Real life is beautiful. I believe wholeheartedly in this philosophy, and after reading my last article in this series, you may acknowledge the idea… but does the average consumer embrace this concept?
When an expecting mother decides that it is time to cross the “hire a photographer” task off of her “to-do before the baby arrives” list, does she immediately think, “Ooooh! I know… I’ll have a photographer come to my house and document our real lives!” Probably not. It’s very possible that this mother has never been exposed to the idea of Lifestyle Baby Photography, and even if she has, she’s probably plagued with doubts about it, rather than excitement.
“Our house isn’t nearly as nice as the one on that photographer’s site.”
“I’ll definitely need to lose weight first”
“We don’t really do anything fun. What will she possibly photograph?”
“I’m not very photogenic”
And the list goes on and on and on…
If I am going to make my living as “the lifestyle baby photographer,” I have to somehow overcome both of these issues. I have to make myself known to as many moms as possible, and I have to help those moms overcome any hesitations that they may have regarding their abilities to “perform” during a real life session. I have discovered that the skill which is most integral to my success as a Lifestyle Baby Photographer is not my photographic skill, but rather is my ability to help alleviate the ignorance and insecurity that surround the idea that real life is beautiful. Being able to take a technically and artistically sound photograph is important, but if I have not been able to convince the mothers in my market that they want those photographs taken, then I am out of business. For me, it has been the ability to forge strong relationships with my clients that has helped me bypass these barriers. Strong business management skills are important; marketing savvy is useful; spectacular photography is an asset; but without strong relationship building, Lifestyle Baby Photography will fizzle to an end.
As I’ve already said, the two major barriers to overcome are ignorance and insecurity. These two negatives go hand in hand to keep the clients that you want to photograph from you. Banishing one will often aid in the banishment of the other.
Today, let’s tackle ignorance.
When women in my specific target market find out that they are pregnant, I want them to think of me very early on. I want them to call their spouse, call their doctor, call me, and call their family and friends… in that order. The only way that this sort of immediacy is going to be possible is if I am their friend. If not their friend, specifically, then their friend’s friend… or at the very least, their friend’s friend’s friend. Notice, I did not say that the best way to combat this is by being their photographer, or their friend’s photographer. A photographer is not someone who is regularly a part of someone’s life. A photographer is not someone you call so you can share exciting news. A photographer is not someone you consider an important part of your circle of friends. No, a photographer is more like an accountant or a lawyer. A photographer is someone who gets the job done, delivers the product, and moves on. A person might remember to refer their photographer if a conversation about photography comes up, but that same person will always talk about their friend, whether the conversation is about photography or not. With my clients, I am rarely their photographer, and that is exactly what I prefer. I am most always referred to as their friend… who also happens to photograph their family.
The idea of creating relationships in an effort to insure that your business stays on track can seem somewhat calculated and cold. If you go into these client relationships and attempt to make them your friends and you do so solely for the purpose of gaining more business… it will not work. People are intuitive, and they will see that they are being used in that way. The only way to make your clients your friends is to really and truly care about them. You must actively choose and desire to be their friend. The clients with whom you find yourself not really wanting to be friends? Those aren’t really the ideal clients for you, and most likely, their referrals won’t be the clients/friends that you want, either.
I don’t have any ground-breaking tips on how to be a good friend to your clients, but I can share a couple of very basic things that that I have done to help endear my clients to me.
Please remember: you cannot just apply these ideas by rote. You cannot just go through the motions. You have to truly want to create relationships. The genuineness is what makes the process legitimate. The legitimacy is what makes the relationships work.
Mothers (specifically new mothers) need to talk. They need to talk about their children; they need to talk about how they are sick of talking about their children; and they need to talk about how they wish they had something else to talk about, other than their children. Their husbands have their own work/life stressors to deal with, and really just want to come home and shut down. Their childless friends tolerated it for the first few months (or probably just the first few weeks), but now really just want their “fun” friend back. Their mom friends just want to talk about their own kids, or they want to talk about not talking about their kids.
That’s where I come in. I can listen. I can empathize. I can sympathize. I can share my own experiences when I feel they are absolutely necessary, but generally, I just listen. I become a much needed outlet for moms who need a reprieve from the pressures within their regular social circle. In my very first conversation with any potential client, one of the first things I do is ask them about their child. I ask with a purpose, and I make sure they can feel that I really care to know the answer. From that first conversation, as I listen to them talk about their families without judging or advising or yawning, I endear myself to them as someone that they need. I become, in a very small way, their friend. (And I assure you, this goes both ways. My clients truly are my friends, and there are so many of them that I can call on in times of need in ways that I can not do with my “non-client” friends.)
The first time I arrive at a clients home, I always try to bring a present for their new baby. I do not give them a gift that is focused on me, or on photography, but rather something simple, special, and useful. A friend who visited a new baby would bring a present, and that’s what I am, I’m a friend. Please do not make the mistake of thinking that the best thing to do in this situation is to give a product credit or a frame for one of their future purchases. Those type of gifts are selfish presents, as they draw attention back to you. Work to give a gift that is personal and beautiful… and is about the child, not about you.
I also try to learn a few of my clients favorite things. If I can arrive at their session with a tall iced mocha, because I know that it is their favorite pick-me-up, or if I can stick a bag of cherry Jelly Bellys in with their proofbook, I have not only given them something that they love, but I have also showed to them that I care enough to remember what they love.
I friend as many of my clients as possible on Facebook. I learn about them, interact with them, engage them in conversation. The most obvious way to use Facebook is to post client images and tag them, and yes, this is an amazing way to generate referrals. I don’t want to stop with the obvious. I want to really befriend my clients. If I see that they are struggling with something, I try to reach out to them. If my services as a babysitter will help them in a time of need, I will offer to watch their children. If they seem to need to talk, I try to call them. I leave them suggestions, if they are asking for advice. I pop on and say, “I was thinking about you today. Hope your vacation/job interview/family vist went awesome!” I try to use Facebook in a way to truly get to know my clients, and to make them see that I am seriously invested in our friendship.
Photographers take themselves too seriously. We arrive at a session, and we “get to work.” We get an email, and we respond tersely with the business answer, while ignoring the personal questions. We have a job to accomplish. We have art to create. We have deadlines. We are busy and important people.
Just an FYI: this type of “too busy for you” attitude is not endearing. The idea that “I am in very high demand, and you should wait for me” is not the way we should treat our friends, and should not be the way that we treat our clients. I always try to take the time to chat with my clients at our sessions. I answer personal questions in my email, and I respond with personal questions of my own. I invite clients out for lunch, or out for a double date dinner with Nathan and I.
Sometimes life really is busy and things truly are overwhelming. Because my clients are my friends, I feel that I have the freedom to say that to them. I can shoot them a quick email saying, “I’m really sorry to be so short, but everything around here is crazy. Yes, I’ve ordered your album, and I’ll be in touch asap to give you an update on it. Hope all is well! More soon… xoxo! ” Because they are my friends, they forgive me for being short or slow, and they are confident that I will make it up to them.
It’s a simple process. I make my clients my friends by being their friends. Everything I mentioned above is completely elementary in the realm of relationship-building. The underlying theme is that I have to focus on the application of the basic concepts of friendship to our client relationships. I have to make a concerted effort to surround ourselves with clients who will never introduce me to a prospective client as “my photographer, Amber”, but will instead introduce me as “my friend, Amber.” Any referral that starts with “my friend” is a referral that people listen to. I have worked hard to create an environment in which I am friends with my clients. I have been invited into their inner circles. I now have access to the people with whom they are closest, and I have the opportunity to become friends with their friends… to become friends with their friends’ friends. When these people have photographic needs, I do not have to worry that they will choose someone else. I don’t have to worry that price or style will become a barrier to our business relationship. They will call me, because I am their friend!
Sadly, even with all of this relationship building in place, even though I have worked hard to create an environment within which ignorance is no longer a barrier to my potential success as a Lifestyle Baby Photographer, I still have to figure out how to overcome the other major barrier.
Amber will address the topic of potential client’s fear and insecurity in her next article here on the Pictage Blog. Thank you Amber for another great post.
See Amber’s previous article “Real Life is Beautiful” here.
We’re curious what you think…
1. What do you find to be the most effective way to create a relationship with clients?
2. Which of these ways to create client relationships will you apply first?
3. What is the biggest struggle for you when creating client relationships?
4. What benefits have you observed from strong client relationships?
Written by Amber Holritz, the lifestyle baby photographer
Amber is a wife, mom, and photographer based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. You can see more posts by Amber in the coming weeks here on the Pictage blog as well as at www.amberholritz.com.