Managing client expectations is a key to the success of your food photography services and your blog monetization strategy. Blogger-turned-professional-food photographer Darina Kopčok shares her tips for managing client expectations to ensure they have a positive experience and engage your services again.
When working as a freelancer, managing client expectation is a part of the job and it isn’t always easy. The client may have a certain idea of what the end result should be, while you can have a completely different one.
The tough part about expectations is that most people are not so great at communicating them. This can quickly cause conflict in client relationships - whether it be for food photography or doing sponsored blog content.
The reality is that even the most easygoing clients come in with assumptions. This is why it’s so important to learn how to manage expectations. By shaping your client’s understanding of the service you provide, you’re better able to ensure that they have a positive experience and return to work with you again.
Here are some ways to help you do that.
Have Clear Goals
Until you and your client agree on strategy, goals, and timelines, you’re at risk of unmet expectations somewhere along the line.
Send your client a detailed list of deliverables that contain realistic deadlines for each line item. Review these deliverables with them and answer any questions they may have prior to moving forward with the project. This will alleviate any confusion and hopefully eliminate any difficult conversations in the future.
Establish the desired outcomes before you get started on the project, and have transparency about your process.
When you and the client are on the same page about the desired end result, you can avoid scope creep and disappointment on both sides.
Have a Detailed Contract
One of the best ways of setting expectations up front is by going over the contract with the client. This can act as a springboard to a wider conversation about not only their needs, but also what you require from them to get the job done to their satisfaction.
When I started working as a professional food photographer, I was surprised at how many of my peers didn’t have contracts, or had contracts that weren’t very detailed.
Obviously, this isn’t a good business practice from a legal standpoint. However, the contract can also help you open up the conversation about various parameters they need to be aware of.
For example, if you’re shooting for a restaurant, the chef may not be very good at plating food for the camera or be cooperative about working with you. If the food looks sloppy in the images, the client’s disappointment will likely be directed at you, the photographer. After experiencing this myself, I now have a clause in my contract that states I’m not responsible for the appearance of the food when doing restaurant shoots. My job is lighting and image capture. Be specific about what you’re willing to take on.
The important thing not to overlook is that your contract should protect not only yourself, but also your client. Make sure they know what they’re getting out of the deal, and communicate their rights and what they can expect from you as well.
Communication is key when it comes to managing expectations and keeping yourself on track.
A lack of communication is usually at the root of most problems associated with clients. When communication is direct and transparent, trust forms and helps to create a foundation for long-lasting relationships.
Ask for clarification if there’s anything you’re unsure about, and always be transparent about your process.
Any time you have a conversation with a client, follow up with an email in writing, describing your understanding of what was discussed, and any outcomes or next steps. This way you have a record of what was communicated, in case you later have a misunderstanding or dispute. Having things down on paper makes it less likely that a misunderstanding will occur in the first place.
Define appropriate channels for communication and stick to them. Perhaps you prefer to connect via email with the occasional phone call. When you stick to one or two modes of communication, communication is less likely to fall through the cracks.
Let your client know what your “office hours” are and when they can expect to hear from you.
Responding to emails late at night communicates that you are at their beck and call, which isn’t a healthy way to establish a respectful working relationship. That being said, make sure that you do respond to emails and phone calls in a timely manner during regular work hours.
Set Reasonable Time Frames
The completion of certain project milestones is often one area where expectations can clash.
Some clients don’t have reasonable expectations of how long quality work can take, and forget that they're not your only client.
In my eagerness to please clients and provide value, I used to promise results in time frames that weren’t reasonable for me. I underestimated the work involved and how long it would take me to finish everything.
This always backfired on me, because I ended up working well into the night to meet deadlines, which caused me to have to delay other commitments or skip out on them altogether. It was exhausting and it caused me to feel resentful.
Nothing is worse than promising something and then not being able to deliver. If you miss a deadline because you agreed to something that was unrealistic, then the trust you’ve built up with the client will quickly be forgotten.
Give yourself some padding when it comes to deadlines, and help the client understand how long it will take you to complete certain tasks. The goal is to under promise and over deliver.
Managing client expectations is about open communication and boundaries.
Managing client expectations is about open communication and boundaries. It takes time and experience and a few mishaps before you can implement a process that works for you and keeps both you and the client happy.
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Managing Client Expectations for Your Photography Services was written by Darina Kopčok, a blogger turned professional photographer based in Vancouver, BC. She has shot campaigns for nationally recognized brands such as Hardbite Chips and Wild Coast Fruit Co., as well as worked with international organizations based in Europe and the UK. She's also an experienced writer and educator, working with bloggers and aspiring photographers to elevate their skill set and navigate the business side of the photographic industry. Darina blogs at gastrostoria.com and her articles can also be found at Digital Photography School and Expert Photography.