How do I get more clients? When we first started our business, that was one of the top questions on our mind. Maybe it is for you, too. You might think the answer’s complicated, but, in a lot of ways, it’s really simple. One at a time. When people have such an incredible client experience working with you that they can’t help but tell everyone they know about you, you’ll never have a hard time finding more clients, because you’ll have a sales force of evangelists who’ll sell you (for you) every chance they get. It’s what Seth Godin calls your tribe.
Think about how passionate your friends get when they talk about their new Apple product. Or favorite TV show. This is Us, anyone? Or their client experience at a hair salon with a specific stylist, because for the FIRST TIME someone gets their cut and color just right — and (bonus!) the stylist is fun to talk to!
Your friend will rave about it until they’re blue in the face, and because you trust them… and like them… and are like them — because we tend to hang with people like us — you buy the same gadget or watch the same show, because, let’s be real, you’ve got FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and you want to share the happiness, too. It’s normal. It’s logical. It just makes sense.
QUESTION: Wouldn’t it be great if people felt that same way about YOU and your photography client experience?
Here’s a big key to getting there:
As photographers, we’ve got the creative, artistic thing down. Boom! Take THAT big, boring, cookie-cutter, corporate America! Buttt… as artists (insert: dramatic hair flip) we tend to drop the ball on the business side, because we’re generally (no torches, please) unorganized that we sometimes, or oftentimes, drop the ball with clients. Not because we don’t care, but because we’re so focused on what we’re creating, that we forget the client experience of the people we’re creating for.
Today, we want to share one of our favorite ways to wow our clients and how it’s helped us build a loyal base of what Ken Blanchard calls raving fans, through one simple business principle: under-promise and over-deliver. It’s the commonsense client experience idea (that’s not very common) that so many business owners (especially photographers) overlook. It’s when you set an expectation for your client that you know you’re going to beat. Repeat: It’s an expectation you know you’re going to beat. Every time. No matter what.
To illustrate, let’s take a look at one business that gets it right, and one that gets it wrong. This could make or break your business. It really could. The way you set and meet expectations for your clients will color the way they think about you (and talk about you to others) forever.
How many times have you been scheduled to depart at a certain time but didn’t? How did it make you feel? If you’re like most people, you felt irritated, because you paid full price for a ticket that was supposed to leave at 11:00 a.m. but you were still sitting in the airport two hours later. And, if you’re like most people, you’ve probably said something like this to yourself: Ugh, I would’ve paid EXTRA and gone with __________ Airline instead if I would’ve known THIS was going to happen! I’m NEVER flying with them again! It’s a classic case of promising something and UNDER-delivering on it, and most people’s first reaction is the same: they’d rather pay more next time for someone who’ll get it right the first time. Oh, and in the meantime, they trash the other company and make sure nobody ever uses them again. Don’t believe us? Search for almost any airline on Twitter and read the things people are saying about them. If you Google “__________ Airline” + “customer service problems” it gets even worse. So if we don’t want to be those people, who do we want to be? We’re glad you asked! Our favorite burger place.
Our favorite fast-casual burger joint is Five Guys. (Forgive us In-n-Out, for we have sinned. We love you, too) Five Guys is famous for their fresh, mouth-watering patties and their peanut oil fried french fries, too. They’re a little bit more expensive than a typical fast food place. It costs about $10 for a burger and fries, but we always leave feeling like we got such a great deal! Why?
Well, first of all, their food is delicious, and we never mind paying a bit more for quality. If you ever go there, we recommend a burger “all the way” minus grilled onions but add grilled peppers 😉
But, maybe more importantly, is the way they serve their fries. When your order is up, the guys behind the counter calls your number while you watch them fill a small cup of french fries and place it in your brown paper bag. Then, just before they hand you the greasy bag of food, they dump an entire extra scoop of fries into your bag! It’s like French Fry Christmas! Or, as we call it, Bonus Fries!
We know this is going to happen every time we go there, but every time it’s exciting because we feel like we’re getting an extra order of fries FOR FREE! Five Guys is smart, because they start with a small cup of fries (the under-promise) and then they give you an extra scoop of fries (the over-deliver). And the best part is they plan to do this every. single. time. It’s part of their client experience, and it leaves customers (like us) coming back for more and more. It’s brilliant. Anyone could replicate it, especially in the creative world, but few do.
PS Does anyone else remember the time Amy was late to her own surprise baby shower because she HAD to have Five Guys fries?! Bonus fries + pregnancy = one super happy repeat customer!
Most creatives aren’t the best businesspeople, which is why you hear pretty regular jokes about “starving artists.” It’s in our artist nature to be free-spirited, which can lead to beautiful art, but sometimes a bad client experience. The biggest mistake too many photographers make is setting a deadline for a project and being late.
Almost every week, someone, somewhere, tells us about a photographer who told them they’d receive their final gallery of images in “a few weeks” but didn’t deliver for a few MONTHS. Without fail, almost every person finishes their sentence with, “I loved his/her work, but I wouldn’t use them again.” The sad part is that the client probably wouldn’t have even flinched if the photographer had originally told them it’d be a few months. But, since they set an expectation and didn’t meet it, they have a dissatisfied client — and rightfully so! If Disneyland told you the park rides were open until midnight and then closed them down at ten, you’d feel cheated, too. It doesn’t have to be this way! It shouldn’t be this way. So let’s talk about how easy it is to get it right.
If you think it’s going to take you two weeks to turn around a wedding, don’t tell your clients it’s going to take two weeks to get their images. That’s what artists do. Wait! WHAT? You want us to lie?!
We want you to be realistic.
What if you get sick? What if your kid gets sick? What if there’s an emergency? What if you’re exhausted and just need a break?
If you know it’s going to take you two weeks to turn around a wedding, tell your client it’ll be a month before they get their images. That does two things:
First, it gives you some breathing room in case something really does come up. On a Saturday morning in 2015, while we were walking to our car to shoot a wedding, we got a phone call that stopped us in our tracks: Amy’s Grandma Shirley was dying. Not right at that moment, but in the coming days for sure. In the weeks that followed, Amy was a wreck. In a daze. So much so that, for the first time in her career, she just forgot to edit that wedding. She just couldn’t bring herself to work. It wasn’t even on her radar, because when something truly terrible happens, you very quickly prioritize what matters most. Two weeks afterward, once the fog of losing her grandmother lifted a little, she gasped and yelled, “Oh my gosh! I’m late delivering that wedding gallery!” But she wasn’t. She still had two weeks, because we told our clients they’d get their full gallery within 30 days. She edited the wedding that week and our clients still got their images “early.” They were thrilled. We even got an email from them thanking us for getting them their images early! We were so relieved. They never knew that we’d “gotten behind” on our editing to take time off for a family tragedy. That’s a client experience win, even when we felt disappointed in ourselves!
Second, at worst, you’re going to be on time. At best, you’re going to be early, surprise your client, and create positive word-of-mouth referrals for yourself. Think how happy you feel when your flight arrives early. We can give that same experience to our client just by setting the right expectations!
It’s a win-win every time and exactly what we want from our client experience: happy clients and happy us.
Since we started our business, we’ve delivered 99% of our jobs early, but when a few emergencies did pop up, it sure felt good to be able to take the chain off the editing desk, tend to ourselves and our families, and STILL be on time. That’s why it’s not a lie or dishonest or disingenuous to set an expectation for your client, and then beat it. It’s good business. Because it’s impossible for you to know what life’s going to throw at you.
Plus, if you don’t set an expectation, your client will create their own expectations. That’s why setting an expectation double the time you think it’ll take is the only option. If you don’t set an expectation, they might just assume it’ll take a few days, because the same way we don’t know how long it should take a mechanic to fix our car, they probably don’t know how many days it takes to edit a wedding — and they definitely (and shouldn’t) know how many unfinished jobs are in front of theirs. So, we’re left with setting an expectation, and since we have to do it, we might as well set one that we know we can beat.
You can under-promise and over-deliver in other areas of your business, too. It’s not just about turnaround time. Schedule a 90-minute session and then stay an extra 30 minutes. Or promise your clients 50 images and then deliver 100. Tell them the sneak peek will be on social media within the first week, and then drop it the next night. Every little time you surprise them adds up!
It’s basically our way of delivering bonus fries.
Estimate how long you think it actually takes to complete your editing jobs. Maybe it’s two weeks. Then, estimate the maximum amount of time you’d need even in an emergency situation, like a death in the family. Maybe it’s one month. From now on, start telling your clients it’ll take the emergency amount of time, but start delivering in the actual amount of time. You’ll be amazed at your level of peace and your clients’ level of satisfaction, and you’ll never be late delivering a job again! This is the best way we can all love and serve our clients, and go above and beyond for them to create an experience that will have them raving.
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