At least once a day, I'll see a post in one of the Facebook groups I frequent for photographers that relates to policies. The interesting thing is that I don't think the photographer always realizes that, and I definitely don't think we, as creative entrepreneuresses, always realize it's even a branding thing!
"Please help me figure out how to answer this client's tough question!"
"My client asked me to do something different than our contract. Help!"
"How do I tell this client 'no' if I don't want to do this?"
The responses run the gamut from "Be the hero! Do it all!" to "Fire that client!" oftentimes in the same post! Things get heated, and the original poster oftentimes leaves the conversation as confused as she came! The main thing I hear in the end, (quite honestly, especially from the women), is "But we want repeat business, right? In the end, we want our clients to be happy and to refer us."
That sounds right, but is it? Before I even answer that, let's answer this:
How is this even a branding issue?
This is either REALLY obvious to you or it REALLY isn't. But big businesses know it's a branding thing. Part of branding is creating a company culture that means clients know what to expect from working with you. Big brands like Target and Neiman Marcus even have classes new hires go through to learn the policies and procedures- the culture of the business.
So how does this apply to you as a much smaller business?
Clients prefer to know what to expect from a business.
Think about this- you're not just an entrepreneur; you're a consumer, as well. Imagine buying from Neiman Marcus without knowing their return policy. And if I had to guess, you choose some businesses over others based on the experience their policies offer.
And here's a hard fact. If clients don't know or understand your policies, they'll either take their business elsewhere, or they'll decide to make the rules themselves and tell you what they expect. Now, granted, creating firm policies won't save you from difficult clients. Those are going to happen. But they WILL help you keep from floundering when difficult questions are asked so that regular clients become difficult clients.
So back to that question.
Do we want happy, repeat clients no matter what?
I would argue what we really want is clients who want what we have to offer, appreciate what we do, and are willing to pay the price we need them to in order to be financially successful. What those clients want is to have their expectations met and even exceeded.
There is no way to meet or exceed expectations that are not put into place!
I see the questions whirling around in your mind. How do I identify and find these clients? What policies do I need to put into place? How do I make all of this work, so I'm not re-inventing the wheel every time someone asks a question?
Unfortunately, I can't universally answer that right here and now for everyone. I do have products and branding consultation packages available to help you with that, but I can't even begin to answer these questions for you without any information on the type of business you want to build. I can tell you a little bit about what this looks like in my own business, however.
Here's a super quick overview of the experience I provide in my photography business, The Roaring Artist:
Policies: I specialize in women's portraiture. I will give you personal time and attention, and together we will create an awesome shoot for you at a location that we choose. The shoot will last about 2 hours. A couple of weeks after your session, we'll get together for you to view your edited portraits. I'll show you awesome products, and we'll talk about how you would most like to enjoy your portraits.
Expectations: An outdoor portrait session that will feel like an adventure and produce beautiful products that can be enjoyed for years.
The Tough Questions I've received:
"Will you give me all of the files?"
"Can you photograph my whole family?"
"Can we do the photo session in a studio?"
"Can I see the unedited files?"
"If we just do a 1 hour session, can I get half off?"
"My policy is to provide awesome products to my clients. I've been able to use my training in printing procedures to choose the best products and ensure their quality for years to come!"
"I've chosen to specialize in only shooting women. I've made myself an expert on this specialization, and this is the only photographic service I provide. However, I would be happy to recommend some awesome photographers who do shoot families!"
"Part of my style and what makes my work special is the on-location nature of my work. I've worked in studios, but I just don't feel the same spark from my work when using artificial lighting. I would be happy to recommend some awesome studio photographers, though!"
"Part of my style is my editing. I could in no way guarantee a product in keeping with the quality and style my business promises if I handed over unedited files. Just... no. "
"As I have carefully set up my portrait package, from beginning to end, to ensure the experience I promise, I am unable to make any changes to the price or the timing."
Hopefully that little bit of insight has been a bit helpful. In reading it, I'm sure you can see that I don't personally believe that reeling in clients and making them be happy no matter what is the end all for a successful business. I'm happy to refer out if someone is not my client or needs something I do not provide.
Quite simply, my policies are tools to preserve my sanity and to ensure that my clients have the experience my business promises.
I would love to hear your experiences with policies! Tell me all about them in the comments!
And if you're ready to make some big changes to your brand, including your policies, you're not in this alone! Reach out and let me help you!