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WPP 103 - Be An Outstanding Wedding Photographer By Listening To Your Clients

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OVERVIEW:

One of the most important characteristics of an outstanding wedding photographer is communication - listening to what your clients want and applying this in the way you capture their special day. A couple has probably selected you because they love your work, but it takes more than just showing up on their wedding day to leave a lasting impression that will see them referring you to all their friends.

From the very first moment they send you an inquiry, are you really listening to what they envision for their dream wedding and the individual elements that are important to them? Are there particular concerns they have about photography or did one of their friends have a bad experience that has left doubts in their mind?

In this episode, we'll chat about why you should be listening to your clients and how this information can be applied to capture gorgeous photos. Perhaps there’s a family heirloom they are incorporating into their wedding that is particularly sentimental or they have a special relationship with one of their family members that they want documented. By delving a little deeper to know what is meaningful to them, you’ll be able to craft stunning photos that will exceed their expectations.

 

TRANSCRIPTION:

So wedding photographers, this is something that’s very innate in me, something I’m very passionate about. It’s not like, “oh, I’m going to wake up this morning and I’m going to listen to my couples” or after the first year of being a wedding photographer. No, absolutely not. When it comes to listening what your brides and grooms want, this should be built inside of us from the very moment that we want to do wedding photography. It shouldn’t be something that takes years of training and preparation. This should just be something we genuinely want to do.

I know for some of us, this might sound like a no-brainer. Like “what do you mean Henry, of course I’m listening to my couples. I’m understanding what they want and what they’re expecting out of their photography.” And even other concerns that might have when it comes to their wedding day. Well, that’s good. This is more like a refresher. But for others, now especially if you are starting out. I really want this to be inside of our minds and in the front of it. This is a great way for you to stand out among your competitors, among the other photographers.

 

How being a good listener can give you an “unfair advantage”.

When you’re beginning in wedding photography, you’re not going to have a lot of images, experience and reputation. So for the few times you do get inquiries and hopefully a meeting, this is where listening goes a long way and how you can stand out. So I’m especially talking to the photographers out there that are just starting out.

Another thing in general that I mentioned in the beginning is that maybe sometimes after years of doing this, we might sort of forget, like hey, I’ve been doing wedding photography for many years, this is something I’m very familiar with and experienced. I don’t really need to ‘listen’ to my couples. They hired me for a reason, they love my work, my style of photography. They trust me. They know my reputation. I’m just going to be able to show up, turn on the camera and do what I’m great at. No, not necessarily. Even in that case, just because a couple hires you, doesn’t mean you can stop listening to them and, especially, what they want. Don’t assume that just because they chose you, that they want everything that you do and there’s nothing else.

So that’s another reason I want to talk about this. It’s kind of like a little bit of a secondary check. Hey, wait a minute, let’s not forget to ask questions and insure we’re on the same page as our couples. In addition to those reasons why I want to hone this in and this is something that I feel like for me is kind of one of my unfair advantages that I talked about a couple of episodes ago. Not saying that other photographers don’t listen. We all do that, perhaps different degrees. But I know for me (I’m not going to speak for others), I really try to not only listen, but ask questions and remember what my couples have told me. Not just when it comes to photography but their story, how they met, what they like to do together, how they got engaged. And of course when it comes to the wedding day, what are their plans, what’s really important to them, what isn’t as important to them, what do they want to remember and what do the photos really mean to them?

That’s something that for me these days, especially as many of you know that about 60/70% of my bookings are all online, they’re through emails, a few phone calls. A lot of my couples I don’t even say a single audio word to them until their engagement session or a month or two before their wedding when we have our final meeting. So even in that case, I’m still listening to them. Even if it’s an email, it’s a phone call, a Skype meeting. It doesn’t always have to be in person.

So this is definitely that (dare I say it) I am proud of. That no, I don’t have anything fancy and when I focus on a bride and groom that’s getting married, I’m giving them my undivided attention. When I have a meeting with them, it’s not just for the sake of having a meeting. When I want to show up a little bit earlier before we start their engagement session and get to know them, it’s not because well, that’s what I’m supposed to do. No, I genuinely want to do that. Getting to know them, their story, having them feel comfortable around me and the camera. That’s the level of trust and confidence that I want to build. Not just for myself, but also for the bride and groom so that way they feel like they made the right choice in their photography. That’s been one of the most humbling feelings and, yeah, probably because I heard this a couple of times in the last few months, it got me to talking about this in this particular episode.

I just had three engagement sessions and all three of those couples I had never met in person and one was through email, another was through Skype. So we never met face-to-face. They found me online and we met for the first time in-person at the engagement session. And no, it’s not the wedding day, it’s the engagement session, so I understand that. After the engagement session was over, even before they saw any sneak peeks or galleries, they emailed me and told me how they were so glad they hired me and that they made the right decision and that throughout the shoot, that it was really fun getting to share their story and get to know me a little bit and they really felt comfortable around me.

So even though, in that case, it’s the engagement session, not the wedding, the idea, the principles are still there. Which is not just listening (as in this title) but engaging, asking questions, genuinely caring about what your couples are saying, what they’re looking for. And also for that matter, why they hired you. This is also something that’s really important is for ourselves and our business. It’s good to know exactly why a couple actually did hire you. Not just, oh they found you online or through a referral. Oh, they hired me because they like my work obviously. But let’s dig a little bit deeper and that’s another reason why listening to what your couples want is very much beneficial. It really helps everybody.

 

The Three Ps of wedding photography.

And touching a little bit more on that, long-time listeners, particularly those that have subscribed to my business training videos, will know when I talk about the Three Ps of wedding photography business. Photography itself, the pricing and personality. Connecting to what I mentioned earlier, when we’re starting out or looking for something to make us stand out, taking the time to give quality customer service and specifically, listening to what prospective couples want is going to help you stand out. In this case, with the Three Ps - personality. They’ve got to be comfortable with you. But part of that personality is how you engage with your engaged couples. You don’t need to be in a fancy retail space or studio (even though I had one before). You don’t have to be a super-duper well-know reputable wedding photographer that’s been doing this for many years. You could be somebody starting out, that’s trying to make a name for themselves. But the fact of the matter is, paying close attention to what your couples are saying, what they want, listening. That is something that you could really use to showcase what a great photographer and individual you are.  To gain that trust and confidence of a prospective couple.

So that personality of the Three Ps, that’s where this falls into. Forget about the quality of your photography, what you’re charging and all. This is specifically you and the couple engaging with one another, the communication. How confident they end up feeling to hire you and hopefully that is the case, especially after a client meeting.

 

The importance of involving both parties.

One other thing that I want to mention before I forget this one and then we’re going to get into the whole process from the moment I get a prospective couple’s email to well after their wedding day. How is it that I listen to what my couples one. Well, one thing I want to mention is to make sure you include both parties, as in both the bride and the groom (or if there’s two grooms or two brides), whoever the two individuals who are getting married. You don’t want to leave one person out, even if they prefer to not be part of the meetings, the process. Sometimes I’ll have a bride that lets me know that the groom is busy and they might not have time to make a meeting. That’s okay if it’s just the bride, or visa-versa. Maybe it’s the groom that tells me that the bride is busy or photography is not as important to the other partner. And I understand and respect that. But at the same time, I want to let them know that even if that’s the case, I still want the other person to feel involved.

So maybe I do have a meeting where it’s just one of the two people in the couple and that’s just how it is and the logistics. I will try to get the other person involved. But if push comes to shove and it’s just not possible, I’m not going to force it. But even then, I’m going to let the person that I meet with (the bride, the groom, whoever) that please, let the other person know what we talked about. I want them to feel involved and like they have a say in the decision. I want to make sure that they did take the time to look at my work, the packages, the pricing and it’s not just the decision of the bride. So that’s one thing that I know is not quite the topic at hand but anytime I talk about listening to your couple, it’s not just to your bride or to your groom. It’s to both parties and they’re very much involved in the wedding day and the planning. So I just wanted to mention that in case anyone thinks we can just discuss with one and not the other.

 

Treat all clients with the same level of “listening”.

One other quick note (this is also something that I feel is worth mentioning) and I kind of touched on this earlier in the episode, is that just because they hired you, they signed the contract, paid the deposit and want you as their wedding photographer, doesn’t mean that you don’t really have to listen to them too much anymore or that you can so-called mail it in the bag. Sure, we’re going to have a ceremony at this time, getting ready at this place. Okay, you want to have this, you want to do this. Sure, we’re going to get that anyway. I recommend instead, no, don’t just take a backseat or mail it in the bag or whatever analogy you want to use. That even though this is a paying up-coming client, you want to treat that with the same level of importance, sense of urgency and attention you would a prospective couple. There should never be a change in the level of customer service and your care in couples, whether it’s a prospective or upcoming. Or for that matter, a past one. If it’s a concern on an album design, an online gallery, that should be treated with the same level of importance as a brand new inquiry for a wedding.

That’s just my policy and I don’t know of any other way. There’s no favoritism or priority, like oh, the prospective couple is more important because they haven’t hired me and I want them to hire me so I can make a living and book the wedding. This other email where this other couple is telling me a little about their wedding album, their design, this can wait another week it’s not as important. I’m saying to not have that kind of mentality. When it comes to listening, understanding what a client wants, it shouldn’t matter where they are in the client experience, from prospective to after the wedding even.

 

Listening to what your couples want on their wedding day.

So with that being said, I’d like to actually give some examples of, maybe you’re wondering at this point, “ok Henry, we’re going to listen to what our clients want, whether they’re prospective, up-coming or past. But what exactly what are we listening for?” We know what questions to ask, what topics to bring up and especially, depending on whether it’s an initial, pre-wedding type of consultation meeting, is it an upcoming wedding and you’re having that final meeting. Is it a meeting about the prints, the albums and all. So yes, depending on the type of meeting and the engagement, the type of so-called “listening” and asking questions and all is going to be different.

But here are some examples, this is me just sort of thinking off the top of my head. I made a list of this before recording. The first one might be, let’s say specifically, focusing on their wedding day. What is it that we’re really listening for? That is, maybe there are certain items, memorabilia, trinkets or certain details, DIYs that are really important to the couple. They really want to make sure it’s captured. That’s probably the extend of what they’ll say. “Henry, this so-and-so is from my grandma or this part of the ceremony, these items, these details during the cocktail hour, I really put a lot of time into this design/decor. It’s really important and I would like it captured.

Now, it’s really important that we don’t feel like oh, of course we’re going to get that. It’s almost like we’re insulted. No, don’t think that way. Just remember, this is their special day, once in a lifetime and they trusted you to remember what’s important to them and their not assuming…just because they asked doesn’t mean they don’t trust you. They just want to make sure. I know we probably do this in our own lives with other things that are really important to us. So that’s just one example, items that are really important.

Another…it’s not just an item but it might be a certain part of the day, a moment and, for that matter, people, they just want to make sure it’s captured. I really want to ensure this part of the ceremony or during the getting ready, we’re going to have a gift exchange or I’d really like to have a photo with me and my bridesmaids in our robes. Or even take it a step further like yes, we did see a few inspirational photos on Pinterest and we’d like to have something similar. I know some of us, I’m a bit tongue-in-cheek, maybe we roll our eyes a little bit, like “oh my gosh”. But still, this is something important, it’s really not the end of the world, unless they give you a list of like 100 things to capture. But if it’s like a dozen or less, it should be something more than doable.

But getting back on track. Maybe that’s another thing that they mention, especially during the final meeting or even during the prospective client meeting. Okay photographer, this is something that’s really important to us on our day. We’ve very much been looking forward to it. We want to make sure that is captured. You want to not only go “okay, we’re going to do it”. But take a note, write it down on a piece of paper, just to ensure you remember and it also shows to the couple that you’re going to make sure you remember to capture that.

And maybe it’s not really the photo or types of photo they want to get, people, I almost forgot to mention that. Maybe they want a combination of them and say, just their two siblings or grandma or the three generations, like granddaughter, mom and grandma or a photo with all the college students, their friends from college or their co-workers. Whatever unique combinations. It could also be a pose, going back to that Pinterest example. Maybe there was one they saw with just them and their future, they really loved this part of the venue, they want to have sunset photos on the beach. Whatever it might be - people, things, moments, certain parts of the day they specifically mention that is important to them.

So I think that’s probably the most common and obvious way when it comes to listening to what our couples want. On one hand, I understand that we might feel like wait, didn’t they hire us because they trust us, they like our work and they should be confident enough that we’ll capture their day thoroughly, beautifully, in the style of photography that we shoot and they really shouldn’t have to mention that. I understand that standpoint but on the other hand, remember that this is a once in a lifetime, there’s no do-over. It’s much better that they communicate what’s really important to them, what they definitely want captured than assume that you will get it or I will get it and never mention. Because I know that has happened to some of my colleagues or I’ve heard from couples of mine and what their friends that got married, oh their photographer didn’t get this or their photographer didn’t remember this part that they talked about during the meeting and so forth. So this is where that listening is really important.

 

Listening to the experience your couples want to have on their wedding day.

So in addition to the actual items, moments, people that we definitely want to ensure we capture what our couples want. Another could be just in general, the experience, the day-of, what they want to enjoy. One that I heard a lot is “okay Henry, we want to have a first look and take as many portraits before the ceremony starts - bridal party, immediate family and so forth”. But part of that reason is maybe they want to enjoy their cocktail hour and they have friends coming in from out of town and some they haven’t seen, family and all. They really want to enjoy as much of their cocktail hour and they don’t want to be spending all that time taking portraits. And that’s why they’re having a first look. That’s where listening is extra important. You want to take that into account.

Okay, no problem couple, we definitely understand that and want you to enjoy your cocktail hour. But that means we need to have the first look at this time. We want to make sure that family is ready for the formals by this time, we need to finish hair and makeup by this time. And even though they want to enjoy cocktail hour, I’ll let them know and what to give you guys as much time with that, but if it’s okay, the first ten minutes we’re quickly going to do extended family formals and then maybe a few of the bride and groom around that sunset time. Maybe places that we couldn’t take photos earlier in the day. But let’s say the cocktail hour is from 6-7 and I promise by 6:20 or so, you guys can enjoy cocktail hour. If I can get the first 20 minutes with you, family formals, a few more portraits during sunset time, we’ll be all done. But I need you guys to give me your attention and ensure that their family and immediate/extended are ready.

So that’s the level of communication and listening that I like to do with my couples. I ask them what’s important to them and then I present some solutions, some scenarios and see what works best for them. If I feel like things might be a little unrealistic, I’ll let them know as well. Okay, if there was not a first look and they still want to enjoy cocktail hour, we all know that is basically impossible. There’s no way we can get all that…maybe they’ll enjoy the final 10 minutes. But we all know the pressure of taking all the photos, at least the ones of the bride and groom together, all during cocktail hour, while trying to get details and letting them enjoy cocktail hour itself. That’s nearly impossible. So that’s an example where listening but also communicating, asking questions and just being very transparent, presenting some different options, is really important.

One other example when it comes to listening, once again these are ones specific for the wedding day, they might also say well, we want our photos to be natural. We want poses to be natural or we don’t super posey, stiff portraits or ones where it looks like it was from 20 years ago, that sort of thing. That’s sort of their concern. I hear this a lot during the initial meeting. And a lot of times they see my work already and they know what to expect so they might not really ask this explicitly. But this is something they might be thinking. So even if they don’t ask or they don’t mention, I will bring it up during the meeting and especially if I had never met with them in person, it would be at that final meeting, say a month or so before.

But what they’re really saying is not they don’t want portraits, they just want candids. But more so when we do take portraits, they’re natural and look like themselves. They’re not super stiff and maybe the editing later looks really out of date. It’s not what they signed up for, it’s not what they want. They want their images to, of course, look beautiful but like themselves. They feel like they can be taken back to that special moment. And I let them know that. In addition, I also hear what they say, I listen and that they want to do a cocktail hour, right? They don’t want to spend forever taking portraits. They want a photographer that’s going to capture more the moments, the candids and more the flow of the day, the emotions and all. And not, basically, turn it into a photo shoot. That’s something I can sense they want to mention, but maybe not. So I would mention it and “oh wow, Henry, we’re glad you mentioned it. That was exactly what we were thinking and concerned about and we just want to make sure.” That’s something that I think a lot of our couples are thinking. They just want to make sure and maybe they don’t want to offend us, they don’t want to think that we don’t know what what we’re doing. They trust us. So sometimes it’s good that, not only do we listen, but bring it up. Ask the question, mention it and I think that they’ll very much appreciate that.

So kind of going back to that example, they want photos to look natural, the poses, the portraits and all. And for that matter, I mentioned the candids, that’s another thing I hear a lot of. They don’t want to turn the whole day into a photo shoot. They want to enjoy their time with their family and friends. And that’s something more often than not I mention. Practically, with all of my clients, I let them know. I always joke, hey, I would like to have as much time with you both. If you could give me like (something crazy) 10 hours of portrait time, I will love every minute of that. But I understand this is your wedding day and you have loved ones coming from all parts of the country, the world to celebrate. This is the one time in the whole ever that you’re going to have all these people under the one roof and I want to make sure that you really get to enjoy the whole day and that we get the photos done as efficiently as possible. I don’t want to say “quickly” as that might sound like we’re going to sacrifice quality and, for that matter, I don’t want to say we’re going to get it done in 10 minutes and that might sacrifice quantity.

So I do need some time and I’ll let them know what that time is, especially given their itinerary, their logistics. But in addition, letting them know it’s going to be very efficient, I’m going to go pretty quickly without sacrificing anything. I’m going to get a variety of shots, different natural poses, not overly posey, and a variety. So that gains their trust and more reasons for them to hopefully hire me as their photographer. Or if they have already, to build on that trust. Just continue to reinforce it. But I’m sure there are other examples. What other types of concerns, topics, questions could a couple ask where we really want to listen. And that’s just for the wedding day.

 

Listening to your couples’ story in the lead up to their wedding.

But of course, beforehand, when you have a consultation, you want to get to know a little bit more about them. It could be how they met, what was it about each other that got them really excited to be dating one another, to build their relationship. Of course the big question, how did they get engaged? How did the groom plan that or whoever planned the proposal. Also, little things like, who’s in their immediate family, who’s in their bridal party if there’s one? What are some elements of their day that are extra important to them? What are some of the aspects, vendors that one person likes vs the other? Maybe the photography is more important to the bride. The DJ, music might be more for the groom. I always like to ask them, when they think about their wedding day, what comes to their mind. Or let them say, hypothetically, their wedding just finished last weekend, what do they want their guests to be saying? What do they want to be saying and thinking now that their wedding is over?

So that’s where listening to their responses is really, really important. And I’m not there taking notes, like this is important, let me jot this down. Especially not at the initial meeting, it’s not like over the phone or even in person I have a notepad and they mention how they met and I’m taking notes or this is how they got engaged and I’m scribbling something. So I guess you can do that but I also want to make sure I’m genuinely engaging with them, eye-to-eye contact and acknowledging what they’re saying. And not like oh, I’ve got to memorize this but more just knowing. Imagine if it’s your friend who is telling you all these things. You’re going to remember because you genuinely care and they’re your friend and they’re sharing about their wedding day or their future spouse, how they met, their story to you. You’re going to remember that because it’s of interest to you, it’s your friend, you care about them.

That’s the level of care I try to give to my clients and I agree, it’s not going to be easy all the time. It’s something you’ve really got to focus on and you can’t just casually pass it. But that’s part of the client experience that I try to provide. It’s not because I have to or it’s the right thing to do. But because I generally enjoy doing that. It helps me be a better photographer, connect better with them. And I think overall, they enjoy sharing that. I always joke that with all your vendors, there’s not going to be that many that care personally about them. Not to say other vendors don’t but I like to think with a photographer, we’re going to be the ones that ask that type of question and not just because we’re supposed to but because we spend so much time with our couples. Their engagement session, their wedding day, of course. We’re around them more than, say, their family members. So I want to make sure they feel comfortable, almost like having a friend photographing their wedding and not just a complete stranger. That’s going to allow me to get the best possible photos and, more than anything, provide this rewarding experience. Not just for my couples but even for me.

So a little side tangent there. We’re going to take a breather, come back and talk about specifically the process, I mentioned a bit already. But we’re going to get more into the details, from the very beginning to after the wedding. Exactly how does this listening, asking questions, engaging, how do I utilize that in my client experience?

 

Listening throughout the client experience.

Alright, moving right along. This part, the second half, I want to dive a little bit deeper into the client experience. I think that’s like video number 6 or 7 for those of us that have subscribed to my A-Z business training videos. The client experience is kind of like the chronological order from the moment a couple enquires, that they call you, they found you at a bridal show, they email you, fill out your contact form. And I say there’s never really like an end. Sure, you deliver the goods, the albums, the prints, the online galleries. But I always like to think that the client experience technically never ends. Especially if they contact you in a year or two and maybe they want some family portrait sessions or another album. I digress.

But now let’s focus a little more from, say, the moment they email you, they contact you until after the wedding. The first time, when it comes to really listening to what a couple want is that initial enquiry. For me, it’s going to be email, a contact form, if they call me and leave a message, I’ll let them know, please go to aevitasweddings.com/contact. Or if they text me, got to aevitasweddings.com/contact. If it’s through a referral from a wedding coordinator, another vendor, even if the coordinator contacts me. Well thank you. I’ll ask them to let their couple know, please go to the website. So everything is funneled towards my contact form.

Now on that form is some very basic information. There’s nothing new, flash and all. It’s asking for their names, their wedding date, their venue and maybe a rough budget for photography and how they found me. Once again, go to the aevitasweddings.com/contact and you can see it right there. In addition, I put my starting out price right on that website. So I’m very transparent, at least with the initial numbers, at least to give a rough ballpark of what they can expect.

So where is this listening beginning? It’s right there you guys. As soon as they tell me their wedding venue. This is something that’s so straightforward and easy but it’s part of the listening process that we start with from the very beginning. We’re listening to their wedding date or rather reading it if it’s over an email. And documentation. That email itself is documentation. So I can pull it up on my computer, on my phone, wherever I’m at. I don’t have anything super duper fancy. I don’t use like a shoot cube or a table. I just have Mac mail and I use Google spreadsheet and that’s it.

So that’s the first initial contact and the communication. So let’s take it a step further. Of course you’re going to have a few emails back and forth. It’s really important when it comes to listening, engaging, asking the right questions. It’s not just until you have that meeting with them. It starts from the very beginning through email. So you’re not really technically “listening” but rather typing out, reading their remarks, their questions. Making sure you answer all their questions. I know that I’ve gone that generic list of maybe 50 questions from “The Knot” - “Questions to ask your wedding photographer” and they just copy and paste it. How many of us have gotten that? But for the most part, a lot of the prospective couples, they’re not asking me like 5, 10, 12 questions, it might be 2 or 3. Honestly, the questions are probably, are you available and what do you charge?

Well, the availability I’ll let them know in the email and with the charging, I’ll give them a rough price point on the contact form. So they can find that out without even contacting me. However, the detail packages, the a la carte items, I will send them the PDF pricing after they inquire. So they’re not really asking much more than that. They might ask, for example, if you shot this type of wedding or at this venue. But that’s more for that 2nd, 3rd or 4th email. Usually not the very first one. And actually, I don’t know if I even have a fielder where they can ask me question, I don’t think so. They might ask it as a part of another field. But I want to make it as super duper quick and easy to contact me.

Now, let’s say things are going good after 2-3 emails. I can definitely tell that they’re interested and they might have asked me a few questions in those emails. Now the next step is to find out if they want to have an in-person meeting, a phone meeting, a Skype meeting. Or they’re more than happy to communicate just through email. Basically with contract signing, deposit. It doesn’t take me a long time between that initial inquiry, the first time I get their contact form, and if, hopefully when they want to hire me, they ask for a contract. It’s usually about a week to maybe two weeks. Now the average is probably closer to two weeks. But it’s so rare that a couple comes back to me, say after a month, a month and a half, to hire me. If they’re not interested, if they haven’t committed in the first 2-3 weeks, then I feel like I have basically lost them and have to put them in the “closed” folder.

But I’m digressing. Getting back on track when it comes to listening and this whole client experience. Now if they are interested in having a meeting, whether virtually or in-person, I actually send them a second contact form. This is what I like to call the meeting form. This one is much more important. It’s going to ask some of the same things as the initial contact form, but in the meeting one, this is where I like to get a bit more about them. How they met, their story, their relationship, how they got engaged and initial wedding plans. Anything that they can share with me. I also let them know they don’t need to share everything, I don’t need to know all the details. But whatever they feel comfortable. They know even if it’s a bit TBD. Let me know. I want to gather that information into that email.

So what happens is, because we are going to have a meeting, whether it’s Skype, FaceTime, over the phone, in-person. I have this email, this meeting form. 9 out of 10 times I’m not going to meet with them until they fill out that contact form and I let them know why it’s really important. It’s not like a homework assignment. I’m letting them know to better prepare for our meeting, so I can get to know a little bit more about them and their wedding plans, I like for them to tell me these 3 or 4 things. It’s not a lot. It’s not like I’m sending them an entire length Google form questionnaire. That’s a little more for later. But these questions are really important, so when I do meet with them, it’s not like a so-called “blind date” and all I know is their wedding date, their venue and their names and that’s it. I like to know a little more about their story and so when I do sit down with them or over the phone, on Skype, we can sort of continue the conversation instead of starting from scratch. That not only saves a lot of time for both of us but it really gets us talking on a deeper level. And that’s where I’m really listening to not only their story, they’re telling me in person, but I can also ask questions like “oh, you got engaged here. Did the bride know about it? Did the family know about it? You guys met this way - how did that happen? Was it on the first date that you guys instantly connected or maybe it was a more gradual buildup of the relationship.” The wedding plans.

And the list goes on, the things that I could ask. It’s not like oh, here’s a checklist of questions but naturally, over the years of doing this, over 400 weddings and I’m sure another 100 or so couples that didn’t hire me. But I ask similar questions so this isn’t anything groundbreaking. But I do tailor what I ask, my comments, my thoughts, based on what they say. I’m listening to what they’re telling me, I remember that. It once again helps to have that second meeting form. So maybe in 4/5 months, right before starting their engagement session, I can reference that email. I can even take some notes after I meet with them. Okay, a few little details here and there that I want to remember. So that way, if we have an engagement session, I can bring up little stories like, part of the shoot, part of the poses. When I’m giving them direction, “okay guys, let’s go back to your first date at “fill in the blank”” or “remember when you got engaged here, I’m sure you guys are excited, you’re wedding’s coming up in about three months and I remember you telling me this and that”. Or their honeymoon plans. Or how is this going or are you excited about that? Based on what they told me 6/7/8 months ago. Listening, remembering, asking questions. Those are the things.

So it’s not just about the listening part. I want us to really be engaging, asking questions that are relevant to their story and their wedding plans. Then fast-forward a little bit to the touching base email, online questionnaire. And this is something that is beyond important to me. This is “the” document, I can spend episodes and episodes talking about my wedding day, my online questionnaire, the PDF I have my couples fill out. This Google form, all these questions about getting ready, ceremony, portraits, reception. So not only listening but I’m asking them a ton of these questions that they’ll answer so that I get to know on the day of, it’s going to be smooth sailing as much as possible.

So I don’t want to gloss over this as it’s not important. It’s definitely important. But because of the length of this episode already and the magnitude of how important it is, I’d like to dedicate a future episode. But essentially, this touching base email includes a link to a Google form. I send this email about 2-2 1/2 months before their wedding. It also has a link to my wedding day PDF tips, also some wedding day tips articles I put on my website and a link to this Google questionnaire, this form that asks them these questions. There’s probably, I dunno exactly how many, but there’s a good amount that they’re probably going to have to spend 45 minutes to one hour to fill it out. I let them know that this is absolutely crucial. No “ifs or buts”. In addition to getting the remaining balance, I have to have this questionnaire filled out before we have our final meeting, which I highly recommend is a month before their wedding.

So not only am I listening to what my couples want from the very beginning but in addition, I make sure they’re heading in the right direction. That all this communication is not just for fun, it’s also to help us have a stress-free wedding day, a memorable day that we’re going to be able to capture all of these important moments and details and people and all. So that questionnaire, they’re going to fill it out and I’ll compile it into a PDF and when we have our final meeting, I have this PDF (it’s like 3-4 pages) right in front of me and we walk through from beginning to end. In addition, that rough draft of the itinerary, I’ll also have that printed out, right in front of me. So whether it’s Skype, over the phone or in-person, i have those documents. It’s really important to mention how I need those before we have our final meeting and I have them printed out.

I basically make my couples, I let them know “I’m sorry guys, I know you’re really busy with work and final pieces of planning, but I absolutely need you to fill this out and I need a rough draft of your itinerary before we can have our final meeting.” It’s them helping me help them. Otherwise we go into a meeting, even with all the listening I’m doing, I’m not going to be able to remember all those if I don’t take notes and I need to have a cheat sheet of reference. And that’s what that wedding day questionnaire does for me.

 

Listening to your couples on the wedding day itself.

And so, afterwards, of course on the day itself, we want to be listening. We want to be listening to any requests, any suggestions. Now, I should probably rephrase. I’m not saying so if a bridesmaid, say, suggests 20 different poses you should do this. Even if it’s the couple. Thankfully with that final meeting a month or so before, this shouldn’t be much of an issue. So on the day, you’re not really listening to what your couples want (I know that sounds really bad to say), it’s more that you know what’s going to be happening, you have a game plan and they’re very much in the moment. All you really have to do is go off the plan of attack you had. Yes, you’re going to have to improvise, be flexible. But more or less, you are prepared and you’re more so just capturing the day and taking the lead on certain parts.

If it comes to listening, it’s probably more “hey Henry, can we get a quick photo of so-and-so with this combination of people” or “Henry, what time is this going to be again and what time is this happening?” Maybe it’s the bridal party, the parents. Normally the bride and groom, they rarely ask me anything on the day and, for that matter, I don’t ask them anything, as I have all of that planned ahead of time. But with listening, asking questions, engaging. It’s something that we need to do throughout the entire client experience process.

 

Listening to your couples after the wedding.

And I almost didn’t mention after the wedding. As I said earlier, when it comes to the level of priority, we should place an equal amount on all aspects of the client experience, not just at the beginning or at the end. If it’s a couple, you’re going to get the album to them, you said it’s within this timeframe. You need to honor that. They told you something, you’ve got to listen, you’ve got to agree to it if it’s something you mentioned, you kept your word, it’s in the contract.

With that being said, I slowly want to wrap up and try to keep this around an hour. There’s so much more I could continue talking about. I hope you get the gist of everything when it comes to truly listening to what your clients want. It’s not just hearing them and, at worst, forgetting them, not caring about it. But much more than that. You can see where listening and taking notes, when applicable, remembering these things, maybe even sharing that with your second shooter, your assistant, your team. It’s going to provide an overall much better quality of the environment on the wedding day for you to capture what you want. I would always feel that it’s that teamwork between myself and the bride and groom and maybe the other vendors. Yes, I’m 99.9% responsible for the photos, the outcome, the quality, so forth. But I’m going to need a little bit of help. I can’t do everything on my own. I need the hair and makeup to be finishing on time. I need the decor to be setup at a certain time. I need certain people to be around at a certain time. You sort of notice the trend “at a certain time”. It’s always the lack of time and things running late.

But me listening to what my couples want, what’s most important to them and, for that matter, what’s not as important to them, that’s going to allow me to tailor things a little bit. Maybe they tell me that cocktail hour is not that important. They actually don’t want to spend all that time mingling with their guests. Maybe it’s a little bit much before their reception starts and they actually want to take more portraits. Well, hallelujah! No complaints from me whatsoever. Great! I’m going to pay extra attention to that to ensure we get even more photos. Another example could be that they really just want candids. They don’t want to spend too much time when it comes to portraits and get a million and one combinations. Or maybe the bridal party is not as important as the family members or the bride and groom portraits. Or maybe when it comes to the getting ready, “you know Henry, it would be nice to get all these details of the dress, the shoes, but it’s really not that important to me and I really just want more of the finishing touches, the portraits”. And even then, I’ll present my case and let them know the different options. That’s what I do with all scenarios. I’ll listen to what they say, I’ll give them my response, my two cents, my suggestion and then I’ll let them make the decision. But I do want them, the couple, to know, I don’t want to say the consequences, but the results of what could happen if we do this, we don’t do that, if we start here, if we end there. That kind of thing. And yeah, it’s because of my years of doing this, the experience that I’ve gained. And that’s probably part of why the did hire me and they’re asking me some of these questions is that they’re looking for my suggestion, my expertise and I’m more than happy to provide them.

 

Conclusion.

So in summary, my friends, you can see yes, the title is “Are you really listening to what your couples want?” But it’s much more than that. Asking questions, especially if they don’t know what to ask or they might be a little uncomfortable, you kind of have to get a vibe for it. Engaging, asking, listening, remembering. All of that fits into the entire client experience. It’s not just for prospective couples and not up-coming ones and, worst, the past couples. The same level of importance for all different types of couples from beginning to end. Juggling all of these things will just become second nature, as it is for me. And I don’t want to jinx myself, knock on wood here. I don’t want to be forgetting something for the next wedding or the one in a couple of weeks. That’s why I have my notes, my cheat sheets, my itineraries, my chicken scratch. Writing. I prepare my second shooters as much as possible in advance so they’re on the same page as me.

A lot of this preparation I do in advance but the crux of it all is the client experience I want to provide for them. And yes, part of that is listening. So you’re listening to me, I very much appreciate. I hope we continue to do that. But also with all our couples and listening to what they want.

 

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