Who do you want your business from? Is it about your vision or about your skill?
People ask “How do I get people to do what I want? How do I generate more income from my clients?” The question you should ask is why people hire you. What are your clients actually giving you? Are they giving you their money or their trust? Or, to put it another way, are they hiring you for your opinion or for your technical skills?
Case in point. I went to Budget to rent a car. They wanted to charge me $30 per day to upgrade to a larger car (God forbid that they even consider whether I would want the beastly thing they were trying to sell). Then they lowered it to $20. Then $10. Then they tried to convince me that it wouldn’t actually cost $300 for the 1 month that I needed the car. “You’re looking at it all wrong,” he said. “You’re saving $20/day. You’re making money.” That whole conversation wasted 15 minutes of my time. Thanks for making my life that much shorter, Budget. To boot, they stuck me with the oversized car (for free, after I rejected the final, final offer), because they didn’t have the car I actually reserved on the lot.
Wow. That’s some impressive customer service. When I went into Enterprise a couple months back, two people introduced themselves to me and shook my hand. They asked me if there was anything they could do. They give me a business card and a smile, took me to the car, showed me how it worked, and said to call them if I needed help with anything. They even thanked me for being there. I was baffled. Was I some sort of VIP, and I just didn’t know it? Maybe they had read Ground Glass? They made me feel good. Way to go Enterprise. I was impressed. I don’t know if this is how it always is, but they scored some points in my book that day.
All things being equal, who do I go back to? But that’s not the essence of it. Not only did Budget irritate me and treat me like a piece of meat, but they clearly positioned themselves as a company that had no interest in me. Their only role was to provide a car and make as much out of it as they could, and that was crystal clear. I’d call the people at Enterprise back if I had a real question and needed something. I’d even pay more for it. But when it comes to Budget, it’s only going to be about budget from here on out.
You are either hired for your opinion, where people cede their trust and put it in your hands to determine what’s best for them. Or you are hired to push buttons and rotate dials. Who do you think people will pay more for? Who do you think judges you less? You can make a business out of either, but you better know what you’re after. Especially in this industry. If you’re a doctor, your opinion is everything. Trust is the default. But as photographers, the assumption is flipped. The general public hires us for our technical ability. They hardly realize there’s an opinion to be had. It’s your job to show them otherwise. So if you want a model built on trust, know that it won’t come out of nowhere. You need to make it happen.
The biggest mistake most people make? They treat the details like Budget, but they want the respect of Enterprise. That’s a disaster. If you’re asking why no one lets you do what you want to do, or why you live in constant fear that you’re not getting the must-have shots that you’re allergic to, look back to your model, and look back to your actions. What are you telling people? What are you making them sign up for when they put their name on the dotted line for? Yeah, it’s finding the right client – absolutely – but it’s also creating the right relationship with the right client. There are people I hire for their expertise, and there are people I hire to get things done. In both cases, I’m me, so it’s not just that. It’s how people interact with me. It’s what they signal to me and how they engage me. It makes all the difference.
If all you do is say “Yes, yes, yes,” and you never tell people about what you do and why it matters, are you being the expert or are you being the service provider? If you don’t assert yourself when you think there is a better way, if you stay silent and let the client make a mistake, what have you just announced? Those with confidence, those who assert themselves, and those who genuinely treat their clients’ trust with due care and attention – these are the people we hire as experts.
Most people treat service like a simple matter of good an bad. As if your choice is to accommodate or to deny. As if its purpose is nothing but to placate your client and grease the wheels for upsells. If that’s all there is to it, then its value is lost. Service, like everything else in business, is an opportunity to show your value. Sometimes you’ve gotta be tough. Sometimes you’ve gotta be gentle. But if you want people to respect you for you, it’s not just about showing people a bunch of pictures. You’d better earn their trust.