have to field a bunch of unnecessary questions? How does this process work on desktop versus mobile?
How about your response time? Do you know that in the wedding business, customers are more likely to book the first vendor that responds to them? Did you know that you are 70 percent more likely to get a response to an email inquiry if you respond to your clients within five minutes? This is all part of the experience. We millennials are used to instant gratification, so serve the need as best you can.
Let’s talk about the shoot itself. Do you have the answers to any questions that might pop up? Do they know what to wear? Where to park? What time to arrive? Did you spend less time messing with equipment and more time interacting with them? Did you clearly and effectively communicate the process of buying prints and what to expect after the shoot?
I will tell you a little secret that I have noticed. If you give clients an amazing experience, they will be more satisfied overall with the final results of the photos. Keep the energy high and share with them the back of the camera to make creating great images a collaborative effort.
Now, let’s get into the hardest part of the customer experience: sales and delivery. Why is this hard? Because this is when we need to get down to business. Here are some things to think about. Was your studio clean and free of odors? Are your sample products new? Sample products that are not on the wall should be updated every three to six months.
How are you presenting your images to clients? Are you still using Lightroom? Newer sales software like N-Vu, ProSelect and Fundy Designer allow you to display collages of images that are available for purchase. With ProSelect, you can project images in the correct size on the wall with a projector for your IPS meetings. We designed our new studio with a custom 4K projector and motorized screen to give our clients the best viewing experience possible. (We will be showcasing it in next month’s article.)
When you complete the sale, are you providing your clients with the next steps in the process? I won’t sugarcoat it: Delivery of products is by far the hardest part of the IPS process and the easiest place for you to screw up. It’s also potentially the most detrimental to your brand because it is the last part of the process. Develop a system to track orders. We have developed a workaround in our CRM using the notes section to track orders and make sure we meet production deadlines. Order printed products immediately after the session to ensure fast delivery.
The key to creating an amazing sales machine this year is to make sure that your processes, products and services are all a win-win for both you and your client. Just because you need to earn a certain amount per wedding doesn’t make you entitled to it. You’re up against a ton of competition, and it’s up to you to prove your worth, and not just with your photography. Even if you are an incredible photographer, photography is just a small part of your overall brand and organization.
At some point, you have to make sure you are increasing your value to potential clients. That comes in the form of your photography, your brand and your customer experience. What can you offer your clients that other, less expensive photographers can’t? Have you ever wondered why photographers who haven’t updated their style since 1970 do so well? It’s because their brand offers trust, which is the most crucial element in the value proposition. Make sure that clients can trust that you will do an incredible job for them, and then watch your value begin to rise.
Once your business is established, continue to improve your processes to increase your value. I have spent years refining any processes that have caused problems. My articles and YouTube channel can supply you with the shortcuts to refining your own processes. We used Sal’s business model as a shortcut to start our business, and over the years we’ve evolved and refined as we figured out our brand.
I’ll leave you with a few questions to ponder. What is your value proposition? What makes you unique? Why would potential clients choose your studio and brand over hundreds of others? Answer those questions and keep working to improve your value proposition to make 2018 the most successful year you’ve had. I look forward to reading your success stories.