Business Success, Part 5 – On Instincts & First Impressions

This is the fifth post in my six-part series, “How I Sold $100K My First Year in Business.” Takeaways #7 & #8 from my first-year success in the wedding photography business are:

#7. I trusted my instincts. When I first started my photography business, I shot and sold in the way that felt right for me — and it turns out my instincts were pretty good. (This was before I started listening to other photographers and following industry advice. More on that later.)

Regarding sales, the first rule is listening. This Forbes article is a good summary of how I approached the sales process. After hellos and small talk, the first question I asked every client was along the lines of, “What do you envision for your wedding day?” or “What are you looking for in your wedding photography?” Questions like this not only take the pressure off you to present but they also make your prospective client feel special and heard. I was also honest about my style and, if what someone wanted didn’t sound like what I could deliver, I offered referrals to other photographers.

My natural tendency was toward very relaxed, relationship-focused photography. I enjoyed watching genuine interactions between people and capturing the pinnacle of each moment. My best referral source for portraits—a transplant from California to Virginia, and a lady I still call my “super fan”—had been looking for exactly that style and couldn’t find it locally until she found me. She was very clear on what she wanted and she loved her session results, so she subsequently referred me to lots of folks.

After my initial business success, you’d think I would have continued to trust my instincts. But I was young and still learning, and so when a more experienced peer told me that people prefer tender, camera-aware images of their children, I listened to her. And that was just the start of my struggles. Listening to other photographers and accepting common industry advice—instead of my own wisdom—led me to burnout and is part of the reason I’m no longer a photographer. For more lessons from my burnout, check out this post. But, for now, let’s move on to more secrets of my success.

Photo by Rubin Starset. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Photo by Rubin Starset. Licensed under Creative Commons.

#8. I looked and acted the part. Whether we like it or not, first impressions matter! When you’re asking someone to trust you enough to spend their hard-earned money with you, you have to look and act appropriately. Even if you work at home in your pajamas, when you meet with clients you have to look like you’ve come from a professional environment. As a creative entrepreneur, this doesn’t necessarily warrant a suit or full-on interview attire, but remember that this is your only chance to demonstrate that that you are a professional and that you’ll fit in at their event. This seems obvious, but I’m frequently surprised by what people consider appropriate work attire and etiquette. (As an example, if you smoke, you might want to skip that nicotine fix right before meeting a prospect. Is it worth the risk that they’ll find the smell offensive? You decide.)

For more, check out this post on how professional dress affects your productivity. 

We’re almost done with my six-part series on business success. Any burning questions remaining before the final post goes up next week? Let me know in the comments.





If you missed a post in my “Business Success” series, here they all are in order:

My Biggest Business Mistakes (er, Learnings) » - […] of these has served me particularly well in business. As I mentioned in my business success series, trusting my intuition always worked out […]