It’s Not About You, It’s All About Them

It’s Not About You, It’s All About Them with Jonathan Tilley

It’s Not About You, It’s All About Them with Jonathan Tilley

As a photographer, you love the technical side of everything—lights, ISO, exposure, white balance, Photoshop, Lightroom. If a nonphotographer heard you talk about these things, they’d think you were a mathematical genius spouting complicated fractions, not someone who takes pretty pictures. You love the creative challenge of turning that one innovative vision that you got at 3 a.m. into a masterpiece, but others don’t understand what the hell is going on.

Sophia the makeup artist thinks you are speaking Swahili when you whisper under your breath about your camera’s settings. Kristi feels crippled because you keep rolling your eyes at the lights, but she thinks you’re rolling your eyes at her thighs touching. Or even worse, your website talks all about how awesome you are, your About page sounds like a narcissistic tyrant’s elevator pitch and you mention nothing about what your clients want from you: to feel confident, elegant and beautiful in the most vulnerable place on earth—in front of your lens.

It’s not about you. It’s all about them.

I saw this the other day on Facebook: “Please help me get my name and brand out there! Please LIKE and SHARE! I really, REALLY need work…. It’s been a slow couple of months. THANK YOU SO MUCH!”

Seriously? His mentality is that it’s all about him. What’s in it for the potential client? Nothing, apparently.

We’ve all been there. Things just aren’t working out. Jobs aren’t coming in. So you panic. You need work. You need to pay the rent. You need to keep your head above water. This is all about you, you, you.

But it’s not about you. It’s all about them.

Clients don’t care that you need work. They don’t care that you need to pay your rent. They don’t care that you can’t keep your head above water. Your friends and family may feel bad for you or lend you some money, but that’s about it. Clients care about one thing: themselves. And rightfully so. They’re the ones paying you.

They don’t have time to care. It doesn’t help them. It doesn’t serve them. And this mentality that it’s all about you doesn’t serve you, either. It’s your job to take photographs. Your client cares only about the service you are providing them.

You provide a service for the client in return for money. The client wants the whole experience: to be treated exceptionally well, spoken to nicely and get top-quality imagery handed to them at the end. They don’t care whether you can pay your rent, if you went to college, if you put in long hours of prep. They don’t care about anything other than the service you provide.

Isn’t that refreshing? You can save hours, weeks, even months of your life not talking about yourself, not bragging on social media about how awesome you are (when really you’re dying inside), not whining to everyone who will listen about how broke you are, how behind you are, how scared you are, how unprepared you are, how nervous you are.

What can you fill that empty void with where you used to complain and bitch and moan about things no one cares about? Invest that time and energy into serving your clients. Help them make their dreams come true. Help them have a positive and unforgettable experience. Help them create a memory that will make them smile on their deathbed.

Successful photographers instinctively ask questions like: How can I help? What can I do for you? How are you today? How can I serve you? How can I better the world? How can I leave a legacy behind?

And they mean it.

So how can you help? How can you do something for someone else? How can you serve? How can you better the world with your talent? What will be your legacy? It won’t be the awards, the red carpets or the magazine covers. That’s all fluff. How can you not make it all about you, but make it all about them?

Your clients are yearning to know how you will make them feel from beginning to end, with all the bells and whistles. So give it to them. Document your creative process through their eyes. When they are researching photographers, they want the calmest clarity in your pricing breakdown delivered with a reassuring nod. Give it to them. In their deepest moment of self-consciousness in front of your camera, they want to know that you won’t laugh at them when they’re most vulnerable. Give it to them. In their highest moment of euphoria when you show them the prints for the very first time, they want to drink a glass of champagne with you in celebration. Give it to them.

It’s not about you. It’s all about them.

Get hyper-specific in documenting your creative process through the eyes of your client on your website and in your marketing. That will turn a window shopper into a client who books you a year in advance. You’re the exact same photographer with the exact same skills, but your mentality has shifted from you to them.

Answer these questions: Are your testimonials on your website hyper-specific, showcasing the special moments you create with your clients? Or do they just say, “I’m a good photographer”? Is your email communication proactive and client-oriented? Do clients feel seen, heard and reassured that they are making the right decision? Or do you send three sentences with a price and if they don’t pick you, then it’s their loss?

When the client comes to your studio for the first time, do you preheat the studio 30 minutes before they arrive, take their coat when they walk through the door, offer them a coffee or a water, take them on a tour of your studio and listen for clues about their insecurities? Do you allay their fears during the session, tell them when they’ve hit a great pose that makes them look gorgeous, give them time to breathe in between, allow them to play and make them feel like a superstar? Or do you let them in, point to the stool for them to sit in and start shooting?

Is your About page a hyper-specific sneak peek into how you make your clients feel during a shoot? Or do you ramble on about the first time you picked up a camera and how it made you feel?

Check out this excerpt from photographer Andy Strong’s About page from his website, We spoke about his previously not-so-great About page at ShutterFest 2018. He took my advice and changed it to this masterpiece:

I love how when you put a shy person in front of a camera, they’ll stick out their tongue, how when you give over to the camera you are really giving over to your future self. It’s an awesome feeling to be able to see things that the mirror misses, that maybe you hadn’t thought to share with your close friends. And then I’m there, behind this future-making black box, in awe of the situation. I think I just saw your soul. I think you just broke on through like you were Jim Morrison. I think we just made something magical. And the best part is, there is this glimpse of that moment that we get to keep, where the air has gotten all still frame and we get to look back and breathe it in again and again. When it’s good, it’s wonderful. When it’s wonderful, it’s life changing. A defining split second. Who do you want to be today? Let’s go there.

The only time Andy makes it about him is when he says, “And then I’m there, behind this future-making black box, in awe of the situation.” It’s as if he’s the least important person in the room who’s lucky to be there to capture it all. This About page is all about the client. This About page can convert half-interested website visitors into diehard clients who can’t wait to stick their tongues out and feel like Jim Morrison. This About page is the beginning of a phenomenal customer experience.

Get the full story

To read the full article, launch the digital version of the February 2019 magazine.

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