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How Did You Find Clients Who Appreciated Your "Value"?

Recently, long-time PFRE contributor, Kerry Bern, shared a terrific story with me about the importance of finding people who value what you have to offer:

A father said to his son, “This is a watch your grandfather gave me and is more than 200 years old. I’m going to give it to you but before I do, I want you to take it to the pawn shop on 1st Street and tell him I want to sell it. Ask him how much he'll offer you.” The son did this and returned to tell his father that the owner offered only $30 because the watch was old.

The father said, “Now, go to the barber shop near the courthouse and ask them how much they’re prepared to offer you for the watch.” The son went and came back to tell his father that the barber offered $20 for the watch. The father said, “Alright, now go to the museum and show them the watch and see what they say.” The son did so and returned to tell his father that the museum’s curator told him it was a very rare watch and is worth over $20,000.

To this, the father smiled and said, “I wanted to let you know that the right person values you in the right way. Don't find yourself in the wrong place, getting angry with someone if you are not valued. Those that know your value are those who appreciate you. So don't stay in a place where nobody sees your value.”

I thought this story would make for a good segue into the notion of how we find (or align ourselves with) clients who value what we do. I know for myself, the best relationships that I’ve had with my real estate agent clients were the ones where they appreciated my decision to shoot tighter compositions. I thought that doing so distinguished the look-and-feel of my photos from those captured by the "run-and-gun" and/or the "UFWA" shooters that a vast majority of the agents in my marketplace used at the time. Those clients who appreciated my approach were obviously my favorite ones. And yes, I still did shoots for agents who couldn’t care less about my tighter shots or, even worse, insisted that I shoot ultra-wide--I had bills to pay after all--but it always seemed that at the end of each of these shoots, I felt kind of flat because, for the most part, I didn’t have any fun. Feeling this way motivated me to find more of my favorite type of clients... and finding them boiled down to a few key things.

Staying True to Self

The first (and probably, most important) thing I did to find clients who valued me was to stick to my guns about how I preferred to compose my images (i.e., tighter, more zoomed-in shots). Yes, I got a LOT of resistance from some agents and had a long list of agents who only used me once. To me though, it was important to shoot the way I wanted to shoot. So, I began going out of my way to highlight to any agent that I began to work with, what I saw as the value (i.e., benefits) of creating such compositions.

Creating a "Choice"

When a client said, "I want it shot ultra-wide", rather than accept it, I tried to sway their opinion by giving them a choice. For example, let's say we were in the kitchen and after taking a shot the way my client wanted it captured, I would steal an extra few seconds to take a tighter composition. The next morning, when delivering the photos, I would include in their Dropbox folder, the normal ultra-wide shot of the kitchen and then I would add, as an attachment to the email, the zoomed-in version, too. In the email, I would say something to the effect of:

“Hey Jim, do you remember in our walk-through at our photoshoot yesterday, when you told me how expensive that kitchen renovation was? Well, I took the type of shot that I normally send you which you’ll find in your Dropbox folder but as you’ll see, I’ve also attached to this note an additional shot that I took in a little different way. If you take a close look at it, you'll see that you're able to see that expensive millwork a lot better in the new version. I was thinking that, given how big a selling feature this kitchen is, I’m guessing you’d want prospective buyers to see it more closely. What do you think?”

In other words, I tried to use the agent's language (e.g., their desire to better show off the best features of the house, so as to hopefully attract more buyers to the listing/open houses). If I had used my technical jargon related to the value of zooming-in (e.g., perspective compression), I'm sure their eyes would've glazed over!

Over-the-Top Customer Service

In any case, once I found a client who valued my approach to real estate photography, I went over the top with customer service for them! Yes, I've always tried to deliver stellar service with all my clients but for my best clients, I always went above and beyond. This included expressing my gratitude every now and then for their openness to my approach. I've always thought that it's important to make these key clients aware that what they were allowing me to do was important to me, so I tried to find different ways to commend them for it.

Asking for Referrals to Other Like-Minded Agents

Finally, with a solid relationship in hand, I was persistent (in a tactful way) in always asking for a referral to one or more colleagues in their office/agency who they thought might also appreciate my way of shooting.

Anyway, I'm hoping Kerry's parable resonated with you as it did with me, and that you'll take a moment to share a story of how you ended up getting your best clients and, perhaps share some of the "tactics" you've used along the way, to cultivate these types of enjoyable and satisfying relationships. Thanks.

Tony Colangelo is a residential and commercial photographer, as well as a photography coach, based in Victoria, BC, Canada. He is a long-time contributor to PFRE and is the creator of The Art & Science of Great Composition tutorial series. 

9 comments on “How Did You Find Clients Who Appreciated Your "Value"?”

  1. Tony I always enjoy your pearls of wisdom. I recently bought your training course on composition and it definitely helped to change my thinking. As a relatively new real estate shooter, I’ve seen some outstanding properties that deserve so much exposure than the run/gun approach.
    Whenever the opportunity presents itself I try to take a few minutes more to get a shot or two that I feel the client would appreciate. It has paid off more than a few times; for me, my client and their client as well. Your words today help to further my resolve to seek out those who truly value the professionals’ talent.

    I love the watch story. It is so true.
    Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. Does anyone have thoughts on whether or not agents use more than 1 photographer/tour company?

    A have hypothesized that agents may not use the same photographer for a $10,000,000 listing and a $100,000 listing. Or because of scheduling or conflict with their sellers or they want a different service.

  3. Excellent article, Mr Tony Colangelo. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Your persistence in a tactful way is really an example to follow.

    To answer Frank question. I can assure you that brokers do use different photographers for higher-end listings, In my office at least. I'am presently working as a full time videographer for one of the largest REMAX team in Canada and the world (The Bardagi Real Estate team located in Montreal) and that's a common practice in our office. We do it primarily for two reasons. One being the better quality of the pictures. The second being the price.

    In an Ideal world we would always use the photographer with a more magazine feel like to its pictures. Someone like Mr Colangelo for example. But busine$$ wise. We only retain their services for the more expensive properties.

    I hope my answer helped you.

    Best regards,

    Laaziz.

    Ps: Please excuse my written English. I'm a native French-speaking person.

  4. It's worth pointing out also that the money lies in providing a unique product. Making your photos look like everyone else's photos means that you can be replaced, painlessly, with any other photographer who charges $10 less.
    But when you play the long game, and constantly push to create images that are authentic to YOU, ultimately you become irreplaceable, and thus priceless (Ok, maybe not "priceless", but certainly "very valuable"). Contrary to popular mythology, 'real' artists don't starve. They thrive. Just ask David Hockney. Or Olafur Eliasson. Or Nadav Kander. Or David Alan Harvey. Or Edward Burtynsky.

    A real estate photographer doesn't have to rise to the level of Iwan Baan, but that's the obvious direction to push. Just as casual runners who compete in the local Turkey Trot don't look for ways to run slower, we shouldn't be looking for ways to shoot cheaper/faster/more. There's little money in that, and absolutely no fun. The money and the fun lies in the other direction!

  5. Scott Hargis....your response is perfect! We so often feel that the path to success is through more volume and lower prices and then work to cut costs to get there. You can absolutely be successful in a high volume/low price business model....but for most of us it doesn't satisfy our yearning to achieve more...be better...and excel.

  6. i agree with the concept whole hardily but disagree with the wide/tight debate, I know photographers shooting amazing tours, which contain both wide and tight composition options, these convey both flow and detail. Its simply educating the client in the value of both that separates me from the pack.
    I have found it's about building a consistent brand filled with above average customer service and professionalism. These are features that are not scalable for lower cost competitors as they usually fall to wayside quickly because they simply can not supply the same level of quality and service consistently.
    I will admit each year I need to do more educating to my higher end agents about the difference between price and value, something I rarely had to do in the past.

  7. I don't think the approaches are mutually exclusive, in the sense that we should deliver both types of shots where they're relevant. I see part of the job as being a valued marketing partner with the agent. A tight shot where some detail will draw a buyer's interest, as well as wide for the bigger picture.

    Disclaimer: I'm far from an expert, but it just seems like a common sense mindset to becoming a value-add marketing partner and not just someone shooting and uploading a bunch of basic, one-approach photos for profit. Like the OP it seems to me we should encourage realtors to value our input not just our efficiency or cost.

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