So you know your business inside and out and your image quality is top notch, but there's always room for improvement. A factor that many people overlook is the experience that a client has when they work with them, being on one side of the operations gives you a very different perspective and because of this you could be overlooking little important details that make the world of difference. I've been working as a full time commercial photographer for a year now, and in that time I've learned a lot from not only my own client interactions, but the other businesses I've worked with as well.
Before I say anything, stop what you're doing and if you haven't already, watch this Chase Jarvis Live episode with Oren Klaff talking about the biology and psychology of business interaction. You won't regret it.
Your client's first interaction with you could very well determine whether or not they work with you, it's essential to make it count. Most of my incoming business inquiries happen via email, or if they initially call I always ask for their email address to get into the details.
You get points off the bat for having an @yourdomain email address. These are very easy and inexpensive to set up and is likely a provided service from whoever you host your site with. I also recommend making at least one of your domain email addresses a catchall, meaning it will still receive an email if the sender types in the wrong beginning part of your email (ex. your email is firstname.lastname@example.org and they type email@example.com). My next recommendation is not having an auto-reply setup unless you'll be unable to receive/answer your emails for a longer time than usual, like a vacation. I have to give credit to Peter Hurley on this, he called me out on it last summer when he was kind enough to provide some feedback on some of my work, and I've since experienced many times in dealing with others how annoying it is to receive every time I email them. A quick "your message has been sent" notice on the contact page of your site is more than sufficient in assuring clients that you've received it.
Now that your potential client has sent you an email, the next step is the correspondence. Of course as with any professional interaction, proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation is key. Email is nice because you have an opportunity to look into your client and the work they do, allowing you to send a helpful and well-researched response. In my business I'm often shooting staff portraits for medium sized businesses, and in my replies therefor I like to make a note as to how I can tailor the image to work with the branding on their site and/or "team" page in terms of the background, whether or not they're using a minimalist or busy theme (minimalist may appreciate a solid white background whereas a brand with more "culture" may prefer a gradient or scene pertaining to their facility, or props). This shows the client that I'm committed to getting the best images for them, and I'm willing to put the work in. Another important factor is the structure of the email itself. Some appreciate a response that takes the time to explain the details and different options, while others prefer a couple sentences telling them what they need to know (I notice this a lot with lawyers and real-estate agents). The best way to figure out how to reply is to use their email as an example for how they like to communicate. Finish off your email with a consistent signature of your choice, something not too cluttered that provides your basic contact information and a link to your portfolio and/or social networking pages if you want.
Second First Impressions
Your second first impression (yes it's an oxymoron and sometimes it is just your first) is your initial face-to-face meeting with the client. I recommend meeting with all clients prior to doing business to discuss the finite details, get a deposit, build a shot list, etc. I'm not going to tell you how to dress or shake a hand, you can Google those if you're unsure, but I will tell you that it's a good idea to arrive with your contracts. That is to say, something to view your portfolio and example pieces on (WiFi/network recommended), a calendar to make bookings, a quote for their job if you already know what it will entail, your business cards, and any other informational brochures/literature that you have for them. When you're working with prints, many trusted printers offer a sample pack of different paper/medium types which your client will appreciate in knowing that they've ordered the right thing, and if they don't mention it on their site, you can probably get one with a phone call anyway.
If you're unsure about what all goes into something like a shot list and other preparation techniques, I'll refer you to my first article, "How to Go Pro Without Going Crazy".
Got the Job, Now What?
So you've made a good first impression and now someone's paying you to shoot their photo/video, don't screw it up! Beyond making sure you have the right equipment with you, there are again a few smaller details to keep in mind. They are:
- Set up time/being prepared - I always try to be ready to go at least 15 minutes before a client wants to start shooting, realizing that despite your checklist you're still missing a piece of equipment means that you'll likely have to run out and get it, no problem if you have time to kill. Unforeseen circumstances like weather, hair and makeup, schedule changes, etc. can and will create a problem for you if you're not prepared.
- Reviewing the shot list - "These are great, but I don't see ______" I'll admit I've heard it before, and reshooting is no fun. Keeping the shot list with you and easily accessible at all times gives you no excuse to not get it all the first time.
- Use a loupe/magnify your display - Tons of photos look great on a 3 inch screen but not so much on your monitor, using something like an LCD loupe will allow you to see your full image in detail and block sunlight on your display. I highly recommend these if you're manually focusing.
- Review images - Whether you're shooting in studio with a tether to your computer, or you're using some kind of setup like Eye-Fi or CamRanger to remotely upload to a wireless device on location, having a way to look over photos periodically with clients will allow you to make corrections before you move your equipment around, saving lots of time for you and your clients.
- Client/crew comfort - When you're the owner of the contracted business and/or the facility the work is being shot in (like a studio) it's your job to make sure everyone's comfortable. While my studio isn't the most luxurious or polished place in the world, I make sure that I always have ample seating, maintained washrooms, a water cooler, coffee maker, and books/magazines available. If you're shooting on a hot day it's nice to bring a few fans and/or an ice cooler with drinks, your clients will appreciate it and so will you.
Delivering the final product
If you've followed up until now, chances are you have a great set of final images that you're confident in and ready to deliver, but I'm not done yet - first of all if you haven't been able to review images with the client yet, now is when you send them proofs and make any necessary changes; in the article I linked to earlier you can find information on services like Dropbox and Wetransfer. Once that's out of the way they're going to need the finals, and presentation matters. Sometimes, especially with contracts from outside my area it really is just as simple as zipping up my files (ensuring they're saved in the proper resolution and colour profile) and sending it via one of many available file transfer services, but when delivering face to face or with certain clients it's not a bad idea to throw in some branding. Companies like DNL Photo offer custom disc covers, USB drives, print packaging, handle bags, etc. on which you can place your logo, contact information, or whatever you like.
Image credit to Design Aglow
If you haven't already you should include an invoice for the work minus their deposit upon delivery, and follow up a couple days to a week after they've received the images to ensure that they're happy with the finals. Beyond that the job is really done, you may wish to send out a small gift package around the holidays to keep yourself fresh in their mind and win some customer service points with them, but don't spam them with special offers and updates unless they've requested it.
If you think I missed anything let me know in the comments, there are so many details to consider I may put together a part two if there's interest.