The Business of Boudoir »

Keep cool (and concise) when communicating with clients

clear-communication-lerner-openforum-338PINSeveral times a week, I come across a post from a boudoir photographer in a Facebook group that goes something like this:

  • “This woman emailed me and asked me why I’m so expensive. Doesn’t she know I need to feed my children?”
  • “OMG! She told me that x photographer only charges $$ for her session and it includes all of the digitals! WTF?”
  • “Are you kidding me? It’s on my website in 3 places. Can’t she READ???”

And inevitably, said photographer posts a comment with a long, defensive email draft that s/he’d like to send off to said client. We’ve all been there. But seriously: STOP. You’re getting yourself all worked up and bringing that energy to your business. And remember that every interaction you have with a client is a touchpoint to provide excellent customer service, even if she doesn’t choose to hire you.

Sometimes the answer is “Thank you and good luck.”

Before I was attracting my ideal client, I felt very defensive about my pricing. I was getting a lot of price shoppers, and because Denver is crowded with boudoir Groupon-like deals every week, some inquiring women were aghast at my $300 session fee. They’d tell me that so-and-so was only charging $. I even had one woman say, “How dare you charge that much!” My brain went WHOOSH! And I’d lose all sense of decorum.

  • I’d use confrontational words like if you’d read my pricing page on my website and it’s against my studio policy and sorry, but. Want to piss someone off? Use those phrases, especially at the start of the email.
  • I’d write really loooonnnng paragraphs and emails that were chock full of explanations about how my business works (and how many hours/dollars it takes) behind the scenes. Guess what? No one cares.
  • I’d go back and forth trying to “win” the conversation, and sully any chance of winning the client.

As I grew more confident in my work and my business, I stopped defending my prices and my policies. I know how much I need to charge to make the profit I need to make not only to sustain my business, but also to feed my children (human and ferrets) and pay myself a salary … so I can talk about prices without emotion. When I raised my prices, I also stopped getting as many price-shopping calls. When I do get them, I have simple answers … like:

Refer them on. “I totally understand how my luxury sessions look expensive. If I’m outside of your budget, that’s not a problem. I suggest calling photographers X, Y and Z. They are at a lower price point than I am and often run Groupon deals. Their work is solid, and I’d trust them to give you a good experience. If you change your mind, let me know and I’ll get you on my calendar.” (I usually offer them a mini-session before referring them.)

Let them go.  “Thanks for letting me know. I wish you the best of luck! Best wishes, Lynn.”

If I’m on the phone, I give very similar answers.

Notice that my longest answer is 70 words. Not a single answer should offend the potential client. None of them should read as defensive. I empathize in the first one, and in both I wish them luck.

Guess what? About a third of the time, these clients I refer on return to book me, and they tell me how classy I was to refer them. I do keep a list of three local photographers whose work is solid, seem to offer a good experience based on their reviews and are less expensive than I am.

Sometimes you’re not as clear as you think you are

02_stupid_things_clients_say_to_designersPINI’ve been a professional web copy writer for more than a decade. From reviewing dozens of small business websites, I’ve seen one thing:

You write way, way too much copy, in dense paragraphs, without using subheads and bullet points. This is especially egregious online and in email. It’s also pretty awful in written materials.

You’re right: People don’t read. And by people, I mean you, too. Have you read every single word of this blog post? Probably not. I bet you scanned the headlines, read the first part of each paragraph and bullet, noticed the words in italic and bold … and skimmed the rest.

So, if people don’t read, the onus is on you (or whoever is writing your website copy) to make it as easy as possible for them to scan and get the information they need. How do you do this?

Subheads that summarize what’s next or label what’s next. For example: What’s included in your session. Albums (followed by a brief description).

Bullet points that are short and to the point. See above. One sentence, thought or phrase.

Information presented with white space instead of dense blocks. Read on.

Which of these is easier to scan?

Example 1

Your boudoir session is a luxury experience that is filled with joy and laughter. You’ll feel like a super model! You’ll be pampered! You’ll get to play dress up! Before you come to my studio we’ll do a telephone styling consultation to talk about what to wear. When you arrive at my studio, we’ll put all of your items out on the bed. My studio is styled like a hotel suite, and I have a lot of sets to photograph you on. You get to be photographed in 3 plus your choice of implied nude or fine art nude. My awesome stylists will do your hair and makeup (squirrel). That will take about 90 minutes. Then we’ll get down to the photography. It will take us about 2 hours including changing time. I will coach you and guide you through every move and expression. When you’re done, we’ll look through all of the products I offer, which includes albums, wall art, desk art and digital collections. Then a week later you’ll come back to my studio to see your photographs and place your order. You’ll see about 45 fully edited images at that time, then it will take 3-4 weeks for your order to be in. My smallest album costs $625 and most people spend about $1500 on products. If you need your order before that, please be sure you tell me (rush fee may apply). To book your session, you need to pay your non-refundable session fee and sign my studio policies. I bet you didn’t even read this whole thing.

Example 2

My luxury boudoir sessions include:

  • A complimentary makeover: Professional hair styling, makeup application and must-have false eyelashes from one of my amazing artists
  • Refreshments throughout your shoot
  • Photography in 3 outfits, including a “white sheets” or fine art nude set
  • A wide variety of sets in my hotel-suite-styled studio
  • Wardrobe guidance before your session and wardrobe styling at your session
  • Hands-on coaching and direction for every move and expression
  • Fully retouched proofs to purchase a la carte at your in-person gallery reveal and ordering appointment

Session Fee: $425

Albums, fine art displays and digital portrait collections are available for purchase at your ordering appointment. Albums start at $625. Most clients invest $1500+ in their entire boudoir experience, including session and  products.

A $425 non-refundable reservation fee is due to book your session date. Please allow at least 5 weeks between your session day and the deadline for receiving products to avoid rush charges. I offer boudoir sessions on Thursday, Friday and every-other Saturday.

***

Example 1 is 252 words long and includes all of the information. The width of this page is about 1000px and that text displays as 13 dense lines in a single paragraph on my 23″ computer. I haven’t looked at it on my phone because I’m scared to.

Example 2 is 175 words long and includes all of the in Example 1 information. It displays as 16 lines with lots of white space. It’s scannable.

When I used Example 1 on my website (kinda sorta), I would get so many questions, and as a result become very frustrated that people don’t read. When I switched to Example 2, my inquires generally tell me that my website was easy to read and they have all of the information they need. They occasionally have a few questions that are more about testing the waters to see how we click and whether they can trust me. And then, they book me.

AND! You can use these same techniques in your emails, prep guides, and other printed pieces.

How do you know if your website is difficult to read and understand?

  • You get a lot of “dumb” questions. Try using bulleted lists and subheads to ward this off.
  • You have big blocks of copy. Try to keep paragraphs no longer than 3 lines, 4 at the most. Unlike college essays, your paragraphs do not require topic and supporting sentences.
  • You use a tool to test your site’s readability and get a bad score. This is a good post for learning more.

Sometimes you just need canned answers

When you find yourself writing the same response over and over again, it’s time to write some canned answers. When you find yourself going “whoosh” when you get certain emails, it’s also time to write some canned answers.

Keep them in Word or a Google doc or whatever you use for word processing. When you need one, copy, paste, add some friendly opening and closing language, and send. Done.

I use stock answers all the time. Most are straight out of the Frequently Asked Questions page on my website. Others are finessed to remove contentious and defensive language. No one will know. It’s OK.

Sometimes you just need to vent and send (but not to the inquirer or client)

My friend Laurel has become my sounding board. When I get upset in this situation, sometimes I’ll write everything that I want to say (usually started with Dear dumbass who doesn’t read), write the subject line, and send it to her. Sometimes just getting it all out in email and having the satisfaction of hitting send is enough to satisfy and calm me down. I’ll let her know at the top if I want her feedback (usually do I sound like a total bitch? Do I have any salient points?).

I have never sent that email to a client, and Laurel’s sage, calm, detached viewpoint helps me see things from a client side and tell me when I’m right. (This also works when you want to send a pissed off email to your spouse/lover/etc.)

And sometimes you need to pick up the phone instead of writing an email

Even after decades of email use, it’s tricky to pick up tone in an email. What I write with a spirit of teasing and sarcasm could come off as my being a royal bitch. Emoticons can help, but they’re not very professional. For that reason, I’m a big proponent of picking up the phone.

It’s a personal and unexpected touch. Tone is clear. It takes much less time. And I’ve usually had better outcomes–I’m less frustrated and so is the person I’m calling.

I’ll look at appropriate canned answers and sometimes even write out the points I need to address. I write down 2-3 possible solutions, what I’m willing to do (or give in to) and what I won’t.I use empathetic words. And I find that the resolution usually comes easier.

Also, there’s something to be said about not having a paper trail. It’s often good to move through, let go and move on. If I try to reach someone by phone and they won’t answer, I’ll send a brief email asking them to call me (I’d like to talk by phone so I can answer all of your questions. I think it may take 10 minutes of your time). If I don’t hear back from them within a few days, I’ll send an email too.

Are you ‘whooshing’? Read this post again

I hope you’ve found this post helpful! If you have any questions, please write a comment or email me at lynn@lynnclarkportraits.com. I’m happy to help you.

Lynn Clark

Lynn Clark is co-founder of The Business of Boudoir. She's a boudoir and portrait photographer in Denver, Colo. with a mission to help every woman bare her beauty ... and leave with an amazing photo of her own ass (because let's be honest, we ALL want an amazing photo of our own asses.) She brings 25 years of communications background in writing, websites, public relations and strategy to The Business of Boudoir. She's also available for 1 on 1 website evaluation, content creation and editing.

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