Close a Deal by asking this one question….

Artists are sometimes not the best business people.

We are so tickled pink when someone likes our work, we work for FREE sometimes! Fortunately for myself, I was an entrepreneur/business person before I considered myself an artist. I have been in business for myself for over 22 years and I am proud of the fact I’ve never taken an unemployment check once in my life. Most of those years, it was always a month to month situation, very few times in my life have I ever felt like I’ve had more than a couple months of my income taken care of. Even to this day, I’m not sure how I’m going to survive my next year or even the next few months… but I know I can survive, I’ve been doing it for over 20 years so why would next year be any different? Sometimes we have to stop stressing and just have faith in our hard work ethic and character– those two things have never let me down over the two decades of being in business for myself, so take a chance, BELIEVE in yourself.

Needless to say, when a client is interested in hiring us, WE HAVE TO CLOSE THE DEAL. Our lively hood depends on it, we have to put food on the table, pay our rent, replace a dying computer, get a dependable ride, pay for college,  go to a workshop or whatever! The key to closing a deal is finding out where you stand with your prospective client. We need to know if we are the front runner or last option. The key to negotiating is to only commit to something when they commit. There is a helpful and a classic book on how to negotiate which can had for around $10- “Getting to Yes“. I highly recommend anyone who hasn’t read this to at least read the first two chapters. It is important to learn how to find out what your client is willing to commit to- what are the conditions, if any, that they would hire you under?

So after your amazing presentation of slideshows, albums, prints, endless price lists, packages, etc. And the client is not ready to immediately sign on the dotted line, I usually go through a routine like…

Me: “Well, be honest with me, what do you think?”

Clients: “Your work is great, just need to think about a few things…”

Me: “Is there anything that you don’t see in my work or package that is important to you?”

Clients: “Not really, we like what we see”

Me: ” You two seem like such a great couple and I am confident I can produce some world class imagery for you and we’d have a lot of fun creating some amazing images I know you’re gonna love the rest of your life. I’m not the cheapest photographer out there but I know I am a sure thing. Out of all the thousands of dollars we spend on a wedding, to spend 2-5% more to get what we really want and peace of mind, in my opinion is worth it. I know plenty of people in hindsight would have paid any amount to get what they expected but once we hire a wrong photographer, it’s kinda too late. Usually a client only gets one chance to hire a photographer, there are no “do-overs” so having peace of mind is very important to my clients. This is a once in a lifetime thing and heck you deserve it don’t you…to get the best?

Clients: In their mind they are thinking “Heck, I do deserve it, my fiancé but me through heck to get to this point and I’m working my butt off to pay for this darn wedding!”

Me:Let me ask you a question, Is there ANYTHING I could offer that would make you hire me RIGHT NOW? (this is the KILLER question that opens doors for you!) I just want both of you to put together your dream list together, in fact I can go away for a few minutes so you can talk and in your honest assessment, give me your conditions and let’s work out something we both feel great about.

At this point, you have just put the ball in their court. They have to respond in a way where you can know under what conditions they want to hire you. Regardless of what they come back with, you are in control or you know they just aren’t into you. I’ve had so many different offers come back to me, sometimes it was a simple fix like more hours or things like edited files, a free engagement session, more images in an album, etc. Sometimes it was worth it for me to give in to their demands (perhaps the wedding was in Paris, heck you’d do anything for that wedding) or other times we were so far apart we just had to go our separate way. Whatever they come back with on their dream list you have to follow up with this question:

(lets assume they want me to add a free engagement session)

Me: So, to be clear, you would hire me RIGHT NOW, if I could throw in a free engagement session (or whatever is on their list), you’d sign on the dotted line?

Sometimes after you ask this question, your client will still get skirmish and for some reason can’t say YES. If this happens, the consultation is over, close the books, start packing it up and gratefully thank them for meeting you. Do you understand what is going on here? YOU CAN NOT COMMIT TO ANYTHING UNTIL THEY COMMIT TO SOMETHING. This leaves the dialog open and when they go home, they understand they might get everything they want from you. And no matter who they meet next, they know your FINAL PRICE IS STILL OPEN.

If they answer, “YES” you can either accept their offer or can try to negotiate with them somewhere in the middle. Even if you can’t meet in the middle, you can think over their offer and get back to them if you really want to book the job. You still have all the control.

The bad news… There is some negative feedback if they don’t want to give you their dream list. This tells you that you’re not the right fit for your client and at any cost, THEY DON’T WANT TO HIRE YOU! Take this as constructive information and get better, it could be through your imagery, personality, pricing, consultation meeting place, etc. There are a million things why a client doesn’t want to hire you and it is our job to figure this out and fix what we can.

The bottom line is to get your client to commit to something and work it from there. It is important to honestly know where you stand and how much a client is willing to pay for your services. Regardless if they book you or not, you can sleep at night knowing you gave it all you had to book this client and this is comforting in itself.

SIDEBAR: I would always be aggressive in negotiating for the first wedding of each month. Then I know I would have my bills paid, then on subsequent consultations for jobs that same month, I can take more chances and try to get more of my asking price and I would be more resistant to lowering my price.

If this has helped you in any way, it would make me feel great if I could hear from you or if you could share this blog to a friend. Please feel free to give me a dream list of things you would want me to talk about!!

December 17, 2010 - 1:55 pm

Mia Santana - Having the right words to say at the right moment is definitely a key to positive closure!

December 17, 2010 - 2:03 pm

Heather - I am not a business person by any means, but my husband is thankfully, so he’s helped me to see a lot of flaws. I love you recommend to “put the ball in their court”.

My dream list:
What would be your five top suggestions to freelance photographers who are just starting out?
Number one piece of advice?

Will re-post this on my FB photography page!!!

December 17, 2010 - 4:11 pm

Brian - Awesome! Thanks for posting this Scott, very informative!

December 17, 2010 - 10:54 pm

Derek - I knew there was a good reason I’ve been a fan of yours for years…. ! 🙂

December 18, 2010 - 12:09 am

Rafael Alcala - WOW, thank you for sharing your knowledge! very very helpful

December 18, 2010 - 8:14 am

Bandele Zuberi - Excellent practical advice that works and most importantly has helped me close deals! Try it and see for yourself!

December 18, 2010 - 1:28 pm

Paula - sounds like an offer for sex… guess it helps close the deal for sure.

December 18, 2010 - 2:36 pm

JBraun - That whole spiel is odd to me — I understand booking is essential and what have you but if you have to be a lobbyist and a (honestly what it sounds like) try-hard to sell your work — Then they aren’t hiring you for your work. My clients receive a pricelist before a meeting, before even talking on the phone. If they can afford me, we meet, simply so they can tell if they like me as a person. I chat for 5 minutes about everyday life junk, ask q&a about them and the Wedding and then they book. Having to convince them to book outside of what my packages are is just stupid. You’re not a prostitute, you don’t have to sell yourself. Your work should do it for you.

December 18, 2010 - 2:59 pm

admin - Hi JBraun, thanks for your thoughtful input!!

I don’t think it is about prostituting, it’s about maximizing sales, putting food on the table and serving your client better, surviving a bad economy. When you purchase anything of high value, house, car, diamond ring etc. There is always negotiating. WE ARE IN A BUYERS MARKET and many photographers who are not established may miss a sale by not slightly altering their rates, what’s wrong with that? We experience the same thing when we buy a car? To think that negotiation is not part of business is a mistake IMHO. We become too enamored with our work and shows we are not open to REASONABLE changes.

I don’t think it is about pressuring, I think it is more about trying to match the needs and wants of a client and trying to understand where we fit on their priority list. It is not that you are demanding them to make a decision, you are seeing how interested they are in your services and if they are close you want to know how to accommodate them better. Nothing wrong with that in my opinion. Sometimes a client is afraid of suggesting a small request that we can easily accommodate and this allows them to create their DREAM LIST. How is it wrong to allow a client to put together a dream list?

I think with every consultation we need to know if we are hitting or missing with our work. If we simply let a client go and don’t get any feedback from them, we never learn how to serve others better. Every consultation is a learning experience to see if we can fulfill needs. That is why we need to confront our client, it is like a survey at the end of a presentation. We need to gather as much info from a client to help us serve the market better.

December 18, 2010 - 4:52 pm

Christine Guthrie - Thank you for sharing this Scott, that advice is invaluable.

December 19, 2010 - 11:34 pm

Michelle Ng - Hi Scott!

This is very great advice, even after hearing it in person! My 5 hours will multiply when I try this 😉 Thank you so much for sharing this…with the world!!!


December 21, 2010 - 7:56 am

Jenny - This is such a great reminder that I need to be way more proactive. I’m no good when it comes to the business aspect.

December 21, 2010 - 12:44 pm

Erik V. - Very well written, GREAT advice! I have no problem with negotiating with my potential clients. Also, keep in mind that many of the things that make or break a sale don’t even cost you. Adding a couple extra hours on wedding day, giving them some of the edited files, a free engagement session. These are all things that cost us nothing but time. They don’t cut into out profit. In fact, a free engagement session might generate more revenue by creating images that they would like to purchase. Sometimes no matter how much a potential client likes you and your work they won’t pull the trigger without feeling like they got a deal. Especially in this economy. Thanks for another awesome topic Scott!

December 24, 2010 - 5:12 am

auto body shops - Finally, an issue that I am passionate about. I have looked for information of this caliber for the last several hours. Your site is greatly appreciated.

December 25, 2010 - 12:12 pm

Tamekia Mcnellie - pretty helpful material, overall I consider this is well worth a bookmark, thanks

December 25, 2010 - 12:35 pm

admin - Thanks for the bookmark!

December 25, 2010 - 12:39 pm

admin - Great to hear you find my blog of use!! Get ready for more informative posts!!

December 25, 2010 - 5:35 pm

Servermusic - Super 🙂

December 28, 2010 - 5:30 pm

how to get rid of moobs - Your website is pretty slow to load in Safari.

December 29, 2010 - 12:18 pm

Kayleen Scripture - Hey there this is a fantastic post. I’m going to e-mail this to my pals. I came on this while exploring on aol I’ll be sure to come back. thanks for sharing.

December 29, 2010 - 12:41 pm

sam waiseghoby - Thanks for the post, keep posting stuff

December 31, 2010 - 10:51 am

Alicia Witt - I used to love reading your blog, but lately it’s been a little boring. I’ll still read it though =)

January 3, 2011 - 5:48 am

Pharmacy Technician Income - Hi, Cheers for the excellent blog post. I was browsing to get certain details regarding this content and your content assisted me alot. Have a nice morning.Many thanks.

January 3, 2011 - 10:29 pm

Newark - This blog site is very good. How did you make it ?

January 3, 2011 - 10:29 pm

landscaping - I love this blog layout . How did you make it. It’s very cool!

January 3, 2011 - 10:45 pm

lawn care - Dear Sir/Madam, would you care to advise me on how I could join your mailing list? I enjoy reading these websites and would like to be notified of future updates.

January 4, 2011 - 3:23 am

Landscaping - I love the site layout ! How did you make it. Its really nice.

January 4, 2011 - 3:47 am

handyman - The internet is filled with various and instructive words. but this article means more than any kind of stuff I’ve managed to findso far.

January 4, 2011 - 4:48 am

Main Line - How-do-you-do, just needed you to know I have added your site to my Google bookmarks because of your extraordinary blog layout. But seriously, I think your site has one of the freshest theme Ive came across. It really helps make reading your blog a lot easier.

November 26, 2011 - 3:36 pm

Jim Jackson Portrait Session » Scott Robert LA - […] Close a Deal by asking this one question… […]

May 1, 2014 - 9:54 am

Beth - THANK YOU FOR THIS!! I am a CPA/MBA and still struggle with the business end sometimes because art is so subjection and emotional. Thank you for presenting ways to relieve that and put it on them a little bit 😛

May 1, 2014 - 11:01 am

Bill - My question is, what if they come back with (instead of a free Engagement session – which many of us package in anyway) “Can you throw in a parent’s album, or drop your price by $500”, or something much bigger than you’re willing to give up? Is the negotiation over right there, or do you tell them you’d like to think about it?

May 1, 2014 - 12:32 pm

admin - I think the point is that you were blessed with an offer. This question gets you an offer, how you deal with it is up to you! But if you need to feed your family that month, you’ll be happy you can at least do that provided you are making a profit! lol!!

May 1, 2014 - 12:33 pm

Paul Rich - In a vast sea of advice and information that is offered to photographers on “how to do this” or “how to do that,” this information really stands out from the rest. Thanks for sharing this tip and offering an honest insight into what it is like to own and operate your own business. People need to realize it has VERY little to do with the “art” that you make and has so much more to do with how you operate/conduct your business.

May 1, 2014 - 9:08 pm

Anonymous - Thanks Scott! I’m not a photog but this is helpful for anyone.

Your email is never published or shared.