It's the same in any business – there's a lot of stuff that goes on behind the scenes that your clients aren't aware of. And they really don't care about it either. When it comes to wedding photography, the only thing the bride wants to know is that her wedding is your primary concern and that you are available for her needs. So how do you make your client feel special without letting your wedding photography business completely take over your life?
Most couples are going to want to meet with you during the evenings and on weekends. And your weekends are already busy because that's when you typically are shooting. You're always going to have that anxious bride calling you and wanting to get her wedding proofs the week after the wedding. And on top of everything else, you have a business to run. However, there are things you can do to help maintain your sanity.
It all comes down to setting expectations at the beginning of the relationship. When you create boundaries and you respect them, you will teach your clients to respect them as well. What’s key is that you set those expectations in the beginning, not in the middle or the end.
The reason for this is that in the initial ‘getting to know you’ phase the communications that take place are the conversations upon which expectations on your client’s part are formed.
Explain Your Business
One of the best ways to keep everyone on the same page is to offer potential clients an introduction to how your business operates during the consultation. For example, we use an online system for clients that allow them to sign the contract and make payments online. Our staff includes a Designer that does the album designs and a Studio Manager that handles most customer service. By giving clients an introduction to how your business works, they won’t be upset later to discover that you are not personally designing their album or that the invoicing is automated.
For example, we used to get weddings online ‘as soon as possible’ depending upon our workload. Clients never knew when their images were coming, so they were anxious. Once we began telling clients they would be able to get their proofs within 4-6 weeks, things actually changed. First, we assigned a deadline for each wedding in our production queue, which helped us manage our production workflow. Second, we gave clients a concrete timeframe. We make this clear in the initial consultation, in the planning meeting prior to the wedding, and in an email we send a week after the wedding. Because we have set the expectation for our clients, we no longer get anxious emails and calls from brides on the edge of their seats in anticipation.
Create a .pdf file that you can send via email once you’ve booked a client that sets expectations. Things you will want to cover include preparations they need to do in order to get the most from their photography (getting questionnaires filled out, providing timelines, etc.). Business hours for client meetings, wedding proofs and turnaround time, the album design process and expected turnaround times, shipping costs, overtime rates, late payment penalties, holiday deliveries, and any other areas that will help manage expectations and boundaries. Photographers that are able to maintain a personal life are those that set these boundaries and expectations from the very beginning.
Have a detailed questionnaire ready when you meet with your clients. The more you know, the better you'll be able to anticipate – and eliminate – problems. Find out exactly what they expect from you. That's not to say you have to agree with everything. But this communication helps eliminate anxious phone calls from clients.
You've seen that commercial that says ‘Never let 'em see ya sweat'? Well, that's the way you have to handle your clients. Go into that first meeting like a timid little kitten and you'll spend the next 6 months answering anxious phone calls and responding to demanding emails. If you feel you have to meet with them on their terms for the first meeting that's fine. But let them know, during that first meeting, what your ‘office hours' are for future client meetings.
Emergencies will happen and you will have more than a few jittery brides. It's part of the business. Respond as quickly as possible, before the issue has time to fester. If you're in the middle of something else, let the bride know you understand she has a question and tell her when you will call her back. And then do it. Generally, if you put the client at ease as soon as possible you can avoid major explosions.
Avoid Email for Difficult Issues
Every business will have miscommunications that lead to upset feelings. Sometimes a bride just has it in her mind that you are going to provide the digital negatives to a session; perhaps she remembers that from another photographer she met with. Perhaps she doesn’t think you should charge overtime. These things will happen on occasion, and while it is tempting to run for cover and respond by email, this only fuels the fire. Delicate conversations are always best handed in person or by phone whenever possible. It’s difficult to read tone in an email, and it’s easier to unleash a great deal of dis respect via email. It’s much more likely that your client will be more reasonable and respectful over the phone, and it’s easier to diffuse a potential problem.
You can set the tone for you whole business relationship during your first meeting if you come prepared and you act with authority. Never use your family or personal life as an excuse, though. A simple, ‘My business hours are ___ to ___ during the week. When can we meet next?” should suffice. Do not offer excuses, simply state the facts. Another approach is to try to make it a yes, with an added cost. For example, many wedding photographers will offer Sunday sessions at a premium rate. Remember, just because you can meet clients every night of the week doesn’t mean you have to. Part of being your own boss is setting your own hours.
Once you begin to build these boundaries and expectations into your business, you will be happier and so will your clients. Everyone knows what to expect, and you will not feel like you are constantly trying to keep up with every else’s expectations. Set those boundaries, communicate them and finally, respect them. If you don’t, how can you expect anyone else to?
What other ideas do you have for maintaining business boundaries? Please share in the comments below.