Let’s face it, clients won’t buy from you unless they trust you. Dropping $1000 or more in a portrait session means they believe in what you do and they trust you’ll deliver. How can they trust you? First, they need to know and like you, then they need to learn how capable you really are and, girlfriend, you are capable! It all starts with that onboarding experience.
Let’s use our imaginations for a minute. Let’s think about this: Your client has just booked with you and it’s the perfect time to set the stage. She knows just a little bit about your photography business, but nothing about who you are, I mean, how do you like your eggs? Do you wear dangly earrings or studs? Or maybe open-toed shoes just aren’t your jam?
She knows minimally about what you do, I jest, but it’s true. She’s just booked a portrait session. So she’s opened the door to a relationship and she likes you obviously, but now it is up to you, my friend. She’s basically said yes to a ‘first date’. This is perhaps the most important part of that client experience and one so many photographers ignore.
It makes me want to pull my hair out and put a steak knife to my eye.
This is your chance to make an incredible first impression.
Ask yourself, what are you going to do? Once you’ve booked the session, most photographers, they relax at this point. Are you guilty of it? Just put up your hand with a little, ‘Yeah, I’ve been there, done that, got that t-shirt.’
Because they relax at this point, they have the client book so they think they can and that the business relationship is going to move forward. That’s why they get comfortable. And so many photographers sadly drop the ball. They’ve gained the clients ‘like’ but have yet to do anything for the ‘know’ or ‘trust’ part, the key components of the onboarding experience and to building the client’s devotion to your business.
This is exactly the time when you have to step up your game even more than ever. Tom Hanks at the top of the empire state building, waiting for Meg, Ryan kind of stuff. It’s the first impression that sets the tone for the entire relationship. If you approach it with that attitude, everything is going to change in your business for the better.
How would you feel if you said yes to a first date and things fell apart? He didn’t tell you where to meet – how rude. Or follow up – that’s also rude – or how to dress. Then consider how you would feel if he made unique magic happen before you even met up for dinner, would you be intrigued? Wouldn’t you be even more over the moon to go out on that date, let alone begin a relationship? Wouldn’t it elevate all of your emotions, your excitement, and get you so prepped and primed and hyped for going out with this guy? It would.
The onboarding experience is a place for business owners to start things off with a bang. Think 4th of July fireworks, people! Outshine all of your competitors. Just think how different you can be.
What is onboarding? Onboarding is the process of bringing your client into the business for the very first time. It includes welcoming the client, explaining your process, prepping her for the session, getting that important paperwork to her and making her comfortable and excited about working with you.
Being in front of the camera is not a fun thing to do. It’s awkward and feels weird, especially when you’re not used to it. She knows who you are now, and she likes you. This is your chance to build incredible trust in who you are, your services, what your business is about and when that trust is solidified, you have a client for life and one who will scream from the rooftops how much they love you.
Picture Buddy the elf. Can you see it? Buddy the elf twirling into his dad’s office screaming, ‘I’m in love. I’m in love. And I don’t care who knows it!’ My pop culture references can be a little bit much sometimes, but you get my point.
It’s the first date. Now, let’s wow her before dinner.
Number one, you need to educate her. They say knowledge is power and how true that is. When you educate your client, not only do you empower her, but also yourself. Knowing that she knows exactly what your process is like and she knows what she needs to do to ensure a successful session for her benefit.
I want you to educate her for, first off, her benefit. She needs to know what to expect during the pre-consult session and preview appointment. She needs to understand pricing, products, and how you’ll be conducting yourself during this working relationship. She needs a contract that outlines your policies, and simple things like directions to your studio or your location where you’re meeting her. She needs appointment reminders to let her know when to be there.
Taking care of this in an easy-to-access, centralized location makes it so simple. It makes it easy. We use software like 17Hats, a CRM or customer relationship management software that has a built-in client portal, where my clients can log in and find all of their documents, questionnaires, and appointments right there in their portal. Any session they’ve had, whether it be past, present or future, it’s all there inside the 17Hats online client portal. It makes it so much easier for me, it makes me look professional, and it’s easier for her.
Of course, you also need to educate her for your benefit. How does educating her for you help you? I know it seems weird, but you need to. As a photographer, you need her to know certain things. You need to plant the seed of the sale in her mind. It helps you in your relationship with her. It opens lines of communication, and most importantly, it helps with the sale down the road.
When she first hires you, chances are the only product she’s actually familiar with his digital files. Why is that? She makes digital files with her own phone, so that’s what she’s familiar with! That’s what she knows, but is that really what you want her to buy? It’s okay if that is the case, it makes it easier to sell. But if not, if you want to see art either in an album or on the wall in her home, you need to educate her for your own benefit for the sale that’s coming up down the road.
By teaching your client about your products, your creativity, and your ability to design those one-of-a-kind unique offerings, you get her excited about what’s possible. When you show her these things, actual, tangible products, physical things, she can hold and touch, it just makes the hormones fly.
We get all excited. It’s just like going into an antique shop or Nordstrom’s or a clothing store.
You see all the racks of shoes, and you’re just like, ‘Oh, it looks so pretty’. You pick it up and actually hold it and turn it over and you see that it’s a red Christian Louboutin shoe and that it’s on sale for half off! It’s like everything just lights on fire. Hello, fireworks again. I can hear the Katy Perry song in my head now.
My point is that you have to show what you want to sell. Most clients have no idea what they want to do with their images when they first hire you. It’s your job to educate her and to help her and envision something beautiful. It’s also important for you to educate her on what her investment may look like so there’s no sticker shock later, only enthusiasm.
The second thing you need to do for your onboarding experience is assure her. Let’s face it, most clients are pretty nervous to be photographed. It’s a perfectly normal reaction, especially when they’re about to make themselves vulnerable in front of someone they don’t know, you! On top of that, your ideal client is worried about how she’ll look, whether or not the images will look right in her space. What to wear, of course, is incredibly important around that. It’s one of her biggest pain points and topics of insecurity.
Every woman in the world – maybe not every – but most of us, especially after quarantine and COVID, have gained several pounds. The COVID-19 pounds are a real thing and we have to assure our clients that we are professionals and we know how to dress her, how to pose her and how to light her, to calm all of those insecurities.
This is where your onboarding experience can really shine and make that difference between a session that’s meager and boring to one that’s a standout, full of warmth, your glowing personality, and it brings a client back to you over and over and over again because they’re hooked. Add assurance to your onboarding. You might be wondering, ‘How do I do that, Julia?’
Simply by doing a good pre-consultation, you can assuage all of her fears and show off how capable you are as an artist. Because girl, you are so capable! You are. If you just have a step-by-step process laid out in front of you, you memorize it, you learn it, this will become old hat easy and actually super enjoyable.
Assurance is everything in an industry-unique problem, where a customer’s insecurities can make or break the product. Think about that. Assurance is everything in an industry-unique problem where a customer’s insecurities can make or break the product that you sell. If she feels vulnerable, negative, or like she looks ho hum during the session, she’ll associate those feelings with the images, the final product, and that is bad, bad, bad, bad for you girl. That is like a third class passenger ticket on the Titanic. You do not want that.
Why not schedule a simple Zoom video conference appointment? After all, we’re super comfy with that these days. Not only that, but 17hats now integrates with Zoom, which makes my life one thousand times easier. When you have a conference like that and go ove not only the education, but help her choose outfits, understand her design aesthetic, and get to know her before she meets you for the first time, it’s amazing.
Granted, I’m all for blind dates and they can be fun, but not exactly good for handling your insecurities. Blind dates are the epitome of being self-conscious. Don’t be a blind date for your client. By simply meeting face-to-face before the session you provide comfort and encouragement and excitement for what’s ahead, which is a win-win for both you and your client.
Finally, number three, the third thing you have to do in your onboarding process is impress. First dates are meant to impress. Why else would we buy new outfits, get our nails done, hair cut, or spend hours stressing? Because they set the stage for everything ahead and whether or not the relationship will blossom.
Your onboarding experience needs to impress and excite the client for what’s to come. It’s at this point where you have the best chance to make that first impression. How are you going to wow her? What would wow you, if you were in her shoes?
How do you impress? Timely and thorough communication, availability for help and questions, easy and done-for-you answers to issues, hand holding and stellar service, all add to the impression of you. By simply educating and assuring, you are on your way to a big impression.
One thing we do here at Jewel Images immediately is send off a beautiful collateral kit via snail mail, and it really does stand out. We actually send it before the client even books, setting the stage for what’s ahead and tempting her to want that first date. Genius, right?
How it works is they’ll typically put an inquiry in through 17hats via my contact form on my website and that inquiry form requires that you put in your phone number if you’re a potential client. Within 24 hours, call that client back, talk to them and you get the typical response, ‘Oh, that all sounds great, but I need to talk to my husband. Can I call you back?’ If I had a dime for every time I heard that from a client, I would be one rich girl.
I get her address at that point, I say, “I would love to send you some information and literature on what we do, our services, and show off our studio a little bit to you. Would you mind giving me your mailing address and I’d be happy to pop that in the mail, which you can then show your husband, which might help make the decision a little easier for you.” She gives me her address and then I pop that beautiful collateral kit in the mail. Let me tell you, has it improved our booking rate.
A few days later after she’s received it, we follow up with another phone call and of course, 17hats makes that incredibly easy for us. Because it’s all in my lead workflow, it’s automated and systemized, and so it makes me running my business – my portrait side with just me, for the most part – so much simpler and less stressful. Very few photographers spend the time or the meager cash to do this and boy, it makes an impression. Plus, we get in front of the potential client while she’s comparing portfolios of other photographers. This is a critical point in her decision making process.
How does that help our onboarding process? It educates, assures and impresses before she’s even booked. Just doing this one simple thing has increased our booking rate incredibly. It’s about building trust. Consider creating an onboarding system that has purpose and intent. Having good systems in your business is critical. It’s critical to providing consistent and stellar service to your clients. It’s paramount to avoid problems and ball drops.
Have you ever had a client that was maybe a little unhappy or confused or maybe even one that’s just quiet, reserved, and slightly uncomfortable when they arrive at the session? Chances are it’s your onboarding system that has fallen short. If you’re relying on your own memory, or worst yet post-it notes on your desktop, you are working against yourself.
I have been there. I think at one point in my career, I must have had 20 to 30 post-it notes sitting on my computer, just rainbow poop and unicorns all over my desktop. I finally went enough is enough. I have got to systemize.
If you’re relying on this kind of thing, you need to change it. With systems that are reliable, you don’t have to worry or remember what comes next. A well thought out and check-off-able system does it for you. Everyone is on the same conveyor belt, all the clients are going through the same steps and in the same process, repeatable every time.
Imagine, sitting back with ice cream ice cream and chocolate sauce – that would be fabulous – and a glass of red wine. Think about that for a second and go, ‘Can you imagine if everything was just perfectly repeatable with step-by-step systems and how much easier my life would be, and I would not be repeating the same email over and over again to every different client?’ I think I’m going to have an anxiety attack, just thinking about that. Drink that wine! Hurry!
Even if things are just starting well for a client, reconsider. Even if you think that, what can make it even better to get their emotions higher and their attitudes brighter? It’ll pay off not only with more relaxed clients, but also for you. You’ll relax right along with them. And a warmer, more personable relationship will grow and faster, much faster.
You’ll also have better sessions with more genuine expression in your images and a way bigger sale in your pocket. Of course, that leads to clients raving about you to all their eager friends. That, my friends, means less cold marketing, more referrals, and a business you love to get up to every morning and do.
If you need more help with your studio systems, I’ve got a special free treat for you. Our studio organizational chart is an incredible resource to help you figure out which systems you need in your business and how you want to look forward to growing your business.
To download our free checklist and chart, click here where you can download our studio organizational chart and get incredible confidence knowing you’re setting up your business correctly, with great systems, will help you de-stress and relax, knowing you have everything covered.
Don’t forget our brand new educational tool, 17Hats in 17Seconds. If you’re already using the 17Hats software or perhaps are thinking about maybe adding it to your business, go here and learn about how you can instantly download our workflows systems, lead forms, questionnaires, and canned emails for your business, knowing my systems have got your back.