Most photographers don’t choose to follow their passion for photography because they enjoy selling “stuff.” Photographers are artists, and generally have an aversion to just about anything related to selling. After all, we’re artists, so it’s our inclination that we create art for the purpose of the creative process.
At the same time, if you’re running a business, you have to make money. Many photographers – especially wedding photographers – design their business to make most of their money through their creative fees. This is a perfectly acceptable model, if you truly understand your costs, labor expenses and margins, and it meets your businesses needs. On the other hand, I think that wedding photographers (and portrait photographers for that matter), leave a lot on the table by not focusing on developing a solid sales process.
Sales sounds like a bad word. It makes us feel dirty just thinking about it. We conjure up images in our head of sleazy car-salespeople, or pushy employees at big box electronics stores. But sales doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, when done right, sales is a simple process – and one that can result in a large boost to your business bottom line.
1. Sales is about managing expectations
Every interaction you have with a client should be about leading them towards a certain sale. From the way you respond to an inquiry, to the conversations you have with clients – you’re helping to educate and motivate your client to spend money on the products and services you offer.
It’s also about eliminating surprises. Nothing can destroy a potential sale – or an entire client relationship – faster than springing something on your clients at the last minute. People resent “bait and switch” tactics and will end up forgoing purchases they may even want, just because of the experience.
At the same time, the more you can help lead a client through your process at every step, the better prepared they are to make a purchase. For example, we make sure that we completely explain our album process to our clients up front (and at every stage along the way). We let them know their album will be pre-designed based on their story. We let them know that they’ll be invited in to preview their design. We let them know that they’ll have a chance to provide feedback and request changes. Finally, we let them know that when they come in for their album viewing, they’ll be making their purchase.
This way, clients aren’t surprised, or caught off card. They know what’s going to happen, and they are prepared for the conversation about purchasing an album. Their expectations are met.
2. Sales is about uncovering problems
When a client comes in to your studio (or wherever you meet with them), it’s because they have a problem. Your job is to figure out what it is. That’s the bottom line of sales – uncovering people’s problems. Most often, a client may not even know what their problem is. They believe that their problem is that they need photographs of their wedding. They may believe that their problem is that they need a wedding photographer. This is because that’s what they’ve been conditioned to believe.
I happen to believe that the reason people hire wedding photographers is because they have an “I want to remember the way I feel at my wedding,” problem. They may not be able to articulate it like that, but I believe it’s true. Uncovering this problem changes everything about what I do to help solve their problem. Knowing what the real problem is, gives you an opportunity to help them – which leads us to the next step…
3. Sales is about discovering solutions
Once you know your clients’ problem, you can help provide them with a solution. By looking at the needs of your client, and helping them find the best solutions, you create a win-win. The products and services you offer should be designed as solutions to the various problems your clients have. Whether you sell 8×10’s, or giant wall canvases, the goal is to understand your client well enough that you can provide them with exactly the product that lines up with their need.
4. Sales is about meeting the needs of your clients.
Don’t try to sell albums, offer an heirloom quality book that tells a story. Don’t try to sell canvases, offer the opportunity to forever freeze a moment – a feeling – in a gorgeous piece of wall art. Don’t sell loose prints, offer the ability to share a gift with the people that are important to your clients.
When you meet your clients needs, they leave feeling satisfied – even when they’ve spent more than planned. By listening and understanding, you have the opportunity to sell more than just a few 4×6 prints. Even when clients come in thinking they have a limited budget, you have an opportunity to listen to what they really need – what their REAL motivation is – and offer them something that satisfies that need.
Sales doesn’t have to be “hard.” It also doesn’t have to be dirty. The bottom line is that profitable sales is about developing a relationship with your client so that you can truly understand their needs – and offer a solution that matches.
Our clients aren’t rich. They don’t necessarily drive fancy cars, or have huge homes – but they do value photography. More importantly, they value the investment they make in products and services (solutions) that meet their needs. They invite us to create work that is meaningful to them.
That’s really what sales is all about.
Written by Jason Aten
Jason Aten is a Michigan based wedding photographer. After a career in marketing and sales management for a Fortune 100 company, Jason became relentlessly drawn to the ability to impact people’s lives through photography. So in 2001 he quit his job to start his own photography business. Jason applies his previous marketing and sales experience to his photography business and now takes the time to educate others with his “Starting Out Right” one-day intensives and resource guides. You can find more posts like this on the Starting Out Right blog.