Clients choose a photographer based on two main reasons: they like the photographer’s work, and they like the photographer’s demeanor. However, these initial reactions can be diminished if a client has a bad experience before, during, and after a photo shoot. The best way to create a positive experience with every client is to have professional standards by which your business is run.
From my own practice, mistakes, and peer advice, here is a list of 8 vital ways to ensure “professional” is part of your title as a photographer. Note that none of these items have to do with image style, posing, or creative lighting, so they are all very simple to master right away!
1. Dress Professionally
When a family or a couple arrives at a shooting location for their session, more than half of the time they are dressed up for the occasion. There is a strong principle in the academic world that teachers should always be more formally dressed than their students. The same principle holds true for photographers and their clients. While a business suit is not usually necessary, “business casual” is a good rule of thumb. Avoid jeans, t-shirts, flip-flops, sneakers, casual shorts, or anything that would deter your reputation. Remember, as a photographer you are selling your personality and your skills, and the way you dress will either build or break your client’s confidence in your abilities.
2. Communicate Correctly
Most of the time your first contact with a client will be over the phone or through e-mail. Use a spell checker, read your response before your send it, ensure you have answered all of the potential-client’s questions, and respond in a timely manner. In this technological age, clients expect to have their inquiry answered within 48 hours, however I always use the 24-hour rule to show clients I am eager to serve them.
3. Ensure Business Legitimacy
Stay current with the legal aspects of business in your state. Take a class at a local college about business law, and learn the technicalities of contracts and how to create a business model. Register your business with your state, purchase a vendor license for your area, and most importantly do your taxes. Record all business dealings by tabulating income earned and purchases made, while also keeping track of miles traveled to each shoot. I use a simple excel spreadsheet to keep my data ready for tax time. However, in addition to annual taxes, sales tax should also be paid at the appropriate interval. Different states and different business types (LLC, INC, Sole Proprietorship, etc.) all have different timelines for when sales tax is due. Learn the law and thank yourself later.
4. Cull Images Thoroughly
Does your reflector show in the corner of the image? Are the client’s eyes halfway closed? Is the image only sharp at 200×300 pixels? The best method of dealing with a “mistake” photo is to delete it before the client ever sees his or her proof images. It is much better to give a client 75 final images in perfect condition, than 125 images with poor quality images intermixed with the good ones. No client is interested in seeing 10 images that look almost exactly identical, or an awkwardly posed picture, so take no prisoners and edit brutally!
5. Create a Services Timeline
Let your client know upfront how long it will be until they receive the link to their Pictage gallery. Explain how they will receive the link by email, and share with them your turnaround time for products like albums or image discs. A good rule of thumb is to “under promise and over deliver.” If you normally take 1 week to get a client’s images posted online, verbally estimate 1.5 or 2 weeks to the client. That way, if you run into any holdups, the clients won’t get impatient. Further, if you proceed to post the client’s gallery early, they will be happily surprised. A happy client is much more willing to buy prints and recommend you as a photographer than a disgruntled client.
6. Be Verbally Respectful
During a session, don’t make rude remarks about religion, politics, or anything that might offend your client. There are many subjects to talk about that can build a personal relationship without having to talk about things that are inappropriate in the workplace.
7. Keep Branding Consistent
Every successful modern company has a logo, a functioning website, a simple way to contact the business, and description of services offered. Ensure your photography branding is consistent throughout your blog, your website, and your emails. You don’t have to purchase a high-end custom website, but a consistent website marketed to the audience you want to photograph will work just fine. For example, if you business colors are blue and yellow, you should avoid using a purple flower image as your blog background. Further, if you shoot mostly babies and children, don’t use hard rock music as the background music on your website.
8. Invest in Yourself
By applying items 1-7, the professional aspect of your business will be improved. However, a client’s main motivation for hiring you is to obtain beautiful photographs. Always pursue a greater knowledge of your camera gear, your signature style, and the current photography market. As photographers, we sell our skills, personality, and business finesse – always seek to create better versions of these three pillars!
Written by Lindsay Smith
Lindsay Smith is a Colorado wedding and portrait photographer and the owner of Lindsay Smith Photography, LLC. She has been shooting for several years, and loves both the creative and the business elements of the industry. In addition to Lindsay’s job as a photographer, she is a military officer and has undergone more than 4 years of professional leadership training. She is passionate about making every photo shoot a great experience for her clients.