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The Art of the Client Experience: Saying No

running your photography business

Are you a pleaser? Do you give in to your clients’ every whim and demand?

I’ve allowed sessions to take place in less-than-ideal locations. I’ve allowed payment to take far too long to be made. I’ve conducted sessions beyond the scope of my experience or interest. Because I have a tough time saying “no.”

Can you relate to this?

If you’re a bit of a pushover and it’s hurting your business, here are a few practical steps you can take to gain more control and confidence.

1. Make sure you have your ducks in a row. Perhaps you have been a little disorganized. Perhaps your communication with your client isn’t as clear or consistent as it should have be. Perhaps  your workflow could use improvement. Maybe you need to hone your craft a bit further.

Flying by the seat of your pants can have this effect: You begin to doubt yourself and it makes it more difficult to justify what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.

Take a good hard look at your strengths and weaknesses and develop a plan to elevate your clients’ experience. Conducting a client survey is a good first step. Download our free Client Survey Sample HERE.

2. Determine where and when you will absolutely say “no”. Set your boundaries carefully. It’s important to structure your business and lifestyle so you don’t have too many barriers to a positive relationship. Choose no more than three to five  Here are two areas where it’s important to stand firm:

a. Generally, it’s important to stand firm on your pricing. When a client negotiates over the price of a 5×7 and you find yourself going along, it is a sign that you lack confidence. Be certain you have set your pricing with thought, research, and skill, and you will have an easier time kindly, yet firmly letting your client know that you do not negotiate pricing.

b. It’s also critical to consider timing and location of the session. If you give in on these issues, you will not be able to produce your best work. While a professional photographer needs to be able to respond to a variety of lighting and location challenges, it is incredibly helpful if you are able to structure this part of your business as much as possible.

3. Determine many opportunities where you will absolutely say “yes”. Will pets be allowed to join a session? May we have several outfit changes? Do you mind if I bring this giant stuffed animal to the session? Can I have an extra day to decide on my order? Can we exchange the 16×20 in the package for three 8x10s?

Decide on 15 situations where you can say “yes”. This will vary depending on your style and personality, of course. In the end, you will have many situations where you can say “yes” and just a few situations where you will always say “no” and likely several situations that are more gray and need to be determined over time.

4. Practice saying “no” with a smile. Consider role playing several situations. Create a script for your response and practice with a friend. Your tone and body language are key factors in determining the client’s reaction. If you must say “no” in writing, have a trusted mentor read what you’ve written to ensure it’s warm and kind.

While you may feel nervous or offended by a client’s demands or requests, try to put your emotions on the shelf and portray professionalism and confidence. You may need to take several (or a hundred) deep breaths before responding. You may need to sleep on it before replying to an email. If you are not careful, anger, doubt, or defensiveness will be sensed by your client, and the situation may quickly escalate into something negative and potentially explosive.

5. Be aware of the power of language. Watch your language. When you need to deny a client’s request or demands, subtle language choices can make all the difference.

a. Edit out as many negative words as possible from your correspondence such as no, not, can’t, or never.

b. Sandwich the rejection of their request between several positive statements. A good ratio of positive to negative is four positive statements for every one negative statement.

“I so enjoyed our photo session and am thrilled with the photographs we created together. Your sweet baby girl is so incredibly photogenic and I’m glad we were able to capture her beauty at such an early stage. I can understand why you may have a hard time deciding which images to choose. However, my rates listed on my website are firm and non-negotiable. I am available to provide my expert consultation to help you narrow down your selections and choose photographs that you will cherish for years to come. I look forward to answering any additional questions you may have.”

c. Use “I” messages. Avoid starting a sentence with “you”. Instead of “You knew my prices when you booked your session”, try “I have clearly communicated rates prior to the photo session, both on my website and throughout our correspondence.”

d. Be concise. While it may be cathartic to write an 800 word email in response to a client’s demands, it is often wise to edit out at least 80% of what you have written. When you keep your communication professional, polite, and direct, you will not need so many words. Again, it can be very valuable to allow a friend or mentor to help you determine if you’ve gone overboard in explaining or defending your point.

For some, communication and handling difficult social stations come naturally. Some know just how to diffuse an angry or confused client with just the right words. If conveying confidence is not your strength, consider setting goals to become more assertive and professional. You will increase your chances of success in the business word if you begin to gain communication skills in difficult situations.

 

 

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