Great clients are made, not found

Does it ever feel like other studios are blessed with amazing, loyal, high-spending clients while you’re struggling with price shoppers and noncommittal customers? It doesn’t have to be that way, says Steve Saporito, a Melbourne, Australia-based photography consultant and educator.

He’s also an Imaging USA 2020 speaker who has taught thousands of photographers how to find abundance in today’s photography market. He posits that the gap between high-performing studios and everyone else isn’t as wide as many are led to believe. The key is to “make” great clients, not find them, and then nurture them with care and attention.

Steve Saporito is a speaker at Imaging USA 2020.
© Courtesy Steve Saporito
Steve Saporito is a speaker at Imaging USA 2020.

Great clients are made, not found

This concept gives the power back to photographers, says Saporito. It assumes there’s an abundance of quality clients if we choose to care enough to help people discover what matters most to them.

Clients who call and ask about price, digital files, or “your cheapest option” are often as assumed to be mere price shoppers and even “not my client.” The assumption is they don’t value the art or the process. However, that’s not always the case.

“Over the years I have learned that clients only buy what they believe they are worth, not what we believe we are worth,” says Saporito. “When we help our clients discover what is important to them, such as their relationships, they suddenly do not care about digital files. They want wall art. They happily spend thousands on portraits even though they started off wanting something cheap. Our clients want to be celebrated and are craving someone to help them find what they have to celebrate in a world that is constantly looking for fault and negativity.”

The more photographers care about their clients, the more they help them discover what’s important, the easier those clients are to book—and the more they spend. The process becomes less about selling and more about helping people find everything they want.

“In order to make great clients, we need to stop talking about ourselves and start asking more questions about our clients,” says Saporito. “Figure out what matters to them. We have to learn the art of listening. We need to see the person who means the most to them through their eyes and help them understand how that relationship is more important than price or digital files.”

Nurturing quality clients

So many photographers are focused on always finding new clients, which is the most expensive and laborious way to grow a business. Nurturing your current quality clients opens the door to referrals and repeat business—a much easier and more sustainable growth strategy.

But how? Saporito explains that most people just want someone to see them, truly see them. For photographers, this means believing that every person has something worth photographing and then helping people see that value. Talk less about your skill with a camera and more about what makes your clients unique. Invite them in and engage in a conversation that is focused on them, their families, and what they love.

“There are clients everywhere,” says Saporito. “Photographers who take on this psychology can literally take their children to the park and book quality clients while they are there. And it works with old clients as well. If they’re used to a different relationship with their photographer, and they’re given this new experience, it opens up the opportunities for them to spend willingly.”

Shifting the approach

Transition from digital communication to real conversations, says Saporito. Get away from email, texts, and instant messages and converse during a phone call or in-person meeting. Clients are looking for someone they can trust, and building trust cannot be done via email or questionnaire. Engaging clients in a conversation about what they love the most and allowing them to be heard changes everything.

Keep an open mind during your conversations. You may be surprised at people’s budget when they find art that has a real connection for them. “Most photographers want to attract rich clients,” says Saporito. “The truth is, Mr. and Mrs. Average spend the most on what we do and are happy to display artwork of their family in their home. Understanding your ideal customer and what they truly want is important. Then you can create a business that is focused on making that customer feel more valuable and more loved. That’s a business that clients want to come back to again and again, and refer more people like them.”

Transparency about the process and pricing is critical to building stronger relationships. Remember, most clients don’t know how to buy photography. So there’s an educational element that includes helping clients visualize something that matters to them in their home. While you’re helping them visualize, be open and specific. Make specific recommendations about specific products attached to specific pricing.

“That makes it feel real,” explains Saporito. It also communicates the amount that you, the artist, think they should spend.

Start selling emotions

“Why do some photographers believe that the gap between the high-end, successful studios is wider than they can bridge?” wonders Saporito. “This business is about caring and helping people feel valuable. It is about exceptional service and value. It is about making your clients the hero. I have trained many photographers who are averaging more than $3,000 a session working out of the trunk of their car. It can be done with the right approach. The general public wants to feel something and just is waiting for someone to believe in them.”

Photographers need to realize they are in the business of selling emotions, says Saporito. These emotions are infused into the wall art photographers create. Emotions are what clients want to hold onto. The wall art is simply the medium. When photographers can do this well, then the industry will have an abundance of clients who happily spend money, and everyone benefits. “For those who are doing this process, the industry is booming. It is what is important right now, and now is the time to get on board while it is a proven, successful strategy.”

The keys, says Saporito, are to “Care more and see more.” Taking a better photo will not make you more money, he adds. Another lighting course will not make you more money. Instead, pay attention to what really matters to your client. “We are in the most exciting time for helping people feel valuable,” he says.

“I do not believe any other profession has the permission that we do as artists to help people discover what is important enough to celebrate. We do more than take photos. We change people’s perspective on who they are and how important they are. We can be transformational if we choose to see someone’s soul first, allow them to feel special, and then add light.” 

Jeff Kent is the editor-at-large of Professional Photographer.