A huge game changer for me in recent years has been my ability to book wedding photography clients online, without requiring any face-to-face meetings. By this, I mean just a few emails back and forth before the contract is secured and the deposit paid.
As a wedding photographer that doesn’t have a retail space, this significantly reduces the amount of time I’m on the road traveling to meet prospective clients in the hopes that they’ll book me.
I put this down to three things - two of which are my own doing and one that applies to all wedding photographers. Couples these days are much more tech-savvy and are happy browsing through websites and reviews in order to build enough trust to comfortably book a wedding photographer online.
What does this mean? You need to have a strong (and trustworthy) online presence to take advantage of this. It’s taken years for me to build the online reputation that I have, with a high number of positive reviews on reputable sites like Yelp and WeddingWire.
Prospective clients can hear first-hand from other couples about my work, customer service, and reliability, meaning they don’t need to be convinced by meeting me first. I’ve also created a website that puts everything at the fingertips of prospective clients.
From information about me and FAQs to blog articles and an extensive portfolio, they can do all of their research online and I can book wedding photography clients without having to leave the house.
As of right now in the Fall of 2017, I have 19 official bookings for next year. When I say booking, that means the contract has been signed and the 25% deposit paid. Of those 19 bookings for 2018, 13 of them were over the web or the phone, as in no in-person meeting, and 6 were solely through email. The other 7 were booked through virtual meetings or phone meetings.
This has been a game changer for me because now I’m able to spend that time working on other things, such as my wedding photography educational efforts and spending time with my newborn baby.
Having couples trust me enough to hire me strictly through email has really helped me and my business, so I wanted to talk about how this has evolved and some of the pros.
One of the biggest pros for me is that I don’t have a studio or retail space. When I lived in Long Beach, I used to have a designated area just for having client meetings. But these days I live in a townhouse with my wife and daughter, so not having a designated meeting area could put me at a disadvantage perhaps when compared to other photographers that have a really nice retail space.
In addition, not having to meet with prospective clients (who may or may not end up booking) saves me time. It’s not just the time of the meeting itself but also the preparation. Getting the space ready and making sure it looks tidy.
Not having a retail space also cuts down on costs as I’m not paying to rent a space. It also means I’m not spending time driving out to that retail space, which could end up equating to around 2 or 2 1/2 hours for every client meeting.
I know that some of us might still be struggling to get inquiries, let alone actually bookings without any meetings. I’m not saying that we should skip all of that, that’s still very important. I still have meetings with clients. But I would recommend that we all strive to get to this point.
You can get your business to a point where you might get some couples each year to hire you solely through the web, just through what they saw on your website and the reviews that they read about you.
That’s going to really say something about your business and reputation. That you have couples, complete strangers, who are willing to put their trust in you and hire you, without ever having to meet with you.
It’s all about building a reputation where these couples have no doubt in their mind about you. They have established a trust and confidence in you based on what they’ve seen and what they’ve read.
They have the assurance that you’re going to deliver based on what other couples have said about you and the work that you produced. Does this happen overnight or even after a few years? Not likely. A reputation takes years to build and something that you have to continually work on.
There might be an assumption that these are not high budget weddings. But that’s not true by any means. Just because a couple is willing to trust their photographer and hire them strictly through email doesn’t mean that they have a lower priority on their photography and are not spending as much.
But if they’re interested in albums and maybe some prints, that’s where more than likely they do want to have an in-person meeting. They want to feel them and get a sense of the quality before they commit. But if a couple isn’t interested in purchasing an album then there’s a higher chance that they’re willing to hire their photographer without meeting in person.
When it comes to writing emails, it only takes me a few minutes. I have some signatures and some canned responses but I still try to customize them by getting to know the couple a bit more, their wedding plans, and any initial information they can share with me.
But in general with email communication, it’s going to be relatively quick and I don’t need to set up a presentation and get things ready.
If it’s an in-person meeting, I need to get my living room ready and let my wife know beforehand. I don’t want to say it’s inconvenient because this is part of my job so I can earn the trust of prospective clients.
But a simple meeting equates to 2+ hours of my time. Whereas communicating just through email, I can still be in front of my computer getting other work done. I can continue culling my weddings or put together a slideshow, a blog post.
When it comes to phone meetings, you can still be in your casual clothes and you can have a phone meeting anywhere. I still prefer to have it at home, in my office but I’m not inconveniencing my wife or our baby girl. The rest of the house can be used for other things, it’s not just specifically for the meeting.
So not having any meetings allows me to get the most out of everything that I’m doing and why it’s been a huge game changer for me. I’m not saying I don’t meet with my couples at all before the wedding.
If I have an engagement session with my couples, I’ll often meet up with them an hour before so we can sit down at a coffee shop and really get to know each other better. And if there’s no e-session, we’ll have an in-person virtual meeting about a month before their wedding day.
There are a variety of reasons why couples may not require or want to have in-person meetings. It could be because they’re in another city or state. Perhaps they live in another timezone or travel a lot and logistically it doesn’t suit them.
Maybe they’re tech-savvy and more than happy to trust others and make their decisions online. With everybody having a smartphone these days and being connected via their mobile or desktop computers all the time, that’s a huge blessing for those of us that want to be able to book weddings without in-person meetings.
They are probably pretty busy in their own lives with their professions and they don’t want to spend all this time talking on the phone or having meetings. They’ve got to plan a wedding, got other vendors they need to book, and just want to enjoy being engaged and doing things that they enjoy. They don’t want to be spending forever on all these logistics.
It’s a pretty good feeling knowing that there are couples out there willing to book their photographer strictly online, with no need to have any meeting. What that means is, I can hear from a prospective couple any moment now and they could be very well interested in hiring me.
The fact that they contacted you usually means that they’re very interested. They like your work and have read several online reviews on you. They just really want to make sure that they can afford you, that you’re available on their wedding day and that you’re professional, you have great customer service. That your personality and theirs are going to be able to vibe and connect with one another.
So what are some of the things that we can all do to increase our chances of booking couples without meetings?
The more we can make things easier for prospective couples in terms of providing the information they’re looking for and answering their questions, the more likely they are to hire us online. So number one is having a comprehensive and professional website.
I’ve devoted several past episodes to the importance of having a quality website. Not just beautiful photos (although that’s very important) but you need to have useful information up there.
Have an FAQ, talk a little bit more about your vision, your perspective and even about yourself. Put a photo of yourself or possibly even a video about who you are so prospective couples get to actually see who their photographer could be.
When it comes to showcasing your work, it’s important to present recent photos. If you go to my website, you can see that it’s not just a portfolio or gallery. I’ve also got a blog where I post all my most recent weddings so prospective clients can see that I’m actively working as a wedding photographer.
I highly encourage all of us to have a regularly updated blog. Don’t just count on social media. When you show that you’re photographing weddings practically every weekend, that’s going to build an assurance that you’re in demand, this is your livelihood.
In addition to my blog, the other tool I use regularly these days is slideshows and I had SmartSlides be the sponsor of this podcast a couple of months back. This year I made a conscious effort to put as many slideshows together as possible and you see them here.
Imagine a prospective couple, hopefully, they like my work and my style of photography. They want to see more. They want to see recent blog posts. They’re curious how often this photographer shoots weddings. Have they shot at my venue before? Are they familiar with my type of culture or faith? That’s where couples are sometimes unsure or it can be the deciding factor between two photographers that they like.
I try to be very comprehensive and transparent. I don’t need to walk my couples through my website or point them in a million different directions. Once they land on my site, it’s very straightforward.
They can view my portfolio, see recent weddings at the blog and if that’s not enough, they can go to the slideshows, sit back, hit the play button and watch from beginning to end a very comprehensive story of these weddings. From the getting ready, the ceremony, the portraits, the reception. I even throw in some family formals, bridal party portraits.
What’s next? They probably want to get to know a little bit more about me. So they can go to “About Henry” and read about my perspective on photographing weddings, my vision, and my philosophy. It’s all right there under the “About”.
And then the big question might be: What do you charge? And how many of us hide this information or ask couples to “contact us” to find out what our rates are? I think as a consumer, that’s got to be one of the most frustrating things ever.
If I’m curious about buying something, I want to know right away how much it’s going to cost. I don’t want to have to email somebody or drive over there or call somebody. I want to find out straight from the website how much it’s going to cost before I proceed any further.
That’s why on my contact and pricing page I put a starting out price and rough package amount to give prospective couples an idea whether I’m within their budget or not.
If they want something a bit more - a couple of hours extra, an e-session, a second photographer - that’s where I’ll give a range and what most of my couples typically spend. So even before a prospective couple contacts me, they already know all of those things.
A lot of my couples that do hire me without having a meeting often say that they really appreciate the amount of information available on my website and how transparent it is. I’m not even talking about the quality of work or style of photography or even years of experience from the photographer. I’m speaking strictly about the website and its content where having a quality, comprehensive, professional website is just the gift that keeps giving.
The second reason is reviews. It is by far the most important asset to my business. We’re not going to be able to make ourselves sound as great as our past couples can. And hopefully, if you deliver an incredible experience with your photos, with your service, they are going to write these glowing, 5-star reviews on WeddingWire, Yelp, and Google. So right there, prospective couples can read exactly what others have said about me and my photography services.
But there are really three main parts to reviews that I think are incredibly important - quality, quantity, and recency.
You want to make sure you have quality reviews and you want all of them to be about weddings you have captured. Try to avoid having a mixture of weddings with portrait sessions, family shoots, and events. You also want more than a sentence or two. Preferably a few paragraphs. The more your couples can write, the better.
The next thing is quantity. Of course, 200 reviews will be much better than 5 reviews. But we all have to start at 0. So if you cannot have the quantity, make sure you have quality reviews.
Rather have 10 quality reviews than 100 poor ones. You also want them to be recent, so couples can see that you are actively shooting weddings and couples are happy with their photos and the service provided.
If you go to my website, you’ll see that I have reviews sprinkled all across my website. They’re not just on the homepage but on practically every single page. On my blog, I pull reviews from my couples talking about how I posted a blog just a couple of weeks after their wedding.
If it’s about the pricing, I pull reviews where the couple mention my pricing is competitive and very reasonable for what you get. So I try to use specific reviews to the pages on my site.
I can say with high confidence that the couples that hired me without having a meeting, all of them looked up my reviews on Google, Yelp, and/or WeddingWire. They basically searched for Aevitas Weddings and did their research.
So if you don’t have reviews...if you don’t have enough...if you don’t have recent ones...quality ones, you’re definitely missing out on prospective inquiries and bookings, particularly those that are willing to book you strictly online.
The last of the three reasons why I feel I’m able to get these bookings strictly through email is because of the responsiveness, service, and communication I provide once I get their email inquiry via the contact form.
I don’t ask a lot. I just ask what I need to know in order to respond back to them. So quick and timely responses. I cannot tell you enough how many times prospective couples respond back to me thanking me for the quick response!
And it’s not just for prospective couples, I have the same level of urgency and responsiveness for all my couples - prospective, upcoming, past - it doesn’t matter. I want to make sure I get back to them right away.
If you look at my emails it’s nothing fancy. I don’t have a special signature at the bottom. It’s strictly text. There’s nothing beautiful about it but I make sure the content...the words, structure, links...everything I send to them is of value. I customize it to suit what they are looking for based or maybe where their wedding is going to be.
More often than not, at this stage couples are not only very interested but they’re willing to make a decision sooner rather than later. They don’t have all the time in the world and they don’t want to waste their time beating around the bush or having a meeting to get certain information but never intending to hire me.
So I try to make things easy for them, give them some recommendations and options. I ask them a few questions. Are you looking to have an engagement session? Do you think 10 hours of coverage will be enough? What time is your ceremony? Are you thinking of having a first look? Roughly how many guests? These are the types of questions I ask.
You might want to have a second photographer or I recommend 10-12 hours. I’ve shot at this venue before, here’s a link to a blog post, a slideshow or even a full online gallery.
Based on the limited information that they send me in the contact form, I’m able to provide a bit of value back to them in the response. I don’t just say that I’m available and here’s a link to my pricing. Ever since I revised the way I respond to emails and the content I include, I’m having much more success in getting a response.
Not only getting a response from prospective couples but getting them to make decisions. I don’t ever want to leave it open-ended. You want prospective couples to either hire you or at least meet with you. Take that next step towards hopefully hiring you or deciding to not hire you.
So what I try to do is get to that point. Either you’re still interested and you want to move forward or you’re not interested and you are going to move in a different direction. Hopefully, from everything they’ve seen on my website, testimonials, and the communication we’ve had so far in the email, they’re going to go ahead and hire me.
Remember, this is only 2 or 3 rounds of communication. It’s not like we’re going back and forth for days and weeks on end. The average time from when a prospective couple first inquiries to when they sign the contract is about a week.
These are the reasons that have allowed me to book couples without having any in-person meetings, and at times, strictly through email. I provide all of the information they need online so that they establish trust in me and my photography services.
Maybe you do want to have a studio and meet couples in person, just to make sure there are no surprises. Maybe you prefer that. That’s your way of getting them to hire you and it suits your lifestyle. But perhaps you wouldn’t mind having a few couples book you strictly through email, freeing up time for you to spend doing other things you love.
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