The following is a guest post by Priscilla Rathbone, one half of a husband and wife photography team, Rathbone Images based out of Seattle, WA. They love photographing anything people â€weddings and portraits especially– and adore the romantic portrait most of all.
One of the most useful and entertaining seminars I attended at WPPI 2011 was Jules Bianchi and Joy Bianchi Brown’s How to be a Rockstar in Your Own Backyard.
The twin sisters started out with a little background on how they began working together. Jules ran her business for 5 years before Joy joined. Now, Jules does their wedding shooting, while Joy covers portraits and sales.
Jules and Joy gave an energetic seminar, often interrupting each other to add to the talk. They said that all of us are Rockstars, and the most important thing is to be known in your own backyard, and to be the best photographer for your clients. Networking, marketing, and sales are keys to a healthy business, and so they went over each of those areas in more detail.
Their first topic was networking. They emphasized “high touch over “high tech. High touch means working with people and dealing with human beings instead of the computer, as well as putting the personal into the high tech part. You want to feel like you know people and people know you instead of hiding behind the computer. In Real Life Networking, your network is your net worth and vice versa. Personal, real connections get you the farthest. They recommended reading Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi, who suggests taking vendors to lunch every week, e.g. florists, coordinators, venue coordinators, etc. Also, they recommended always being generous with time and resources, so that you are the person that people think of when they need a photographer. Clients almost always choose like and trust over experience. People have to not just know you, but also LIKE you.
They stressed that likeability is a learned skill. How to become more likeable?– first, be brave and put yourself out there. You can’t fake genuine (you have to have a genuine desire to get to know specific people in your area). Everyone loves the sound of their own name– ask people lots of questions about themselves. Endeavor to learn something new about someone every time and refer back to it next time. Be like Bill Clinton and remember people. Always think W.A.I.T. (Why Am I Talking)– don’t just sit there tapping your feet and waiting for the other person to finish talking so you can start. Also, be a matchmaker, and connect people to other people even if it doesn’t benefit you. For example, you could take 2 people to lunch who might connect with each other.
Their second topic was marketing. After doing the networking, they suggested starting to form partnerships â€ “Creative Partnering for Effective Targeted Marketing. For example, host free community events, where you meet people with no selling involved, provide a service to your community, and connect locally in a genuine way. They showed the cool invitations from their “Let’s Be Friends” Open House. They invited other local businesses and made little Facebook-themed cards â€they offered food, wine, fabulous prizes and free photos for vendors’ Facebook profiles. Other business provided the food and decorations, so it didn’t cost them much. They also made goodie bags for everyone– each business involved put a coupon in the bag. They put all the pictures on Facebook, tagged them and put them on Pictage to order at cost.
They also recommended charitable work, as it develops relationships within those organizations. Follow your genuine interest– you can have a lower price point, but it gives you exposure. For example, make a calendar of babies, and sell the calendar to raise money. When you partner with another group, they will start to cross-promote you in an editorial way, not an advertising way.
Also in the area of marketing, they suggested teaching workshops, as it puts you in the position of an expert, is a soft sell to new clients (when they find out how difficult it is to take good pictures, they might just hire you instead), provides additional income, and keeps you sharp and up to date. You could look into local adult education or offer a Moms with Cameras class. Pitch it as a fun parents night out where the host gets the class free, and it’s $99 for others (but they get a $99 gift certificate for your photography services). Jules and Joy offered a full blueprint for their Moms with Cameras class on a disc for sale at their talk.
Their third topic, sales, is all about providing what your clients can’t live without. There are 4 parts to a successful sale:
1. The Consultation
3. Make it easy to Buy
4. Close the Deal
During the consult, start with the end in mind. The goal is to get the sale, make a friend, and get them to trust you. For portraits make sure to ask them why are they are there (what exactly do they want â€wall portraits, senior pictures for the yearbook, etc.). It’s important to set the scene and engage all 5 senses. Set their expectations and create value right away. Talk about why good photography is essential– the importance of freezing time. Also, let them know that “most of our clients will spend —”. Know who your client is to find the client that is right for you. Show what you want to sell– show big to sell big. They expect you to lead them. They don’t even know what’s possible. If you lay it all out and advise them, it helps to reduce anxiety, now and later.
For the pre-visualization phase, ask a lot of “What if or “High gain questions, e.g. what do they want to remember, what do they like to do together, and other important details. (For example, for family photography, you could ask what is a picture you wish you had from your childhood). Know what they love, in order to make an emotional connection. Show that you’ve been listening. If you know what products you’re shooting for, it helps a lot. For example, at a wedding, if you know you are shooting for an album, make sure you check the schedule and that you have time to document all the details.
Thirdly, make it easy. Deal with sales obstacles right away. Decision-making is anxiety-provoking, so eliminate as many obstacles as possible before even getting to sales. Make sure all decision-makers will be present for the viewing. Make sure they know the bonuses beforehand– e.g. spend a certain amount for a free online gallery. Offer fewer products for better decision making. Projection sales (e.g. Pro-Select) allows clients to imagine pictures large. Think about the WOW factor. Choose just 1 shot if there are 3 (similar) good ones. You want to make an emotional impact. With your collections and pricing, make pricing attractive and create value with collections.
And of course, most importantly, close the deal. For this phase, they recommended assuming the sale, and including extra items of high value to them if they are willing to buy right away. If they hit a certain price point, they can win prizes (for example, a free online gallery, or a “bragger” book, with your branding on it, of course). Create a bonus cushion so you can offer a 5% discount if that will close the sale that night. Then close your mouth, that is, state your price and walk away.
The Bianchi sisters offered the most giveaways from other vendors out of all the platform speakers I saw. It fit with their philosophy of cross-promoting, and made the event a bit more fun and festive.
I found their ideas inspiring and useful. We started our business because we love weddings, photography, and people, not business, and so it is always difficult for us to frame (for ourselves, not even necessarily for our clients) the benefits of “closing the sale. But, the sheer enthusiasm of the Bianchi sisters made it seem more like fun than a chore. I especially liked the idea of throwing a party for local vendors, and might try to plan something like that in the future.
It was also good to be reminded that people connect with other people in person not over the computer. It takes so much energy nowadays to participate in the parts of the business that do require the computer â€from editing pictures to updating Facebook and Twitter and the Blog to keeping up with e-mail â€that it’s easy to forget the importance of stepping away and talking to a real, live person.
The way that they broke down the elements of a successful sale was useful as well. I think sometimes we try to “skip ahead in the process. I do wish they had gone into a little more detail on dealing with obstacles. It would have been nice to hear some more examples from their own experience on how they have dealt with obstacles to the sales process.