By Tanya Smith, WorkStory Corporate Photography

In my meetings with various business owners throughout the years, I’ve listened to the complaints small business owners have about photographers. Here are the most common: they’re flaky, unorganized, egotistical, unable to follow creative direction, don’t listen to what the customer really needs and wants and didn’t end up delivering what the customer thought they were going to be getting. I’ve thought about this a lot. The complaint that custom photography is too expensive has actually rarely been brought up by business owners. What they are complaining about is not getting what they thought they were paying for. All of these issues can be solved by managing client expectations and offering a full service.

What do I mean by full service? Small business owners wear many hats. Often they do everything from accounting to sales to product creation and everything in between. Becoming part of their team by helping them create a foundation for their marketing efforts with custom photography can solve a lot of problems for them. Don’t offer to just come in, take a bunch of pics and hand over the jpgs.  Instead, doing a pre-production planning meeting, creating a shot list and then delivering fully re-touched, ready to use images that are exactly what the client wanted and needed will make you really stand out from the “other” photographers in your area.

Yes, in larger scale productions and the traditional advertising agency model, a photographer would typically not art direct, plan a shot list and help prepare for a shoot. They likely wouldn’t retouch their own images either. They might just show up the day of the shoot, take the pictures and be on their way to the next job. But for small businesses, offering the full service really is needed. And yes, you can charge more for this. This is a time consuming process and it’s chock full of value. Here’s how we break down our full service offerings with our small business commercial photography clients.

Manage Expectations

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The fastness and easiest way to disappoint your client is to not really know what they need and then not deliver what they were expecting. I’ve learned this the hard way over the years. Never assume anything about what your client wants or needs. It’s an ongoing effort to make sure you’re educating your client about what they are getting from you and what you expect from them. Having an outline of services, packages and a written contract stating exactly what you’re proving and what you expect in return is so helpful in managing client expectations. I also verbally tell my clients what they are getting, how much it costs and when they can expect to receive their photos. I ask a lot of questions.

Preproduction

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We provide a free consultation to all our clients before they even book a shoot. In that meeting we talk about their needs and ideas for marketing their business, including how they plan to use their photographs. We’ll typically meet at their office and if they book right then we’ll take a walk through their facility and really get to know them and the product or service they offer. If they book later we schedule a time to do the walk through at some point.

Together we brainstorm ideas for a shot list and offer them some advice on how to prepare their space and employees for the session. This includes information on what to wear, what not to wear, styling tips and resources for some local hair, make-up and clothing stylists.

We work with their scheduling person to come up with an itinerary for the day of the shoot so everyone knows what time and where they need to show up for photos. This seems like a small thing but almost every small business we’ve worked with who had hired a portrait or wedding photographer prior had major issues with confusion and disorganization. Not knowing what or who was to be photographed at what time and where would certainly result in a stressful experience. Having an itinerary and shot list makes the experience more streamlined, calm and organized, which will increase efficiency and make the overall experience more enjoyable for your client and for yourself.

The Day of the Photo Session

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At WorkStory our photo sessions are fun and casual yet streamlined and organized. This is the intention we set and things generally go as planned. Our pre-production planning pays off on the day of the shoot. We do allow for some creative deviation from the shot list on the day of the shoot, since this is often where the magic happens. We specialize is creating candid, lifestyle like images, so our shot list is just a guide to keep us on track with our plans.

There are some technicalities you do need to worry about on the day of the shoot, like making sure you have your gear in working order and gathering model releases from everyone involved in the shoot. Model releases are especially important. Unless employees have one included in their employee contract you need to get them from everyone involved, not just strangers who may happen to be in your shots in a cafe or other location.

I have an assistant at every shoot if possible to help with carrying and setting up gear, passing out and gathering model releases, running to the store if we forgot something, holding a reflector or light stand and anything else I might need. Many photographers might think an assistant will add too much to their overhead but I think they are invaluable, add value to the service you are providing and a great opportunity for teaching and mentoring. Add the cost of an assistant to your pricing or find an intern you can mentor at no or low cost.

One service businesses tend to really appreciate, is sticking to your time table. Time is money and business owners and their employees need to get back to their work. If you’re doing your shoot at the end of the day, they’ll want to end on time and get home to their families. Be courteous by managing your time wisely. This is what the shot list and itinerary are for.

Post Production

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Many commercial photographers do not retouch their images. Or they charge extra for that service as a line item. This is an industry practice and totally ok, but for small businesses I believe photographers should offer the full service. I’m not saying you shouldn’t charge to retouch your images but I’ve found most small businesses who are doing their own marketing aren’t going to have a retoucher handy to remove blemishes and color correct their files. Include this in your pricing and make sure your clients know the value of it.

From a managing expectations standpoint, always tell your clients how they’ll be receiving their images (digital download, USB, prints, etc) and when they will be ready. Include this in your contract. I ask if they have a specific deadline for an ad, website launch or other need. Deliver on time and you’ll be providing great customer service. We try to get our images done within one week and no later than two. A quick turnaround is so important for businesses. The wedding photographer trend of holding images for months will not work for businesses. If you can’t turn them around that quickly, consider outsourcing your editing and retouching.

As an added service after our shoots, we spread the word about our small business clients through social media posts and a blog feature. This is something that will not fly for some larger corporations, as confidentiality and work-for-hire agreements may have to be signed, but I find most small businesses welcome as much exposure as they can get. Plus, all of their customers will then see your work, which is beneficial to your business as well.

Conclusion

Are you offering a full service to your clients? What could you do to improve your customer experience and the value you offer to them? Think like a business owner. What do they want and expect to get from a a full service photographer? Manage client expectations by communicating clearly with them through a pre-production planning meeting and then deliver on your promise with a full service a photography experience. You’ll be able to charge more and end up with happy, repeat customers.