It’s that time of the year to implement your business goals for success in the new year. And I think we can all agree that eliminating all business problems and disagreements with clients is a worthy goal. While we can’t promise you’ll never experience another issue again, we have created a simple set of best practices that will likely help prevent 99% of potential business problems. If that sounds like exactly what you need in 2016, keep reading for our ten best tips.
Pre-qualify your clients
You’re bound to create problems for yourself if your clients don’t know how much they have to invest in your photography before they hire you. We understand why you may be uncomfortable listing your pricing right on your website. If you’re not going to make your pricing publicly available on your website, you need to make sure that you share your pricing with each new inquiry during your first conversation, whether that’s over email or phone. You can also pre-qualify new clients with your contact form… simply ask them to share their story or share why they like your photography.
Bottom line: You want to work with clients who value your artistic eye and are willing to invest in your photography. Pre-qualify new clients before they hire you and you’ll eliminate so many problems down the road.
Pay attention to red flags
You know that feeling in your gut that says “do not take this job! run away from this client!”? That’s called a red flag, friends. When a client emails you twenty times a day or tries to negotiate your prices or bullies you into accepting terms you don’t feel comfortable with… these are not the kind of clients you want to be working with. And we know it can be so tempting to take on these jobs… maybe you could use the extra money or you’ve always wanted to work with a specific vendor or shoot a destination wedding. But there’s a reason we get that sinking feeling in our gut and it’s because we know these clients will cause more trouble than they’re worth.
Bottom line: Nightmare clients will actually cost you in time, money and emotional well being, so just say no. It’s okay to turn down a job that doesn’t feel right you. In fact, it’s just good business. Pay attention to red flags and follow your gut. It never lies.
Create solid studio policies
Oftentimes, we create potential problems for ourselves because we don’t have proper policies in place ahead of time. We can’t always think of every possible scenario ahead of time, so when it takes a portrait client three years to order their album, there are bound to be problems. You’ve changed album companies, prices have gone up, you no longer offer a specific album cover… These things happen in a business, but your client will not be happy about it. Creating solid studio policies helps you avoid misunderstandings when situations like this arise.
Bottom line: Having professional studio policies in place will help you eliminate problems by communicating guidelines and expectations ahead of time. Need help getting started? Our Essential Portrait Studio Policies for Success has everything you need to get effective policies in place immediately.
Utilize legal contracts
It’s an industry standard to use a contract when you’re hired to photograph a wedding, but many photographers don’t bother with contracts for portrait sessions, birth photography, commercial jobs and associate shooters. Things go wrong and miscommunication happens, but having an iron-clad legal document with your terms and policies written out will help you decide what to do when that happens.
Bottom line: Legal contracts not only protect you, they spell out the terms of your agreement in precise language, which helps eliminate any disagreements on what happens next. Get your contracts up to speed and incorporate them into your workflow for every session and client you take on.
We can’t say enough about proper communication. So many easily avoidable client problems start with poor communication. Explain the process of working with you, let your clients know the timeline of your workflow and make sure you communicate any issues and delays with them right away. Our clients are people just like us and they will understand that sometimes life happens, especially if you have made the effort to develop a professional and respectful relationship from the get-go. Editing takes longer than expected, prints get damaged in the mail and sometimes you put the wrong image in an album and have to send it back to be corrected. If you let your clients know what's going on and keep them updated, you will avoid a host of extra problems and upset clients.
Bottom line: Keeping your clients in the loop doesn't take much time but it has a huge impact on their satisfaction level and the amount of problems you have to deal with. If you struggle with what to say when something goes wrong, our Studio Success Guide on Client Communications will be your new best friend.
If the phrase ‘under promise, over deliver’ comes to mind when you think of exceeding expectations, you’re on the right track. We create unnecessary problems for ourselves when we can’t keep up with the timeline we’ve given to our clients. We can exceed expectations by delivering edited images and finished products ahead of schedule or by sending a handwritten note or prints of our favorite images.
Bottom line: When you make ‘going above and beyond’ a staple of the way you do business, you will have happier clients and fewer problems.
Sell quality products
The saying goes ‘you get what you pay for’ and we couldn’t agree more. You’ve worked hard to position your brand as high quality, so it follows that you should sell high quality products to your clients. Selling cheap products to boost your profit margins will come back to haunt you later and trust us, the extra money you’d make today isn’t worth the problems and reputation damage it will create down the road. See our post on selling quality products here.
Bottom line: Nothing will upset your customers more than seeing the products they purchased from you fade, warp and fall apart. Sell only high quality products and you’ll never have to worry about problems with them or, your reputation for excellence.
Keep your business legal
We know that filing your business license every year, collecting and remitting sales tax, completing accurate bookkeeping each month, paying quarterly tax estimates and all the other things you are required to do to run your business are probably your least favorite things to do. But they also happen to be the most important tasks, so do not skip out on them.
Bottom line: Not paying your taxes or filing a business license will cause you way more problems (and headaches) than anything else in your business. If you absolutely can’t sit down and get these things done, hire a CPA to do it for you.
The answer is not always ‘more’. Shooting 48 weddings a year or 72 senior session in one season might mean more money in your bank account, but it will probably also mean you’re burned out. And you can’t do your best work or give excellent service when you’re that burned out. You’ll make more mistakes, be more forgetful and create more problems for yourself.
Bottom line: If you’re burned out at the end of busy season, you took on too much work. Adjust your goals accordingly for the next busy season. And, consider raising your prices to work less and make more.
We all have tasks that we really don’t like to do. It might be bookkeeping or color correction or answering emails… or all of the above. It takes a lot of work to run a business and one thing we’ve learned over the years is that we can’t do it all… unless we want to work 80 hours a week. Often times, the very tasks we dread the most cause us the most problems, simply because we put them off.
Bottom line: Outsource your least favorite tasks and you’ll have more time for taking photos… and you’ll eliminate all of the issues that arise when you procrastinate.We can’t avoid all problems all the time. But by cultivating good business practices, we can avoid the vast majority of them. These new habits will take time to implement and will take effort on your part, but we’re confident that the extra effort will more than make up for all the problems and headaches you’ll be able to prevent. Here’s to less drama and more success in 2016! You’ve got this.
From a very early age I loved taking pictures and looking at them in magazines and books, but the art of photography captured my heart when I was a teenager, on my first overseas trip to Wales. From that point, I began shooting with a little film SLR and having my friend model for me. In college I took some digital photography and visual communication courses as part of my communication studies major, and decided to pursue a career in photography. I became a legal business and took my first paid client at age 20, and it's been quite a journey and adventure over the past nine years.
I secretly bought a mail-order 35mm camera when I was 15, and took lots of ordinary photos of animals and nature for several years. Although I majored in art and studied photography in college, my career started in marketing and advertising, from the client service end. Then I had the most beautiful baby, found my old camera and realized how much I love photographing people.