Whatever type of photography business you have (or intend to start), your customers are critical to your success. This means that managing them is one of the most important aspects of your business.
Customer or client management involves:
- Attracting new clients
- Keeping existing clients
- Encouraging additional sales
- Managing customer relations (billing, handling payments, responding to inquiries and complaints)
- Terminating clients you no longer want
The key to client management in business is to focus on the Win-Win, for both them and you. That principle determines everything. Let’s look at these elements in more detail.
Attracting and Keeping Clients. I find it useful to consider marketing activities as part of client management. Public relations also fits into this area because isn't the real aim behind any PR exercise to attract new clients?
Some parts of the photography business world are effectively retail operations: wedding and portrait, glamour and event photography are obvious candidates, but so is fine-art photography. Other photography businesses are business-to-business (B2B) operations, including editorial, stock, commercial and industrial, advertising and fashion. The customer-management concerns of Retail and B2B photography businesses are quite different.
Retail photography operations mean that you are dealing with people off the street. B2B means you are dealing either existing businesses or new businesses that are just starting up.
Attracting new clients can be expensive compared to keeping existing ones. Estimates range from five to ten times more, sometimes higher. So it is very important to keep cost effectiveness in mind when making decisions regarding which type of marketing approach you will use.
Marketing approaches can include one or more of the following:
- Direct consumer advertising
- Trade advertising
- Cold calling potential clients
- Sending promotional materials such as portfolios to larger potential clients, such as advertising agencies, magazines, etc
- Linked marketing efforts
Public relations approaches can include a mix of the following:
- Sending out press releases
- Creating newsworthy events
- Doing behind-the-scenes community work that gets you noticed by the 'right' people
- Donating work to charities
- Hosting exhibitions, BBQ's, and parties
- Sponsoring events and activities that are conducted by others
To determine the cost-effectiveness of each method, you must find some way to measure how many new clients are returned per dollar spent.
All marketing and PR should be test-based processes. You need to test an approach and carefully monitor the response. Based on the response, you then change the approach and test again. Keep doing this.
Charity is good for its own sake. But doing so can also be good for business. It positions your business as a responsible member of your community. It is a win-win.
It can be very hard to measure the business impact of some of the activities above. But try.
Other marketing activities are more easily measured. The question: 'How did you hear about us?' should be part of every conversation you have with potential new clients and the answers recorded.
Encouraging Additional Sales. Compared to attracting new clients, making additional sales to existing clients is very cost effective. A customer who initially comes in for a simple portrait might allow you to upsell them to a family package. Or, a business might come to you for a few product shots for a brochure. Once you have their attention and trust, you may be able to upsell them to a full shoot of branding images for a new website. You can even sell them on the website design (even if you have to subcontract the design work out).
Everyone is time-poor today. So if you can find ways to meet more of a client’s needs in one hit, they will love you for it. It’s even better if you can create needs you can satisfy that they didn't know they had.
Managing Customer Relations. Your quoting, billing and payment-handling processes need to be open, clear and straightforward. They also need to be effective. This includes establishing policies for handling non-payment. This could involve stipulating that you will only work if you receive payment upfront. Or, it could be a standard process of sending a letter from a lawyer after 60 days or handing the matter to a debt-collection agency. You can choose whatever processes make sense for your particular type of business.
Finding ways to stay in contact with your existing customers is also important. This could involve sending an email newsletter each month, offering loyalty discounts, or setting up incentives that reward your customers for referring other people to you. Make sure they understand that coming back to you for future needs will save them the time of looking all over again. Team up with other service providers (such as graphic designers, web designers, or interior decorators) to offer a more complete service.
Customers are not always looking for the cheapest price. Many are looking for quality, care and commitment, as well as time savings and efficiency. The more you can help them, the more it will help you.
With regards to customer relations, it is essential that everyone on your staff is on the same wavelength. Polite, happy, but firm when necessary, is an excellent recipe for effective customer relationships.
Terminating clients. Some clients are simply more trouble than they are worth. You will know who these sorts of people are. They are time wasters, never happy with a reasonable deal, or always trying to get special discounts or more for the money.
Find a way that works for you to get rid of them. I've used everything from the direct approach to simply steadily raising my prices until they decide to exit on their own accord.
Remember, the customer is not always right. But in the end, it is important that you find a way to make them feel right, even if you have to educate them to change their mind along the way.
In Parts 5 and 6 of this series, we’ll look at diversification vs specialisation.