Do you have a business, a real business with a sustainable system to bring in clients, generate sales, and continue the process for years to come? What distinguishes a true business from someone pitching a craft is the ability to perpetuate the core business processes in a strategic way. So says Ramon Ray, founder of Smart Hustle Magazine, author of the book “The Celebrity CEO,” and an Imaging USA 2020 speaker. This reality can be difficult for creative pros, like photographers, who often focus more on the art than the underlying business. But both aspects are critical to a photographer entrepreneur’s success.
Ray suggests a three-part system designed to attract people to your business, sell to them once they know you, and wow them with an experience that makes them want to return (and refer their friends).
The attraction phase is used to get people’s attention. You have to be clear about your target market, says Ray. What is your niche? Who are you trying to speak to? Where are these people? How do they communicate? What relationships would help you reach them? And perhaps most important, what are their needs?
“Once you have those things down, translate them into your marketing,” says Ray. “Don’t make it just about you. Make it about what you can do for your clients. Understand that you’re not selling photography. You’re really selling memories [if you create portraits or wedding photography] or an emotional reaction that elicits a particular response [if you create commercial imagery]. If you understand what you’re really selling, it will help you craft communications that speak to your audience and address what they really need.”
Think tactically. How can you reach your target market effectively? What are you doing to gain attention? There are plenty of tools—social media, email, direct mail, advertising, speaking engagements, networking—and the right mix of these is different for every business and every budget. More important are the underlying principles. “Photographers can differentiate themselves by being problem solvers,” says Ray. “Don’t just provide a service; provide value. How? Be a guide through the process; offer resources.”
Maybe you write social media posts on why family portraits are so important for children’s self-confidence or how to look your best at your wedding. Perhaps you offer extra services to help clients look great on picture day or online tools to help clients through a stressless portrait process. Be a source of information and expertise. Remember that at this stage you’re not trying to sell. You’re just trying to attract people to you. All you’re asking for is some information—email addresses, phone numbers, social follows, responses to inquiries—whatever you need to add prospects to your lead funnel so you can follow up with them later.
Speaking of following up, sales, at its core, is all about follow-up. Continual follow-up is how you move leads through your lead funnel and toward a sale. Contact your leads, ask questions, keep the conversation going. Provide resources and touch points. They may not be ready today, but with follow-up, they could be ready tomorrow.
“Understand you’re not the client’s priority,” says Ray. “He or she is your priority.” With that in mind, it’s important to understand the sales cycle of your customer. Some sales cycles may be longer or shorter depending on the final product. For example, someone deciding on a $5,000 portrait commission may take longer than someone thinking about a $200 headshot. Also consider who’s in charge of the decision process and how that affects the sales cycle. Is it a mom booking portraits for her kids, a dad looking at the bottom-line cost, a bride anxious to get her wedding vendors lined up? All of these client types have different buying considerations and timeframes.
Automation can be your best friend in this process. Using marketing software, including many email platforms, you can set up automated messaging and email follow-ups. With the click of a button, you can tell who in your database is viewing your materials or downloading resources, which helps you identify potential clients who are more engaged and, presumably, better prospects.
Through follow-up and multiple touch points, you can improve your ability to determine when prospective clients are ready to buy. However, once they’re ready to buy, are they ready to buy from you? For example, a couple is getting married, and they’re hiring a photographer. But they’re considering all their options. To move yourself up the list, go back to the idea of adding value. Be ready to demonstrate the extra value you provide, and show (not just tell) how you’re a unique choice. And be prepared to offer flexible solutions to help make the sale.
It’s not what you say, it’s how you make them feel. The wow stage depends on the experience you provide, and it comes with two primary goals:
To provide a wow experience, Ray suggests following a simple process to ensure that you’re exceeding expectations at each stage of your client interaction:
What if you didn’t wow the client? If you want to salvage the relationship and work with the client again, Ray suggests trying this process:
After all is said and done, you’ve attracted, sold, and wowed your client. But don’t stop there. A good business system sets you up for future success by continuing to function long after the sale. Stay in touch, send thank-you cards, and be a resource for clients well beyond the sales cycle.
“Every interaction doesn’t have to be about a sale,” says Ray. “Be a guide and look for ways that you can keep the relationship going, and those clients will reward you for a long time.”
Jeff Kent is editor-at-large of Professional Photographer.