How to Handle Your Photography Clients Like Children

Jan 2, 2015

Topic: Client Relations
Time Investment: 11 minutes
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I am deathly afraid of soccer balls.  Funny, considering our whole family is a soccer (or appropriately, futbol) family.  When I was in high-school I found myself baby-sitting for money.  Which is really interesting cause I am the only child and had no real idea how to “handle” kids.  I had to learn fast.  (Especially now that I have five of my own!)

So why am I afraid of soccer balls? I got smacked in the face when a kid I was babysitting was kicking the ball in the house.  I learned (a) remove all flying objects ahead of time, (b) set ground rules and (c) duck!  

Now you’re wondering, how the heck does that figure in with running my photography business? So glad you asked! 

“Handling clients is a lot like handling children.”

I’m not saying they are children, or to treat them like children (heavens no!), but I’ve learned a great deal of client management by being a parent and babysitter.  Heck, survival skills are needed to be learned quick when around knee-high-sized-mind-of-their-own-beings.  Surprisingly, these survival skills have turned into real life skills – especially in the running of a photography business.

Here’s a few of those tips that came out of the soccer-fiasco situation that readily apply daily in the running of a photography business.

I don’t really think clients are “Like children” – this is just lessons learned from children. So no hate mail please!


Preemptive Direction

Instead of jumping up and screaming – “GET IN THE CAR KIDS” – they respond much better with advanced notice with a gentle “Hey Kids, we’re leaving in ten minutes. Go grab your coats and shoes!”  This reduces the amount of fighting, whining, and gnashing of teeth because they were in a heated game of hide-and-seek that I just interrupted. 

Same goes for clients, every single action should always have some preemptive direction.  Let the client know what the next step in the process will be, especially when it comes to deadlines.   A good communication structure with clients is a sandwich method – ending with the “bread of direction” that informs them of the next step.

For example, after the pleasantries slice-of-bread, the meat of the communication should include the main message of the email (responding to questions, relaying information, etc.) and should be closed up with the preemptive direction slide of bread. 

Hey Susie! Thanks so much for inquiring about booking a Senior portrait session with RBP.  I am thrilled at the prospect of working with you.  <Insert pricing and booking information – the meat!>  Now just to let you know I only have X date and Y date available in February so in order to get booked I just would need a non-refundable retainer and signed contract to hold one of these spots for you!  Which works best for you?   Talk soon, Paula Photographer


Answer the “Why?” Without Exasperation

I’m sure many of you know exactly what I mean.  The incessant “why mommy?” “why is that like X?” “why is that like Y?”  Kids are inquisitive – we can’t blame them at all!  Clients are the same way because the majority of our clients are not photographers – they don’t know any better.    

It is important we provide as much information up front as possible through our professional presence (offline and online), through the communications we provide (see above!) and to remember that this is our career, not theirs.   So we need to be vigilant to put away the exasperation we feel from answering the same question five-hundred times and think – “hmm..maybe there’s a reason this is being asked repeatedly!”  Keep a running list of these questions and see how you can keep the exasperation at bay and provide preemptive communication to reduce these numbers of inquiries. 

Further, we can’t fault them if they take an action or ask a question if they haven’t been informed.

If they take a cell phone pic of a print and post to Instagram because they are excited – they are probably just excited and not intending to violate your policies and copyright. How will they know they can’t if you don’t tell them?  Stick it in your contractual documents and caring for your art cards with gentle educational reminders.

If they ask to see more digital files from their session because mom has a case of insecurities – don’t fault her and be annoyed because she seems greedy – she just may be battling an internal insecurity issue we can’t see.  Is it our fault? No – but our response is our responsibility.  Inform them up front exactly how many images will be shown in gallery and that you retain artistic control over the images that will be shown. 

Don’t fault them for not knowing.  Just like we can’t fault a kid for asking “what’s that?” when driving past the same cow at the corner farm for the hundred-billionth-time that week.


Give yourself a break

Okay so this is more about you handling you.  You are a much worse critic than your clients are.  If you’ve given a consistent and quality product that fits right in with the rest of your portfolio then there is nothing for you to fear from your client. They will (or should be happy).  We can’t control their financial pressures or personal insecurities, but we can control the entire situation and how they feel about US.  

Many times the experience will far outweigh any negative feelings they have towards the financial pressures of customized photography or personal insecurities of getting in front of a camera. So cut yourself a break – like kids – clients are way more forgiving of your faults than you are of yourself IF you’ve given a fun and positive experience.


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