Maybe you've had a prospective client — someone you've never heard of — ring you up to discuss your photography services... and had your brain freeze, making the conversation awkward. Even if you've been landing photography gigs for years, the excitement of an unexpected phone call can throw you off course.
We all have prospective clients who slip through the cracks. Maybe you answered the call just as you were slinking out of bed, or maybe you were too busy to follow up. So what's the remedy for aimless phone calls, forgotten leads, and disappearing clients?
The remedy is a solid sales process. I understand — you're a photographer, not a trickster hawking lemon cars at Craig's Automotive Resale Lot (no offense to Craig, we know you've got a family to feed, too).
Why is a sales process important? Because even if you've landed 40% of the leads that come through (that's actually a high conversion rate), you need a sound structure to turn prospects into clients. Without one, you'll inevitably let some of your best prospects go.
And by anticipating what comes next, you'll also feel and sound more confident during the sales process. No more "Uhh, so was there anything else you need to know? No? Well, okay, should we talk about pricing?" Such aimless sales calls often miss the mark.
Are you ready you to implement (or at least improve) a sales process? If so, here’s a practical five-step process for photography sales. It starts with the initial exposure.
1. First Impressions
First impressions are crucial. Remember the last time you met someone you immediately disliked? Did you get a number and follow up the next week for coffee? Of course you didn’t. Business and personal lives can seem worlds apart, but first impressions are equally crucial both in friendships and client relationships.
Often before a first meeting, a prospect knows something about you, through social media, your website, referrals, or word of mouth. Some of these avenues provide you some control over a first impression. The way you curate your online identity will significantly determine who reaches out to you and how often you attract new leads.
While your first impression is crucial, online marketing is a subject in which entire companies, blogs and and websites specialize. There are many lessons to learn here, but here’s the primary lesson in Marketing 101: identify the types of clients you want and speak to them in terms they understand. Address their concerns and needs, preferably even before they have a chance to raise them with you. If you do this sincerely and knowledgeably, your first impression will persuade them to reach out.
2. Initial Contact
If your lead was received through email, try to reply by phone. Back-and-forth emails aren't nearly as effective in establishing a client's needs as a phone conversation. A conversation also provides you a stronger connection and more ability to learn about the project at hand before providing a quote.
At this stage of the process your listening skills are crucial. Ask the prospect open-ended questions. If the new client doesn't seem rushed, you can build rapport by asking about personal background (hometown, college, etc.). Most importantly, ask about needs for the upcoming project and actively listen to the answers. Jot down the key points as well as any questions you have, and wait for the prospect to finish talking before asking those questions.
To show that you've been listening and you understand the scope of the project, summarize the project needs (which you've written down) as you understand them. This amount of care is more than many of your competitors will show.
3. Explaining Your Process
How do you recover from that occasional aimless conversation noted earlier? Most of us, perhaps having missed the morning cup of coffee or just having an "off day" want to stop grumbling and start fixing things.
Once you've displayed that you understand the scope of what your new client needs, volunteer to explain just how your process works. Start with the shoot date: how long it will take, whether you'd like the client to be on-site (if the client isn’t the subject), and describe your proofing process plus expected turnaround time. If you offer convenient services like e-signing for contracts or online payment processing, mention this as well.
Make sure the pricing and payment conversation comes last, after everything else is clarified.
4. Price Quoting
Sometimes the new client will want to know your pricing upfront. But you don't want to begin a conversation with pricing for a couple reasons: first, you don't yet know the breadth of the project and likely need more information before giving an accurate quote. Second, you want to show that you care more about the work than the money, so putting their needs ahead of the pricing (even if you’re asked for pricing first) demonstrates integrity and responsibility.
Once you feel that you've made a good connection and demonstrated that you understand what’s needed, the scale of the project and usage of the photos, ask how soon the client needs a quote and deliver that quote on-time. Unless the project pricing is very simple and you fully understand what the project entails, wait for this point to provide your quote. You don’t want to misquote out of excitement for the new gig.
And while not always necessary, a nicely put-together PDF proposal can go a long way in impressing larger-budget clients.
5. Follow Up
Often you will send your quote out and just hear crickets. As someone whose work is higher priced than many photographers in my area, I'm familiar with this. In fact, if you deliver a superior quality product, it will typically happen with prospects who don’t need superior quality.
It hurts when a prospect or previous client ghosts you, decides to use someone else, or puts a project on the back burner. But don’t burn bridges or let discouragement run down your energy. I’ve had "dead leads" return to me months or even years later with a resurrected project or a new one.
Instead of expressing any negativity or disappointment over a seemingly lost job, express your thanks for the opportunity to connect and ask whether you can add the prospect to your email newsletter or keep in touch via social media. I like to set up reminders for myself: a nudge to follow up at a later date. Prospects and clients are rarely bothered by a follow-up; in fact they're often grateful that I care enough to reach back out so that they didn't have to.
This five-step process has worked well for me in commercial photography. I should add that if you do bulk shooting (booking several small gigs a day) at a lower price, steps 2 and 3 may not be as crucial for you. When dealing with, say, $150 jobs (such as a simple headshot or residential real estate shots), many clients are primarily concerned with easy turn around, and may even hire you sight unseen.
You might also be able to skip over steps 2 and 3 if you’ve built a great deal of professional credibility. A strong referral or a specially strong reputation in your industry can do the trick. But only skip those steps if the client seems ready to hire and is a good fit.
I hope this process gives you a good framework for your “sales funnel” as it’s called, especially if you didn't already have one in place. You’ll probably want to experiment with this process and adjust it over time to fit your own particular needs. If you have feedback or additional steps to add, please feel free to share them in the comments section below..