What having our hearts broken taught us about our ideal client
The other day Trish and I had a meeting with a potential bride (Annie) and her mother (Ruth). They were two smartly-dressed, funny, warm, interesting ladies. The most endearing thing about them was that they work together as a mother/daughter dynamic-duo realty team. During our meeting, we laughed, we chatted, we shared ideas and inspirations, relating to each other on a sassy-ladies-in business kind of level.
Annie and Ruth were planning a big fabulous wedding at a fantastic venue with a fancy wedding coordinator we love. We thought to ourselves, now these two are our "ideal clients!" We could have spent all day chatting with Annie and Ruth, in particular picking savvy business lady Ruth's brain about what her "ideal client" was like.
It's safe to say we fell a little in love with Annie and Ruth and when they left, we found ourselves staring longingly at them as they walked away, calling out with a hint of neediness, "Don't be strangers! Bye-bye... Call us!"
The problem with falling in love is it puts you at risk
of rejection. Unfortunately, it turned out that Annie and Ruth weren't as "into
us" as we were "into them." One-sided love never works out, and
a few days later after our
date meeting, I got a "Dear Snap" letter
from Annie. It was the usual, "It's
not you...it's us" excuse.
WHY Annie!? Why Ruth?! What is it about us that drove you away?!!! WHAAAA!
This question kept me awake, so I felt compelled to email
Annie back and ask her... casual-like... why she decided to
break our hearts
go in another direction? Exactly what did the other photographer have that we
didn't? Perkier Albums? Curvier frames? Tell me Annie, tell me what I could
have done differently!
Annie was gracious enough to return my email. She
reiterated it wasn't us, they loved us. Our albums were indeed perky and our frames
curvy, but what really turned them on was slimmer packages. The other
cheaper more budget friendly. That's it. Budget trumped
our deep personal connection and charming personalities, end of story.
While Ruth may not have given us a deposit to shoot her daughter Annie's wedding at that meeting, she did give us something invariably more valuable, a little gem of advice. Remember how I asked Ruth about her ideal client? Her answer gave me pause then but really got me thinking after she dumped me.
She said, "My ideal client is one that pays me. If I only worked with clients that I loved, I'd have like five clients and that doesn't pay my bills. I keep my eye on the prize. Being able to work with all kinds of people affords me a nice home, nice vacations and the ability to plan a nice wedding."
There's a lot of photography talk out there about "Finding your Ideal Client"--a concept that has always kind of confused me. What is my ideal client? I thought sassy, funny, fashionable Annie and Ruth were ideal, but I was wrong about them.
Seemingly, some photographers "ideal clients" get married in a field and have rustic-barn-Anthropologie-type receptions because all their photographs contain those elements. Other jet-setting photographers seem to only photograph tall, thin, fashion forward model-types who marry in European vineyards and/or castles because all of their photos are taken in European vineyard and/or castles with unbelievably beautiful people. Others yet seem to only photograph really creative tattooed people that seek alternative venues like abandoned airplane hangars.
Why then, on any given weekend might I find myself shooting a wedding on a boat, or in a moat, or with a goat? It makes me wonder, how can moat, boat, and goat clients ALL be my ideal clients? Is it weird that my weddings are so varied in style, location, and budget?
Here's where we circle back to Ruth and her gift to me. The common denominator with the moat client, the goat client, and the boat client is that they were all really excited to hire us. Eureka! Mystery solved...my ideal client is... wait for it... a client who is really excited to give me their money in return for us doing a really great job.
For whatever reason our photos, bad jokes, lack of fashion sense, or quirky personalities speak to them. They feel comfortable with us, confident we'll do a good job and are happy with their decision. Our clients are tall, short, big-boned, skinny, type A's, artsy types, fancy, down-to-earth, educated, hard-working, old money, blue collar, funny, shy, preppy, alternative, silly and serious. They are all of these things and more and I am grateful for their differences. I don't want my photographs to all look the same, the same type of venue and the same type of people in the same type of lighting. That gets really boring really fast. Besides, I'd like to shoot 40 weddings this year. What are the odds of finding 40 clients who want to have goats at their wedding?
A few days after Annie and Ruth rejected us we had
date meeting. (Gotta get back on the proverbial bicycle, right?)
Had I been thinking along the old "ideal client" lines, gauging clients
on their shoes or their venue, I might have missed out on a nice booking. This
wedding was to take place at venue we are unfamiliar with and with vendors we
don't normally work with. The couple was kind of quiet and shy, the
conversation was a little awkward and the meeting brief. In times like that it
can be hard to muster the razzle dazzle, but you know what? This couple was
interested in our photography and had taken the time to come and see us. They
deserved a little sparkle and we happily gave it to them. Although the meeting
was brief, the shy bride told us we made her feel really comfortable and she
would be excited to have us photograph her wedding... oh, and where should she
send the check?
Ideal clients? Yes, without a doubt.