Yesterday I was in line at the coffee cart waiting to order my daily triple-shot Americano when a radio blurb grabbed my attention:

Expectations are an offense waiting to happen”.  The sentence immediately resonated with me.

The statement was referring to relationships, and the importance of communication, but I couldn’t help thinking about how it also related to my photography business. As photographers, our clients are purchasing an emotional experience from us – not just digital or paper images – and when emotions are tied to expectations, a let-down can be lethal.

I was in a long-distance relationship with my now-husband, and I had planned to fly to Chicago to spend my birthday with him. It was the second birthday we would celebrate as a couple, and he had hit a homerun on my gift the previous year. Knowing he was feeling the pressure to live up to the past year’s present, I tried to let him off the hook and tell him that he didn’t have to buy me anything; I’d be content with spending a fun day with him. The problem was, I didn’t define to him what I meant by “fun”. He took me out to a very lovely dinner, and to make a long story short, I set the poor guy up for failure by not communicating clear expectations. I’m not sure if I expected fireworks, a diamond ring, or a romantic ballad sung to me {my man does NOT sing btw} but regardless, I left him guessing.

Expectations, especially those that are undefined, are an offense waiting to happen.

How do you avoid unmet expectations with clients?

Wouldn’t it be lovely if there was a way to download everything we ever needed to know into our brains? The truth is that, unfortunately, we often learn by our mistakes. Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a client that asked you after the session “Well, can’t I see ALL the pictures?” After being asked this about 4 times, I realized that I had to find a way to communicate to clients that I might take 100 pictures during a session, but only share 25 on their gallery. As photographers, we all know that we only want to show the best version of each pose, but “mom” may be completely convinced that there was one photo of her that made her look 10 pounds lighter (can’t you just Photoshop me?!), and you just aren’t showing it! I’ve found that by sending out a pre-session email after a client books, and then following up with a phone call (because, who actually reads stuff anymore?!) I am able to address some of the most common expectations I’ve discovered clients have: what if my kids have a melt-down? What if it rains? How many pictures will you produce? What if I’m not happy? How much is this going to cost? How soon to I get to see the images? Can I have a free CD of all my images and then run and print them at Walmart and share them with everyone I know? ....This list could go on for days, but you get the idea.

Is communication foolproof?

Unfortunately, no. Just like in the example from my dating years, sometimes clients don’t even know what they themselves expect. BUT, good communication WILL solve a lot of problems. Every year on my birthday, Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Mother’s Day, and any other holiday my husband asks me “What EXACTLY do you want?” I haven’t been disappointed yet. He’s a keeper ;-)

You’ve heard the saying “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? Try making a list of the most frequently asked questions you get from clients, and come up with a plan to help address those concerns BEFORE the session.

What if it’s too late? Angry client? We’ll talk about how to deal with unmet expectations in Part II tomorrow!

Shannan Painter is a newbie photographer who has spent the last 5 years working with the left side of her brain helping small businesses organize their accounting and taxes. She decided to take the big step and pursue her dream of becoming a professional photographer in 2013 after adding a third boy to her house that was already full of super heroes, trucks, and sports equipment. She and her husband, who is a local TV meteorologist, play pick-up games of basketball in their free time and like to take road trips to Lake Minnetonka with all 3 boys, and their dog Growler.  Visit her on Facebook!