I see you
and how hard you work to build your following on social media. I know that as a business owner you want connection with your current and potential customers. I feel how you work to craft messaging that reaches your audiences as well as conveys your company culture. I can tell when you’ve paid for engagement. I understand the need to build your audience and how good it feels to watch that number grow. Mostly, I love watching you take care of the following you’ve built.
Some questions to ask yourself:
What’s your strategy once you’ve captured them?
What are you doing to connect with them authentically?
Are you providing killer customer service too?
Does your pricing strategy match what you’re selling?
Do you know that service is part of what you’re selling?
What do your customers expect from you?
How do you know?
I have a little story to share about a terrible customer service experience. I only share this to help you from making similar mistakes and also to plant the seed that although social media and digital make it easier to connect, as business owners, you need to make sure you are still connecting and listening even after they follow you. If you’re not interested in the details, I will highlight the takeaways so you can skim and still get what you need.
I got some great advice from my friend Whitney with Whitney Gustafson Photography. When I told her I wanted to up my photog game, she said to find someone whose art you love and hire them to teach you. Brilliant.
One day an Instagram ad hit my feed that I thought was interesting and exciting. It was a great image of people under the Milky Way and the photographer was selling classes to help people learn how to get similar shots. Included in the package price was a hike, one on one instruction, and access to some great viewing spots. I was hooked. I immediately tagged a friend and sent her a message. I also talked with multiple people about it and they all thought it sounded awesome. Some said they would come just for the hike if I shared my photos with them. The advertisement’s call to action was to direct message her to save a spot. I originally had four people who wanted to do this with me. So, I went to her page, liked it, and sent a message.
PRO TIP #1: In any marketing strategy, you would use paid advertising on social media to generate a lead, not just reserve a spot for a one time sale.
What I mean by this is that you will want more than an Instagram account connection from them. Instagram or Facebook should be the beginning of your marketing funnel. You create the ad to capture the lead using a tool like LeadPages or InfusionSoft. You offer an intro deal, freebie, or discount to entice them to sign up and give you their contact information. When they click through their email it is stored in your business list and an automated email is delivered directly to them with the details of what they’ve just become a part of. This is how you build an email data base of potential clients or customers and are able to continue to sell to them past the one time. It is also your first connection point and promise to them that they are a priority and now they can email you to get in touch and continue the conversation. It’s the end of the lead generation part of your marketing strategy and the beginning of the customer service part of your marketing strategy.
As directed, I sent the message and waited. A few days later I found her website and sent an email to the email listed there and waited. I checked her feed to see if I could explain the lack of communication, and a few days later I saw that she was getting married. My first thought is, “Why in the hell would you spend your valuable time and resources to promote your service when you are getting married!?!” Not only is it unfair to your potential customers, it distracts you from a major life moment. In the time where you’re planning and preparing, you are fielding messages from potential customers who don’t know what’s going on with you. You set yourself up for communication errors and missed opportunities. The worst part, you won’t even know that you lost them or where you lost them, so you can’t change it or fix it. There’s no growth for you and there’s not a future with that missed client.
Pro Tip #2: Do one thing at a time. Being a business owner comes with a lot of pressure and responsibility. You know you need to multi-task and divide your time, but do that with grace. There’s only one of you, so don’t run ads when your focus needs to be on your personal affairs.
The best time to run ads is during a period of time where you can watch engagement and conversion rates. You’ll need your focus to make sure you’re communicating, engaging, and available. You’ll want your daily posts and content to be top notch to really help solidify your expertise. You need to know that a great ads strategy takes time and practice, so you won’t get it right the first time. Please take the extra steps in lead generation so you don’t have to work so hard to make the sale in the future. Filling slots is great, but you’re paying to create a tribe so you don’t have to spend so much to find them all the time. It’s an investment in your business and requires undivided attention.
I finally heard back from her and she was breezy. But she had already filled one of our dates and there were only a few spots left in the other. I knew this was due to a couple of things. First, communicating primarily with customers via Instagram or Facebook messenger is very difficult to keep track of. I know I got shuffled and someone else who wasn’t trying to reach her as long was at the top. They got first dibs. At this point, I was beginning to feel like I was not a priority and she’s pretty unconcerned with helping me cross the finish line.
But, I agreed to the spot and to pay half up front. I also asked at this time if we could move the conversation to email. She never acknowledged my email request but I promptly got a PayPal link with no details. I had to send another message to her to find out what I was supposed to pay.
Pro Tip #3: Make getting paid simple.
I have no problem paying half up front, but when you send an invoice to a customer, please send the details including amount and what will be owed for the balance as well as the expected final payment date. Also, please invest in a professional tool for payment exchange. PayPal and Venmo are great for convenience at brunch with family and friends, but it makes you appear unprofessional (PayPal embedded in your site as a paying option is the exception). Getting paid and paying should be simple and fast with minimal steps. I am not interested in looking you up and tracking you down to give you my money.
Two of my friends were already over it because it was too complicated and annoying. At this point I am seriously considering backing out of the whole thing, but I pay and try to get excited thinking that she’s just recovering from her wedding and is busy.
Pro Tip #4: Don’t lose ‘em before you’ve actually set your hook and earned their loyalty.
If your clients are making excuses for your lack of service not only will you not know about it, but it’s the beginning stages of losing them. They come into your next exchange disappointed and without trust. It’s harder to win them back and a lot easier for them to find more reasons to be disappointed in your service. They will passively let you know they have reached this breaking point, so listen for cues and don’t miss the opportunity to make it right. They are easily won back at this point and just need to know that you care about their experience.
From this point I don’t hear from her at all. My one remaining friend willing to participate (note: she’s lost half of her potential clients from this transaction, as well as any others who bailed because they couldn’t reach her) and I both send messages about equipment and supplies.
What do we need? Is my camera ok? Will this lens work? Is there anything else I need? Hello? Are you there? Do you care?
The answer was no, she didn’t care, but she never said that. She glanced over our messages and told my friend her stuff was fine and spoke in camera lingo that overwhelmed and confused us. We had separate messages going, but we were talking to each other and both growing impatient.
So it’s fine, but I need something else? This is unclear? Can you jump on a call? I am headed to buy some things and because this is an investment, I would love to make sure I am on the right page. Wait, I’ll ask the guy at the camera store. Maybe he’ll know. I guess you can’t talk.
Pro Tip #5: Preemptively strike. Know the major questions your clients will have an answer them before they are asked. Be available to answer the questions you didn’t anticipate.
If you are selling a service and your customer needs specific equipment to succeed, please take the time in advance to create a document detailing what they need and set expectations. Also, make space to answer their questions when you aren’t doing other things. Send an email explaining that you got their questions and will answer them by email. Then offer to connect with them by phone if they still need to after you reply with all the details. Tell them when they can expect to hear from you by and show up. People learn in different ways. Make sure that you are taking the appropriate measures to meet them where they are and build their confidence in you as the expert. This goes for product sales too.
I went to Mikes Camera and met Joe who took time to talk equipment and science of photography. How to get the shots I wanted. And what I needed as a beginner to succeed on my pending photography goals. He spent over an hour with me that day sharing free resources he created on his site, other free resources, and talked to me about the classes he offered. He explained why the lenses she suggested wouldn’t work and helped me understand what she was talking about with basic camera functions in manual. He gave me manageable practice tasks and set an appointment to see me again in two weeks, again for free.
Pro Tip #6: Do what Joe did.
Joe listened to my needs and instead of trying to make the easy sale, he patiently built a relationship and trust with me. He offered resources he’s created that live on his site, directed me to it by emailing me a link, got my email, and set a future appointment. He informed me of upcoming opportunities and followed up with me by email within 24 hours. Joe also knows how to take star photos, so I already know before I leave that I am not dependent on the contractor I have already committed to. I walk out confident, supported, and ready to learn.
Because of this I am able to show up for our paid night hike with minimal expectation. I feel like the best is that I learn what I paid for and have a great night, worst case I don’t get any images and am out a few bucks. I had already initiated potential other opportunities where I could learn from her, but hadn’t paid for anything and was willing to let those go.
When we arrived we introduced ourselves. There were two other people out for photo tour so that made four of us. There was two other groups of people who were there as her portrait clients. The larger of those groups had about 8 people and were supposed to be out with her the night before but they cancelled so she let them come along with us, and “hoped that was ok”.
Pro Tip #7: Manage your clients expectations and give them a choice.
When there’s a change in plan, make sure you have phone numbers and emails so you can reach out to ask the people who have paid you if it’s ok with them. Have contracts in place detailing the professional expectations you have of them and they should have of you. If someone breaches the contract make sure that there is a protocol that safeguards you as the service provider and also safeguards the investments of your other paying clients. Be flexible and willing to offer concessions for their flexibility. Let them know you appreciate their time and are willing to work harder for everyone to make sure they get what they paid for. Be willing to offer alternative services and know that your integrity is a cornerstone of your marketing efforts.
If she had made her large group sign a contract with a non refundable deposit for missing their scheduled appointment, maybe they would have worked harder to keep their commitment to her and had some accountability in it. Asking us to further accommodate her poor planning not only took away from our experience, but now I am out of excuses for her. She simply did not care about our experience and we realized it too late to do anything about it.
We asked her to look at our equipment to help get us be prepared and ready to go for our first stop. She takes a look at our equipment and quickly announces she’s not sure if we have what we need and she’s not sure if it’s going to work. She asks if I have my manual. She tells my friend her lens is wrong. Then she offers to do her best in helping us. Um, this is exactly why I asked all those questions in advance. It’s exactly why I verified with you what to buy.
We stood in disbelief and hopelessness wondering if it was even worth it. We asked for camera settings and quietly tried not to freak out. We paid a deposit and were here, in the dark, and felt like there was no option. So we caravan to the top of Rocky Mountain Park and discuss how to salvage this. No cell service so we can’t Google how to help ourselves. We are defeated but know that we will make the best of it.
We arrive at the top and it’s dark. I don’t have a flashlight because she didn’t tell us we needed one, although that may seem obvious, I wondered if light messed up the shots, so didn’t worry about it. I walk over to the group to hear her discussing how ridiculous it was that we bought equipment for this specific outing. When she saw me, she stopped talking and changed the subject.
In that moment I noticed something about her that pretty much summed up why we had all the problems we were having. She realized she messed up in not communicating well with us, but instead of taking responsibility and working extra hard to make sure we could still participate, she gossiped and deflected with another customer. I can’t even describe how irritated I was getting, but I was committed to getting what I paid for.
Pro Tip #8: If you mess up, OWN IT.
Recognize the error, apologize for it, then find a creative solution. That’s what will make you stand out as an expert and professional. Take responsibility and make it work. Don’t project your embarrassment on to the client and make them feel small. And certainly don’t involve other paying clients. These matters are private and should be handled with care and respect to both parties. No one wins when you try to make others look small.
We start to climb. I will tell you now there was no warning of steep stairs and climbing in the dark. Again, this is why I asked what we needed. There were people in our group that couldn’t make it. I made sure to walk with her and be the first up, I made her set me up and teach me before her groups all arrived. I was determined to get something out of this and knew this was my only opportunity. While I was getting organized and trying to learn, she started taking photos of the group that was supposed to be out with her the night before. The group was loud, disrespectful, and disruptive. To say they didn’t care about anyone else’s experience is an understatement. She kept telling them to not move or talk so she could get the shot. They didn’t listen and she spent a ton of time trying to get her shot while we waited. She had zero control of her clients.
She instructed me to help my friend, but I didn’t know what to tell her and this is certainly NOT what we paid for. We both deserved her instruction and time. I had the settings and tried to explain what I had heard in those quick moments and by the time we were in our groove and playing, the group finished and walked through our shot. I also had my lens open for long exposure needed for star shots and on more than one occasion her light interfered with my photo. I tried to complain and let her know what we needed, but she asked us to sit for our photo and told us we had plenty of time to get the shot and not to worry.
Pro Tip #9: Keep it simple so you can deliver what you’ve promised.
If you are working with a group of people, please make sure they are grouped appropriately. If you’re taking photos of people, stick to that. If you’re instructing, stick to that. If you’re insistent on being able to manage all of it, please set the group up with boundaries and understanding of the multiple and collective goals of the group. Any disrespect you encounter from a client is a consequence of your poor boundaries. Let the group know your expectations and the fastest way to get everyone’s needs met. Explain that you will get one group set before you focus on the other. There’s only one of you, make sure you set yourself up to be professional and focused and your clients are happy.
The next two stops were the same. It felt defeating and a total waste. She focused on her big group and they continued to walk through our shots or shine lights into our lenses. They talked and moved during her work taking up more of her time than necessary. We were invisible and the two other photography “students” on the tour started sharing their knowledge and eye with us.
On the last stop she pointed where to set up and set off to take photos of her other group, a quiet couple, who I am guessing she was making up for all their patience. She had light tubes and lanterns and working on her craft while we fended for ourselves. It was past midnight and it was supposed to end, but the big group had finally departed and I was desperate to get something out of this. Spoiler alert, it didn’t happen.
She was mid setting up my friend for a shot and got distracted while my friend was asking a question. I heard my friend stop talking and watched the woman dart off. She never circled back to my friend. She never addressed the question. She never apologized. At 2 am we thanked her and climbed in the car. Both having to work soon and knowing we will not get home until after 4:30am. Defeat. I am raising my flag.
Pro Tip #10: If you set a schedule stick to it.
If you want to create your own creative content please be mindful and organized on the best ways to make that happen. Meet the needs in order of priority that free you up to do what you want. Make sure your clients questions are answered, needs are met, and they feel confident in practicing before you start experimenting with new tricks that you’ve been dying to try out.
I posted on my Instagram the following morning. I posted one of the three usable images I had to show for myself. I reassured myself knowing that at least there was an image she took that I would get to have so it didn’t matter too much that I didn’t get my shots. I tagged her, I gave her credit, and appropriately thanked her on social media to help drive traffic to her page. The two photographers we met and my friend commented on the image. She did not. However she did engage with one of the comments from a photographer from that night on my thread.
Pro Tip #11: If a customer is going out of their way to engage with you and help drive traffic to your page, say thank you.
Acknowledge them and their efforts. People don’t have to do this step. It takes someone thoughtful who understands engagement rules and not everyone does it. Don’t take it for granted and don’t miss the opportunity to showcase their work. Instead of making your feed about you all the time, showcase what some of the inexperienced clients are able to do when they work with you. There’s opportunity in being able to tell the part of your business story through the eyes of a client.
I have since untagged, unfollowed, and removed any hints of her from my profile. She runs more than one account and uses one to drive traffic to build her audience. I have also unfollowed that. She won’t notice because she is more concerned with building than maintaining.
Pro Tip #12: YOur Instagram and Social Media Platforms are not about you!
They’re about your customer. When you start to understand that you will be able to engage meaningfully and authentically while telling your story and making your audience part of your brand. These platforms give you infinite reach and opportunities. You get one chance to make a first impression, and you get a few to build a relationship. It’s kind of a big deal, so don’t miss it by thinking your audience is following along to hear you talk about you. Think dinner party and being next to a person who doesn’t shut up and never asks you any questions. Do you want to see that person again?
I wish this were the end, but within a few days a message comes through Instagram. It’s the link to her Facebook page that houses the images we can now purchase from her. If you’re thinking that we clicked and found what we needed without effort, then you haven’t been reading, because it took me a few tries to find them. I got frustrated and left it alone. Decided to circle back to it later when I felt more patient. I had to sift through all the images she curated through the entire month of September and look very closely to see if I could recognize myself in any of the images. I spent way too much time on this step.
Pro Tip #13: If you want to be professional, you need professional tools.
You are asking too much for people to have to dig for their desired purchase. Send a direct link to the product and filter out anything not relevant to that client. Also, it’s appropriate to let people know the cost before you send them on a link hunt. They may not think it’s worth their time.
A few weeks later I made some effort and asked how much she charged thinking that I would get my friend a souvenir from the disastrous events that we were recounting and laughing about. She replied quickly this time: “$125”.
I have worked with a ton of photographers and I am not sure where she’s getting her pricing from, but there’s no way I am paying that so I can give it to my friend to sit in a 4x6 frame somewhere. So I asked if she could be flexible. Here’s what I got:
Emoji Emoji: sorry 130-150 is the market rate for digital. I spend one hour minimum on each of my starry night photos. When I sell the digital it gives away all future print rights
Pro Tip #14: If you’re going to site information about market rates, make sure you’ve actually googled that information first.
Like this article on photography pricing strategies: https://sproutingphotographer.com/photographer-pricing-8x10-print/
Also, check out who you’re speaking with. Do your research. Don’t assume they know nothing about the subject. At the very least, head to their Instagram profile and make sure they aren’t an expert in the business side of your field.
What she doesn’t know but maybe could have figure out pretty easily is that I am a digital marketer with degrees in communication and a Masters in Marketing and Public Relations. I run Instagram and Facebook profiles for a living. I work with top brands and small businesses, and some of them are photographers. I hire photographers all the time and I know what digital images are worth, market rate for private clients and commercial rates for the business side. I also edit images for a living, daily. I also know that she didn’t spend hours on each image before a client has committed to buying. But I have also had her lie to me before, so I wasn’t surprised to see it happen again.
Pro Tip #15: Don’t lie to make a sale. Ever.
It devalues the product and service and makes you seem desperate. When getting paid becomes more important than listening to your customer, you have a short shelf life. People will work with you once, begrudgingly pay you, have a bad taste in their mouth, and cut their losses. They may or may not tell people about their experience, but if they do, it won’t be positive. The customer can tell when the bottom line is more important and regardless if they pay or not, it won’t be worth it in the long run.
Information for anyone working with photographers, the point of hiring a professional who knows how to use their tools is to cultivate the highest quality image possible. Depending on the project and scope of work, your photographer will present images. Some photographers narrow down the raw images and have you pick your favorites before editing, and some will softly edit their favorites and present them to you as a package. In general, no professional will spend over an hour on an image that isn’t already paid for. But generally, your raw image should be good enough that light editing is all that’s called for. The entire point of professional photography is to capture the image in manual with appropriate settings to eliminate the need for edits. I edited my images from that night using the PhotoShop Express App on my phone in less than 10 min. That included cropping, exposure, tint, white balance, and more.
Pro Tip #16: Charge what you’re worth and know your clients know if that’s too low or too high.
Either way is bad for your business. If you aren’t charging enough, people won’t take it seriously. It’s like shopping at the Dollar Store. They know they are getting what they need for cheap but don’t expect it to be good or last. The word here is DISPOSABLE. If you charge more than you’re worth, you’re not meeting professional expectations. You’re setting yourself up for failure and the client to be disappointed. Don’t compare yourself to an industry leader and charge what they charge when they pay more for professional tools and resources. Cutting corners to pad your profit does not add value to the customer service experience you provide and we can feel it. Buyer also beware, if you feel like you’re getting gouged, you are.
I wrote back and explained how disinterested I was in giving her any more money. I expressed that the value to what I had already given her wasn’t there and we already didn’t receive the service we were promised. I told her I valued her time and creativity, but no thanks.
She never replied to that message.
Pro Tip #17: When a customer is brave enough to share with you that they are disappointed in the experience, this is your final opportunity to save relationship.
Most people lick their wounds and quietly slip off. They won’t work with you again and it’s much easier (and cost effective) to retain a client then to find new ones. When someone takes the time to explain why they aren’t satisfied it’s your chance to listen! Ask them to jump on a call. Hear what they have to say. Ask what you can do to make it right. Apologize. Turn it around. This is the last chance you will ever have with them, so make it count!
I wished her luck and I meant it, she has a lot to learn about people and service, which is what her business is, People and SERVICE, not star photos, sunrises, and hikes. She found a way to get paid doing what she loves, but she’s forgetting that her clients need to love it too, and maybe a lot of them do, but I would be curious to know.
We had images from that night and my friend asked why I didn’t post more of them. Truth? I don’t want to drive traffic to her page. I don’t want to endorse her. I don’t value my experience and won’t share her contact information. If someone asked me about it, I won’t lie and I will spend time finding my tribe a worthy competitor. Her Instagram following has people thinking she’s better than she is. She’s got the following, but she’s not worth what she’s charging and not interested in feedback to make her better. She isn’t interested in learning or her customer’s experience.
In her inability to value my experience, she lost a paying client. Aside from the ad, I converted on my own. I tracked her down and jumped through hoops to work with her. I also tried to give her more business by bringing a friend and trying to book something else with her. Most people won’t do that.
Likes and follows mean very little if your customer service skills are lacking. If you’re so focused on your appearance that you forget that your customers are your reason for existence, you will become extinct. I don’t care how popular you are on social media, I care that you change the world in your way by helping people with your product or service. When that’s your priority, you don’t need to worry about your bottom line, because you know there’s always more to give and share.
I value people’s time, creative abilities, professions, and intellectual property. I am willing to pay for it. I want to support you, but I have to feel like you value the same in me. I want you to know that I have a choice in where I spend my money and it’s the highest compliment to you and your craft when I do business with you.