Business Photography

Sell an Experience, Not Just Photos

winter portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

A friend of mine lamented the other day, “Why aren’t my clients coming back?”

If you’re a photographer who relies on sessions for regular income, you want to build a business base that includes return clients. You have to ensure that clients will come back; this is something you depend on.

But future business is not something that is easy to structure into any enterprise. If it were, hard work wouldn’t be such a strong human value.

We all know that to get clients to come back, we have to assure them of the continuous, consistent quality of work that we produce. Or we could launch a super duper ad campaign, spending money and effort on marketing that according to Seth Godin is really dangerously (and expensively) outdated.

But if that was the only reason why clients return to a service, everyone would just have to step up their game and shell out the big bucks for marketing, plain and simple. With the myriad of choices out there for photographic services, some of which can afford to spend hours and money on marketing, why do clients go back to some photographers, and not to others?winter portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

The answer might be in the type of culture you create in your business model.

This article I found recently in Alltop’s Holy Kaw! has an interesting idea that could change the way you serve and keep your clients, and establish more return business for you. The article says that the key to keeping someone within your organization is to ‘embed’ them in its culture. If someone perceives that they adhere to your principles, for example, they’ll stay with you.

Now the article is talking about employees and employers.

But let’s think about the relationship of gain and trust that is similar between employer and employee versus photographer and client. Just as an employer and employee hold a relationship of mutual gain and work together with mutual trust that those benefits will manifest in the relationship, so it is for the client and photographer.

Do you wonder what more you could do to make those clients come back?

I started thinking about another friend of mine who trains other photographers. She’s quite busy, holding several workshops every month, and it’s apparent that her workshop have strongly perceived value in the client’s minds; some clients come back four, sometimes seven times to learn essentially the same workshop lessons.portrait at f/2.8 in red dress copyright Aloha Lavina

Now that’s a good business model: you give the same thing, over and over, and people pay you for them, over and over. Not bad. You could buy stock in that company.

But I don’t think it’s just the matter of clients getting the same thing for more money. I think what those clients are paying for is the experience of working with the photographer.

So how does this idea translate to things you can do for your business this week? Here’s what we can learn from this case study.

The goal of selling the experience of working with you is to change the client’s perception of value. Instead of just ‘selling’ the stuff they get, add the value of the intangibles that they feel they get.

 1. Separate the people from the tasks.
Tasks can be automated, listed, and outsourced. Relationships cannot. While making sure that tasks are done in a professional, efficient and high quality way, you have to cultivate the relationship with the client. For example, the good trainer I was talking about? She hooks up with people on Facebook and ‘Likes’ and comments on their posts. It’s important that she does this sincerely, instead of as a drive by afterthought. Sincerity in dealing with clients is a must to build a solid relationship that will add value to their perception of you.

2. Focus on mutual interests.
Interests are not the same thing as tasks. Interests imply values that the client holds and that you hold as a professional. I love the way my friend gives each potential client a questionnaire before every workshop. She asks about their expectations and skill levels, and makes sure that they know she is tailoring the way the workshop will be delivered to their needs. On the receiving end, she also makes sure that the experience of the workshop will be smooth and fun for the participants, by telling them her expectations—what to bring, with the added note of the schedule and how much energy they need to have a successful learning experience. This thoughtfulness adds value to the experience, even before they meet.

3. Brainstorm together for mutual benefits.
The next step after finding out each other’s expectations is to brainstorm together. With the list of benefits you and your client expect from the experience, it makes a lot of sense to also bring your creativity together to enable you to produce good work.

It’s not enough to have a contract spelling out what the experience will be like. (You can’t say “so and so photographer ensures that it will be fun for the client” on a contract.) It also means feeling out the ideas that could nudge the project into something that both you and your client will enjoy working on, together.winter portrait at f/2.8 copyright Aloha Lavina

 4. Measure the outcome together.
Feedback from a client is essential to shape your business workflow. Without this feedback, you might lose a client simply because they felt the transaction was impersonal. Remember that in this business transaction, the client’s feedback on satisfaction is the important benchmark of your work. This also adds to the value of the client’s experience because by asking their feedback, you put them at the center of the whole experience.

Selling the experience of working with you is a positive way to add value to your business. It’s the room with the wow factor in the real estate of independent employment. Using the principles of influence, you too can create an experience that will keep your clients coming back for more.

What tips do you have to keep clients coming back? Share with us in the comments!

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. You might also like:
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