In a world where everybody wants more for less, it’s hard to justify spending money on things which may or may not make your clients happier. I have always been a believer in the idea that you need to spend money to make money, yet I find other photographers are very split on this subject. I know photographers who are proud that they use the same camera and laptop they bought 5 years ago citing that their clients aren’t complaining so it must be working just fine.
I am of the mindset that it is important to stay up to date with the newest technologies and to always continue to adapt my business to changing times. Since I will never be a franchise business and be able to expand my business in that way, I must be efficient with my time and workflow: I only have so much time in the day and so many days in a year I can be out shooting jobs. The efficiency of new technologies has made my job easier, which in turn makes my clients’ lives easier and in my opinion are worth every penny.
I have a few TV screens throughout my studio where my clients can view the photos I’m shooting live so that they don’t have to walk over by the computer to review an image. This allows them to stay seated and get work done while the creative crew is working on the shoot. God knows that these days your clients have much more on their plate than just the photo shoot they are on at the moment, and I realize that. Too many photographers are only asking what their clients can do for them, but I find the better question is, “What else can I do for my clients?”
I have a few clients who travel to NYC to shoot with me, sometimes for weeks at a time. It can be very hard on them being away from home for so long since they have family responsibilities waiting for them. In order to help alleviate this problem, I sat down and put my mind to work. I designed a system using readily available technologies which allow my clients to view the shoot I'm doing in the studio live from anywhere in the world as long as they have decent Internet access or cell phone signal.
While I liked this idea of a remote viewing of the shoot, it still wasn’t enough for me: I added the ability to video conference with them to discuss the photos I’m taking live as well. This ability to view the creative process unfolding, not just see the final images, really helped speed things up when working with a client remotely. Usually the first response you get when sending a client a final image in an email is "I like it, but did you try this?". With the system I’ve setup, they can see what we’re trying as we’re trying it, not just the final image.
Is this just as good as having the client in the studio? No... but this system has been proven to work beautifully and I think as technology continues to improve there may be a day where the client doesn’t always need to come to the shoot unless they prefer to do so. This device I put together is saving my out of town clients money, making them happier, and making photo shoots with remote clients go much faster than before. This makes me happy.
There are hundreds of ways to make clients happy. The obvious way is to take amazing photographs when they hire you. This is the aspect photographers concentrate most of their time on and with good reason. If you don’t do this one thing right then you’re probably not getting hired again, period. In order to differentiate myself from my competition I also concentrate on all the other things I could be doing to make my clients happy: What services could I offer to make their life easier? Do they need a landline with a speakerphone so they can do conference calls while on the shoot? Do they have a particular beverage they prefer? Do they need me to store their merchandise for a week after the shoot?
Another popular way to make clients happy is to cut your day rate or give them more images for the same amount of money they were paying before. This is particularly true amongst young photographers. But to what avail? Once you cut your rates, what's stopping them from asking you to cut them more? Once you say that you'll shoot 20 shots per day instead of 15 what's stopping you from giving them 25? This is a very slippery slope and I'm not going to stand here saying that I have never done either of these things, because it’s not true. There is always some give in take when it comes to negotiating with clients, I just try to do as much as possible so that I can easily justify that I'm worth the money I charge. I'll tell you one thing, once you cut your rate it's very difficult to get that money back.
So am I saying every photographer needs to stay up with new technologies? No, not necessarily. For some, it’ll depend on the kind of photographer they are and the kind of clients they have… but still I wonder: If companies like Fuji, Canon, J.P. Morgan Chase, or General Motors stopped adapting to what their clients wanted, do you think they would still be here today? If Paramount decided they don’t want to make movies in 3D like other studios are doing, do you think their profits would go down? We need to ask ourselves if we are doing enough for our clients, and if we can do more for them.