I’ll never forget the phone call that almost killed off my photography business, and finally tipped me over the edge…
Nigel Merrick here, with an important story from my early days as a pro photographer in Memphis…
The conversation was brief, but the fallout had far-reaching and lasting impact.
The call was so short, in fact, that it took less than 2 minutes for me to go from “happily optimistic” to “angrily dejected”.
It started with a simple note in my calendar; an innocent reminder to follow-up with a prospective family portrait client.
Let’s call her Mrs. Jones (not too original, I know LoL).
We’d already spoken by phone the previous week, when she called to ask for more information about having her family and kids photographed.
Of course, you already know what her first question was, right?
How much do you charge for family portraits?
I was excited that someone had found my website, taken time to look around, liked what she saw, and chose to get in touch for more information.
After several nerve-wracking weeks of wondering if anyone was interested in what I had to offer, I finally had a prospect on the phone.
Sure, she wasn’t a client just yet, but she was certainly a good lead who might turn into one.
It felt like stepping out of the depths of winter onto a warm beach…
“Thanks so much for calling! Families are one of my favorite things to photograph. The session fee is $150 and you can choose from a variety of wall portraits and canvasses, as well as…”
“$150?” she said, before I could even finish my sentence. “What do I get for that?”
“Oh right, it covers the photography session and my time to edit and create the finished portraits for you.”
“So it doesn’t include any actual photographs?”
“No, but we’ll get together about 10 days after the session for you to view your portraits and make your final selections.”
The line went quiet for so long, I thought the call had been dropped.
“I see,” she said, in a slightly impatient tone that warned of significant danger ahead. “So, then, how much are the finished portraits?”
By this point, I suspected the call wouldn’t end in my favor, but I pressed on regardless.
“Well, Mrs. Jones, most people usually spend around $450 – $800 on wall portraits. How does that sound to you?”
Again, an awful pause, but I gave her the time to think about it. This was the make-or-break point.
“That’s more than we planned for,” she said. “But your work is really good, so I’ll need to think about it, and talk it over with my husband.”
“No problem,” I replied. At least there was still some small shred of hope left. “I totally understand. Would it be okay if I gave you some time to discuss it, and I’ll give you a call back next week?”
“Yes, of course, thanks for your time. Bye.”
And that was the end of our first call.
Not a complete disaster, but not great either.
The real disaster wasn’t due for another7 days…
Fast Forward A Week
The second phone call, the one that REALLY threw me over the edge, happened a week later, as agreed.
“Hi,” I said, optimistic about the possibility of booking this client. “Could I please speak with Mrs. Jones?”
“This is she…” Uh-oh, not exactly the welcoming tone I’d imagined, but hey, no problem.
“Oh, hello, this is Nigel Merrick. We talked last week about your family portraits. I had a note in my calendar for today to touch base with you to see if you’d like to book your session.”
Now, I’m not telepathic, but I swear I knew what was coming next.
The feeling was a bit like realizing you’d fallen asleep at the wheel and suddenly woke up to the sight of a stationary 18-wheeler less than 50 feet in front of you.
You know there’s nothing you can do, there’s a momentary period of panic, and then it hits you.
“Oh, thanks for calling back, but we’ve already found another less-expensive photographer.”
Crashed and burned!
Yet Another STOLEN Client!
Just like that, the call was over, and everyone left empty-handed.
No winner today. Do not pass GO, and do not collect $150.
As I said at the beginning, it took less than 2 minutes to transform my previously happily optimistic mood into one of angry dejection.
I have to be honest, I was thoroughly pissed off.
After weeks without a paying client, that phone call was the last straw for me, and the camel’s back (aka my patience) was finally broken.
I’d had enough, and was beyond sick and tired of battling it out with the freakin’ cheapsters, as I called them. You know who they are. They spring up like weeds and their only idea of “competition” is to charge less than everyone else.
With mediocre photography, but armed with the gift of the gab and able to finagle their way to a decent Google ranking, they were way too easy for potential clients to find.
All they had to do then was quote a lower price, make every other professional in the area sound like a ripoff, and they were off to the races.
But then, all’s fair in love, war, and marketing, right?
I mean, what the heck could I do about it?
Will The REAL Culprit Please Step Forward
The only things I had any control over were myself and my own marketing and sales techniques.
I had ZERO control over what the cheapsters did, and it was impossible to keep lowering my prices because there was always some idiot willing to do it cheaper.
For example, a survey of Craigslist quickly revealed worse horrors in the form of people (I seriously can’t call them professional photographers) who advertised their services for FREE.
No freakin’ way was I going to even try to play in that sandpit.
For a while I fumed and spouted about the unfairness of it all, and wondered why intelligent people couldn’t see the real value in what I had to offer.
But then the cold hard truth hit me with all the force of a frozen fish in a pillow fight.
This was all MY fault.
I only had myself to blame for this mess.
It certainly wasn’t Mrs. Jones’s fault for choosing a cheaper photographer because the price was about the only thing I’d given her on which to base a decision.
But what about the cheapsters?
Hard to blame them, either, because they simply mopped up the cash that folks like myself left on the table.
Lesson Learned: A Change Of Focus
The time had come to put a stop to this tragic waste of time and effort, once and for all.
After some heavy research, I found a treasure-trove of twelve ways to help my ideal prospects see the true value I had to offer.
When I put them into practice, things changed almost immediately.
My phone conversations were suddenly much easier, and fewer prospects ended up in the arms of the cheaper photographers.
I dread to think where I’d be now if not for Mrs. Jones and her valuable lesson…
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