Some of the most challenging client situations we run into as photographers can be avoided. Most of them stem from unmet client expectations. As the photographer, it is our job to manage our client’s expectations to ensure they know exactly what they can expect when working with us. When you are hired for a job, you are presumed to be the expert, the professional. So whether you have just started taking clients, or you’ve been taking clients for some time, managing client expectations is one of the most important ways to ensure your clients walk away happy. Here are four tips to help you do just that.
From the very beginning, have a process in place that ensures that vital information (such as session fees, deposits, included items and services, etc.) is communicated to your client. Don’t ever let your client be surprised by something, like a sudden fee that wasn’t discussed, a deposit that was never mentioned, or a time limit that wasn’t communicated. Be very clear with your clients about your process and what do they need to do. As you navigate the booking process, keep an eye out for any variables that may come into play and need your attention.
For example, I recently booked a family session, and in an email, I noticed that the client mentioned that they would be bringing items along “for the large family shot.” The session was originally booked for just four people, so this new information indicated that I needed to seek more information on this client’s expectations for her session. A quick phone call told me that grandparents and other family were going to be in town, and the client wanted to get one group shot with everyone. No problem! By having this information ahead of time, I was able to inform my client of my additional fee for large group sessions, as well as modify our session time to allow for this additional coverage. By paying attention to details throughout the booking process, I was able to avoid an awkward interaction during the session, and I didn’t have to surprise my client with the added fees. (I know that this isn’t always possible, and sometimes things are sprung on us in the moment. I’ve had that happen too. And the best we can do is handle it with grace and in a positive way!)
During the booking process, it is important to gather any necessary information so that you have it prior to the session or event. Do not wait until the last minute to look at this information, as it could provide clues as to things you may need to discuss with your client. For example, if I client is booking with me, and they include in their Session Information Form that they want several outfit changes and three location changes during their 20 minute mini-session, I have some managing of expectations to do. That bride who wants an individual shot of her with every single guest at her wedding, that she booked at your lowest package, needs some expectations managed. By planning ahead and discussing expectations ahead of time, you can give yourself plenty of time to navigate this with your clients. A great place to start is to using client questionnaire, if you aren’t already using one!
Communicate, communicate, communicate. Follow up and confirm. Always. If you don’t have a process in place that provides you with a timeline for staying in touch with your clients for follow-up and confirmations, get one. People need to be reminded.
Oftentimes clients ask for the moon not because they want to take advantage of you, but because they simply don’t know better. Or maybe someone did that for them in the past. Unless you inform them of what is realistic, they just don’t know. Learning to set boundaries in a positive way is an important part of managing client expectations. To the client who wants the RAW files: “Hi Client, it is my policy to never distribute RAW files, as they are unfinished samples of my work. I understand you are worried that you may miss something by not having them, but I can assure you that I pride myself on delivering the best possible product to my clients. As my previous clients have found, you can fully expect to receive a gallery that is a quality representation of your special day, with images that are carefully edited and that meet the high standard of excellence that you hired me for.” To the client who wants thirteen outfit changes and six locations for her mini-session: “Hi Client, I am glad you are so enthusiastic about your session! Keeping your outfit and location selections to one will enable me to focus on capturing the genuine moments of connection reflected in my work during your mini-session. However, if you are interested in adding more variety for your session, you always have the option to upgrade to a full session for $_____.”
Last, but definitely not least… Be sure to manage yourself wisely. Know what you are capable of doing and in what timeframe. Don’t overbook yourself. Feed your creative side. Set realistic timelines for yourself that you know you can deliver on to help you avoid burnout. Being realistic with yourself will go a long way to being able to produce excellent results for your clients.
Managing client expectations is really about being clear. Take some time to look through your client process and see where you could be more clear, where you could afford to help your clients understand your process better. After all, taking care of our clients should be our number one priority! Show them you care about their experience by making sure you make it as seamless as possible.