Sunday, December 7, 2008

Growing Pains: The Power of Thank You

A recent PPA Vital Signs business newsletter resonated with me because it reminded me of a very simple mannerism that I have not been using in my business: saying "thank you." Now of course, I express gratitude to my clients for choosing to work with me during and after the shoot, but the article "Expressing Gratitude and Meaning It" taught me that I could be doing more to strengthen the personal relationships that are the foundation of a good business. I need to make creating and sending thank-you notes an essential part of my workflow.

I am considering sending my clients one free high resolution download of my favorite image from their session as my thank you; and because I am social, I really like the idea of having a customer appreciation party. Or I may just give personalized thank yous based on what the client needs. For example, I gave Kim several low resolution downloads of her favorite images to post on her website chronicling her wedding.

I did some research online and found this great example of photo thank you cards at Photo Card Creations. I love the look of these cards as well as the numerous templates to choose from.

But I may also take advantage of the new cards offered by Smugmug.

I am reprinting the newsletter article here on my blog. Thank you Professional Photographers of America for sharing the tools to make my business as well as others healthy and prospering! The money I spend to be a member is money well spent!

"Expressing Gratitude and Meaning It"

When you express sincere thanks, it makes someone stop and think about you. Showing gratitude is a way to keep your business “top of mind.” When you let someone know that you appreciate the fact they chose your business to capture a special moment or partner with you for referrals, you strengthen the bond you hopefully have already established. And this bond pays dividends: more repeat business and more new referrals.

You’ve probably heard this statistic: it costs six times more to get a new customer than to keep an existing one. Thanking your existing clients can actually save you money in your marketing budget!

Who Do You Thank?
It doesn’t matter what type of photography business you own—commercial, portrait, wedding, or sports—you have a lot of people to thank. Not only should you acknowledge your existing clients, you should also show your appreciation of your cooperative marketing partners, your vendors, and your referral network.

For wedding photographers, your “circle of gratitude” will encompass not only your previous clients, but the wedding coordinators, the wedding locations’ event management, the caterers, the florists…anyone who helped to make a bride’s special day memorable. Granted, they didn’t do anything for you. But by letting them know it was a pleasure to work with them in creating a beautiful wedding day, you foster a sense of camaraderie. The next time someone asks for a recommendation for a professional photographer…your name is more likely to be mentioned.

Commercial photographers will obviously thank the ad agency or direct client, but don’t forget that your “circle of gratitude” extends out to include assistants, anyone involved in production or post-production outside the studio, and the individual who may have recommended you for the shoot.

There will always be a few people who you won’t want to thank, and for a good reason. These may be your “problem clients” or individuals (or companies) with whom you would never do business again. Think hard before you cross them off your list, though, because they still may bring you referrals. (However, it is YOUR choice to send a thank you—it’s not an obligation. If you just can’t get yourself to thank these people, then don’t do it.)

How Do You Express Your Gratitude?
Two simple rules: be sincere and be memorable.

What’s worse than not receiving an acknowledgement of gratitude? Receiving one that smacks of falsehood, or is so impersonal that it doesn’t matter. We’ve all received one or two generic thank-you notes in our life, and perhaps we’ve even sent one or two that may not have been entirely heartfelt. (After all, you dutifully sent Aunt Jane a thank you for that Pepto-Bismol colored sweater that you’ll never wear!)

Be sincere in your message. Let them know you appreciate that they placed their trust in you to create memorable images. You want to make it as personal as possible: include their names or even an observation that makes the thank-you note sound less standard. Don’t try to sell to them in the thank-you note, either. Just let them know it was your pleasure to be a part of that experience.

It can be a struggle to make a thank-you note memorable. Often, these notes may get tossed in the garbage after being read…and quickly forgotten. You want something that they’ll keep, show to others, and remind them of your products and services.

For example, one wedding photographer selects a photo that wasn’t included in the package, and includes that image in her thank-you note. (You can purchase pre-cut photo cards for this purpose.) Many vendors offer innovative products that place your images on items like magnets, keychains, mugs, etc. If you purchased a personalized promotional product for $10 and sent it to your client, and that client gives you a referral…well, that $10 was money well spent, wasn’t it?

Here are some other tips to remember:

Make sure that you do include your studio name and contact information somewhere on the thank-you card (and any product you send to the client).
Handwritten notes resonate more than a pre-printed one. If your handwriting is illegible, then consider having an assistant, a family member, or a friend help out.
Don’t buy thank-you notepaper that feels cheap and flimsy. You want to project a professional image—use quality paper stock.
Do not send a thank you through e-mail. If you have your client’s e-mail address, use it (with permission) to market your services when appropriate. Thank-you e-mails will get deleted too quickly to make an impact.

When Do You Express Your Gratitude?
It’s a matter of personal perspective. Some businesses choose to send a thank you immediately after a session or the delivery of an album. Some wait a pre-determined amount of time (three weeks or a month), then send a note to jog the memory of the client. (For wedding photographers, this may mean a thank you for the engagement session, another thanks right after the wedding, and one after the album delivery.)

Don’t think that you can send a single note and be done with it. Whenever you do decide to initially give your thanks, it can help to remind them later on in the year—send out a second thank you, or take it a step further and show your gratitude in another way.

For instance, you could throw an appreciation party. If you have a studio location, have the party at the studio and invite everyone (all of your clients, vendors, marketing partners, etc.) to come and celebrate their part in making your business a success. If you don’t have a studio, you can choose to have it at a local restaurant or banquet hall…or even a public park. You want to avoid holidays and your busy times, so plan for the slowest part of your year (but before your busy season).

Whether you serve hot dogs and soda with a local band as entertainment, or filet mignon and champagne with a string quartet, it will depend on your clientele. If you specialize in children’s photography, include the child’s name in the invitation (or send the children their own special invitation). You could have a face painter and games for the kids, so the adults can talk to each other while the children are occupied.

Take a moment to thank everyone for attending and, once again, express your gratitude. Remind them that they are a huge part of your success. Invite them to look at your latest products or schedule an upcoming portrait session. The focus shouldn’t be on selling them more products and services, but you may be surprised to find additional products being sold to those attending. You can even choose to donate a portion of your profits that day to a local charity or worthy organization.

Steps You Can Take Today
While this time of year brings “thanksgiving” to the front of our minds, expressing your gratitude to those who help you is something you need to do constantly. Make it a part of your workflow, and include it in your marketing plans. Saying “thank you” in a sincere and unforgettable way is smart business sense that will expand your client base. And it reminds you about those who make your business successful.

Starting a “gratitude campaign” can be overwhelming, especially if you have a large client or vendor base. You don’t need to send everyone a thank-you card today, so here are a few ideas:

Set yourself a goal of writing a few notes each day (after you’ve chosen the notepaper and/or a memorable gift). Make it a part of your daily business routine, because this is part of customer service.
Look at your calendar to see when the best time to hold an appreciation party would be (if you decide to do this). Decide how many people you want to invite (you don’t have to invite everyone on your client list). You can always have an intimate appreciation party—or you can have more than one to thank different types of clientele. Planning this type of party takes time and assistance, especially if you’re watching your budget.
Search out a vendor who can offer you something unique to include in your expression of gratitude. Depending on the type of image you want to project, you may find that you need to spend a little more (or less). A high-end portrait photographer and an event photographer have different clients and will most likely not send the same type of gift.
Think about how you’d like to be thanked. What was the best “expression of gratitude” you’ve ever received, and why did it make you feel that way? Remember that feeling as you compose your own thank-you notes, as this is how you want the recipient to feel.

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