The Assistant’s Manual: Gearing Up for Senior Season with Alissa Zimmerman
It’s that time of year again. The weather is starting to warm up (finally), the sun is starting to stay out a little longer each night and that pretty little lie known as the “slow season” for photographers is nothing but a distant memory as you scratch your head wondering how life went into overdrive over the months of December, January and February, leaving you with no time to actually experience this photographer’s fairytale.
Well, I’m here to break the news to you: It’s time to wake up and get out of hibernation. If you are reading this article, that means it is March. Which means you’re already late. Use this article as a foundation to put together a plan for the senior season ahead.
What is the first step in putting together an action plan for your business? For us at Salvatore Cincotta Photography, it’s taking a half day and doing a SWOT analysis for that part of the business to determine what we did right, what we did wrong and what new things we can implement into the experience to make things better. We typically do our SWOT analysis in December before the start of the new year so we can go in ready to take action.
What were your strengths from the year? These are the things you did right for your clients and for your business.
Interestingly enough, this is the part of the exercise that we spend the most time on. Our team is all wired in a very similar way. We focus the majority of our energy on the weaknesses and how we can make ourselves stronger in those areas versus dwelling on our strengths and how great we are.
Invest plenty of time in this part. Do your research. What opportunities lie ahead for you and your business over the next year? How will you take advantage of those opportunities?
Constantly stay on top of this. What is it that’s holding you and your business back from success?
The Client Experience
The client experience is everything for your brand. What is your client going to walk away with and remember most from the time spent with you and your business? We have worked really hard to fine-tune our experience, giving seniors in our market no excuse to go anywhere else. This experience isn’t just the day of the shoot. It starts from the moment the phone rings or email hits your inbox to the final follow-up call after they’ve received all of their product. Sometimes the experience goes on even past this, to that moment your senior becomes a bride and cannot even dream of having anyone else shoot her wedding because she had such an incredible time with you back in high school. The experience is everything.
- The initial phone call or email is your moment to shine and sell yourself and the experience you will be able to provide that no one else can. You want to be bubbly and relatable, and communicate everything very clearly so there is no confusion later down the road. Sal taught me a trick when I first started working for Team Cincotta: If you actually smile while you’re on the phone with someone, your voice will sound much more kind.
- After the session is booked, use this time to be the trusted adviser. In most cases, you’ll be working with the senior’s mom, who may or may not have ever been through this process with another child. It’s okay to overcommunicate. Your clients are going to want to know what to wear, where to shoot, how to do their hair and makeup, etc. We send inspiration boards with predesigned outfits to our seniors before the shoot as well as recommendations for local hair and makeup artists, and explain to them how much more they will love their pictures if they have a professional making them look their absolute best.
- Before the shoot starts, have your client bring in around 10 of their favorite outfits. Sal and I walk through all of the outfits together (in front of the client, usually while she is wrapping up hair and makeup at our studio) so they can watch our thought process and see how we mix and match their clothes, shoes and jewelry and end up with outfits they never would have put together on their own.
- On the shoot, it’s so important to just be yourself and have fun. As an assistant, I take time in the beginning to find some common ground with our senior so he/she can open up and talk a little bit about something other than the fact they’re going to have a camera in their face for the next two hours or so. As with any other shoot, make sure your client is relaxed, confident and having a good time. That’s all that matters. Call your senior out if her expression or pose is too stiff, and build trust from the beginning so she is comfortable enough with you to tell you when she feels awkward at any time.
- Bring your client in for the preview session. This is your chance to wow them. We run our senior previews the same way we do a wedding preview: Clients walk into our preview room with their Signature edit up on the TV to get them excited for the rest of the pictures. We show a quick Photodex ProShow Web slideshow of our favorite images, then get to the selection process. Set the tone for the slideshow with upbeat and fun music. Stay away from anything slow or depressing. You want to evoke happy emotions during this step of the process.
- You’re not done after the sale. Presentation is key in delivering a product to a client who has just spent a lot of money with your studio. Can you imagine going into Louis Vuitton and spending way too much money on a purse to have it just sloppily handed over to you? Of course not. Take the time to invest in good-quality packaging. Brand the heck out of everything you do, as well. We brand our bags and thank-you notes, and have metal tags with our logo cut out that goes on the outside of the wrapped boxes with ribbon slid through it.
- After clients receive their products, follow up. This is the time to get real-life feedback on what you did right, what you did wrong and how you can improve with each client moving forward. Take advantage of this, but, most importantly, listen to your clients’ needs and adapt to make your business better and better every day.
Now that you know how we’ve built our success over the years, carve out a day and put your own plan of attack together. Reflect back on the experience you’re providing for your clients to make sure you’re sticking true to what your brand is all about. Be the brand you want to be, and don’t let anyone or anything come in the way of achieving success.