It’s intimidating! The very first time you sit down across a table from a potential client. ‘Will they like me?!’ Trust me, I understand. I also understand that the client consultation can be the most important interaction you have with a client. It sets the tone and direction for the entire relationship – so here’s a few things that might help the next time you meet with a client.
1. Consider Your Environment.
Where do you meet with clients? It might seem like such a small detail, but where you meet with clients is one of the most important aspects of your client meeting. It dictates the very first impression your client will have, and first impressions matter.
It seems that photographers are sort of split among three groups – those who meet in their studio, those who meet in their home, and those who meet at a coffee shop or restaurant. I’m not going to argue for – or against – any of these. I’ll simply suggest the following: When you meet with potential clients….
What do they hear? What do they see? What will they smell? What distractions will there be? Will you be able to have an intimate conversation? Will you be sitting at a table or sitting on couches? Will it be loud?
All of these things, in turn, determine how the client will feel about your consultation. If it’s loud and hard to hear you, it doesn’t matter how wonderful your conversation – or how beautiful your images. None of that will matter.
I’m a control freak when it comes to creating an experience for my clients. Unless a client is out of state (in which case we’ll probably just talk by phone), all of our potential clients come to our studio. It’s our home court advantage because we control everything about the experience. I can control the music level, which images they see, where they sit, what they small (fresh baked chocolate chip cookies), and as a result – I can influence how they feel.
Choose your location carefully. Consider how it reflects your business, and consider the impact it will have on your consultation.
2. Start a Conversation
Once you’ve decided on a location, it’s time to think about what you want to accomplish. My goal with an initial consultation is to have a conversation and get to know a client. This is a first date. I want to learn more about the client so I can have an understanding of whether or not I’ll be a good fit for them. I want to discern whether I’m able to offer them what they’re looking for.
For me, the best way to do that is to ask questions. In fact, I have a list of questions in my head. This allows me to help keep the conversation moving along, so there aren’t awkward moments of silence while we’re trying to figure out what to talk about next. I ask questions like:
Tell me how the two of you met.
Tell me about your wedding plans.
Tell me what you’re most excited about your wedding day.
Tell me about what you don’t want to miss.
Tell me what you’re looking for in photography for your wedding.
2. Listen More than You Talk
The number rule of leading a conversation is to do less than 20% of the talking. When you ask a question – be quiet. Sometimes I have a tendency to want to help people along if they don’t answer right away. I have to remind myself that my potential clients are simply thinking about what I’ve asked – and that it is ok to be quiet for a minute and let them answer.
When you listen, you invite the other person to share more deeply. When you listen, you communicate value – that the person you are listening to is important to you. Also, the more you listen, you create an imbalance. As much as people want to talk about themselves (it’s human nature), we also have a subconscious need for balance. If I talk about myself for 20 minutes, I now feel obligated to let you talk – or our conversation feels out of balance.
When you spend a lot of time listening to your potential client, you’ll find that they invite you to start talking about yourself, and your photography business. This is a much more natural way for you to share, then to simply sit down and start talking about yourself. You’ll have a much more captive – and appreciative – audience.
3. Stay Focused
Every client interaction should have a purpose – one that moves the relationship forward. If your purpose is to book a client, then you should ask questions and move your conversation towards that.
I meet with clients in our studio, but even if I didn’t, I’d do things pretty much the same. I don’t worry about having a ton of sample albums available, or slideshows to show. My purpose is to have a conversation that moves the relationship forward. Sure, if the client wants to watch a slideshow, we can do that. I have it available – but that’s not the reason they came to my studio. They came for peace of mind – that comes with a relationship. That’s what I focus on – the relationship.
What are you focused on when you meet with clients?
It might sound silly, but I’m dead serious. Some people are scared to death to talk to clients, because they’re not sure what to say, or they’re afraid of rejection. I promise you that almost every conversation I have with a client starts out exactly the same because I’ve had the same conversation, hundreds of times. I’ve practiced, and its second nature. It seems natural to the client because it’s ingrained in who I am as I talk to them.
That doesn’t just happen – it takes practice. Practice helps you prepare for any situation. Practice helps you to relax and focus on your objective. Practice takes away the fear and uncertainty and gives you confidence. By the way, confidence in your conversation is one of the best ways to give a potential client peace of mind – which is one of the best ways to begin a new relationship and turn a “potential” client into a happy client.
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.