by Mariah Ashley
Once you implement a no discounts under any circumstances policy, how long is it before someone actually books you, thereby breaking your long and depressing losing streak? In the case of the Snappers; 29 nail biting days.
Sarah Petty, M.Photog.Cr., CPP, delivered an amazing lecture at Imaging USA 2013 and passed out her new book Worth Every Penny, Build a Business that Thrills Your Customers and Still Charge What You are Worth. When the book was placed in my hands and I read the cover, I thought, did she write this for me? Aside from taking great photographs which so many people can do, the missing piece we needed to give potential clients was a reason to spend more with us. We found that reason in the pages of Sarah's genius book.
The answer is the boutique business model. We booked two fabulous weddings in the month following Imaging by creating the boutique experience outlined in Sarah's book. This is the story of how we booked one of those weddings.
Laura (a bride) sent us a lovely email detailing her intimate wedding for 25 guests at a high-end venue. She had been referred by the venue and loved what she had seen of our work online. She was interested in finding out more about our pricing. In my return email I attached our pricing explaining our minimum investment of $6,875. I figured we wouldn't hear back from her because she was having such a small wedding and probably wouldn't have the budget for our pricing. To my surprise, she did email back but asked if there were other options for pricing since her wedding was so small. Here we go again...time to get ready to say no and watch another bride walk off into the sunset.
Ironically, she also had some questions surrounding sunset and the timing of the event. Per the advice in Sarah's book, I took the opportunity to go above and beyond even though Laura was not yet a client. I wanted to impart that the reason we are one of the most expensive photographers in our area is because of the level of service we give. I decided it was important to position myself as the expert in the hope that she would start to feel comfortable and taken care of. I remembered we had shot a wedding at her venue in almost the exact scenario that she was describing, small-wedding sunset ceremony, etc.
I sent her a link to that wedding from our blog archives. Next, I created a "suggested timeline for the day" from getting ready through reception, all built around maximizing the light and sunset for photos. Finally, I reiterated that our pricing was firm but she'd be well taken care of, which wasn't easy for me to say to her.
I have two computer monitors on my desk. On one monitor I had Laura's email open and on the other monitor was Quickbooks. The balance in my account was grim to say the least. Making payroll would be nothing short of a miracle this week. Laura's wedding was on a Sunday and only six months away. It certainly wasn't guaranteed that we would book this date, but I had a hunch that if I discounted the package even a little that she'd be satisfied and book us straight away.
Trish and I contemplated discounting over lunch. After all, Laura was having a small wedding, but did that mean we'd give her less of our "sparkle routine" (i.e. work half as hard)? No, we'd work just as hard and put just as much heart and sweat into the day. More than that though, we felt like we had to finish what we had started. We committed to following the advice of the experts and now here we are writing about it on this blog. To discount would be disloyal to all the photographers out there reading the posts and struggling along with us. The answer had to be NO.
On the phone, Laura explained she was torn because photography was taking the better portion of the amount she had set aside for the ENTIRE wedding. It's much harder to say "no" on the phone than it is in email, but for a second time, I said an awkward "no" to discounting and then kicked myself for not sounding more confident after we hung up. I figured Laura was now running, not walking toward the sunset.
Surprisingly, Laura got back to me a few days later to schedule an in-person meeting. She also asked if there was any kind of exception that could be made if her wedding day was rainy. I gently explained that in the case of rain we'd be working that much harder and that we'd get amazing photos regardless of the weather. Laura apologized for all the questions, explaining that she hadn't planned on spending as much, but could see we were the BEST. That was the third "no" I had to deliver and I really hoped it would be the last. I think the stress is giving me hives.
This small business stuff is not for the faint of heart. Sometimes when we need a little pick me up I'll bake my top-secret recipe vegan oatmeal cookies. These cookies are literally the most delicious cookies EVER! Whenever I am baking, Trish will declare, "It smells like love in here!" Nothing says, "I care for you, I think of you, I want the best for you," like a home-baked morsel of delightfulness. The fact that they are vegan cookies plays to the "no one does it quite like Mariah and Trish experience" that we were trying to create. It was decided that cookies would become part of our boutique experience. We just didn't know then that they would become the center of it.
On the day before Laura and Bill's visit we baked a fresh batch and plated a half dozen of the cookies on a pretty platter, positioning them to be the first thing Laura and Bill would see when they walked in. Think back to when you were a kid coming home from school hungry. The first thing you smell and see when you come in the door are homemade cookies cooling on the counter. Feeling loved? Yeah you are.
We had a fabulous visit with Laura and Bill chatting and munching cookies. Laura booked us before she left--in fact she had already filled out the contract before she even arrived at our office. I could tell they both felt really good about their decision. We didn't want them to leave empty handed so we gave them a mason jar filled with more cookies wrapped with a beautiful ribbon. I'm pretty sure they got the message that we would be taking very good care of them.
I felt validated by Laura and Bill's enthusiasm, not to mention their love for my cookies. If a bride throwing a small wedding could see past the price to the value, then we were off and running. A proper thank you for Laura and Bill was in order. Trish and I spent the next day scouring local gift shops for the perfect gift, and then we saw it, a set of heart shaped pewter measuring spoons! Weddings + Cookies + Heirloom Measuring Spoons = LOVE. The "welcome to the snap experience" packet was born: boutique (literally)spoons for baking, a copy of my top-secret recipe so they could make their own cookies and pay the love forward, and another small batch of cookies for munching while reading our printed welcome material. It came together so perfectly because when you are your true self and stick to your convictions, when you put love out into the world, and cookies into the hands of others you are repaid tenfold.
Epilogue: The day after booking Laura and Bill, we were contacted by another couple interested in booking us for the very same day at the very same venue. They were having a larger more elaborate event. If I had given into my doubts and discounted for Laura and Bill, 24 hours later I would have regretted having to turn down a wedding at full price. I would have spent Laura and Bill's wedding day looking across the property at the other wedding, knowing that because I discounted for Laura and Bill, I lost out on a couple who probably would have paid full price. There aren't enough cookies to stuff in my face to drown out that regret. No discounts, message received.