Q&A with an Oho : Branding & Client Experience, part two

I am having a hard time attracting the type of clients I want to serve in my business. How do you find clients you love and who love you?

If you missed Part One last week, I talked a lot about branding and why I branded the way I did. But this second half is about that unique client experience that only you can provide because I believe it is arguably the most important thing you can do for your business. So grab your second latte of the day; this is a long one.

One of the first photography books I ever read was Fast Track Photographer. In it the (awesome) author, Dane Sanders, spoke about building a business based on who you are because there is only one you in this world and no one can duplicate you. It sounds elementary but trust me when I say it took me two excruciating years and a lot of self-doubt to get to the point where I actually was building a business based on me.

That little idea, the little nugget of goodness, that no one can duplicate ME is a thread that runs through my entire business. It’s been repeated one million times in different words, but this is a crucial key of what I have built my client experiences out of.

From the time I first meet with my clients, I want them to feel special. Because they are. After a contract is signed, I want them to know how thankful I am to be their wedding vendor and how excited I am to get to work with them. I want them to love me and not just for vanity sake but because a great working relationship can only mean good things for everyone. I want them to be so pleased from the very beginning of their experience that before they even see an image for their wedding, they are referring me to their friends. After their wedding, I want to photograph their anniversaries, their births, their special moments and even their hard times. This is my goal in my business and everything I do from when I first meet a client to months after I’ve delivered a final product is to get to this end goal.

If this is not your goal, your client experience will look different than mine. But even if your end goal is exactly the same? Your client experience will still look different. And it should.

In Part One, I talked a little bit about how I struggled with looking at what my colleagues and friends were doing and trying to implement those same ideas into my business and how when I finally looked at my business, I didn’t recognize it. There were small parts of me in there – somewhere – but mostly it was a patchwork of ideas and concepts that didn’t reflect me AT ALL. And that terrified me because my business was headed down a path that I couldn’t control because I had so, so little to do with it. (That seems dramatic right? Hello. Welcome to MelissaOholendt.com. You’ve arrived.)

The reality is that the photography industry is saturated and if you are not doing anything to set yourself apart from the crowd in having a solid brand and exemplary client experience that only you can deliver, you will end up competing on price alone and more often than not, you will always lose that war. This is a tough industry to be in just based on the ease of entry and although it’s easy to get sucked into the “what everyone else is doing” bubble, there is nothing more dangerous.

In so many ways, branding and your client experience go hand in hand but they are also vastly different concepts. A brand is a creation; a visual representation to attract your target client and to tell your target client who you are. A client experience is almost always based purely on emotion and the age old customer service question, “At the end of the transaction, how did you make your client feel?”

Have I ever told you the story of the one time, three and a half years ago, I purchased a pair of the most gorgeous pair of blue, ombre, 5 inch, peep-toe Christian Louboutins on impulse? No? Well, I did. An eight hundred dollar pair of shoes for no good reason other than the sales assistant made me feel special on a day where I really needed to feel that way.

How is this experience any different than when we are approached by potential clients? I truly believe it’s not.

My client experience starts, literally, from the moment someone happens upon my website. Is my website fast enough so that this busy bride won’t give-up before the site has loaded and click out of the browser and onto the next photographer? Are my online galleries just pretty pictures or do they tell stories and evoke emotion? Is my client contact form easy to use and understand? If they prefer to email vs. use a contact form, can they do that? These branding items tend to evoke emotional responses (happiness vs. frustration that a website loads fast, pictures that evoke an heart emotion, ease of contact methods, etc) and can add or detract from your (potential) client’s experience and interpretation of your brand.

And even beyond my website “experience”, what about my client communication? I can’t tell you how many potential clients I meet with who tell me that over half of the wedding vendors they contact never email them back. If getting myself in front of a potential client is as simple as returning an email? I’m going to return that email. I know inquiries get lost and junk mail folders eat emails, those things cannot be helped, but if you are not returning phone calls and emails within a reasonable amount of time (and most times for me, that means 24 to 48 hours) you are risking losing that inquiry to someone who does.

Past that, to the first in-person client experience, my preferred way to meet people is over a bottle of wine because the majority of my most memorable dinners and greatest conversations with friends have been over a bottle of wine. Some of my favorite movies are about wine (Bottle Shock, anyone?). And because, quite frankly, I just really love wine. This is a side of my personality that has been integrated so solidly into my brand and client experience but it’s not the only way to do it. I have a great friend who meets potential clients at a tea shop because she adores tea. I have another friend who brings clients into her home and surrounds them with her family’s photos because her home is such a wonderful representation of her life. Just like my friends utilize locations that show who they are, I want these potential clients to remember the good time we had that evening over a bottle of wine getting to know each other because that is how my life actually is.

So now that I’ve attracted my wonderful target clients with my brand and initial client experience and they have just signed a contract (over wine); now what? Would it sound too simplistic to say, “just take really good care of them”?

Return their emails within 24 hours. If you promise, over deliver. Always. Make an effort to not be an added stress in their already stressful lives. Be on time. Keep in contact with them. Create wonderful photos for them. Deliver their files or prints in a well thought out and beautiful way. Be a really wonderful addition to their lives.

You will hear and read the phrase “adding value to your client’s lives” from branding experts and people at the top of their game. The first time I heard this, I mistook the phrase to mean adding a physical value for your client in ways of extra prints or products but I’ve come to realize that for me and my clients it’s more about emotional value. Yes, I do give little gifts but even those gifts are purposed to make my clients feel special, taken care of and really loved. Because that really is a representation of who I am.

You can do this. Think about the things that make you tick. What is your Love Language? What are your Strengths? Implement these things into your business. Utilize your strengths and make them a part of your client experience. If you love coffee and attract couples who love coffee? Include a 1lb bag of beans in your final file delivery. Make an effort to meet at a different local coffee shop every time you meet. Give them a gift card a month prior to their wedding to share a coffee date; just the two of them. There are a hundred million bajillion ways to do this, but it all starts with you.

A client who raves about their experience with you is more valuable than gold. The ability to hire a photographer to document a moment or time in a person’s life is a luxury so give them the best client experience of their lives and I promise, 9 times out of 10, you will have past clients who will tell anyone who will listen how great you are.

Which is kind of amazing if you ask me.

As always, if you have any questions you would like answered, feel free to email me at melissa@melissaoholendt.com anytime. Night or day. Day or night. Preferably day though.

(6) Comments

  1. This is AWESOME! Seriously…can we meet over a glass of wine soon? I will wear my biggest shoe splurge too!

  2. Jenna

    Thank you so much for sharing these posts!

  3. this is awesome :)

  4. I should have known! Note to self: save all “Q&A with an Oho” posts for after work otherwise you’ll spend 10 minutes wiping makeup and tears off your face.

    Thank you for sharing, M. you are the best and I am so blessed to learn from you :)


  5. This is perfection! Thank you, Melissa!!!

  6. Reese

    I found you via Liz Banfield’s instagram and I have truly enjoyed my time browsing through the art and content you’ve created. It’s a wonderful blend of inspiring, encouraging and realistic. You almost make wanted to move to MN to work with you. Almost, because as a Florida resident, I don’t think I’d enjoy those sub-zero winters. Thanks for sharing!