In Person Client Proofing Part II: The Nitty Gritty

This is the follow up to part one that talked about why I stopped doing sneak peeks on my blog.

So, now we know that the client hasn’t seen the images yet and has no idea what to expect so there is naturally a lot of happy anticipation, both for the client to see the images and for you to see their reaction!

But first you need to prepare everything on your end to make sure things go as smoothly as possible during the ordering session.  Here’s what I did, which is by no means perfect, I just want to share with you my process.

When I first started thinking about in person ordering I initially had dreams of hooking up my laptop to the clients’ flat screen TV and everyone enjoying a giant larger than life gallery.  To do this you need an HDMI cord to go from your laptop to the flat screen (and a big one at that) which run at least $50. My dad had one for his Roku so I borrowed that to test it out.  I realized that our flat screen’s HDMI input is at the back of the TV and really difficult if not impossible to reach and it got me thinking that this isn’t the most reliable plan because a) not all clients even HAVE a flat screen or, like us, only have one in their bedroom which would be an awkward place for the viewing and b) there are all sorts of technical and logistical things that can come up.

So I moved onto plan B, which was to bring my fairly impressive large glossy screen monitor to hook up to my laptop.  When I tried it at home, I couldn’t get the correct resolution on the large monitor, it wasn’t using up all the space which may be as simple as needing to install a new driver? I don’t know but it was late the night before the ordering session and I didn’t have time to investigate, plus that was yet ANOTHER thing to bring to the client’s house in addition to my canvases and other samples etc.

So I decided that I could just use my laptop.  Now, I’m really lucky because my laptop has a VERY large screen for a laptop – it’s a Dell Studio 1737, which has a 17″ glossy screen that looks quite impressive at least for a laptop. It certainly was more than big enough for the mom and dad to watch together without any issues.   The more recent version of the laptop I have is the 1747 which starts at about $699 but has some impressive new features like a touch and zoom screen application (like an iPhone!) and much improved speakers.  I love this laptop,  it’s GREAT for client proofing, the downside is that the large screen adds considerable weight, so it’s not the ideal laptop for someone who travels a lot.

OK, so now that I decided on what to display it on, I had to figure out exactly what TO display!

This is where this post turns into a love letter to Lightroom 3.  So let me just say first that you all know that I love Lightroom, but I hadn’t yet upgraded to the latest version because my home computer where I do all my editing was just not up to the task of upgrading.. first of all because my C drive was critically full, but also because it runs a crappy Windows Vista personal edition that limits the max RAM to 4GB. If I could have upgraded my existing computer I probably would have gone that route, but given that I would have had to upgrade operating systems which is a giant PITA because it wipes your whole system I decided to use some of the proceeds from my templates and buy myself a lean mean editing machine!

I really didn’t WANT to have to spend my money on a new computer, but it was completely hampering me.  It would take so long to even open a file from LR in Photoshop that I would literally browse online and read photo forums while it was opening!  And I had to keep closing and reopening LR and PS to free up more RAM.. it was a nightmare. I barely have time to edit as is, so a system that was literally crawling is just to much of an additional time suck.   I crawled along with my old system for a while, but finally the lure of the amazing new LR3 features kicked me into action.  The last computer only lasted me 2 YEARS because I skimped out on things like the OS, the RAM, and the hard drive, so this time I LOADED it up with the max of everything.  I only mention this because I don’t want anyone to make the same mistake I did.. you want a system you can grow with, particularly for editing programs which are HUGE resource hogs.  (I also used this as an excuse to get an IPS monitor, but more on that another time :)  Ok, techie stuff over.

So, now you know why I waited to upgrade to LR3 – and wow, was it worth the wait!!

Unlike the somewhat questionable necessity of upgrading photoshop to CS5 (the new features aren’t ESSENTIAL IMO) the upgrade to LR3 I feel is a MASSIVE improvement.  There are so many new features but I will do a separate post on that, for now I want to focus on the features that I used for the ordering session..

Like I do for any other client I make a collection with the client’s gallery which are the best 20-30 shots. Then I pop over to the new improved slideshow module which now lets me add MUSIC! Even better, it lets me export the whole slideshow as an mp4!   This has so many different possible applications..  I used to have to use windows movie maker to mix images and videos or even to add music to a set of images.. no more! Now I can do it all with one click from Lightroom.  Plus, it has other handy features like the ability to add your watermark, zoom the images to fill etc. etc. but what I particularly love is the “fit to music” option which will automatically time your slides to start and end with the music you’ve selected! Awesome.

I’m particularly happy about this feature because when I last redid my pricing I included in the highest package “a slideshow of all gallery images set to music in a format for sharing online.”   This is an expensive package and no one has purchased it yet, but now I know that if they do, it’s going to be a piece of cake for me to create it.

OK, sorry that got to be a longer review of the slideshow module than I meant it to be for the purposes of this post, but it was the meat and bones of the client presentation so I feel it is necessary to elaborate on.

Since a picture (or video in this case) is worth a thousand words, I am posting the export of the slideshow that I presented to the client so you can see exactly what they saw:

Ok, so now we get to the fun part – the client’s reaction!

Now you will hear people on photo forums talk a lot about wanting to do in person ordering sessions to boost sales – which is part of the equation, but not the most important part IMO. The most important part to me was getting to experience the joy that my images brought to this family – the excitement that they felt seeing their beautiful girls.   I’ve never gotten that kind of feedback before.

Sure I’ve gotten the requisite “we loved them” email from a client after seeing their gallery online, but let me tell you that there is NO comparison to being there, watching them literally gasp as every picture comes on the screen. That alone is worth doing the in person ordering session!!  But of course that motivation is a bit selfish, so let me move into the next and probably MOST important reason that in person ordering rocks: customer service.

I know that seems odd, but let me explain. Actually, let me continue to tell you about what happened AFTER we viewed the slideshow and I think it will become perfectly clear why this is a positive experience for the client as much as for the photographer.

So after the slideshow was over, I switched from the Slideshow module back to the develop module and let the mom scroll though each image using the left and right arrow keys.  She was able to rate the ones she liked from 1-5 using the numeric keypay (i.e. press 4 for 4 starts etc) and using this method we were EASILY able to narrow down her selections.  She actually just gave her favorites 4 stars, so what I did when she was done was go to the “filter” feature and select 4 stars so we were able to JUST see the ones she’d picked (you can filter in all sorts of ways, so if she had rated 1-5 we could have just seen the 5s, or “all rated” images etc).

The way you do this is go to the area just above the filmstrip on the right and choose “custom filter”. Then you can just click on the star rating that you want (so I clicked on the 4th star to see all the ones she’d marked as 4 stars) :

So at first pass, she had about 14 images chosen. We then started talking about if she wanted to order a package or not and if so, which one.

When I first asked, they both said they were going to just order a la carte.  I think even though it’s spelled out how much savings is offered in a package they don’t REALLY understand the savings built in over ordering a la carte.  So this family wanted to create a thank you card for their daughter’s Christening, so they knew they needed at least ONE digital file. My second package up comes with 1 digital file, but I also showed them that they could just get the lowest package that includes 10 gift prints and add the digital file on a la carte, but for less than $100 more they could get the next package which includes a 16×20 gallery wrap.

At first the mom mentioned that “they didn’t need anything big” because it’s not a FAMILY picture.  At this point, I was able to show her my 16×20 sample in my photographer’s wall display guides above the couch, but also, because I was in her HOME I was able to bring my sample to her living room and put it above the mantle and show her how NOT big a 16×20 actually is! I also walked around the first floor a bit and showed her where I thought it would look great (the big empty wall in the foyer) and she got completely on board.   I don’t consider this a “hard sell” tactic, in fact, I’m probably the least pushy WORST salesperson in the world.  But I didn’t feel weird or awkward “convincing” her to go with the next package up because 1) it represents a better value for her and fits her needs better and 2) I know she will CHERISH that gorgeous 16×20 gallery wrap because she absolutely fell in love with the image.

I don’t have a problem “talking someone into” something I know they will have zero regrets about,  I want her to love and enjoy that image every day, not have it tucked away in some drawer somewhere.  Not because I want to make money off of her, but because I believe in the beauty of children’s portraiture and the joy that images of children bring their parents. Period.

I went into so much detail about the package selection because it really showed me how as much as we post our prices on our websites, or email them to our client and even have them SIGN off on them first, they don’t really seem to be able to understand which package is best for what they want.  Again, this is customer service. You are helping them choose what’s best for them. Not forcing, coercing, just showing them the different options and together coming up with the best plan.

Ok, so now that she had chosen a package, she had to decide which images to order as 5×7 vs. 8×10 etc.  I sell my 5x7s and 8x10s at the same price, so it was a matter of personal choice for her. But, because I was there with her and had LR and her final image selections, we were able to go right into the crop panel and see the actual effect that cropping to those different sizes would have.  I LOVED this!  We can explain all we want that different crop sizes result in different amounts of image being lost, but nothing explains it like showing it!

Here’s an example.  The mom knew she wanted to order this image and was considering between a 5×7 and an 8×10. But once I showed her the 8×10 crop she knew immediately that she wanted the 5×7 to preserve more of the negative space on the left of the image:

5×7


8×10

I was also able to show her what any given image might look like in black and white by applying a preset with one click. I didn’t do this with all of them by any means, there was just one in particular she was debating so I was able to help make up her mind.  Again, good customer service.

Contrast this with my last web gallery ordered session where the mom “didn’t realize” that her 11×14 print wouldn’t be a close up like the promo card I made up using a closer crop (I left it at daycare where she had seen it).  In fact, the number of client issues that can come up during the ordering process is DRASTICALLY reduced when you are showing the client exactly what they will be getting before hand.  No unpleasant surprises = fewer headaches for you down the line.   Yep, I’ll say it again: good customer service!

One other thing I want to mention is that I think it’s really nice for the clients to get to ordering out of the way.  I think so many of them drag their feet because they are confused about the exact issues we just discussed: What size  print, black and white or color, what package etc.   In one hour, I was able to help the client with ALL of her questions and leave there with everything completely taken care of, paid for, done.  No follow up emails for me to tell her that her gallery is about to expire, no “task” hanging over her head.

So, by now I hope you have a pretty good idea why I’m so enthusiastic about this new strategy.  I’m going to work it into my contracts and use it as a way to differentiate myself from my competition and explain it as what it is: a natural extension of the “custom photography experience.”  After all, the picture people aren’t going to come to your home and tell you exactly where they think you should hang a gallery wrap, or whether or not B&W or Color is going to match your hallway wallpaper better!

I’ll say it one final time: Good. Customer.Service.

Let me know if you have any questions!!

PS: that may very well be my longest post EVER. Anyone still with me? :)

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Amy Lemaniak says:

Thank you so much for posting your process! I am doing my first in person ordering session soon and it’s nice to hear how others conduct them!

Vera says:

This post explains everything so well, and I can totally see myself doing this type of in-person proofing. Thank you so much!!!!

ariana says:

Hi Kelly – LOTS of people and studios do ordering in their own homes/studios. I think there are so many pros and cons to each, it sort of depends on many things.. like I know I couldn’t do it in my home because I don’t have a nice, professional space to do it in! That and the fact that my place is always a crazy mess LOL.

The upside is that you can control the environment – offer beverages, make it a very boutique professional environment.. you can plaster your walls with canvases and samples – and have a permanent set up for a large screen etc.

The only PERMANENT downside that I can see is that you can’t actually see their walls and measure them etc. The way to get around that is to ask them to measure any space where they think they might want a wall display and ask them to bring those measurements with them to the session (in a pre session questionnaire for example!)

If you have a great space I say go for it! It probably matters more that you do it in person rather than WHERE you do it, so long as if it’s in your home that you have the space to do it in a professional way (which I’m sure you do or you wouldn’t be asking!)

Kelly says:

I just read both articles and I’m convinced that giving up the Sneak Peeks is a good idea. Starting in 2011, that’s the way I’ll go!

I also love the idea of the in person however I have a question. My impressive computer is my huge MAC screen. Do you think the session would have worked as well if the client had come to you instead?? My laptop is for emergencies only and don’t think it would wow anyone but my desktop, while slim, is still pretty tough to carry to someone’s home…

curious about your thoughts.

BTW, love how you included your wall displays. I have LR3 and was waiting for the LR versions of those. That’s on my To Buy list. :-) Thanks!

I usually can’t hand with such lengthy blog posts, however, I lapped up this information as if I were about to dehydrate if I didn’t read every. single. word.

Seriously, this was so helpful!!

Thank you for sharing. I don’t have lightroom, although I use photoshop CS4, but now I’m thinking that I need to add this to my existing Adobe software package.

~WW

ariana says:

Thanks for that perspective Jill! I can see how it would be really awkward if you didn’t love the photos. I much prefer that the order be placed at the time of the session because I think it benefits everyone to ‘get it over with’ which is why there is an incentive to order at the session. However, if someone told me they needed more time and were comfortable giving up the 10% order incentive I would have no problem letting them take more time to think on it – I HATE high pressure sales tactics and.. seriously, buying a car is on my list of most reviled things in the world for that reason! I hate feeling pressured and would no way want to create that environment for my clients. I don’t even like when sales clerks as me if I need any help or greet me at clothing stores, I’d rather be left alone so I completely understand.

Jill says:

The photographer I used for my child’s infant photos did client sessions only. I felt very pressured to order photos. Overall, I was not happy with the photos but felt too uncomfortable to tell the photographer. It was an unfortunate situation because I really felt pressured to place a larger order than I desired and in the end, I was very disappointed with the process.

Maggie says:

Thank you so much for this post. It was very informative, and I love how it gets to the heart of the matter, customer service. I have been debating about the sneak peek, in person ordering, but not sure how to make it work. You’ve give some great ideas. I did tell my client today, that I would be happy to come do in-person ordering with her. I know I need to commit to it thoroughly, but at least I am starting that direction. She liked the idea, and I think it would eliminate many of the problems I have with people ordering online. Thanks again! You rock!

Kristen says:

Well, I skimmed the post, since I’m nowhere near client sessions yet. But, I did read was about your love affair with LR3. So, I’m on the phone today with Adobe trying to switch platforms to Mac. Husband now needs my editing laptop for work, so on a whim he told me to order the massive Mac I’ve wanted, yeay. (And glad to read about the need to grow into a computer, now I don’t feel so badly.) So I had your post in the back of my head am on the phone with them and decided, “What the heck, let’s just upgrade to CS5 and LR3 while I switch platforms anyways.” Oh no, what did you talk me into. Although, if LR3 saves me from having to buy noiseware, it definitely might be worth the upgrade! And you do get a 30% discount on the LR upgrade if you upgrade them both at the same time!

But, I love the long post. Thank you, thank you.

Samantha says:

Thank you for sharing the details of your in person ordering session, especially the parts about what you thought about doing but did not work out. I have been turned off from in-person ordering because I keep hearing about projection machines and I’m not ready to spend the money on that right now. But I do have a large screen lap top and I’m excited now to give that a try!

Jessica says:

Thank you!!! This was a wonderful post! I’m doing my first in person ordering session tomorrow!

ariana says:

Awesome Jessica, let me know how it goes!!

Hi! I recently quit my job and realized I was missing my RSS feed for your posts. I’m so happy I stopped by to catch up. I admit, I didn’t read this loooong post because I’m not a photographer :) I do have to say that I’m so impressed by your decision to kill your sneak peak. I think it’s a very savvy business decision and it totally makes sense.

Happy to be back :)

ariana says:

You’re so welcome everyone! Would love to hear how it goes from anyone who tries it. I actually had a fabulous shoot today and she was asking what happens now and I told her that lately what I’ve been doing and what has been great is to come to her home to help her decide the different options. She LOVED the idea!

Lidsay, the ruffled blankets are bathmats from home goods :)

Lindsay says:

Thanks for taking the time to share and write this! I’m just starting out and appreciate the advice. It totally makes sense. Even I drag my feet about printing pictures of my son because it seems too overwhelming to sit down and decide on sizes and stuff. I need someone to help coach me through it too! Lol!

Also, may I ask where you got the lilac and peach textured blankets (?) that you used in a few of the pictures?

Stacey S says:

Awesome information Ariana! My upgrade is on its way from Amazon…..but I have a lot of out-of-state visiting clients and poo, I can’t do it this way with them (unless the photo shoot was done super early in their vacation…but even so, don’t think they would want to take the time out from their vacation to again for me LOL even though it’s THEIR photos). :) Thank you for sharing this…I will want to give it a shot for locals.

Mrsxoxo1598 says:

This is an absolutely amazing post, Ariana!! Thank you for taking the time to go into such great detail around every corner and for the LR3 info and link above :) even as a hobbyist, starting to really get into photography, I really appreciated this post and am so excited for your new business venture. Thanks again and good luck!

ariana says:

Lindsey, LR LOOKS deceptively simple and user friendly, but I found myself quite lost when I first started using lightroom (2) until I watched the series of tutorials from Adobe. I HIGHLY Recommend watching them all. For a 3 hour or so time investment you’ll come out with a complete understanding of how to use LR:
http://tv.adobe.com/show/getting-started-with-adobe-photoshop-lightroom-3/

My goal is to do as much editing in LR as possible, so I do quite a bit of editing in LR. I still prefer photoshop for certain things, like doing levels adjustments on specific areas, running portaiture (the portraiture plugin for LR doesn’t do it for me!) etc. But not all images need this, so it’s just a matter of knowing what I prefer to do in PS. I will say that LR3 lets me do MORE in LR than LR2, because the noise reduction is much improved, I used to always have to open photoshop and use noiseware. Also, now that LR3 allows you to watermark, that’s a huge one too, I used to have to open everything in PS to run my “watermark and resize for web” action.

Hope that’s helpful!

Lindsey says:

Oh, I was also going to ask if you do a lot of editing in Lightroom? I just downloaded the 30 day trial but it seems confusing and a lot like ACR. Is it worth it for the slideshow part alone (I can get the educator’s discount which only makes it $90) or will I learn to love editing in LR first?

Melanie says:

You put so much time into sharing such great information with your blog readers .. thank you! (Looking forward to hearing about some of your favourite features of LR3!)

Lindsey says:

Yay! I think I’m going to start offering this as an option (in home ordering) and then maybe switch over in the new year. I have had a lot of clients ask for my help so I’m sure they would have loved to have me come over to help out.

I also don’t do sneak peeks on my blog. I do post pictures but I wait until after they have ordered. I agree. I definitely don’t want to show them the 5 best pictures early!

Lindsey

Excellent post Ariana! Thank you for sharing so much valuable information. I have been considering this for some time now and I think you just made my mind up for me. And yet one more reason to invest in LR3.

Fiona says:

Hi

Great post, Ariana. Sounds like you nailed it with the face to face ordering service. For only an hour of your time, it sounds like everyone wins here.

I agree that sizes, black and whites, the whole range of options is too much for people to want to deal with. Investing in photography is a huge cost to a family and I believe that help is more often needed. I am just starting out in photography and rarely print my images because of the range of options….

If you hadn’t already bought a new computer I would have thoroughly recommended a macbookpro….they’re A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. as is all apple stuff.

Can I ask you though….your iphone…do you think it is worth it? I am considering getting one and need some positive feedback before I spend all that money!.

Again, great post.

Fiona

Fiona

ALICIA says:

Incredibly awesome and generous of you! You ALWAYS do your due diligence on every topic under the sun and then share so freely with all of us – just INCREDIBLE! THANK YOU!

Every single image is priceless – you rocked them all!

btw, I still have no speakers or sound – what song did you go with? and, just how tiny is Lila’s mom??? I recall you saying the dress was the mom’s wedding dress?!?!

Sigh… just add Lightroom 3 and Laptop to my “Things to buy when I win the Lottery” list…

katie says:

thankyou thankyou thankyou! You are amazing at sharing useful, informative, amazing things! love your work x

Shilpi says:

I have by no means photography sense…All i can say i regret moving to suburbs cos i cant have you take our pictures now…i lived closer before :(

carolyn says:

Man, I wished I lived near you so you could do my family’s pictures! :-)

Suzanne says:

I wanted to thank you for this post. It is refreshing that some people will still share this type of information while others will “tease” you about it in order to get you to attend their workshop! This was great information. Awesome.

Donavan says:

I just wanted to say THANK YOU, I have been following your blog for awhile (amazing by the way!) and you are always such a great help, things I think of but can’t figure out how to ask, and BAM you do it!! Anyways just wanted to say thank you!!

kari says:

all i can say is “wow” if you came over to my house with that presentation…i wouldn’t be able to choose… i would break out my checkbook and buy them all… that is after i had stopped bawling because the photos are so beautiful… and the song… wow – that totally adds to the “emotional pull” of it all!

Mary says:

Fantastic post! I am not in business yet, but that is my goal. Learning all I can on CM. I am bookmarking this for future reference. This approach could definitely set me apart from the competition. Thanks for taking the time to write this out!

ariana says:

Thank YOU Tracie for commenting.. I spent all morning writing this post and was a little bummed no one seemed to care LOL!

Tracie says:

love love love love LOVE this post.
Thank you!