After 10+ years of working in the industry, I have tried a lot of different processes for winning jobs. There is always a lot to learn from the sales process and while I have not figured everything out, I wanted to share some things that have helped me get to where I am today.
Here are 7 ways to help you win the job for your next photography gig.
Get Face Time
It seems that many photographers can be a little shy and often hide behind a screen during the sales process. But, I would encourage you to push for a video call, at the very least, to collect some data before discussing rates. Pre-covid, most of these meetings would happen in person for me, and I can confidently say that at least 8 out of 10 clients would book after the meeting. Face time provides you the opportunity to gauge their reaction, respond to questions faster, and go into more detail about the process. This instills a higher level of confidence that the client’s investment will be honored.
The most important aspect of getting face time is establishing a personal relationship with the buyer. It makes it more difficult for them to just say “no” or ghost you because of money. It’s really easy to reject someone when their identity is nothing more than words on your screen. If they do manage to say no to your face, you now have a chance to get valuable feedback as to why they didn’t book you on this project. That information can help you close more clients in the future or maybe you’ll learn that it wasn’t a good fit in the first place.
And note, that this isn’t the time to speak about your accolades or sell yourself, you’ve already got them on the call. They clearly have done some research and like what they see otherwise you wouldn’t have got this far in their vetting process.
If they don’t want to jump on a call, it’s likely because they are fishing for pricing, and from my experience, this shows you where their priorities lie.
Be Confident in Yourself
I once asked an agency client why they hired me over the other photographers who bid on the job. All of our work was visually comparable but, I was the only one who didn’t have a studio which was a requirement for the client and I came in 2x more expensive on my proposal. The other photographers had me beaten in many ways!
The client told me that it was the confidence I portrayed that ultimately won them over. “If we believe in the work we do, the client believes in us too!”. They felt reassured that their client would be taken care of and that was more important than a higher profit margin for the agency.
As for my disadvantage of not having a studio, I was able to shoot their product on-site, which meant they didn’t have to go through the logistics of transporting large products from location to location. It also minimized the risks of damages and possibly losing more financially on the project.
Knowing your skills, the ins and outs of your business, and thinking quickly on your feet, will show that you know what you are doing. Having a calm and relaxed tone will also display confidence as everything you say will come across as a natural response. When you doubt yourself and hesitate with a response, many people will feel your fear. So it is critical that you push past imposter syndrome and have faith in your process. If you don’t have confidence and trust in your process, why should anyone else?
Ask a Lot of Questions and Let the Client Speak!
The questions you ask are the key to unlocking everything. You can figure out their perceived value of what you do, find their pain points, and the details you need to consider when developing a bid. It also keeps them talking, allowing you to sit back and listen. People love to talk, by being a good listener, and having the time to do so, you can really observe the finer details and show your client that you care. But, you need to believe in this when you do it!
In one of my meetings, I learned through a lot of questions that my client was struggling to find a new employee for a specific area of the business. Because I allowed them to do the talking I learned about this unique pain point and was able to immediately help them solve this problem.
Many of us think that our client’s primary issue is “they need photography” but, that is only what is on the surface. There are other problems they need to solve that you can help with. Understand that good customer service doesn’t stop when your part is done.
Pay attention to the opportunities that are presented to you. Don’t only think about their photography-related problems, help wherever you can. Your attention and care will not go unnoticed and this is how you build a long-lasting partnership.
Present the Big Picture
Clients will often have a loose idea of what they need. They come to us for our expertise! This is an opportunity to suggest ways for them to maximize their investment and get the most out of our time. That’s why I have found designing a proposal with a bigger picture in mind can work to everyone’s advantage. Too many people think short term and I believe it is up to us to help our clients understand the value of additional planning. Try to find ways to turn one-off jobs into longer-term relationships.
For example, you can photograph a location once for an architect but, why not help them plan for multiple visits over the course of a year? You can showcase how the location is a work of art during all seasons at various times of the day. Not only does this give them more content but, it allows you the time to familiarize yourself with the location in greater depth. The more you visit a site, the more unique your shots can become. If you can show them something they haven’t noticed before, you will stand out.
If the client is very specific about their needs, then prepare the proposal based on their requirements while including options on how to take the project to the next level. Take extra time to research the variables and have breathing room on your estimates. You may be able to take a 3k job and turn it into 10k+ with a little extra preparation.
Educate Your Clients
Every photographer runs their business in a unique way. We all have different personalities, rate structures, and processes. It’s naive to assume a client who has hired photographers in the past will know everything about how you conduct business. This should be incorporated into your marketing content because it lets you prepare your prospective clients on how you “like” to conduct business. By doing this, you are in many ways manifesting your ideal client.
Another key reason to educate your clients is so they can go beyond your “about” page to learn more about you and your values. Through your online educational content, there will be many traces of what you believe to be important in a working relationship. You are essentially giving them a taste of what your process will be like. You will be sharing your personal voice and showing a level of authority in the industry. Images aren’t enough to sell yourself within a market that is saturated.
And if that isn’t enough of a reason, it will also drastically improve your SEO because alt text on images is not enough to help you organically rank online.
Honing Your Negotiation Skills
There are a lot of resources on negotiating with clients but, one of my favorite books on the subject “Never Split the Difference” By Chris Voss
To give you a brief back story, Chris Voss was an FBI hostage negotiator on some pretty high-stakes cases. Including the Chase Manhattan Bank robbery, Omar Abdel-Rahman/”The Blind Sheikh” case, and the TWA Flight 800 catastrophe. In more recent years he created the Black Swan Group and started teaching his skills on negotiation to business owners which is definitely less risky but, incredibly beneficial for the rest of us.
While our negotiations don’t involve dealing with terrorists and saving lives (hopefully) the skills Chris shares are valuable lessons for communicating with people. If they can work on someone who is completely off the rails with no rationale, there is a good chance it can work on your next photography proposal.
There are many things about his process that words can’t describe. So, I ended up signing up to watch his MASTERCLASS after completing the book. Through his class, you will develop a better understanding of using body language, tone of voice, and delivery during a mock negotiation.
White Flag Emails
I want to leave you with one last tactic for getting answers from the client who might be “ghosting” you. Even though the client doesn’t “owe” you a response, you might be able to make it easier for them to give you one. This is what I like to call a “White Flag Email”, you are essentially helping them surrender. This is your final follow-up and one that has worked for me many times. If you don’t get a response, just move on as you have done all you can at this point and clearly they don’t respect your time.
“Subject: Are you still interested?
I’ve tried to reach you a few times but, have been unable to connect. We don’t want to keep bothering you but, we wanted to check in to see if you are still considering our proposal or if you have chosen to go in a different direction? No worries if you have, just let us know as soon as you can so we don’t continue to take up your time.
If you don’t mind, we’d love to get a bit more clarity as to why you have chosen to go in a different direction so we know how to improve our service in the future.
Thanks in advance for your time!”
People usually ghost because they fear rejecting someone. With this email, you are essentially giving them the words to use to break your heart. It is also a little pushy but, that is usually what is required at this point. By mentioning “their time”, it’s a polite reminder that they are not being respectful of yours. This may not work in every situation and should be adapted to your own words. In many cases, this email gave the client a kick in the ass to start moving forward with the project. Either way, it is a solid attempt at gaining closure and has worked over and over again.
Finally, Experience and Practice Are Everything
Negotiations will get easier if you reflect and ask questions about why you didn’t land the job. If you ask the client directly, you may not always get an answer but, you’d be surprised how many clients are willing to give you that feedback.
I like to believe that losing the job to someone else can teach you more than winning… ONLY, if you take advantage of the opportunity to learn and use the critical feedback to your advantage.
Let us know what you’ve learned through bidding on jobs in the comments below. This is only part of what I have learned over the years and I feel we can learn a lot from each other. Your comments are of huge value to expand on our articles. So thank you in advance!