Hannah Gough is a portrait and wedding photographer based in Brisbane, Australia. After working with a portrait studio for many years she walked away with a strong sense of what she would need to start her own portrait business. And that’s what she did. Here’s what she does to make her clients happy, and build lasting relationships with each of them.
PhotoShelter: How have you built lasting relationships with clients?
Hannah Gough: This is probably the most important part of my business. Now, 3 years into it, I still find it is the face to face connections and referrals that work best. I have systems in place to remind me of anniversaries for clients and will send a thank you email one, and two years after their photo shoot. I also reward repeat clients with a bonus gift when they return. It is wonderful to see families again, especially if they have another baby and I love this part of the business. There are so many portrait and wedding photographers in Brisbane and around the world, that it’s very important to make a connection with the client so that they will refer me. Making a connection should happen throughout your entire experience with the client which means you need to be consistent, exceed the client’s expectations, and help them enjoy themselves. Then they will be happy to talk to their friends and make a referral.
When I first started, I tried to go out and actually meet with as many people face-to-face in the community as possible—other small businesses that had some kind of connection to my business—party shops and beauticians and hair dressers that meet a lot of wedding clients, and wedding venues.
I was lucky to meet a few key people in the area and still today a lot of my referrals are from that initial group. I am lucky that I have a spot here in Brisbane that everyone is really happy to help smaller businesses.
How do you build great customer service into your workflow?
I try to implement customer service at each stage of my process. I’ve worked in the hospitality industry, too, and I think that has helped me understand what people need and how to keep them happy. The key is communication. I’ll try to be as available and communicative as possible at each stage. Once they’re booked in and confirmed I make sure that I’ve answered any questions they have. I keep them in the loop about my process, and when everything is done, once they have received their frames or prints, I follow up—I want to make sure that they’re happy!
How do you keep portrait clients flowing through your door?
Lead generation (aka potential clients) is very important so that you always have people to reach out to and pitch. One way to generate leads for me was to team up with local businesses. I do a lot of family-with-pet portraits, so I gave some vouchers to a pet grooming salon who gave them away to their most loyal clients. It made them look great because they were giving away a $200 gift voucher, and people were happy to have portraits with their pets, and I had people through the door. I also found that market stalls (a booth or table) were very good at certain events. You can actually get out and meet people, face to face. I have done a couple of fundraisers for the local schools [offering her services as a raffle but also helping to organize the events]. It took a lot of time and money, but I got a lot of clients out of it and I made my money back as well as gained a whole lot of new, quality clients.
Since I’ve built up my SEO, my website has now made it to a high position in Google which has really helped with new leads. I also place small ads in portrait related online blogs such as Brisbane Kids who have a huge data base of families in my local area.
What are some of the challenges of wedding portrait photography?
Getting the timing right on the day is important and I try to plan as much as possible with the couple beforehand so we don’t run out of light and it’s not too rushed. Most couples are happy to be guided by what will be best, and I find 2 hours between ceremony and reception is ideal. I also ask the bride to be ready at least an hour and a half before she needs to leave for the ceremony.
Overall, as the photographer have to build a rapport beforehand and help ease the client’s nerves. Have a little fun. Get them to interact and forget that they are in front of the camera. They can start mucking around and you can get some fun photos. By the time the wedding comes around they feel comfortable with me.
The biggest challenge I find shooting weddings is maintaining control over the bridal party after the wedding and reception. Honestly, all they want to do is drink, but I still need their attention. It can be tricky juggling all this, keeping them from getting bored and cranky. That’s the biggest challenge—making the shoot worth their time.
What’s the best way to make your clients happy?
Being honest, genuine and showing a real enthusiasm for the photo shoot. Also taking care to find out exactly what they are looking for rather than shooting with my own agenda. Every family and couple are different and I absolutely love hearing their story and trying to capture what I can in a fun and creative way.