guest post by Matt Hollingsworth
Today was the third and final day of Mike’s San Luis Obispo photography workshop. After spending two intense days with each other, the 16 participants had really bonded and we are beginning to get to know each other on a deeper level. By the end of this final day, we all felt like we share a common bond that you only experience as you go through challenges and periods of growth with other people – like we have been through the trenches together, as it were.
In fact, as you have seen me mention already in my first two posts, a big theme of this workshop is relationships – the relationship we have with God, the relationships we have with our team, the relationships we have with our clients, and now the relationships we have with our peers. Mike’s business is centered around relationships, and he has both instructed and demonstrated the importance of each one of these relationships in our lives as a business owner.
After the creative and inspiring photoshoot we did the night before, Mike began today by opening up Lightroom and walking us through the images of a recent engagement shoot he did.
He talked about his mindset as he approached each shot, any inspiration he had, why he used a certain lens, and how he setup the shot. We discussed the interactions he had with the couple as he shot – e.g. how he directed the guy to position his arm a certain way around the girl’s shoulder to better flatter the appearance of her head and neck. We all asked a lot of questions and Mike basically opened up his entire thought process to us and execution of the shoot.
I can’t overstate the value of this walk-through discussion for me, and other similar types of sessions I’ve experienced recently. If you’ve ever seen an amazing photo and said “wow”, if you’re a photographer one of the next questions you probably ask is “how did he or she do that?” The how is definitely important and as we talked about yesterday, the “how” requires mastery at a technical level.
But I think what we really need to know many times is not the “how” but the “why”. Our manuals explain how to set every feature and setting on our cameras, but they don’t very well tell us why we would ever use a particular setting. The “how” is the technical, the “why” is the art. A master must know the “how” and the “why” and make the camera work for him or her. Being able to have instruction during a photoshoot and then to discuss the thought process with Mike was such a powerful way of learning.
After the engagement shoot “how” and “why” discussion, we moved on to talk about some important yet simple Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques. Being easily accessible when people are looking for you – i.e. on Google – obviously means it’s easier for potential clients to connect with you. But it’s also important for people to find you when they aren’t looking for you specifically. Mike talked about some easy things we can do as photographers to enhance our findability, and I’ll share the highlights here:
Following the talk about SEO, Chloe from Mike’s team came to talk to us about the sales and client management processes they have put in place. Essentially, it all revolves around using the ShootQ studio management service that was developed exclusively for photographers by photographers. Chloe showed us how they use some of the unique features of ShootQ to track leads, manage tasks between all the members of Mike’s team, follow-up on time with clients, review and electronically sign contracts, send invoices and integrate with a merchant gateway to accept credit card payments, and even more. I personally have been using ShootQ for about 9 months and even for a one-person business like mine it has proven to be a tool that I can’t live without. You can sign up for a free trial on their website to try it out for yourself.
Chloe also talked about her role in the process of initially meeting with potential clients and how she approaches that as an opportunity to educate and set Mike’s business apart from other photographers. Mike continued the theme with us by walking us through a mock bridal consultation.
Establishing trust between you and your potential client is the paramount objective of the discussion. Think about your own purchasing experiences and how you feel and respond to different ways that salespeople present themselves. When the salesperson is confident, knowledgeable and genuinely makes an effort to listen and understand you, you know it right away and feel safe talking to them more. But we all know that feeling of trying to make a purchase when, like the innocent wildebeest grazing on the plain only to find itself suddenly pursued by a ravenous lionness, we fall into the clutches of a hungry salesman interested only in extracting the maximum possible number of dollars from our wallet.
Don’t do that to your clients. Spend the first part of your sales consultations asking questions, listening, finding connection points between you that have nothing to do with photography. Pay attention to their body language and find ways to put them at ease if they are nervous. Study body language if you are not skilled in reading and understanding it. Research your clients and get to know something about them before the meeting so that you can find ways to meet their needs.
Then, after you have established trust and a relationship with them, turn the conversation towards photography and the service that you offer. The best and most memorable forms of communication are usually stories, so find ways to tell about your services in terms of stories. Show an album, but take the leadership in the discussion to walk your potential client through the story of the album rather than letting them flip through pages while halfway listening to you.
Present yourself in the best possible – but completely truthful – way to your clients. Convey to them the experience and skill that you have, and not the experience that you don’t have. Then, find a way to wow your clients, as I talked about yesterday. Make sure you can give your clients something to remember you by. If you set out to make a genuine connection with those you’re meeting with and see them as people with needs you may be able to meet rather than just as dollars you may be able to get into your bank account, you will foster the trust required to ultimately have a satisfied client who can’t help but refer you.
You’ll see that I’ve already mentioned several people in addition to Mike that were part of teaching in this workshop. Mike actually had most of the members of his team come and walk us through their area of expertise and specific part of the business they work in throughout the two days of teaching.
Next up was Rachel, who manages the bookkeeping for the Studio and, more importantly, is Mike’s wife.
Rachel went through the financial processes and checklists that his business uses to effectively manage their money. One of the key strategies Rachel employs is batch-processing: grouping similar types of jobs together and setting a regular time to do them to be more efficient. For example, try paying all bills on Mondays, making bank deposits on Tuesdays, etc.
Necia then came in as the final member of Mike’s team to present to us.
Necia handles all the album design and follow-up with clients that involves. She shared how she uses PhotoJunction to efficiently design albums, and talked about some considerations in shooting photos that will be most effective in an album. She then demoed the AlbumExposure service they use for online client reviews of albums.
As I reflect back on these individual topical presentations by Mike’s team, I’m struck by 2 things. First, how well each person knows their stuff – they each possess expertise and a high level of skill in their specific areas. That’s impressive for us getting this behind-the-scenes look at the studio, but it must also be impressive to clients as they interact with each of these people. And, each one is a photographer as well in their own right, shooting weddings and portraits with the studio.
But something else makes an even bigger impression on me as I watched and listened to them these past few days. The best word I can think of to describe it is unity. I listened and specifically noted how each team member, all on their own and in unique ways, related their job to the core values of relationship, trust, service, and Godly principles that Mike has described as the core of his business. Every person was on the same page. Each person clearly supported the rest of the team and built each other up.
This unity was taught to us not with words, not on a chart or in an app, but with real – and no doubt unintentional – examples. How many businesses do you know where at least 6 people contribute their own unique personalities and skills, but in such a totally harmonious and mutually supportive way that you can actually feel it?
Mike actually spent one of the final discussion of the day talking about how to build a team. Most importantly, you have to be crystal clear on the vision and purpose of your business. You have to have it written down so everyone who works with you can read it and refer to it in all the decisions they will make and actions they take on behalf of your business.
How do you decide when to outsource something, or bring on someone to help with the business? Make sure you have a list of what you want to do and what you don’t want to do in your business. Start with the things on your don’t-want-to-do list, but make sure you plan for paying someone. When you hire a new person, you take a temporary pay cut. But the keys to making the hiring decision ultimately effective for your business are to invest the time and effort in mentoring and training that person in well-defined responsibilities, and to have the discipline to use the extra time you eventually will have to further develop your business.
As the in-studio time drew to a close and we prepared to head out to our final photoshoot, Mike encouraged us with a few final thoughts that I’ll share:
We then spent the rest of the day on a bridal shoot, with two awesome ladies and one great guy – a couple whose wedding Mike photographed a couple of years ago, and another great model. As you can see from some of the images below, we got do utilize some of the wonderful environment in San Luis Obispo, do some night shooting, and continue our hands-on learning from Mike.
After the images I’ll share my final thoughts…