Life is busy… I get it. Between weddings, engagements, meetings, phone calls, and the seemingly never ending hours of toil spent in the Lightroom develop module it can be very easy to let things go. It starts small at first. You forget to send that album to print, or you forget to listen to that voicemail from yesterday morning. Slowly, it seeps further into your workflow, until you suddenly realize you haven’t cleared out your inbox in three days.
I’ll tell you right now that I have a very strict rule on responding to inquiry emails. I check and respond once at 8am, once at 2pm, and finally again at 9pm. A lot of photographers use the 24 hour rule. That is way too long, and you are losing business because of it.
That might seem a little over the top, but it is the number one thing that I do in the day-to-day of my business that not only puts money in my pocket, but puts me above the rest of the competition. Before you dismiss all this, hear me out.
The Primacy Effect
There’s a lot of research and study, both in the field of psychology and economics about something called the Primacy Effect. It essentially describes the importance of being first-in. It is a core cognitive bias that says humans can recall information given to them at the beginning of a data set far better than the middle (and even in some situations) the end. Think about it. How many brides have you sat across from who said something like “We looked at 15 venues, but ended up picking the first one we saw!!” That’s the Primacy Effect.
It may seem like a stretch to apply this into the business of wedding photography, but my argument is that the first photographer in the door is much more likely to be hired by the couple than the 2nd, 5th, 10th, or 20th.
Set the Standard
By replying to a bride’s inquiry as quickly as you can, you then set the standard for all of the other photographers who are coming in after you. It doesn’t have to end there either. Not only should you be the first to respond, you should also try and be the first to set a meeting to make your pitch.
I’ve been working hard on this the past four years, and when I get an inquiry, (who ends up wanting to meet) the average number of days between her first email to me and when I meet with her has been trending further and further down.
Eight days after having emailed me for the very first time I have responded to the inquiry, given out a full set of pricing, set up a meeting, met with the couple, showed them albums, showed them more images, and reviewed my contract. How many other photographers were just starting the process of connecting with the couple by the time I’ve reached this point? According to my data - far too many.
Should You Use an Auto-Response?
What better way to get a bride’s hopes up than for her to get home from a long day of work, see that a photographer has responded, only to find out it’s an auto-response. In the middle of an already stressful wedding-planning process, I believe this puts you in a negative light. Instead of an auto-response, give her a real response. Let your first impression be the one that sells her.
Not to mention that auto responses are impersonal, and very corporate. Nothing screams Microsoft Outlook on a Dell computer in a grey, windowless cubicle farm than an auto-response. You’re not too busy - write the email, get the business, make the money.
The Data Doesn't Lie
You know what I did? I went ahead and inquired with 50 photographers in my regional area. I used a made up name with a made up date, and reached out via email to track the results. The findings were borderline outrageous.
How can you possibly run a business where you can’t even respond to an email within a week? There are a lot of photographers out there (some that I know personally) that like to throw around some pretty popular sentiments. I’m sure you’ve heard them too.
“It’s the economy.”
“Young photographers are taking over.”
“I’m being undercut.”
If you can’t get back to a bride who is interested in hiring you inside of three days you don’t deserve her business. You haven’t earned it, and her first impression of you is someone who is too busy to write a simple response.
Now I'm Getting Sassy
How many photographers spend endless hours shooting “trend shoots” with planners and florists? Pinterest-worthy photos of lush flowers draping beautifully over antique place settings and burlap table runners with “shabby shic” tablescapes and sparkly back-lighting.
Great job! While you spent an entire day creating images for someone else, I just met with your potential bride and she hired me. If I sound frustrated or angry, it’s because I am. When did so many of us decide that “being an artist” put us above simple, day-to-day tasks like responding to emails?
What’s interesting is I want everyone to succeed. I want the industry as a whole to modernize, and accept that this business has changed a lot in the last ten years. We all want the same things… a good income, a sense of artistry, to fan our creative flames while still being able to pay for the kids’ daycare, or the mortgage. But we can’t just latch onto the coattails of a booming 2006 economy and ride the wave to success. We have to work harder for it now. This is the reality we live in.
The bottom line is this. There are a lot of photographers like me who are hungry. We get our thrills from cashing those checks, and we’re not slowing down. The barrier to entry in this business has fallen dramatically, and if keeping up with your inbox is too much then it may be time to hang that camera up forever.