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5.2 Client Relations

Creating and keeping happy clients is the life-blood of any business. Learn how to decipher “client speak” to reach their deeper needs, and get the information they can’t (or won’t) articulate. This includes finding their real budget, determining the style of photos they want, and interpreting non-visual language into art terms you can act on.

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5.2 Client Relations

In the last lesson, we took a look at how to price your photography profitably. This lesson we're going to talk about the most important thing of anything we've talked about in this course, client relations. Now creating and keeping happy clients is the lifeblood of any business, no matter what business you're in. Learning how to decipher client speak is a life skill that I can't really teach you in this short of a lesson, but I can give you a few tips on how to dig out their real budget, and get the art style of photos that they want. Now the first thing I hear all the time is, I want something simple. Now take that with a grain of salt because it usually doesn't refer to the art style that they want. If you listen on to what they actually want from you, usually I want something simple means I want something cheap. So simple usually means cheap, unless they're looking for something that is clean and natural, that would be the art style. Usually simple is with regards to their budget. Now if you ask what's your budget and they say I don't know, I don't know is a cop out and you can't work with I don't know. You have to get some kind of an answer even if it is a range, even if it's a really broad range. Now there could be two different reasons for them saying I don't know. The first is they genuinely don't know I want a thousand dollars for my project. It might be I don't know if it's gonna be 500 or 2,000, and 1,500 dollars to some smaller businesses could be a lot of money. So, when they say I don't know what they mean is I have a range and you need to dig out what is that range. The second reason they say I don't know is because if they're the first ones to play their cards on their table and their bid is more than what you would've bid then you're going to charge them more money to fill up that budget. That's just how it goes. But if you're the first one to do it and you underbid them, then they have all this extra money left out on the table that they don't have to pay you, and they'll accept your low bid. So saying I don't know is sometimes a sneaky contract negotiation technique, and you really have to pull something out of them so you can give them a range. Once you get a number, whether it is an actual number or a range of numbers, you need to figure out whether that is a soft number or a hard number. A hard number is a line drawn in the sand. You can not spend more than that cap. A soft number is oh, I don't know, it was somewhere in between one and two thousand dollars. With a soft number, I suggest that the bid you submit is actually more than their budget. Now you can do this in two different ways. The first way is you submit several different options. You have option A at 500, option B at 1,500, option C at 3,000. Now even though they said their budget was in between one to two thousand, they may like all the attractive option that you put in that three thousand dollar bid, so you'll actually end up getting paid more. But they always have the option to stay on budget or under budget as well. The second way to do this is to line item, itemize. So when you say this is my creative fee, remember, the creative fee is your vision and talent, the creative fee is not negotiable. However, when you say this is my creative fee, you can put in line items, lens rentals, assistant rentals, hours shooting, etc. So they can take out line items. They can make it a shorter shoot, they can ask for less shots, less license for usage, whatever your line items are to get it down into their budget. And you can help them. Sit down with them and say these are the line items that really should be in there, these are the ones that are easily taken out. So, when you itemize things, then you can get it down to the budget. The next thing you need to figure out is style. Even though these two photos are technically portraits, someone who likes one probably won't like the other, so you really need to figure out what style it is that they want. The easiest way to do this is not ask them, what are you looking for? Because then they're trying to articulate to you, and they're not a photographer. They don't know how to articulate to you what it is they want. The easiest thing to do would be, show me an example. Try and build, you want some of this, and some of this, as well as any key buzz words that they can add in. When you have more of a range with a few examples thrown in, call it a mood board if you will, then you know that they want clean and natural or the raw and gritty or the stylized and polished, whatever it is. If you can take a look at an example photo that they gave you and then articulate back to them, so what you're looking for is an ethereal sunset with a clean stylized look, and they're nodding like this, then you know that polished gloss is what they're looking for. And all of these things they couldn't articulate, you've articulated for them, and when you get that head nodding you know you're on the right track. If you have gotten to the point where it's time to sign on the dotted line and they are hesitating and they come back to you with we need to look at our options, usually they don't actually need to look at their options they just don't want you. But there could be a very small obstacle that you can easily navigate around to be able to get them to sign with you. So when they say we need to look at our options, this is another life skill that is too long to teach in this very short lesson, but you need to suss out what is the obstacle that's keeping them. So if it comes down to budget, then see what you can do to take out of their package so that you can give them what they're looking for in their budget. If it's the art style or the license usage, they say we really do want copyright, and you're saying well you're getting an unlimited license, and they say no we want to own the copyright. If you're missing on that, but hitting on every other point, budget, etc., then being able to suss out the details of who owns the copyright, and who can use the photos for what, if you can actually talk about that point instead of letting them walk away with let's look at our other options, then you can close the deal instead of letting a very easily negotiated item slip away from you. Let's take a look at an example. This was a photo that I did for a local Seattle business. They teach kids computer programming. Now, it doesn't have very many competitors, it's a relatively niche market, although there are a few, and it didn't have much in terms of stock photo offerings. So, let me walk you through client relations were like for this project. First was the budget. I asked him, what's your budget? And of course, he came back with, I don't know. He said tell me what would be fair. Now that was a beautiful opening that I could counter back with, otherwise it would have taken a lot more probing. I said my day rate is X, how many days would you like? That put the ball back in his court, so then he could tell me I really only think I need two to three hours, half day, three days. He said one full day would be great. That told me that my day rate was compatible with what he wanted and that we could do a full day of shooting, so, what's the most I can give him for that one day? We worked at it from there, came up with the contract that worked for both of us. At the end there was a little bit of hesitation to sign on the dotted line. So instead of, I'm going to look at other options, I asked him what the hesitation was and I could tell it was something in the wording of my contract. My contract says I own the copyright to the images, and that part was fine. But it also said that I'm going to be displaying these images in my portfolio, which of course I could or I would never be able to get more more clients. So his problem, because of the nature of the shoot, he teaches computer programming to kids, and when you're working with kids there is a lot of privacy issues that come up. So we negotiated. There were only a select few shots that I would show in my portfolio, and that was with parent permission. So usually, when you take the photo, I mean, always when you take the photo, you own the copyright, you can do whatever you want with it. But usually, when you take the photo you have to get permission from your subject to use it. Of course, for commercial purposes, that's what a model release is for. So in this instance, I knew that the super hero photo that I showed you was the one I would want to show in my portfolio, along with any incidental headshots I would take of him and his staff. So I put it in the contract that those were the photos I would take, and any other photos would just be with parent permission. So that would guard the safety of the kids for the shoot. Being able to talk out that contract point cleared negotiation, he signed on the dotted line and the shoot got underway. Next, was for the art style. He saw my work, he just wanted some simple photos, but I wanted to create this superhero photo that I showed you. For the rest of the photos what he told me was I want good, but not too good. Now, that is the make it pop that everyone dreads to hear, because it means nothing, it's not very helpful. But buying digging deeper and sussing out what is it that he means by I want good but not too good, let me explain what I figured out. I took a look at his website and currently, there's two types of photos on his and his competitors website. There are very clean, very beautiful but incredibly generic stock photos. You look at it and you know it's a stock photo. In fact, on the front page, both him and his number one competitor were using the exact same stock photo to promote their business. So of course they have to replace it. So he wanted good, the other alternative was to have very specific, you could tell this was taken in the classroom of the teachers teaching students, but it was really low quality, amateur photography. So he wanted high-quality photography that was not a generic stock photo. So what we ended up doing, we didn't get professional models for this shoot. He actually did a casting call to his classes, so real kids that he taught in his classes showed up for the shoot. Now, this gave a very detailed, kind of real look to it that you don't get with generic models that are always perfect and always smiling. So, it was a little bit gritty and raw in terms of the photos weren't perfect. They didn't look exactly how I wanted them to, but the quality of the photos, the lighting, and everything was brilliant. But the people were real people, they weren't models. We also put a lanyard around all the kids' necks That had his business colors as well as the business name on it. So that way you know it's specific to his business. So, when he said I want good, but not too good, the make it pop nightmare of any creative, what he meant was, I want high quality photos that are not stock and very specific to my business and my classroom that I teach. So that's something that he could not articulate. So you have to figure that out for him, articulate it back to him, and then when you get the nod of approval, you know you're on the right track. So in this less lesson we talked about client relations. How to make your client happy, keep them happy, and keep them rolling through those contract negotiations all the way through the shoot so that you can deliver a final product.

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