Prequalifying clients: can they afford you?
When you ask whether a potential client can afford you, the answer is not a simple yes or no. When you are creating your ideal-client avatar, of course he can afford you—you’re designing him to afford you! Obviously.
But what is his price point of affordability? That’s what you need to understand and establish before you can flesh out your ideal client. It should always be step 1 in designing your ideal-client avatar. You need ways to prequalify your clients—that is, to see whether they fit within your price point of affordability.
In Chapter 1, “Getting Started,” you determined that number. First, you calculated your minimum order requirement (MOR), the amount you needed to make per client to be profitable and sustainable (refer to line M in the “Your Numbers Bible” worksheet). Using Table 1.1, you then determined the best session fee for you based on an industry standard of what clients spend on average based on the type of session they purchase. These session fee price points and the sales that they average have been pretty darn consistent in all of the people with whom I have worked and interviewed over the last eight years, as well as what I experienced in my own business.
When clients first encounter your business, they aren’t thinking of all that they are going to get for the money, for example, how many 8x10s and digital files they are going to get. All they really want to know immediately is how much money it is going to cost to work with you. Be up front with your session fee and MOR to prequalify clients and avoid negative feelings later.
Some clients will move forward and hire you without this specific information, but you can guarantee that it’s still a question in their minds when they come in contact with you. And these people, who hire you without fully knowing what they are getting, are going to be the clients who either wheel and deal as they go along—asking for discounts, humphing at the prices, being demanding for requests because they want to make sure they get substantial bang for their buck, and so on—or they are going to walk away feeling yucky because they spent more than they imagined they would. When you push your clients to a place of discomfort, you end up dealing with a ton of negative emotions. For instance, clients may feel scared of making the wrong decision and wasting money, guilty for spending more than they expected, ashamed that they weren’t aware of what everything was going to cost, and embarrassed to look cheap. Even if they love their images, they won’t be coming back. The overall walk-away emotion is what determines how they feel about returning.
If you present a potential client with only a session fee, without mentally selling him the minimum order requirement, you are being elusive. Furthermore, selling just a session isn’t really that valuable. As a photographer you think it’s valuable, because you know all of the work that goes into it. But to the client, if all he did was hire you for the session, it’s not that valuable to him at all. He gets nothing in return for the money because simply giving him your time gives him no tangible benefit. Clients aren’t going to thank you for pointing a camera at them, hand you money, and be satisfied. It’s like paying for a show that they don’t get to see.
The problem that you will encounter when you sell just the session fee first and then focus on presenting image prices later is having to work twice as hard to convince clients to buy. Once you’ve convinced them to give you money for the session, then having to convince them to give you more money in the sale of products is very tough. From a marketing and sales perspective, selling images separate from a session is super hard because, in essence, you are selling two products or services—and separate products are expected to have separate results, correct?
So by stating your session fee and MOR up front, you are able to get your clients to mentally lump together these two things, and they can determine whether you fit their price points of affordability. The session fee, then, is just looked at as a deposit and not as a separate experience. Right away clients can determine “Am I cool with this?” and see immediate value or “Do I feel uncomfortable and I don’t think I could get anything that would be worth that price no matter how amazing the experience is?” By presenting the session fee and minimum order requirement together, you then are attracting ideal clients who are looking with their price points of affordability. When they hire you with the awareness of what they need to spend ahead of time, they will be far more relaxed and excited about the process because they aren’t having to deal with money shockers. Get that out of the way immediately and then can focus on providing them value.
Pricing on your website attracts ideal clients
Establishing your price point with your session fee and minimum order requirement is the place to start. The next step is to be transparent about your pricing by providing it on your website. By clearly stating this information, your website copy can help you prequalify clients—attracting your ideal kind and deterring the wrong kind. Build into your copy all your features and benefits so that clients understand exactly all that they will be getting from start to finish working with you.
I go to websites all the time that do not include pricing. Perhaps the owner doesn’t want other photographers stealing the pricing, or maybe the owner frequently changes pricing and doesn’t want to update the site constantly. But here’s the problem: The lack of pricing prevents serious people from inquiring. No one likes vague—Is the website still in business? Do the prices constantly change? Are the prices too high to list?—so you need to have basic pricing on your website. For clients, seeing the numbers is actually less intimidating than contacting someone with no frame of reference. Realizing too late that you’re wasting a photographer’s time because she is completely beyond your budget is an unpleasant feeling all around. Not wanting to be “that guy,” clients who may fit your price points will hesitate to reach out to you. It’s the fear that stops them.
Stop that fear by including a separate business page on your website that explains a session in detail, as well as your session fee and MOR. Yes, it is possible that someone could steal your website copy and your idea, but you legally can protect yourself by having a lawyer send out a cease-and-desist order if you encounter copyright infringement. The money you’ll bring in thanks to the trust factor you’ll establish with clients should cover your cost easily.
The courage to turn away
It takes a lot of courage getting comfortable with prequalifying your clients this way because you’ll get freaked out when you think about all the potential clients you are losing (who actually weren’t in the price point of affordability). But you have to go through a process of elimination when you are targeting your ideal client—and that means ridding yourself of the ones who cannot give you a profit or sustain you.
A lot of people tell me that they would rather have low-paying clients than no paying clients, so when they are hurting for money, they don’t turn away clients. I get that, especially when money is tight. But I also know that the rationale behind that is based on fear, not on wise business practice. If you are struggling to bring in clients, working with a low-paying client will take time away from your focusing on marketing, growing your business, and attracting your ideal client. If you focus on just the here and now, you will stay stuck forever because you won’t ever have the time or energy to work on attracting the right clients.
It’s a vicious cycle and one that you have to break by accepting that you will lose people and you will have to turn away some. But in so doing, you are
- Readying your business for the clients who are going to pay you what your business needs to be profitable and sustainable
- Preparing for people who are a good fit for your business
- Finding the clients who will come to you repeatedly over the years and tell their friends about you
This bigger-picture thinking doesn’t allow fear to immobilize you from taking that next step forward!
Making these business decisions is not changing who you are; you aren’t looking down on the person who can’t afford you and setting yourself up as a superior. You are simply building a business to serve the people who can afford to pay you for your time and energy and who see the value in what you do. That’s just being a wise businessperson.
Please do not allow fear tell you that you are prideful, arrogant, or hurting people’s feelings when you make these business decisions. As long as your heart is in the right place, these feelings are just fear telling you that the pain in growth is not worth doing what is necessary.