Thursday, March 26, 2009

Finding the IDEAL Clients and Freedom!

I originally wrote this post a year ago over at the Starting a Wedding Photography Business Group on Flickr. A year later, it still rings very true for me. It was truly a moment of revelation, and changed my business - and I hope it helps you too.

No, no - I don't have magic tips for you to help you book the ideal client. But I do have a revelation to share. Here it is: Not everyone has to like you, and you don't have to market to everyone out there!

When I started out, I thought I wanted to Book the High End Bride. I had dreams of $$$$$ and I wanted them. I live in Houston, and there are plenty of rich people having huge weddings.

Then I booked what I considered my first high end wedding. When the wedding day came, I realized that I really didn't click with them that much. Not because they were rich or extravagant, but ... just because. I had sold my work and not myself. We didn't connect on a personal level. I was uncomfortable the whole time, and I feel that it shows in the photos when I look at them. They miss that certain spark for me. (The bride loves them, and that is what matters in the end.)

My High End Bride dreams came crashing down.

I realized something. If I am giving up my Saturdays for people, it needs to be for people that like ME. Truly ME. Not just my work, but me as a person. I took a chance and moved my blog to the front of my site - and instantly had a great response to it! As a result, I feel like my clients are now better pre-qualified to know if they will like me and my style, and we work so much better on the big day.

That was when it hit me. I don't need EVERYONE to like me. I ideally want to book 20-30 weddings a year. That means that only 40-60 people need to like me. In a city with millions, I only *want* 30 couples to discover me and want to work with me each year. I'm not a wedding studio, I don't have tons of associate photographers. It is just me.

I can't tell you how much freedom I felt when I realized that. Here I thought I needed everyone to like me and want to work with me -- when the reality is I only want the IDEAL clients.

Once I clued in to all of this, I went from booking lower packages to booking my higher packages, and I've continued to raise my rates. More importantly then the money, I have consistently been working with clients that are my ideal clients.

My ideal client: someone slightly geeky who likes blogs and highly values their wedding photography, probably much more than anything else on their budget list, or second after the venue/food. They like my style, and more importantly, they like me. They are laid back and fun to be around, and willing to try out crazy things. We laugh a lot at our initial meeting. We leave feeling like we've made new friends.

I've booked another wedding with a large budget since I first wrote this a year ago. (Matter of fact, I booked it probably 2 months after I wrote this post.) But the client booked me because they liked ME. The fact that they pulled out all the stops for the wedding wasn't the issue. They valued their photography. It wasn't another item on their to-do list for wedding planning. We connected, and I still get that warm fuzzy feeling when I look through their photographs.

Not everyone has to like me. Not everyone is the perfect client for me to work with. But when I do find those clients? It is magic. To me, ALL of my couples are high end, because I think they are the most fabulous people in the world.

What moments of clarity have you had that have brought you freedom?

Christine Tremoulet is a Houston, Texas Hot Mama Boudoir photographer and wants you to have a Business of Awesome. She also runs Wholly Matrimony, a destination wedding blog. She is a creative geek, having blogged since 2000 at BigPinkCookie. When she isn't taking photos or knitting, she is busy devouring all the info related to Marketing & Social Media and its powers that she can find online. Follow her on Twitter.

23 comments:

  1. loved it as much here as i did there. :) thank you for sharing!

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  2. This is a wonderful post. Continued success to you, Christine!

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  3. Christine: A business networking group I belong to has been focusing on the question "Who is your ideal client?". Sounds like you've clearly identified yours, and I'm sure that's a huge reason for your success. Well done, and well written.

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  4. So often, I hear people define their ideal client as "25-33, college education, blah blah blah" - it is too broad. It doesn't truly define an ideal.

    I met with a bride one day, and called my husband after the meeting and pointed out that SHE was my ideal bride. Everything about my "ideal client" is now focused on the key things about her and her now husband - and it made finding my niche so much easier!

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  5. Great food for thought... AND I didn't get the chance to read it a year ago. Photography as a career wasn't even on my radar then. Thanks for reposting a great post. :)

    And *I* like you. Does that make me slightly geeky? ;)

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  6. I find it kind of interesting that you differentiate selling your work and selling yourself. If you are truly looking for the ideal client then the goal may be to get your work and what you want to present as yourself on the same plain. Please don't take this as a criticism, just an observation that it really shouldn't matter what the size of the checkbook of your client is. Maybe wedding photography is too narrow of a focus, marketing event photography may be closer to partnering the joy you have with connecting with people and ideally selling yourself as a product. Just a thought. (worth exactly what you paid for it.)

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  7. As a complete brand-newbie in the wedding photography world, what I've really loved about finding you, Christine, Anne, and the other fine ladies in your circle has been learning that it's OK to feel there has to be more than just an exchange of money when it comes to the business. This post is a totally on that point. That mentality has really helped me be able to define myself as this type of photographer, rather than the type who spends four hours setting up lights and taking posed photos.

    Thank you!

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  8. Mike, I actually don't differentiate it other than for the point I was trying to make in this post -- when I booked that first wedding I talked about, I was all about selling the *work* -- not selling myself too.

    Now I sell the whole experience. My work speaks for myself, so the main focus of all of my client meetings before booking clients is selling me - how I work at their weddings, my personality - the experience of working with me. My clients love it. I love it. I have the best job in the world.

    I think you read what I wrote differently then how I meant it (so easy to do online) -- the size of my client's checkbook doesn't matter at ALL to me. I don't ask people what their budget is. I only talk about their wedding and how I fit into it when I meet with people, and they already have a really good sense of who I am from my blog, and -- it is MAGIC!!!

    (Lots more on selling YOU vs selling photography can be found in the book Fast Track Photographer - which I read the opening chapters of before I wrote this post originally.)

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  9. So true. I want to connect with my brides.

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  10. You are so right! :-)

    thanks for the post

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  11. very freeing! thanks so much for sharing.

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  12. Hi Christine!

    Thank you for posting this. This is exactly how I feel too. I want to have clients (we all want) who hires us for us. But sometimes they pick a cheaper person.

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  13. It's so easy to get wrapped up in money or great venues, but without the human connection and appreciation it can all fall a bit short.

    I also want to say thank you so much for these posts...They are helpful and inspiring!

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  14. I love this and it's absolutely true! As I move to higher pricing (long long overdue) I will be out of the range of about 80% of my potential clients, but I am ok with saying "we aren't the business for everyone" and giving referrals to other photographers.

    It's totally true that you can't (and shouldn't have to) please everyone. Does BMW try to cater to Buick owners? No. Does Toyota try and cater to Jaguar owners? no. Then why should we photographers be expected to please any and all people? It makes little sense if you think about it.

    I have realized that my best and most fun clients to work with also spend the most money. Why? Because they really value what I do, get what I am all about, and love my business. I'm hoping my new pricing will bring only those people to me from here out.

    And if people don't like it, there are many other photographers they can work with and I am totally fine with that. I'd rather lose business than compromise my artistic values and/or work with tire kickers who don't get who I am. I also ultimately want people to be happy, and if I'm not the person to do it I'd rather they find someone they *can* be happy with!

    Awesome, and timely, post Christine! Thanks for it. :-)

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  15. I just read Mike's comment. I think it *is* important to be emotionally connected to our clients and 'sell ourselves' to our target market because they are so involved with us, whether you are doing wedding photography or portrait photography or commercial photography.

    Although certainly not a 'lifer' I have been a professional photographer for 6 years, and I can say from experience that the clients I have established the closest relationships with, that I have connected best with personally have been the most fun and easy to work with. They have also appreciated my work the most and purchased the most products, and referred me to the most people, really helping keep my business alive through WOM. And my business is doing *great* because of this, even during this rough economy.

    I would think that establishing these personal relationships with clients who understand what "Christine" is all about would be *hugely* important in wedding photography, where you are spending loads of time together (or at least you should be if you are doing your job well).

    Clients aren't just buying 'images', they are buying an 'experience', just as you say in your comment Christine. The experience that *you* the photographer give them. That's why people refer so highly: WOM comes from having not just good, but GREAT experiences with the photographer.

    I think the true secret to success is to provide not just good photography, but a complete, enjoyable, *fantastic* experience with the photographer, which has *everything* to do with your personality and who you are. When clients rave about you to their friends, they aren't just raving about the photos you took, but how fun you are to work with, how you totally listened to them, how cool your glasses are, your funny taste in coffee cups or whatever it is that makes you unique.

    I see some older photographer's businesses suffering because I really think they haven't gotten this. It's no longer acceptable to show up, take the pictures and leave and then have one formal meeting afterward or send them a disc or gallery. Times they have a'changed!

    I know you used pricing here as an example, but that wasn't your point. If you had made a point about working with middle-income clients and then realizing you related better to higher-end clients it would have been the same point.

    Also, defining a target market goes far beyond determining the size of their checkbook, ha! I'm sure that was just one point you factored in when you targeted your initial market. hee hee

    I made a revelation recently: "I want to work with clients that are like me."

    So simple. Love it. Awesome!

    That revelation has made it *so* much easier for me to determine my target client.

    Of course, since I have been undercharging for so long, my target clients are 'like me' but make more money, lol. :-P

    That shall soon change!

    Sorry to babble, but this post was awesome and timely for me in a way you can't even know. :-)

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  17. Loved your article! I agree with you 100%. Sadly, I just had a client choose another photog over me, even though they LOVED me and would have loved to have worked with me. They ended up choosing the photog that the wedding coordinator (at their venue) recommended. I was really distraught at first, especially since I had done her portrait and met her fiance... they both loved me and wanted to help refer me to others too!

    It's still very important for me to realize that I am who the client is hiring, not my work or my prices... they are choosing ME! It's more personally satisfying that way! It's also upsetting when I like them and they don't choose me (feels like a relationship rejection). Haha! Still, I am a believer in everything you wrote! I am starting Dane Sanders book soon (just ordered it). It is all about this subject!

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  18. Loved this article & so glad to have found you all. Im about 30 minutes in to your world & I feel like Ive already known you forever -- Im hooked! I also believe in "selling myself" and the EXPERIENCE rather than JUST the work. Yes, the work is important -- undeniably so. But there is something so uniquely incredible about clicking with a bride, her groom & their families. I tell all of my clients that they're not just clients to me, but they're lifelong friends & family. There is nothing that makes me happier than having brides contact me months & years later just to see how Im doing or wanting to grab a cup of coffee and catch up. It makes me love what I do a thousand times more than I ever thought I possible could. :)

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  19. I absolutely love this blog & am so glad to have found it! Im only 30 minutes into your world & am hooked!

    Who you are as a photographer AND a person is every bit as important as your work. Clearly, your work can usually speak for itself -- but I feel as if the photographer's personality (and any vendor's personality) truly sells the event and the vibe you want your day to have. I know, someday, when I get married I want my vendors to be apart of the day as well & help to enhance the event. Ever been to a fun restaurant with a moody server? Yuck!! :/

    I agree that sometimes it does hurt when you're "rejected" -- but I keep my head up and look forward to the next opportunity. This somehow also helps build my confidence because I know it is just apart of the process.

    I tell each and every one of my clients that they're NOT just clients to me -- but lifelong friends & family. Clicking with a bride, her groom, & their families is exciting and the work becomes even better, in my opinion, because Im more "attached" with my couple. I know them better, I know exactly what they're looking for...and I truly want them to feel as if they handed the camera to their very best friend on their wedding day.

    It thrills me months and years later when a bride will contact me to see how Im doing or wondering if I can meet up for a cup of coffee to catch up. There isnt a better job in this world, and it is largely because of the PEOPLE who make it so incredible.

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  20. wow!!! i've just found this article after some time out from photography and just trying to decide about prices and etc. This has really hit home for me that i don't need everyone to like me, neither do they all have to find my work affordable and hence book me... i just need a certain number to like me and that's it.

    it has actually helped me make up my mind about it....thanks!

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