What does it mean to be a great professional?
Is solid knowledge of the subject enough for success?
Here is the story about my fellow photographer. For the sake of our friendship let’s call him Max. Max is a self-employed skilled picture taker with a nice vibrant portfolio, some famous brands included. So many achievements and yet so little days with paid projects.
One day I was watching Max at work and noticed that there was something off in his communication with clients. Yet it is this very same something that is so common in a variety of business interactions. It is probable that Max’s inability to master this made him less successful, even unprofessional.
That is why I am sitting at a desk right now. The desk is propped with a laptop, hazelnut latte, and some notes written on scrunched up paper pieces. It is time to write this post and share my discovery with the world
Imagine. You are sitting at a table in a beautiful hall. Snow white napkins are folded neatly. Some mellow jazz is playing. The hostess kindly supplies us with the classic fancy-restaurant menu printed with microscopic font and absolutely no pictures. Yes, you are sitting in a high-end eatery just about to order some steak. Here comes the waiter wearing a spotless white shirt and a charming genuine smile. He knows that taste may differ. That’s why he inquires how you want your steak: rare, medium or well done. Once the order is served and you take a bite, he continues the investigation “How do you like the steak? Was it done properly?” In case you have any requests, the restaurant personnel listen carefully and make all necessary changes to the meal. Being moved by such care and attention, you most likely come to this place again, advise your friends to come too, and give it a 5-star review.
Now, here is how Max works. Shooting portraits, he constantly shows the result to a client. With his chin pointing to a ceiling and pride gushing out from his eyes, he exclaims, “Look how gorgeous this take is! What a great shot! What a great look!!!” If you were one of his clients, would you dare disagree?
I have seen him working with several models. All of them nod politely and respond positively. “Yes, it is a great shot.” Some are genuinely happy with the result; yet, signs of frustration emerge on the faces of others. It seems they are not so excited about the photos. Their “steak is not cooked” the way they like, but being too well mannered they prefer not to argue. And what about our smug photographer? He is wrapping the shoot with a broad smile. He is too proud of himself to notice the perplexity and disappointment in the models’ eyes. He might never learn the truth, he might never improve and will never be hired or referred by this client again.
Do you want to be successful? Put your ego in a bag full of stones and throw it into the deep dark sea. From now on you are on a difficult but noble mission to serve others. Everyone who works in service has to serve, just like that waiter in the restaurant. No matter if you are a photographer, a masseuse, a lawyer or a fashion designer, if you want to be successful, pay attention to your clients’ needs.
Oh, it would be so easy if everyone can verbally explain their expectation. Unfortunately, some people have a very vague idea of their needs. Speaking about portrait photography, our models can be too shy, or afraid of upsetting us or don’t want to talk about personal features they hate. However, if they dislike the photo, they can usually explain why they dislike it. Most of the time you won’t learn people’s honest opinion unless you ask for it. Also, you have to ask it in the right way.
Here is what I have discovered in the past ten years of being an entrepreneur. You can get explicit feedback just by looking at your client’s facial expression. During a photoshoot, I am constantly showing photos to a client and searching for the satisfaction and happiness in their face. If I don’t see it, most likely something is going wrong. Hey, don’t gloat! This doesn’t mean that I am a bad photographer. Every person is different. Some like frappuccino and some prefer double espresso. Often, it takes as much time as to brew a cup of coffee to adjust to your client’s special demand. All you need is to change your question from “Isn't it great?” to “Is there something that you don’t like?” or the more delicate “Can you please give me suggestions on how to make it better?” Listen carefully to the feedback. With such knowledge, you can satisfy your client’s needs and become an acclaimed prosperous professional. More importantly, you will make clients happy and help their business thrive, and this, in my honest opinion, is the real definition of success.