I was sipping coffee with a couple at Gallery Espresso recently, chatting about their upcoming wedding, their relationship, the fun they were having in Savannah, and all sorts of other things. It was a typical client consultation, but they dropped a bomb that I’d never heard before…
They were surprised and grateful that I had agreed to meet with them, because they had another photographer tell them consultations weren't free unless they had already agreed to book them.
Um, what?? Guys, I was floored. Client consultations are a given in my book, because how else would they know whether I was someone they wanted to spend their entire wedding day with?? Yes, that sometimes means I’m investing my time into someone who won’t ultimately book me, but I book more often when I put the time and attention into my couples from the first moment they contact me.
So, let’s talk about client consultations and there why, where, when and whats that make a wedding consultation go from formal encounter with a vendor to casual, comfortable coffee date with a new friend:
I include consultations for free because I believe it’s essential for a couple to get to know me before they decide to book me. You often spend more time with a bride on her wedding day than she does with the person she’s marrying (yes, really!), so I want them to feel excited to have me by their side on such an important day. I want them to leave the consultation feeling like they want to hire more me as more than just their photographer—they are hiring me as a friend who will be there not only to capture every lovely moment, but also someone they can turn to in a moment of stress, someone who will laugh with them, cry with them, and add value to their wedding day experience. While my brand is designed to build that trust and understanding from their first encounter online with Apt. B Photography, it’s the phone call or in-person meeting that let’s them really see my personality and seals the deal that they want me to be a part of their wedding day.
About 75% of my weddings are destination weddings, which means the couple can’t always meet me in person. I give them the option of a phone, FaceTime or Skype chat, so that they can choose the method they are most comfortable with—and each one of those allows me to form a more personal connection with the client from the very beginning.
When the couple does live in Savannah or they are visiting to meet with vendors, we’ll meet for coffee or wine at my favorite coffee shop, Gallery Espresso. I debated renting a meeting space, but I ultimately decided that the casual, intimate nature of grabbing a cup of coffee together like friends would do fits my brand better. While I would meet them somewhere else if it was more convenient for them, I encourage meeting at the location of my choice because I know it’s where I will be most comfortable. There are always nerves before a client meeting, but knowing I’ll be sipping coffee in one of my favorite spaces makes me much more confident.
Sidenote: Yes, it would be easier/less time invested to just have phone calls or stick to FaceTime/Skype—but I know my strength is meeting in person. I am more nervous and awkward over the phone, so I’ll always opt for an in-person meeting when possible. So I encourage you to figure out where you feel your personality shines the best!
I meet with couples as soon as I can after they’ve inquired. The booking process typically moves quickly (locking down major vendors for a wedding day removes stress, so brides often want to know who they are booking as soon as possible), so I make sure they know within 1-2 emails that I am interested in chatting with them more outside of just emailing. We usually find a time to chat or meet within two weeks of that email, but sometimes they have a trip to Savannah planned for later, in which case we plan it for then. I make sure they know I’ve penciled in their name on their date, and that I will let them know immediately if I get another inquiry for that date before we’ve had a chance to meet—that way I respect their interest and give them first right of refusal.
So now you’ve gotten to the actual consultation, and what the heck are you supposed to talk about with someone who is essentially still a stranger?! Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered! I go into every single phone call or meeting knowing I want to touch on the following things:
- I want to hear their love story! I ask them about how they met, how he proposed, how long they’ve been together—all the good stuff.
- I want to hear more about their plans—have they picked out their flowers, what are their bridesmaid dress colors, will they be personalizing the wedding in some special way, etc.
- I find out whether they are doing a First Look, and if not, we chat about the benefits of doing one.
- I find out whether they are familiar with my packages and discuss how many hours of coverage they are interested in. If they know what time their ceremony will be and when the party will end, I will sketch out a timeline for them RIGHT THEN. Maybe they don't book me and they take that timeline to another photographer—that’s totally ok! It’s a value-added moment that I feel is so important in building trust, so it’s something I will do for them whether they book me or not.
- I explain to them my style of photography and tell them how I like to work on a wedding day. I talk through my role in everything from getting ready photos to the ceremony to the reception and all the photos in between, so they can understand exactly where I’d be and what I’d be doing throughout their day. I also give them specific examples of how I will be stepping in and directing shots to ensure their photos are as beautiful as possible: “If you are putting your dress on, I may have you step into a specific corner of the room because it’s got a beautiful background in the perfect light,” or “I will tell the bride to face me, and then I have the groom start a few steps behind her, walk up and snuggle her, and whisper something funny in her ear to make her giggle.” The more specifics I can give about how I’ll capture their day, the more comfortable they’ll be going into that experience.
- I give them an idea of what our relationship would be leading up to the wedding. I encourage my brides to use me as a resource for things beyond just photography. Not sure if you want to have matching bridesmaid dresses or not? Ask me! Just found your dream wedding dress? Text me a pic! I want to be in touch as much as possible leading up to the day, because then I feel even more like a friend when the wedding arrives.
- I tell them exactly how and when they will receive their photos, so the expectation is set from the get-go. In my case, it’s an online gallery of high resolution images with a print release, delivered 6-8 weeks after the wedding, along with a USB drive that’s delivered at the end of wedding season (I mail these to my brides all at once).
- I make sure they know how to book me, and I make that process extremely simple—send me an email confirming the package you’ve selected, and then I’ll send over an online contract (through 17 Hats) along with instructions for how to pay the 50% non-refundable retainer. I want booking me to be the EASIEST decision they have to make in the midst of lots of other complicated wedding decisions.
Now that you know the why, where, when and whats of a solid wedding consultation, I want to tell you the MOST important thing to remember:
Listen more than you speak!
Let your client do more talking than you do. Yes, there will be moments when it’s important for you to talk and provide answers to questions or additional information—but brides are excited about planning their wedding, and they will be excited to tell you all about it. People want to be heard, and showing genuine interest in what they have to say will build trust with a client from that very first encounter.
“Most people go through life wishing to be listened to more. So by listening rather than talking, you are giving something valuable to the person who's speaking. Especially if you really are taking in what that person is saying and not thinking about something else. The speaker will appreciate that gift and you will have created a bond. He or she will feel understood and validated. It's a powerful relationship-building tool, and an especially powerful sales tool.” - inc.com
Now go out there and ROCK your next wedding consultation!! I want to hear how it goes— shoot me a message on Instagram! <3