How to Murder Your Business
I like to read vendor reviews.
I’m a little odd like that. Because typically the language in them makes me all anxious. Words like “disappointed”, “furious”, or “terrible”. These are not even reviews directed at me and they make me sad and terrified for the future of all small businesses.
Mostly because I know what a bad review can do. I’ve seen it. In the wild. I’ve seen the internet mobs descend and it is terrifying.
So, over 10 years in business I’ve always tried to keep myself on the up-and-up regarding what clients WANT. What makes people happy? How can I best serve people?
Just the thought of making a client unhappy makes my blood run cold. I hate the idea of disappointing a client, at any turn.
But, I’m human. And human beings are, if anything, entirely fallible. We are going to screw up at some point. We all do. We mess up an order, we forget something, the work is not as incredible as it could be. IT HAPPENS.
And if you’re thinking there are perfect people out there who have never screwed up in business….I have a bridge I’d like to sell ya, dude.
But, there’s screwing up and making it right….and then there’s MURDERING your business.
I’ve seen that too….and it’s always very sad to watch. So, I thought I would write up a quick how to guide….so you know what behavior you know to stay FAR away from.
(Note: Most of this is wedding and portrait photography specific in my own little head….but can be applied to any small business really. )
NEVER IMPROVE YOUR PRODUCT OR SERVICE
You should ALWAYS be learning, growing, and improving. If you think you’ve made it….now I can rest on my laurels and keep churning out the same thing year after year….you’re going to run into problems. Even restaurants that have been open for eons have to add things to the menu to stay relevant.
If you are a newbie and you just want to get to a point where your work is simply “acceptable”, you’re barking up the wrong business tree.
I always want to learn new things, always want to improve what I can offer folks, and I always want to do MORE and do BETTER.
2. OVERPROMISE AND UNDERDELIVER
Look, I accepted it and so should you: We are ALL in an industry that is very crowded (photography in general). The low barrier to hanging out your shingle means that when someone is looking for a wedding photographer or portrait photographer, they are confronted with so many options that I don’t know why EVERYONE doesn’t just elope or forego choosing all together. It can be major choice fatigue.
This can cause us to want to offer people the MOON. Pick me and I’ll give you what that other guy won’t !
This is SUPER tempting, especially when you’re face-to-face at a consult….but it’s folly and let me tell you why:
You’re going to get overwhelmed with what you promised….some promises can never be kept no matter how good your intentions are. You’re going to forget what you promised to whom. It’s a hot mess waiting to happen.
The old customer service adage stands true: underpromise and OVERdeliver. Promise what you know you can offer up…and then blow folks away with your level of service and artistry. Throw in something extra in the end. But, know your limits.
3. BE A TERRIBLE COMMUNICATOR
I will be the first to tell you that I am a little…well, Type A….when it comes to communication. The thought of someone waiting for me to get back to them gives me literal hives. I’m allergic to it.
I once had someone email me and say “Why haven’t you responded?!”….turns out their email had slipped by in the midst of others and gotten accidentally deleted. I was mortified and I thought about it ALL week….how that client thought they didn’t matter.
That’s how our clients feel when we don’t communicate with them. I cannot TELL you how many reviews I’ve read where clients get completely ghosted by their photographers (or any service provider…..ever tried to build a house? Oy.) And I get it…LIFE happens. People we love get sick, they die, we get divorced, our kids get sick….that’s LIFE. But, I also know this is my livelihood and part of that is TALKING to my CLIENTS (and potential clients…..seriously folks, if someone inquires with you…EMAIL THEM BACK!)
4. BE EVEN WORSE IN PERSON
This kind of goes along with being a bad communicator…..but, if you are a socially inept creepy person…maybe photography isn’t the gig for you.
How do you KNOW if you are a socially inept creepy person? Well, you probably don’t…..but when at a wedding, directing and getting along with folks….making grandma happy and having the dad smile at you and give you a thumbs up…these things should just HAPPEN.
Are you getting feedback that you’re rude, impersonal, or (like I read on a few reviews) your hygiene isn’t up to par (I know!? What?!)…then it’s time for a MAJOR personal overhaul….and perhaps a new line of work.
Photography…hell, customer service in general….is a very social game. And, believe me….I am NOT the person who eases into these situations with the grace of some socialite or something. It takes WORK….I’m horribly introverted at times and I know it.
Self-awareness is HUGE if you don’t want to murder your business.
5. BE SLOWER THAN A TURTLE STUCK IN GORILLA GLUE
So here’s the thing….there’s kind of an ongoing debate, especially with regards to weddings, on turn-around. Some say quick (and quality of course) is great because the couple are still in that wonderful glow of “We just got married!!!”. Some are in the camp of up to 12 weeks or more before turn around because they are delivering a bespoke type product that takes lots of time and effort to perfect.
And I totally understand both arguments. I do.
When it comes to delivering my products, I always think “What would I want”?
When we got married (before Facebook was even really a thing)….it took us WAY longer than what was promised to us to get our wedding pictures. We waited months….and when we finally did get them all we got was a Staples DVD with our named written on it (misspelled) in black magic marker. Most of the images were not even edited. So, I’m not sure what was taking so long.
I learned a LOT from that experience…..and I never want my clients to feel the way I felt. Like I wasn’t worth any effort.
A lot of the complaints I read online are from people who either NEVER got their images (holy. crap.) or got them a LONG time after their session or event.
This comes back to promises and delivery. Be HONEST with what you can handle. Don’t disappear.
And if you get in a pickle and you scheduled WAY too much for yourself and can’t keep up, you need to contact EACH CLIENT and explain that to them.
Which leads me to…..
6. BE A LOUDMOUTH ON THE INTERNET
I have a big mouth. If something bugs me, I’m likely going to write about it. Because dammit, I’m a writer! (I swear, I am…even if just in my own head). But, I know my limits.
But, if a client gives you a bad review….or you fall behind…or something negative happens with regards to your business….for the LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY keep that shit off Facebook. Seriously. Don’t write some pages-long diatribe about how “you’re a person too” or about how hard you work blah blah blah. Because here’s the thing, dude. NO ONE CARES. All your clients care about is how they didn’t get what they paid for. Plain and simple. Some big non-personal Facebook novel isn’t going to ease minds. If you have time to do all of that, you have time to get your business shit together.
If you screwed up, talk to the client involved about that PERSONALLY. If they take to the internets to smear your name, talk to them PERSONALLY. If you need to respond to a false review, do so succinctly and professionally. If you can’t handle that…hire someone for you who can. It’s THAT important.
If they tell Yelp that you gave someone AIDS (yes….this HAPPENED to a photographer!) then sue the pants off of them.
But, stay classy online. People are watching.
7. BE A NO GOOD DIRTY THIEF
There is a line that must not be crossed with regards to the creative arts….and that line is plagiarism and photo theft. This happens more often than you might think (my friend has made an entire SITE out of people who steal photos! Check it out @ http://stopstealingphotos.com/)
But, there are plenty of people….newbies and famous “rockstar photographers” alike who seem to think that line moves with them…or doesn’t exist at all.
If you need portfolio fodder….then do free shoots like the rest of us did….or set up a styled shoot. If you want to write a blog but you’re a shit writer, hire a writer. Or don’t write a blog…do something else.
If you want to be an inspirational thought-leader on Instagram….don’t do it by stealing the quotes of others.
Just, be kind. Seriously.
8. BE SUPER CHEAP
When you are super cheap you’re going to be REALLY busy….and that’s going create a false sense of security that you are either A. Really good at photography or B. Really doing something right.
Neither are likely true. If you are REALLY good, you’re going to want to raise your prices just to get to the clients that REALLY appreciate your efforts and level of creativity. If you’re really doing something right, it will be easier to maintain than the onslaught of cheap clients coming your way is going to be.
You don’t want to be the guy that was hired SIMPLY because he underbid everyone else. Then what you produce starts to not matter so much….and that is NOT why you got into this game.
Am I saying you need luxury level pricing? God no. But, you need to be in line with what is industry standard. Otherwise, a trickle down affect is going to happen. Clients are going to start to wonder why EVERYONE isn’t “$50 and files”…..and they’re either going to maintain that EVERYONE ELSE is far too expensive….or that there’s a good reason you’re so cheap and that reason is you suck.
Neither of these are good outcomes.
If you need help establishing living-wage pricing, think about getting a mentor that can assist you with the financial side of your business.
9. BE TOO BIG FOR THOSE BRITCHES OF YOURS
There are some shooters out there who can just be ON.
They are world-renown….everyone loves them….they have a bajillion followers and when they fart people plunk down money to find out exactly why it smells like lavender and looks like rainbow puffs.
That is about 0.01% of us.
The rest of us are service providers who need to check ourselves before we literally wreck ourselves.
This mean have GUIDELINES but being flexible when it makes sense to be.
This means if you’re at work….you’re at work….and if you don’t get seated in a preferable seat during dinner, maybe you should just let that go…because you are not the priority (I’ve totally eaten crouched in a corner like Gollum…let’s be honest, I eat in about 6 minutes flat and then it’s back to the coal mines). Maybe don’t down several glasses of beer from the bar? Maybe…..
This means if someone comes to you with a complaint about images….as PAINFUL AS THIS IS….look at the work and really consider if you offered up your best before digging in your heels.
This is all very difficult.
I get this. And I am by no means saying that you can’t have things in your business you won’t stand for. I’ve weathered some particularly nasty situations in the past that have led to major contract changes (for one, you gotta feed me…or at least let me go get food….this after I suffered through a 10 hour shoot with nothing but cocktail cherries).
And I totally get that some people can NOT be pleased. No matter what. You need to protect yourself if you can and you DO need to learn to stand by your work when it’s warranted.
But maybe ask yourself if you’re being difficult too? It’s a two way street, this service thing….
In all honesty, to me anyway, I find businesses a hard kill. I think you have to try pretty hard to be terrible. I get that some folks just don’t have “it”….but in so many way, “it” is simply common sense.
How do YOU want to be treated?
How do YOU want to be served?
Apply that with every interaction. If it’s wrong, make it right. Realize some criticism can be constructive (I need to work on this SO much, I take criticism to heart and it tends to ruin my entire LIFE for at least a few days, no matter how minor it may be).
You LOVE your business like it is a living, breathing entity so TREAT it as such…..and don’t murder it.
Want to learn how to shoot weddings? Maybe you’ve WANTED to but you’re kind of freaked out by the whole concept?
I’m putting together a comprehensive E-Workshop that will help you break into the wedding world with aplomb.
Hop up to the top of the page and sign up for TYPE A MAIL. You’ll get a nice freebie PLUS you’ll be the first to know when the Wedding E-Workshop is LIVE! You’ll be able to download it and soak it in on YOUR time!