Look the Part
Looks aren’t everything, but they are something. A first contact with a client sets the tone for your entire business relationship, so it’s important to get it right the first time whenever possible. The best way to do this is to present yourself as neutrally as possible (without misrepresenting your style) until you get a good feel for your client.
Once you’ve spent a little time getting to know them as a person, you can loosen up if you feel it’s appropriate, but if you start out too casual it is a lot harder to walk it back. It can take a little practice to find the right balance between friendly and businesslike, so keep a journal of your first contacts, follow-ups, and the results of those interactions to help you process what your clients find engaging versus off-putting.
Although it may not seem fair on a personal level, a large part of a good first impression is based on appearance. This doesn’t disqualify you from success if you can’t afford a different three piece suit or fancy dress for every day of the week, but good hygiene and self-awareness convey competence, and competence is what we all want when we hire a professional.
Remember that you are not selling yourself here, you are selling your services. You are allowing your photography room to speak. In short, just be the most approachable and put-together version of yourself.
That goes beyond what you are wearing and the things you say; your equipment and the way you transport it can speak volumes about the service you’re providing. Leave your home office a graveyard of lens caps and fast food wrappers if that’s how you roll, but try to keep your on-site kit as organized as possible. Not only will it give the visual that you have your stuff together, you won’t be digging around for the right lens while your subject waits. Perform regular maintenance on your bags and equipment, even if that just means a quick wipe down between shoots. If you’re going to personalize with stickers, patches, and so on, make sure your choices will not be offensive to your target clientele.
If there is one thing that is non-negotiable about client relations, it is good communication. Listen to their ideas and concerns before inserting your own take on a project to make sure they feel heard and understood. Convey with your body language that you are engaged and interested. Make it easy for them to find you if they lose your information by setting up a dedicated email address for your photography endeavors.
Responding to inquiries promptly and professionally is key to converting potential clients into steady work, so consider allowing push notifications from that account to whatever device you have with you most often. A potential client’s Google search for your area probably turned up pages of options, many of which they are contacting at the same time, so time is of the essence!
Make Sure You Look Good Online, Too
You can utilize SEO to make your name appear as high in their search results as possible, but if you don’t respond in a timely manner you may still lose out on important opportunities. Make sure that when they click on your name it sends them to a well-structured site with a portfolio of your best work and testimonials from happy clients.
Check the mobile version of your site before publishing, as this is the version most of your potential clients will probably see first. Spring for an easy-to-remember domain name (for example: www.phlearn.com rather than www.phlearn-photography.freedomainname.com) and correspond it as closely as possible with your email address. You can go with a free email service if you prefer, or you can add another layer of professionalism with a custom domain at the end of the address.
Your social media accounts should also reflect your personal style in a professional but approachable way. Most social media outlets will note for your followers how quickly you respond to messages, so try to be on top of submissions and inquiries. If you get rude or inappropriate comments, have them deleted (or reviewed, if you don’t have that option) and if you feel the need to respond, do so by private message. A reply to a public post will generally also be public, so let other potential clients see you rising above instead of spiraling down a rabbit hole.