This is where everything we’ve covered so far finally comes together.
You’ve done the work needed to attract the right people to your website, and a good number of them have responded to your engaging content by signing up for your lead magnet.
Furthermore, your follow-up emails have continued to strengthen the relationships with your new leads, and you’ve used the power of stories to build up more trust in you.
Finally, your new leads reach the point where they’re inspired and motivated by everything you’ve shared with them, and they’re now ready to take the next step.
But what is the next step for them?
Many wedding and portrait photographers mistakenly assume that this means the prospect is ready to jump directly into making a firm booking.
Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple, although we all wish it were.
From your prospect’s point of view the relationship is still in its early stages, and they probably feel like they only just met you. Yes, they might be ready to take things a step further, but they’re not ready to commit to hiring you just yet.
You can think of this process as being a bit like dating.
Choosing a lifelong partner isn’t something you commit to five minutes after meeting someone for the first time. That initial meeting can be likened to a first-time visitor to your website. There might be a sense of “like” or “dislike”, some level of attraction, and maybe a desire to find out more.
Likewise, few people are ready to say yes to the dress on a second date (or even a third, fourth, and fifth…). The dating phase of a potentially-romantic relationship is analogous to the story-based follow-up email marketing elements of your lead generation system. This is a period of trust-building and getting to know the other person a little better.
But then the relationship may take a turn in the “serious” direction, which is a lot further advanced than “I love the photos on your website”.
We’re now in the “I love what you do, and I feel like you might be the right photographer for me, but there are still things I need to know first” phase.
This is what I mean when I say your leads have reached the point where they’re ready to take the next step, which happens to be just the first step in the booking process.
Overview Of The Booking Process
Turning leads into paying clients is the ultimate goal of your marketing.
After all, without bookings, your business will eventually run out of money and you’ll be forced to quit.
But getting a client to hire you is a multi-step process, not usually something you can do in a single fell swoop.
Your prospect may need to take three or more steps to complete the process, and this is compounded even further because the steps are not all created equal.
These steps might seem easy and relatively risk-free at the beginning, but they begin to feel larger and laden with increasing commitment the further the person goes through the process.
- Investing time to look through your website…
- Signing up for your lead magnet…
- Reading your follow-up emails…
- Sending you questions via email…
- Moving from an email conversation to the telephone…
- Meeting with you in person for a booking consultation…
- Making a confirmed booking…
We’ve covered the first three of those steps in our sections on the lead generation system, but it’s the final four that can cause a lot of frustration for many photographers.
The important thing to remember here is that this is all about encouraging your prospects and leads to take small steps to reach the final objective, rather than expecting them to make the leap to the top in one big jump.
Let’s start with one of the first steps, which is dealing with enquiries that come in to you via email.
How To Respond To Email Enquiries
Of course, anyone can send you an email enquiry to ask for more information about your photography services as long as they know your email address, or they fill out the contact form on your website.
They can also get in touch with you by replying to any of the emails you sent them as part of your follow-up sequence, or from the welcome email they received when they signed up for your lead magnet.
Sending you an email feels like a small step for your prospect because they still have control over the conversation, and can easily withdraw from it at any point. If they feel like they have all the information they need, or they decide not to proceed any further, they can simply stop communicating with you, and there’s nothing much you can do about that.
Photographers mention this problem quite often in the many Facebook groups I belong to. The typical complaint is that someone emailed them about their photography, expressed some degree of interest, but then mysteriously disconnected from the conversation with no explanation just when it seemed there was a good chance of them becoming a client.
Other times, photographers have gotten in touch with me directly to ask what they did wrong. They thought they had a good prospect in the pipeline after exchanging a few emails, but then never heard from the again after sending them their pricing information.
I love email as a marketing vehicle because it can feel like a personal 1-on-1 exchange, and it’s good at leading into the booking phase, but one major disadvantage is it can also feel like you’re talking to someone on Mars. You send them an email, wait for an indeterminate amount of time for a reply, send them an answer, wait again for them to reply back, and then the cycle repeats itself.
With these problems in mind, your goal with any email enquiry should be to move the conversation away from email and onto the telephone as quickly as possible because a phone call gives you more control over the conversation than an email, and is more real-time than an email exchange.
Of course, almost every email enquiry you receive starts with the same question.
You know the one I mean.
How much do you charge to photograph…?
This question has a similar effect to throwing a barrel of oil into the path of a bunch of marathon runners—without warning, everyone starts falling down.
I won’t lie, this one tripped me up more times than I care to count when I started out, and I was just as puzzled as the next photographer as to why people stopped responding to me as soon as I answered their question.
Honestly, I thought I was being helpful by giving them a speedy answer designed to assist them in their search for an affordable photographer, but it sure didn’t feel like it when I never heard from them again.
I’m sure you’ve experienced the same issue many times as well.
The answer to the problem, which came as a complete surprise to me at the time I learned this, is to not answer their question.
Obviously, there are ways to do that without coming across as rude. You can’t just write them back and say, “I’m not telling you…” or “I don’t give out my prices via email” for obvious reasons.
The time to discuss pricing comes later on in the process.
For now, what can you say instead as a reply to the usual pricing question?
The goal here, as I mentioned earlier, is to get them to move away from the time-lagged game of email tag and onto the more personal channel of the telephone.
Here’s a suggested response you can adapt and try for yourself when you receive the dreaded “how much do you charge” email:
Thanks so much for your email, and it’s great to hear from you.
I’m sure your upcoming [type of photography] is a really exciting time for you, and you know how important it is to make sure every detail is perfect.
You asked how much I charge for this type of work, and I would love to discuss my fees with you once I know a little more about what you might be looking for so that I can be sure to give you the correct information.
Every client I take on is as important to me as family, and it would help me a lot if you could share a few of the details with me about [what they want photographed].
You can reply to this email or, better yet, call me directly at (999) 999-9999 and I’ll be thrilled to chat with you and answer all your questions with no obligation whatsoever.
I truly appreciate your interest in [your business name] and look forward to talking with you.
PS: This is my busy season at the moment and my [type of photography] services are in high demand, but I only have limited availability, so the sooner we can chat the better chance you’ll have to get the dates and times you prefer.
Do you see how an email like this is designed to move your prospect further forward?
It doesn’t reveal any pricing information, but it’s done politely and with a good explanation as to why you can’t talk about pricing with them just yet.
Finally, it includes a call to action to get them on the phone with you while still leaving control in their hands. For example, it doesn’t ask them to give you their phone number so you can call them instead.
A message such as this one also acts as a qualifying filter.
If they read it, and fail to respond, it’s more than likely that they’re highly sensitive to price in which case they’re probably not a good fit for you as a client.
The clients who are a good fit for you will have no problem doing as you asked in your response because finding the right photographer for their project is a top priority. This doesn’t mean that price is of no concern to them at all, simply that it’s not the biggest driving factor in their decision-making process.
Supposing they take you up on the offer to chat by telephone, what happens next?
Talking To Prospects On The Telephone
It’s a great feeling when your phone rings, and you answer it to discover a potential client on the other end who is interested in finding out more information about what you do.
After all the hard work of building a website and hustling to get your name out there, someone finally decided to call you with what feels like a great chance to come away with a confirmed booking.
But, hands up if you’ve ever viewed the telephone as your primary way to book clients for portraits, weddings, or any other form of photographic service.
Yes, me too—guilty as charged.
Early on, I would answer every client enquiry phone call with enthusiasm, ready to add someone new to my (small) family of clients.
But, in the vast majority of cases, I came away disappointed and empty-handed. I heard excuse after excuse about why they needed to “go away and think about it”, “talk to their spouse”, or “keep shopping around”. All this, despite their repeated statements about how much they loved my work and how what I had to offer “sounded amazing” to them.
In the end, they would hang up, and that was the last I heard from them.
Does that sound at all familiar to you?
If so, I’m about to save you a lot of wasted time and lost revenue because, like I did back then, you’re probably making some critical mistakes on these “sales” calls.
The first thing to understand is that the goal of the telephone call is (just like the email enquiry) not to get a confirmed booking. Instead, the purpose of the call is to get the potential client to meet with you in person—what many folks think of as a booking consultation (although we never call it that in front of a prospect).
The telephone call itself is not a booking consultation. In fact, you should make it an unbreakable rule in your business never to take bookings for portraits or weddings (especially those) on the telephone. I can tell you from my own personal experience that every time I broke this rule, I regretted it almost immediately, so be warned.
Talking on the telephone with a prospect is much more effective than going back and forth with them via email, but the same problem arises with phone enquiries that we see with email-based enquiries.
Yes, it’s the same old “how much do you charge to photograph…” question.
The same advice I gave earlier also applies here: Do not answer the question immediately.
By this point, you might think I’m suggesting evasiveness as a general sales tactic, but that’s not the case. Evading the question altogether would achieve nothing, and is totally different to the act of deferring the answer to a more appropriate time, which is what we’re really doing.
This makes a lot more sense when you realize that the only reason people ask this question in the first place is because they don’t know what else to ask you. Most people have little to no experience of hiring a professional photographer, and they certainly don’t know too much about the inner workings of the business, so the first question that comes to mind for them always revolves around the cost.
Does this mean your prospect is fixated on price, or that what you charge is the most important factor in her decision to hire you? No, of course not. It simply means that she needs to ask you something, and the cost is the most obvious thing that comes to mind.
Why shouldn’t you answer the question directly?
This is a complicated topic, covering all sorts of psychological territory, but here’s the most appropriate explanation when it comes to selling photographic services.
Basically, if you answer the question straight off the bat then you’ve given her everything she thought she called you for, even though in reality you haven’t even scratched the surface yet. You know how many details there are for her to consider when hiring a photographer, but she’s probably still unaware of most of them.
In addition, the first number she hears will automatically set an internal level in her mind that represents not only the actual cost but also her perceived value of what she expects to get from you.
Because most photographers can’t be directly compared with each other on their photography alone, the only available metrics are (you guessed it) the prices those photographers charge and the physical products they provide in exchange for their fees.
Guess what happens in her mind if you’re not the first photographer she’s talked to on the phone? If you reveal your prices too soon, those numbers are instantly compared to any she’s already heard from other photographers, reducing your photography to a commodity in the process. Even if you happen to be the first photographer she talks to, your prices will be filed away in her head to be used as comparison for the next photographer she calls.
At the end of the day, you can’t blame the potential client for choosing the cheapest option if the price is the only thing she can usefully base her final decision upon.
Therefore, if you make the mistake of responding to her price question by telling her your fees immediately, she’ll simply thank you for the information and end the call.
There’s nothing you can do to stop it, and you’ll not hear from her again.
Clearly, that’s not the outcome you want, so here’s one method you can use to handle the call differently and get a better result.
The first thing to do is to take control of the conversation.
I don’t mean this in any kind of manipulative sense, but it’s your responsibility as the business owner to direct the conversation and steer her towards a mutually-beneficial outcome.
Note the use of the word “mutually-beneficial”.
The goal of the telephone call is to help your prospect to decide whether to meet with you in person to explore the next step of the process. Obviously, such a meeting benefits you, but it will only benefit her if she’s a good fit. If she’s not, then you’re actually doing her a great disservice if you somehow trick or cajole her into meeting with you because you “need” the booking.
By taking control of the conversation, you can more easily uncover the information you need to help you decide if she is a good fit for you or not. You can also give her the information she needs to come to the same conclusion.
Only when there’s a consensus between you and your prospect should you agree to move to the next step of setting up an in-person meeting.
So, how do you take control of the conversation?
This one is easy because the person in control is always the one asking the questions.
At the beginning of the call, when she asks you “how much do you charge to photograph…” she’s actually the one in control. You therefore have to regain control by deferring the answer and asking questions of your own.
In fact, questions form the framework for the entire telephone call, which will go through four phases:
- Building rapport with your prospect…
- Communicating the factors that make you different…
- Assessing the fit between you and your prospect…
- Completing the goal of setting up an in-person meeting…
Incidentally, these four phases are typical of almost all sales conversations. The same principles apply to in-person booking meetings and your final print sales presentations, so I’ll talk about the different stages once here, and then you can refer back to them for other types of sales conversation so that I don’t end up repeating myself.
Of course, I’ve separated these four phases so we can look at them more closely, but it’s important to understand that there are no distinct boundaries between them in reality. There is no sudden shift from phase 1 to phase 2, for example, and they may in fact meld into one.
The important point you do need to take from this is to cover all four during the conversation. If you miss a step out then you risk losing the prospect.
That said, let’s look at each of these phases in more detail.
Phase 1: Building Rapport
It all comes back to trust again, our constant friend on this journey to get more clients.
Trust is a natural by-product of rapport, which comes from the sense of familiarity, resonance, and comfort we feel when talking to people with whom we feel a true connection.
Obviously, you won’t reach this ideal state with every prospect you talk with on the phone. That would be an unreasonable expectation because not everyone will be a good fit.
But for those who are, a sense of rapport is critical if you want any hope of turning them into a paying client.
You might think this is hard to do, but it’s actually easy as long as you relax and approach it naturally, and you don’t try to force things. In fact, when you eliminate your own need (i.e. to “get” the booking) from the equation and you make the conversation about the needs of your prospect instead, it becomes even easier because there’s less pressure on both parties to conform to any kind of selfish agenda.
How can you build rapport?
Ask lots of questions that demonstrate a genuine interest in your prospect and what she’s looking for.
There’s a multitude of questions you can ask at this stage of the call.
For example, if you’re talking with a prospective bride:
- When did you get engaged?
- What was the proposal like?
- Who was the first person you told?
- When is the wedding date?
- Where will the wedding take place?
- Did you choose the venue for a particular reason?
- Have you chosen a color scheme yet?
- Who will be the most important guest for you at the wedding?
- Who is giving you away?
- Is there anything that makes your wedding different or extra-special?
- What is your fiancé like?
- How did you meet?
- What’s the most important thing to you about the wedding day?
- How many bridesmaids and groomsmen will there be?
- How special are they to you?
- How is your search going for a wedding photographer?
- How do you feel about the other photographers you’ve talked to?
- What’s the most important thing you want from your wedding photographer?
- What’s the hardest thing for you about planning your wedding?
- Do you have a honeymoon planned?
- What made you choose the destination?
- Who else is involved in the wedding planning?
Or, some ideas for questions to ask someone planning a family portrait:
- Who is it you’re thinking of having photographed?
- Do you have a specific location in mind?
- If so, why?
- What made you decide to do this now?
- Can you tell me more about your family members?
- Are there any pets you would like to include?
- How does your spouse feel about the idea?
- How do your children feel about it?
- How would you describe the dynamics between your family members?
- Have you ever had a formal family portrait created before?
- How is your search for a photographer going?
- How do you feel about what other photographers have said?
- What’s the most important thing to you about these photographs?
- Do you know where you would like to hang the finished portraits?
As you can see, there’s no shortage of questions to ask, but the one thing to note here is that there are no questions about pricing or what they get in terms of prints etc. Instead, these questions are all about them, and are designed to express your interest and enthusiasm for how you can help them get the absolute best result they’re looking for.
Speaking of enthusiasm, it’s worth mentioning something I heard a long time ago that I think must be one of the most valuable nuggets of business advice there is.
It simply states that “a smile can be heard on the phone”.
Even though your prospect can’t see you during a phone conversation, she can certainly tell if your enthusiasm is genuine or fake, and she’ll instantly detect any sense of uncertainty, neediness, or hesitation on your part from your tone of voice, choice of vocabulary, and your demeanor.
This is why it’s so important to feel and sound confident (but not cocky), smile when you talk, be authentic, and be fully present during the call.
Of course, asking questions is great and they do allow you to maintain control of the conversation, but they’re only of any real use to you if you listen closely to the answers.
It’s been said by many sales experts that the true art of good salesmanship lies in one’s ability to listen and devote 100% of your attention to the person you’re talking with.
If you treat your list of questions as nothing more than a list you have to get through, or some kind of script, and you don’t take time to listen (and respond appropriately) to the answers, then it will feel more like an interrogation than a conversation to your prospect, and you’ll likely not get the result you want.
As you ask your questions, give the prospect time to think about her answer because some of your questions may evoke an emotional response at times. Silence might feel a little awkward at first, but it’s okay while you wait for her to respond. Then, listen to what she says and probe deeper to get at the emotional roots of her answers.
By the way, it’s perfectly okay for her to ask you questions at any time during the call. If you can answer them without going too far off course, do so, but then end your response with another question for her so you can keep control of the conversation.
Phase 2: What Makes You Different?
It should be restated here that your prospect has one question she absolutely needs the answer to before she’ll hire you (unless she only wants the cheapest photographer she can find, in which case she’s probably not your client anyway).
To save you having to go back to look it up, the question is: “if I am your ideal client, why should I hire you instead of someone else?”
Until she can answer this question in her own mind (regardless of whether she’s consciously aware of the question), the conversation can’t have a positive outcome for you. Instead, it will end with the annoyingly familiar excuses of “I need to think about it”, “I should talk to my spouse”, or “I’ll get back to you about it”.
For her to be able to answer the question, she needs to know and understand—on an emotional level—what makes you different from all the other photographers in the area, and how those differences make you the right choice for her.
You may have all of this information on your website and blog, but you can’t assume that she’s read all (or any) of it.
She may only have seen your website for the first time ten minutes before speaking to you, having only seen your home page, some galleries, and your contact page.
You must therefore assume that she knows nothing about you, why you do what you do, the qualities of the experience you offer, or how it would be right for her.
But this raises the question, how can you communicate these things to her on a phone call without sounding as though you’re blowing your own trumpet, as it were?
The solution is to weave these factors into the conversation naturally.
For example, you can talk about them as part of your natural responses to any questions she asks you. You could also use these factors to overcome any potential objections she may bring up in her answers to your questions.
And, best of all, you can use the power of stories to communicate your unique differentiators.
Here are some examples for you.
Suppose you’re talking with a potential bride, and she raises concerns about how much time the photography will take up on the wedding day. It’s a valid objection, but you know you already set yourself apart from the other photographers in the area by separating the bridal portraits from the wedding day by doing those in advance.
Your answer could be something like this:
You know, that’s a great point, and I know you want to spend as much time as possible with your family and friends on your wedding day. In fact, most of the brides I talk with feel exactly the same way—nobody wants to spend their wedding day stuck in front of a camera when they could be having fun, right? This is why we’ll do your bridal portraits before the wedding day. Not only can we pick the most amazing day and location for your bridal portraits, it means we don’t have to do them all over again at the wedding, which saves a lot of time. How do you feel about that?
Do you see how the answer seems natural, but gets the important point across? Note that it also ends with a question to keep the control of the conversation in your hands.
Here’s another example, this time for a high-school senior portrait prospect.
Let’s say you’re talking to the mom of a high-school senior boy, and she’s concerned about him relaxing and feeling comfortable in front of the camera. He’s into sports like football, and hates the idea of having to “pose” for photographs.
Here’s a potential answer to communicate one of your unique differentiators:
I’m so glad you brought that up because most boys in your son’s position feel exactly the same way—posing for typical portraits just doesn’t feel cool, and they worry about what their friends will say, which can make them nervous and you won’t get the natural expressions you want. This is why I take time to meet with him before we do the photography to talk about what he likes and wants to do for the photographs. We’ll talk about his favorite sports, and I love to include elements of those in the finished photographs. I promise you, he’ll love the results and his friends will think they’re awesome too. How do you think he’ll feel about that?
Again, this example shows how to overcome a potential objection by naturally working the solution you provide into the conversation. As before, it ends with a question.
In addition to this type of response, you can illustrate your conversation with stories from past clients where their experience and the testimonials they provided highlight certain unique factors.
For example, consider a mom who is worried about how her kids might react to being photographed in the confines of a studio.
You could respond like this:
You make a great point, and I know your children’s comfort is super important for you, as it is for me too. Most of the moms I work with feel the same, such as Mrs. Smith, for example, whose kids I photographed last month. Her two boys were very active and she said they would literally be bouncing off the walls of a studio if they were there for more than five minutes. This is why we took them to their favorite park so they could feel more relaxed, could run around and have fun, and we were still able to capture their true personalities. Here’s what Mrs. Smith had to say… (read testimonial). How do you feel about that now?
Do you see how easy it is to communicate the factors that separate you from the competition?
All it takes is to have your radar tuned for the right moment to bring up these important topics, and then talk about them in a natural way that nobody would ever mistake for being “salesy”.
Phase 3: is Your Prospect A Good Fit?
As you can imagine, the first two phases of the conversation can take quite a while to get through, but you must avoid the temptation to rush through them because the outcome of phase 3 depends largely on what happens in phases 1 and 2.
If you’ve managed to build good rapport with your prospect and successfully handled any of the objections to come up so far, you’ve got a fighting chance of closing the call in your favor.
But there’s still one thing left to do before you ask them to meet with you in person, which is to qualify her as a good fit for you as a paying customer.
In other words, if she loves what you do but can’t possibly afford your fees then there’s no point in wasting your time and hers by setting up a meeting that will likely not end in a booking.
Therefore, this is the point in the conversation where you return to her original question of “how much do you charge…”
As I mentioned at the beginning of this section, you’re not evading the question of price—merely deferring it.
One way to revisit the pricing topic is to say something like this:
We’ve talked for quite a while now, and I have a great idea of what you’re looking for with these photographs, would it be okay if I gave you some idea of what you can plan on investing?
Nobody will say “no” to that.
You can then proceed to offer a ballpark amount, and then ask her how she feels about it and whether it fits into her plan. I prefer to avoid using the word “budget” because it has some connotations that suggest frugality or cheapness. “Plan” sounds better because it’s rather neutral-sounding.
Her possible answers cover a wide spectrum at this point.
She may balk at the price because it’s way more than she was expecting or can afford. At the other extreme, she may be 100% comfortable with the investment you outlined to her.
If she says anything other than “that sounds great”, you’ll need to decide whether to go back and try to strengthen the rapport and overcome previously-unknown objections, or part ways with the prospect and accept that she’s a poor fit for you.
There’s no harm in probing deeper at this point to uncover the real reasons for any objections she brings up about pricing, but it’s also okay to let her go if it becomes obvious that you’re not the right photographer for her.
In such a case, you could end the call gracefully with a simple statement like this:
I totally understand how you feel, and I’m not here to pressure you into something that’s not right for you, so I think you would be much happier with a different photographer who can better serve you, given your budget. If you like, I can recommend some people to call…
In some cases, a statement like this can actually make them reconsider hiring you because she suddenly wants something you just told her she couldn’t have. It’s one of those odd psychological phenomena, but it happens more often than you might imagine.
There’s also another subtler way to broach the pricing topic.
Remember the list of questions I gave you in phase 1?
One of those questions asked, “how she felt about what other photographers had to say”.
This is a powerful question because it can open the door to a discussion about pricing without you having to explicitly ask her what her budget is, which may feel a little too “salesy” to both you and her.
Her response can give you a goldmine of information. For example, I’ve had conversations such as this one:
“I’ve talked to several photographers already, but they’re all so expensive. I had no idea it would cost so much.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, what did they say to make you consider them as expensive?”
“We thought it might cost around $1,000 for a wedding photographer, but the other two I’ve talked to so far started at around $5,000. That’s way more than we can spend, but at least we know we have to plan on more than we thought…”
As you can see, her response doesn’t necessarily mean she can’t afford you because it all depends on where your prices fall in the scale of things, so you have to exercise good judgement and think on your feet a bit when having these kinds of conversations with prospects.
At the end of this phase, assuming that you decide she’s a good fit for you, the next step is to move into phase 4, otherwise known as the closing phase.
Phase 4: The Close
Believe it or not, this is the simplest and shortest phase of the conversation, but it’s the one people have the most trouble with because it’s do or die time and the possibility of personal rejection feels quite real.
A definitive “no” at this point from the prospect can sting a little, but you just have to get used to the idea. In fact, simply understanding that no salesperson successfully closes every sales call they have can go a long way to eliminating any fears of rejection that might be holding you back here.
The best way to close any sales call is to be confidently direct.
For example, you can say something like this:
It’s been wonderful talking with you, and I’ve really enjoyed chatting about your [type of photography]. I know you’ll get some amazing photographs from this that you’ll cherish forever. How about we get together in person to chat in more detail? You can see more examples of my work, and I can answer any other questions you have. If everything sounds good to you, we can then go ahead and book a date for your photography. How does next Tuesday at 4pm sound to you?
There’s a variety of answers you could hear to this question, so you’ll need to respond appropriately or reply to new objections you haven’t already heard, but the goal is to set a firm date to meet in person where you can iron out any final issues and get her to commit to hiring you.
Turning Prospects Into Bookings
Although you and I both know your in-person sales meeting with a potential client is a “consultation”, it’s not advisable to call it that when talking to prospects.
“Consultations” are meetings we typically have with lawyers, doctors, and therapists, so the word brings with it some degree of formality, or even aloofness. When the word “consultation” is used in a conversation with a potential client it shifts the climate of the chat from warm to cold quite quickly. This can contribute to increased sales resistance, and lead to more objections being raised, because the tone of the conversation has suddenly become more serious in nature.
For these reasons, I recommend you refer to it simply as a “get together” or a “chat”, which keeps everything on a more personal and informal level.
It should go without saying that the goal of your booking consultation is to turn your potential client into an actual paying client, but you’d be amazed at how many photographers leave these meetings with only a vague idea of whether or not the prospect will actually book them.
The main reason this happens is most likely through a fear of rejection, or a lack of confidence in being able to close the booking without coming across as pushy or salesy.
But, like it or not, you’re in the business of selling photographic services to clients. There’s no escaping the need to sell unless you hire a dedicated salesperson to do this for you, which most photographers can’t afford to do.
Therefore, you should make it your goal to not leave the meeting without a firm decision, one way or the other.
How can you do this without it feeling like a typical sales conversation?
Easy—you follow the same guidelines and principles that you did for the telephone conversation, which I outlined in the previous section.
The same four phases apply, so I won’t reiterate them here in detail.
Suffice it to say that building rapport, demonstrating your unique differentiators, building emotion into the process through stories, and making sure she’s a good fit for your business, are all you need to make this work in your favor.
The only real difference is in the discussion about pricing because you’ll need to go from giving a ballpark price to more specific prices. I suggest you adopt the commonly-accepted method of starting at the top and “selling down” from there. In other words, present your most expensive options first, and then move down to less expensive items until they find their comfort zone. Starting at the bottom and trying to “sell up” is incredibly difficult and rarely ends well.
Something worth mentioning here is the important effect of the environment where the meeting takes place because it can have a direct impact on the outcome.
Choose a meeting location that’s quiet, but also open and inviting. This is why coffee shops tend to be a favorite choice, although you can sometimes find yourself having to fight against loud noises or jostle for space in a crowded shop. The client’s home is another great possibility if you don’t have access to a dedicated meeting space of your own.
Finally, remember to close the sale by getting a firm booking.
Leaving the meeting with a feeling of “I’m pretty sure they’ll book” simply isn’t good enough and will only end up in disappointment most of the time.
Be strong and confident because you know you’re the right photographer for the person you’re talking with, and it would be a tragic shame for her to miss out on the amazing work you could create for her and her family by choosing the wrong person for the job.
Confirming The Booking
When you close the sale, and she says “yes” to hiring you, do not take that as a firm booking—you must get it in writing, supported by a payment of some kind.
If you fail to do this, there’s a real risk of losing the sale because of buyer’s remorse or peer pressure.
You should also remember that every photography assignment from portraits to commercial work requires a legal contract.
I can’t stress enough how important this point is.
If you take on clients without a contract, you’re setting yourself up for potential problems further down the road if things go wrong, or if the client thinks you haven’t held up your side of the bargain for whatever reason.
Without a contract, any future dispute becomes a case of “he said, she said”, and you can find yourself on thin ice because courts will typically rule in favor of the client in the absence of any compelling evidence from the photographer.
This is a case where the customer really is always right, unless you can prove them wrong.
Facebook groups are littered with horrifying examples of these kinds of problems, so make sure you’re protected.
At the end of your in-person booking meeting, you should have your new client sign the appropriate contract. I also recommend verbally walking them through every clause in the contract as well, and then have them initial each one to confirm that they fully understood what was written.
You can also add any riders to the contract at this point, if needed, and you both sign them to make sure they’re set in stone.
Next, you should have them sign a standard model release form, which will allow you to use the resulting images on your website and in other marketing. This is essential for some kinds of photography, such as modeling portraits, but basic common-sense for others. It also helps protect you in the unlikely event someone later demands you take down images from your website, for example.
Finally, collect payment for the deposit or session fee, according to the type of assignment, and give your new client a receipt.
Congratulations, you now have a confirmed client, someone you’ll be thrilled to work with and who will fully appreciate everything you do for them.
There are just a couple of things left to do before you finish up the meeting.
First, set a date for the photography session or assignment so that there’s no confusion about when it will take place. Portrait sessions can be rearranged if necessary, but it’s important to at least get something penciled into the calendar at this point.
Next, set a date for the sales presentation where they’ll meet with you to view the finished images and make their final print selections. Make sure you allow enough time between the photography assignment and the viewing session for you to process and edit the images.
The proactive step of setting this date now is important because it eliminates any need for the client to call and ask you when the photographs will be ready. Rather than sitting around waiting and wondering, they’ll know exactly when they’ll see them, which also creates a growing sense of anticipation and excitement about the finished photographs.