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.
Do you love getting something for nothing? Do you enjoyed buying a product and getting a bonus or a prize? And is it even better when you don't have to ask, it is given freely?
How do you treat these businesses?
If the local grocer gives you an extra apple from time to time or a restaurant throws in a dessert or a glass of port at the end of a meal, are you more likely to return in the future?
These gifts have to be something special. It's not the same as the doctor having a jar of jelly beans on the desk for the kids, the hairdresser who gives you a promotional bottle of shampoo or the free drinks on a flight because the aircraft is running late.
Some gifts today are an expected part of business and so they have lost their charm. They are no longer adding value to what clients or customers are expecting to pay.
To add value, you need to show your clients that you care about them as people - and this applies equally to mum and dad buying family portraiture as it does to an advertising executive hiring you for a big shoot. Everyone is human.
When you leave your credit card in the restaurant and the waitress runs a couple of hundred metres up the street to return it to you, how do you feel? When you're standing outside the local sandwich shop, talking on the telephone and the owner walks out to you with your sandwich, how do you feel?
You feel special. You feel that this person cares about you enough to put themselves out. Yes, they're putting themselves out because they want your continued customage, but that in itself is important. We all like to go to places where we feel our customage is wanted.
So, what does this have to do with professional photography?
Our clients feel exactly like us, perhaps even more so if our clients only buy photography on an irregular basis. A bride and groom or a mum and dad looking for a family portrait are not regular purchasers of photography. They are out of their comfort zone, often unsure of what they want and what they should be asking for.
And business clients asking us to photograph a managing director or a mine shaft are similarly concerned. It's important for them that our photography is of a high standard so they look good to their bosses, their clients and their customers. We all feel much the same when it comes to making a purchase. We want to know we are buying the right product or service at a fair price.
And we all love it when, as a thank you for our customage, our supplier gives us something a little more - a ‘value-add'.
How can we add value?
Some businesses believe giving their customers a discount is a good way to add value. It probably isn't. Often providing a discount, even if the customer has spent a lot of money with you, simply devalues your product or services. There can be exceptions, but a discount isn't a value add. It is something you might offer up front or on your price list in return for a higher volume of work. You might offer one portrait for $500, but two portraits for $900, a saving of $100. This can be good business, but it isn't value adding.
Showing your appreciation by giving a discount can be impersonal and generally the reason you value add is to create a stronger relationship with your clients. It is far better to give your clients a gift or added service, perhaps something that is personal to you.
The one thing we all have as photographers is the ability to produce beautiful works of art - providing your clients with a signed print, a book or a calendar can be far more memorable than a monetary discount.
In the portraiture market, it is common practice to give a good client an extra print or two. A print costs us very little, but on the price list it has a much higher value.
However, how you give the client the extra print and which image you choose is far more important than just giving them a print. Generally in conversation you'll know that a client particular likes a print for whatever reason. If you take note of this and make that print your gift (or a second copy or a smaller copy thereof), the fact you listened and took note of what the client liked will be well remembered.
Depending on how you present yourself to your clients, they may treasure a book or calendar of your personal work just as much. A landscape photo as an 8x10-inch or in a frame might not be as well received because what do they do with it? You have already sold them images to cover every square inch of their homes, so another print might be a nice thought but could be difficult for them to use. In comparison, a book, calendar, series of gift cards, bookmarks, fridge magnets... You need to create a value add that is in keeping with your marketing and your studio's image.
Wedding photographers can easily value add and you want your bride and groom to remember you so they refer you to their friends and, maybe, return to have family portraits in the future.
An obvious way to value add is to increase the album by a few pages or to provide some additional prints for parents or grandparents. Since you have probably met the family, you should be aware of lots of small things you can do to endear yourself to the bride and groom and the bride and groom to you.
A small print in a frame for grandparents or a DVD of images for family living overseas can be a powerful value add, especially if you've taken the time to work out who it is for. What you give as a value add is as important as the value add itself.
Commercial, advertising, fashion and editorial photographers are in a slightly different situation. While they can value add by giving a book or a calendar, this is something they are more likely to do once a year and is more likely to be seen as self-promotion than a gift.
Value adding for commercial photographers is more likely to be in the form of extra service. Brian Brandt always recommended shooting 110%, meaning he would fulfil the brief 100% and then spend an 10% on trying something different. Even if the client doesn't like the extra images or can't use them, it showed that you have a personal interest in what they are trying to achieve.
When working with less experienced clients, you might help them with design and printing, either by putting them in touch with suitable professionals or helping them through the process at their office.
When you're bidding for a job, don't just work out how you can get the job, think about how you can value add so you are top of their mind when they are looking for a photographer for their next job.
So, should we be adding value all the time, for each and every customer?
Yes, in some way. Sometimes you will only have one opportunity to add value because you're doing a single transaction - such as wedding and portraiture. In other situations, you may be dealing with clients on an on-going basis in which case it's very worthwhile to get a reputation for providing added value.
Remember how you feel when you get a ‘value add' and this should encourage you to do the same for your clients.
The information in this article is general in nature and should not replace personal advice given by your own legal and financial advisers.