One of the questions I get asked the most is about how I structure my sessions. Everyone is going to do this a little differently and you will find what works best for you. It will change over time as you get to know your business and clients. I have at least four points of contact with my clients. Every time, no exceptions, I am going to spend the next four weeks going over each step in my structure. It took my four years to really figure it out so hopefully this will help you figure it out a lot faster. I prefer to have as much contact in person as possible. If you are working from your home this may not be possible. Each step will work for face to face or phone interactions. Just make the obvious tweaks if needed. And I am also skipping the initial contact which is almost always going to be the phone call from the client inquiring about your services. A successful phone inquiry is going to lead to the following:
I love meeting my new and potential clients in person in my cozy studio. It allows for a more personal experience and a chance to put my work right on front of them. It also provides an opportunity for me to see them and get an idea about their style and personality. I get to ask questions that will help me make sure they get the session they really want. The questions I ask are basically the same for each client. Here are some examples of my favorites:
1. Who will be in the photographs? If they just want the newborn in the pictures I will suggest that we get a few with mom and/or dad, siblings, etc. If they are camera shy I will suggest using their hands only. I can almost always get some kind of relationship photos that will lead to a bigger sale. I am always planting ideas about what products they will be presented in the sales session. If it is a family portrait I need to know ages and names and something special about each member of the family. Everyone in the family is going to be more comfortable with me if I show up to the session knowing their names and a little something about them. If there are going to be babies or young children I need to be prepared with toys and treats.
2. What will you be using these portraits for? In October I get lots of Christmas Card sessions. These will almost always be cards and a large family portrait print. If it is a newborn it is going to be birth announcements and prints for grandparents and the baby's room. I like to have clients bring pictures of their home and the walls they are wanting to utilize. I can better prepare them for what sizes they will want. This is also important while I am shooting. I need to know whether they need portrait or landscape orientations. This is the point where I start suggestions albums and collages and other products that will allow them to have as many photos in a print form as possible. Go ahead and make sure they know they are going to love all of the images. Give them some ideas to alleviate the anxiety of having to choose at the sales session.
3. What will everyone be wearing? Now, they may have been planning this for months or they may have not considered it at all yet. Either way, this question will lead to more than a discussion about clothes. Colors say a lot about a client. Are they bright and happy and ready for anything? Or are they more formal, planning on dresses and suits? This information will help you determine appropriate locations, posing, props, and how crazy you can get. You do not want to be in an outdoor location with only rocks and grass to sit on if the family is formally dressed. You never want your client to feel uncomfortable. It's hard to get natural smiles in that situation. Just to be sure, I will have the client go home and text me pictures of the outfits. If they have not yet decided you have had a bit of time to get to know them at this point and can make suggestions. Have some outfit suggestion pictures to show them Some people will need more help than others.
4. What else would you like me to know about you, your family, your child, your expectations? Never ask the question "What do you want your sessions to be like?" Just assume they don't know. After asking the previous questions you may already know all that you need to. This last question is just to give the client an opportunity to bring up anything else they may have thought of during your conversation. You should now have a session scheduled with a date, time, and location. Make sure you understand each other and that you have each others contact information.
Now it's your responsibility to plan and prepare for that client's session. Make sure you take their desires and needs into account so that they know you were listening and care about them. Next time we'll talk about your second point of contact, the session. Where all the magic happens!