The following advice is specific to Australia. Most Western countries have similar structures and the broad principles are similar. However, you should consult your own advisers for specific information.
Communication is fundamental to a successful and profitable studio. This seems to be an obvious statement, yet many photographers (and business people in general) don't seem to realise just how important both the telephone and email are.
Everytime you answer the telephone, clients are judging you.
Existing clients have expectations when they call you. They want to be recognised and continue a relationship, so you need to remember who they are.
New clients don't know you - yet. They're not sure if you're nice or horrible, reliable or scatterbrained, efficient or slack, so they will take clues from the way you answer the telephone and communicate with them.
This doesn't necessarily mean answering the phone with a set pattern. "Hello, you've called the Green Studio. This is Alex speaking. How may I help you." While this answer gives the caller lots of useful information, it may not be appropriate for the type of business you run.
Advertising photographers used to answer the phone with the word, ‘Studio', which no doubt was very cool, but may have left many callers a little uncertain as to what was going on. It wasn't particularly inviting for outsiders, but then again, if you were in the club it might be what you wanted to hear.
And this is the point: the way you answer the telephone needs to be appropriate to the way you want your business to be perceived and the people you want to use it.
When dealing with the general public, as most wedding and portrait photographers do, being ‘cool' is probably less important than being ‘approachable and helpful'. However, in Australia and New Zealand you don't want to appear ‘overly helpful' or you'll put people on their guard. It's a matter of finding a balance that suits your market and your personality.
The tone of your voice is just as important as what you say - perhaps more so. If you're short with your callers because you're really busy, this sends them a clear message: don't bother me. And so they won't bother you with their next big job!
Many telephone experts recommend having a mirror near the telephone and smiling to yourself before picking up the receiver. Take a deep breath and realise that no matter how busy or how stressed you are just at the moment, when you answer the phone everything must be put aside so you can give the caller your full attention.
If you are really busy or stressed and you can't be pleasant ‘just at the moment', it may be best for the call to go to message bank or an answering machine. Or you should instruct your staff to say you're in the middle of a shoot and can't be disturbed and take a message for you. Even better, train your staff to answer the phone.
Some callers expect to get an answer immediately or they will simply phone another photographer. How are you going to deal with this?
Early in your career, missing out on jobs because you didn't take the phone call can be a major fear, but the reality is probably less serious. While this scenario is likely to be true for a client using the Yellow Pages, someone who has been recommended to you is more likely to be persistant.
Some photographers use a mobile phone so they can always be contacted. Others employ a receptionist or assistant who is well trained and can answer 90 percent of a prospective client's questions. And still others just turn off the telephone, confident their reputation will ensure a prospective client rings them back or leaves a message. All are valid approaches depending on the nature of your business.
However, in the competitive wedding and portrait markets, it would appear to be good business practice to have a real person answering the phone. If a client leaves a message and makes another call, the next photographer could make them an offer they can't refuse!
If someone leaves a telephone message, it's essential that you respond, even if you can't help.
Building a successful photography studio is as much about your reputation as your service. If someone calls for a shoot, but you don't call them back because you know you're already booked out, what message does this send the caller? It doesn't tell them how good you are or how busy you are; it says you're rude and inconsiderate and not worth referring to their friends.
Even if you aren't interested in taking the call, have your staff call back and perhaps suggest another photographer who can help. This simple action can still see the caller referring you to their friends, perhaps at a time when you're not busy!
Always, always return calls. Or have your staff do it for you.
With the internet a fundamental part of business life, many clients and prospects like to communicate by email.
4 the yunger generation, it mite b cool to shorten your words, but older people will probably prefer to see things written out properly.
Most of the words we read are in magazines, newspapers and formal letters. They have been formally written and editted, so as a society, we're used to ‘proper English'.
If you send an email to some clients with too many shortened words, you're probably not communicating effectively. Once again, depending on your market, it might be best to leave word shortening to SMS messages and write your emails out formally, even to the extend of spellchecking them.
Every message you send to clients contributes to their impression of you and the way you do business. If you take shortcuts with your emails, do you also take shortcuts with your photography work? Or do they see your shorthand as being efficient and impressive?
One of the most useful tools at our disposal is the Inbox in our email program. The Inbox can be turned into a ‘to do' list so you don't forget anything or anyone.
After you've deleted all the spam, don't delete any further emails until they have been answered. If your staff is taking telephone messages, get them to send you an email so the message reaches your Inbox. And if there are things you must remember to do, send yourself an email.
In this way, the Inbox on your computer becomes the hub of your communication system. You can record everything you need to do and everyone you need to contact in the one place, and emails aren't removed until they have been ‘actioned'.
How you respond and what you say on the telephone or in an email is beyond the scope of this article, but certainly what you say in conversation or via email with your clients is an essential part of your marketing. Although it might be a chore, used properly it can be the simple most effective marketing technique you will ever use.
The information in this article is general in nature and should not replace personal advice given by your own legal and financial advisers.