Educating Your Clients is Your Responsibility with Skip Cohen
Every month I sit down and start thinking about what’s most important to help you build a stronger business. While you might think it’s getting harder and harder, most of you are so new to hitting hard on marketing and building your business outside of your skill set, it’s relatively easy.
Well, it’s May, and we’re back into the seasonality of the photography business. As I looked back through all the topics of my previous articles, I was struck by the fact that I’ve written very little about the importance of educating your clients.
*Poof*—Just like Harry Potter waving his wand, the importance of education landed on my laptop! Yes, sometimes it is that dramatic, but more importantly, it’s a topic critical for you to thrive, rather than just survive.
So many of you are excited and proud to be in business. That pride overshadows how you’ve ignored focusing on the education of your target audience. Whether you offer new services or new products, your success is about making sure each client understands why you’re worth the money they’re about to spend on you.
Why are you in business?
Before you answer that, here’s a hint. It’s about earning a living! Sure, your ego and pride are involved, and positive feedback from your clients is essential, but in the end, you should be in business because you plan to make money.
A business without a path to profit isn’t a business – it’s a hobby!
It’s time to put your ego aside. The success of your business starts with a solid skill set. Most of you run off the rails not because you captured an image that was less than stellar but because you assumed clients understood why your work was valuable. You’ve got to be the very best and stand out from your competitors. There’s no room for mediocrity in the quality of what you’re selling. It’s a competitive market, and the only purpose mediocrity serves is to give you a goal to exceed, to top what’s average in the marketplace.
What’s the value of the services you provide? I’m going to answer that for you—it’s not measurable because, theoretically, it’s so high you can’t put a price on it. You’re a highly trained magician with a time machine: your camera. You’ve developed a skill set to stop time and turn the intangible into memories people can hold in their hands for a lifetime!
Tim and Beverly Walden in Kentucky are two of the finest portrait artists in the industry. They don’t create stunning portraits; they create customer experiences. The finished product isn’t a portrait but a priceless family heirloom to be handed down to future generations. They even put a certificate of authenticity on the back of the print, which they number and sign.
Tim and Beverly aren’t selling prints; they’re selling fine art. They’re selling memories and have created a product line that never compromises on quality and ALWAYS exceeds client expectations. (Check out WaldensPhotography.com and you’ll see some of the most beautiful portraiture work in contemporary photography.)
People don’t know what they want until you show it to them!
Building a successful business doesn’t happen by accident. It happens because you pay attention to every detail in establishing your brand and reputation. Educating your clients is so often missed, but it’s your responsibility to teach your target audience, and you’ve got so many different tools available—your website, your blog, your galleries and your personality. It all starts with believing in yourself and showing you’re the best. You’ve got to give your audience the proof that you’re the ONLY choice to hire in capturing their memories.
I want to share a piece written by Michele Celentano on the importance of printing your work. It’s the best example I’ve ever read about educating your clients. She’s given me permission and you the right to plagiarize and use it for your own business!
I believe in photography—but more than that, I believe in photographs. Printed photographs are tangible. We can hold on to them, pass them around, frame them and hang them on a wall. We can make albums to be treasured and looked through by children for years to come.
We can’t touch a file, and the truth is we don’t know the longevity of a file or if we will even be able to find it someday. A digital file is a bit of a mystery—if it’s lost, where did it go? If a drive is damaged, what happens to the files? How many people truly back up all their images?
What happened to disc cameras, eight-track tapes, Walkmans, and other technology we thought would last forever? What will our children be looking at in 20 or 30 years? Photographs are special—files are not!
I believe in printing my work professionally. I believe my work is more than a screensaver. Years of studying and perfecting my craft come down to more than sending files via the internet.
The photographs I create for my clients are not only precious to my clients, they are also precious to me. It is my work, a lifetime of work that deserves to be printed.
Photographs are passed on to children and grandchildren. Can you imagine a floppy disk, a DVD or a flash drive sitting in a frame representing your family portraits?
Like many photographers I have struggled with bending to the needs or wants of a clientele that is looking for files. But this is what I discovered over the last year—it makes me uncomfortable in the center of my gut to hand over digital files, no matter the price. Clients have told me that the DVD is still sitting on a desk and they should have had me make the prints in the first place because they never have time to get to it.
I wonder about those files that were sold…How were they printed? Did the client crop it too tight? Is the color correct? Did they attempt to alter the image? It troubles me because I put so much of myself into my work. And, I have to wonder…am I really acting as a professional and serving my client the best way I know how to by simply selling intangible files that may never be printed?
For some, it’s easy…take some photos, edit them, burn them on a disk or flash-drive, and make a few bucks. I don’t and can’t operate that way—I care too much about my work, about my clients and future generations that might have no photographs because I wanted to make fast and easy money selling files.
I’m taking a stand! I am a photographer! I am without a doubt passionate about creating photographs—real pictures, printed on professional paper—and beautiful albums. I want your children, their children, my children and future grandchildren looking at and holding onto photographs, not the latest greatest gadget.
It has taken deep soul searching, a lot of thought and time, to define the value of my work. I am taking a stand against selling files and taking a strong stand for printing my photographs.
If being a business owner and photographer today means the current market will force me to sell files not photographs and to compromise my work and my values—well then, I’m out.
But, that won’t happen! I know it won’t because I know there are people and clients who value my work, understand and respect the value I have placed on my work, and actually want photographs.
I am Michele Celentano, a professional photographer—I believe in and value photography and the images we leave for our children. My work and your portraits will be professionally printed to my standards, they will be available to frame and look at in albums…
The portraits I create for you will not become a part of your screensaver slideshow. I have worked too hard and taken too much pride in my work for that to happen. I will not take the risk that in 20 years we will be a generation of lost photographs.
There I stand!
Your Website and Blog
As part of the education process, you’ve got to plant the seeds for sales. You need to assume your clients have no idea what can be done with their photographs, and create visuals of all the possibilities.
For example, take a look at Lori Nordstrom’s website, NordstromPhoto.com. Look at the way she’s positioned everything on her site, and especially the section, “For Your Home.” She’s planting the seed for wall décor. She’s making it a point to remind her clients their memories are meant to be shared and displayed.
Your website is about what you sell, and your blog is about what’s in your heart. Done right, the two work together to present your product line and services. Everything you share should be about educating your client and helping them understand who you are and the services you provide.
As another example, as a wedding photographer, you should be talking about being your client’s eyes and heart during the event. As Bambi Cantrell has said numerous times, “A wedding is a time when logic doesn’t reign as king.”
This is where you come in as the artist and capture the moments the couple and their family are going to miss. They’re trusting you to capture the event and create more than just an album: the first family heirloom of a new family.
This is why I love it when photographers show a complete album online as a demonstration of their storytelling skills. This is also an opportunity to show other products, like individually framed prints or, as Justin and Mary Marantz call it, shooting for the silver frame—an image so beautiful it’s going into its own prominent display.
Use your blog and play “Subliminal Man” like the old SNL routine. Talk about ways to display your images. Show new products from your lab. Talk about great gift ideas using photographs. With each blog post, show the finished product. And don’t forget, one call to your lab and they can provide you with the artwork to share. Essentially, your goal is be informative and so soft-sell that you’re really hard-sell, without aggravating your readers.
“People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories, and magic.”
While Seth Godin’s quote might seem like a contradiction to almost everything I’m sharing, it’s right on point. Educate your clients in the magic you can create and help them share. Write your blog as stories about photography and the importance of capturing memories and stopping time.
Everything you share on your website and blog should be helping you establish the value of your role as a professional photographer. Never compromise on the quality of your images, your relationships with your clients, or your belief in yourself.
And, if you’re stuck in how you position everything you’re doing to build your brand and reputation, then you know where to find me. I’m here to help and your biggest cheerleader!