Be Understood: How to Make Sure You and Your Clients Are Speaking the Same Language with Vanessa Joy
Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the July issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.
One of the hardest things for a photographer to learn is how to communicate with clients. Client communication isn’t normally taught at tradeshows, in college or even in mentorships. What you should say at consultations and sales sessions, and even how to answer the phone, are often overlooked skills.
One of the best ways to remedy this is to ask a fellow photographer if you can eavesdrop on one of their consultations or sales sessions. I usually offer this to my interns, who more often than not respond with, “Oh yeah, I wouldn’t have even thought of that!”
Effective communication between you and your clients cannot be taken lightly. This determines how pleasant your time with each client will be, not to mention a deciding factor for whether they will even work with you at all. If speaking to others isn’t your forte, change that about yourself. I am actually a very shy person. I often worry about what others think of me, and would prefer to hide away in my home rather than have to be outgoing in social scenarios. Do you want to know my trick to overcoming shyness? I pretend I’m not shy.
One method I used for honing my people skills is by talking to strangers. I know, Mom would be horrified, but hear me out. One of the best ways I learned to speak to people was by traveling alone. I’m not talking about cross-country, though that helped me as well. It can be as simple as taking public transportation one day and striking up a conversation with a random stranger. I often take the train into New York City and find people to talk to on the way there.
Doing this boosted my confidence in speaking to people, and it also taught me how to talk to just about anyone. It’s actually quite easy. First, I’d comment on an article of clothing they were wearing, or maybe a bag a woman was holding, just to break the ice. Then, I’d continue by asking them questions. It’s all small talk, but that kind of small talk is all you get when talking with clients. You get just one first impression, and it’s best to give it while not shyly stuttering. Just last month, I was on an airplane to Los Angeles. While I wanted to crawl into my hole and do my own thing, I decided to talk to the girl next to me. She turned out to be a food blogger with 235,000 followers on Instagram (@rachLMansfield), and I photographed her just last week. Score!
We’ll take a look at the basic points of communication with your clients and go over best overall practices for communication throughout the relationship.
Basic Points of In-Person Contact
Organize what you want to communicate, and then determine the most effective way of doing so. There are four main points of contact: the consultation, shoot, sales session and closing the relationship.
When I first meet with a client, I have two goals in mind. First, I obviously want to do my best to be appealing to them to earn their business. Second, I want to start setting expectations right then and there.
Setting the right expectations during this time is crucial. Talking through items like turnaround time, package contents and delivery schedule is the foundation for the rest of the relationship. Delineating realistic guidelines is how you lay the path to easily satisfying your clients and not driving yourself crazy later on.
During the Shoot
Obviously, most of this time is spent taking photos, but there is a great deal of communication here as well. I reassure my clients of the style and personality that they hired, and I never leave a session, engagement, wedding or otherwise, without giving them the next steps. Always be one step ahead of your clients so they’re not left wondering what to do or, worse, constantly emailing you with questions you should’ve already answered.
This is similar to the initial consultation where I’m attempting to make a sale and at the same time educate my clients on products and process. By this point, I know my client fairly well, so I’m talking up the products so they fall in love with them. I clearly explain package contents, product sizes and options so there isn’t any confusion about what they’re getting.
It can be hard to explain albums. I sell albums by the page rather than the picture. It makes the most sense to count album pages like you count book pages, but it can be confusing for clients when they’re looking at digital two-page spreads. I always reiterate this until it’s clearly understood.
Closing the Relationship
When it’s time to deliver your final product, it’s not just a “Here ya go, goodbye.” This is a good time to communicate next steps. Perhaps you’ll introduce them to a referral or repeat client program. For wedding clients, I usually send them off with a “Dear John” letter and goodbye gift.
Never assume your clients speak your photography language. Have you ever spoken to an IT person about a computer problem and it seems like they’re speaking French to you? Photographers often make this same mistake by speaking to their clients in photography terms that most people either don’t understand or misunderstand.
I’m not saying you need to talk down to your clients like an IT guy telling you to restart your computer (I hate that!). But you do need to make sure they comprehend the words coming out of your mouth.
Photojournalism is one of my favorite examples of this photog/client language barrier. I don’t recall where this buzzword came from in the wonderful world of weddings, but somehow most brides think of it as the opposite of old-school wedding photography. You might be on one side or the other here. You can hit all the right keywords during a wedding consultation hoping they book you. Or you can educate the client, letting them know that some parts of the day are more candid, while others are more posed.
Check out the video to find out the three most commonly misunderstood photography terms. You’ll want to set these straight to avoid setting unrealistic expectations for your clients.