To those of us who are blessed enough to own / operate a small business, long-term or returning clients are extremely important. First of all, unlike Walmart or McDonalds, we have the ability and responsibility to maintain a certain unique culture about our business which attracts people to hire us over the bureaucratic corporation we are forced to compete with. And you know what? People ACTUALLY DO hire the little man over the big man in a lot of cases - especially when it comes to photographers. Why do people hire independent photographers instead of getting their photographs done at Sears or Life Touch or hire David’s Bridal to photograph their weddings?

1) Artistic style - I was looking back at some of my baby pictures that my mother had done at Sears, and I noticed that they used generic backdrops, and were very good at getting both me and my little brother to smile and look like we loved each other. Of course, my brother and I were close friends so that last part wasn’t so hard. I loved having my picture taken, but my brother absolutely loathed it! That photographer had some great skill in getting my brother to smile. One thing, however, that was not-so-skilled about those Sears photos is that they were incredibly RAW in nature. It was like they took the picture and then immediately printed them - which I’m sure is exactly what happened. As a photographic artist, my work is elevated far beyond that to something unique - something that, although I put my name on it, I’d like to think I wouldn’t have to do in order for my work to be identified. A client will hire someone like Sears when they are on a budget and looking for something generic - and that’s exactly why my mom hired them. People hire a photographic artist when they want something to set them apart from other people. My MOST COMMON repeat-customers are my fellow small business owners: models, real estate agents, masseuses, beauticians, etc.

2) Vocabulary - It’s not a gigantic secret that I’m a tomboy. I’ve lived my whole life wanting to scale mountains, stalk fancy cars, and play football rather than go to a salon where I can exfoliate and get my nails done. This made it easy for me to speak in what I like to call a “non-prissy” manner. Being able to communicate with someone without the words “um” “uh” and “like” show two things: confidence and education. Whether or not you have a master’s degree in photography, you will appear smarter if you can clearly communicate with the client.

3) Interest - I am a photographer because it interests me; however, I happen to also make money off this interest. I photograph things that interest me and tend to pass off subjects I don’t find interesting to another photographer who would find it interesting. It is for this reason that clients can say that I show interest in my work. I’m not acting - I am actually interested in the photo shoot. It’s important to express this to the client. Taking an interest in them makes them more inclined to be interested in you, and that is the foundation of a personal relationship. Have you ever noticed that the locals in mom-and-pop restaurants of small towns tend to set the mood of the establishment? The art is in line with what the locals like, the menu is food that they like, and the restaurants staff knows them by name. Waiters know what food locals usually order, “Would you like the usual?” This utopia is the same in any small business - clients like the usual treatment. If they are “a usual” they expect a more-personal relationship than others, and they deserve it! My “usual” customers get Christmas cards (among other things.) People here in southern California usually find that weird at first, but then they love it! It’s a gesture that I don’t have to do, but choose to do to show them that I value a relationship with my clients on a personal level beyond a robotic business level. Another thing I do to show that I am personally interested in a client is this: I give them the opportunity to critique my work! It’s a win-win situation because it helps me improve my own work, something that artists always want, and it helps the client get exactly what they wanted for their investment.

4) Networking - this is a big one for photographers! Most of our “usual” clients have a lot in common with us in that they tend to have lots of competition, they tend to have to pay their own health care, and they have bills for things like “web hosting” that they must try to pay for by boosting “web ratings.” Normal Americans who are not in small businesses don’t fret about things like this or even know what they are. One of the best ways to keep a client long term is to form a sort of business partnership through networking. They advertise for you when people say “Oh I love that photograph.” They say, “Thanks. It was taken by this really friendly photographer in Ocean Beach.” If you gave them enough, they can provide that person with your business card and viola! you might have another client. You also advertise for them when people see their photo in your portfolio and say, “Oh I like that one.” You say, “Thanks. It’s a picture of a very gifted hair dresser in La Jolla.” then you can give your client their business card. Of course there are other conversations that spark networking types of scenarios, but advertising for other small business owners is the best way to keep their business, I find.


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