As a professional photographer, you have to do so much more than take pictures. It's also up to you to take care of all client outreach, business marketing, and maintaining an amazing online portfolio website that makes you stand out. Whether you're new to photography and trying to turn your hobby into a side hustle or you've been working in the industry for years, a lot of your time and effort is probably spent on bringing in new customers.
However, what you may not realize is that you're overlooking your previous customers, even though they're actually more likely to make a purchase than new customers. Creating a customer retention strategy is a cheaper and more effective solution to growing your business that focuses on the clients you already have instead of looking for new ones.
If your background is in photography, not business, learning to run a professional photography company might feel overwhelming. That's why we're breaking down everything you need to know about customer retention, plus we'll provide nine awesome customer retention strategies that you can use to encourage brand loyalty and get your photography clients coming back for more.
What Is Customer Retention?
When you're first starting out in your photography business, your focus will likely need to be on client acquisition, which refers to finding and encouraging new customers to purchase your products or services. However, once you have customers, it's important that you remember to continually nurture those relationships so that you can improve customer retention for your photography business. Client retention programs are a marketing process that focuses on getting your previous customers to come back and continue to invest in and support your business.
After someone purchases a photo print or a photoshoot with you, there's no reason to assume that they've gotten all they need from you. Customer retention strategies focus on selling to an audience who is interested and likely to make purchases from you because they have already done so in the past. By introducing client retention strategies into your photography business, you'll increase customer loyalty and customer lifetime value.
Why Is Customer Retention Important?
When you don't have any photoshoot clients or customers looking for photo prints and you haven't made any sales so far, you're going to need to focus on finding new photography clients. However, once you start making sales, you can begin to invest some of your energy back into sustaining those client relationships that you've already established.
New customer acquisition can be time-consuming and costly, so don't underestimate the value of your existing loyal customers to grow your revenue and your brand. In fact, your happy customers can even become unofficial brand ambassadors for your photography business, encouraging people from their networks through word of mouth marketing.
How Do You Measure Customer Retention?
There are a number of metrics that you can use to calculate your customer retention rates so that you can pinpoint the areas that need your attention. Here are the common calculations you'll probably want to use when it comes to creating and improving your customer retention strategies.
Repeat Customer Rate
The first calculation you will want to focus on is your repeat customer rate. This refers to the percentage of your customers who have made more than one purchase from your e-commerce store. Here's how to calculate your customer retention rate.
First, you'll need to make a note of the number of customers who have made more than one order from you, as well as the number of individual customers that you have had. Then simply divide the number of return customers by the number of unique customers, multiply it by 100, and you'll have your repeat customer rate in the form of a percentage.
# of customers who have made more than one purchase / # of unique customers x 100 = customer retention rate
Customer Purchase Frequency
This metric for measuring the success of your photography business is all about determining how often your existing customers come back to make new purchases from your store. Take the number of orders placed in a given time period and divide that by the number of unique customers who made purchases in that time period. This will give you your customer purchase frequency.
# of orders placed / # of unique customers = customer purchase frequency
Average Order Value
Your average order value or AOV will give you insight into the amount of money your customers are spending on each transaction in your store. In order to determine your average order value, you'll need to take your total revenue and divide that by the number of orders placed.
Total revenue / # of orders = average order value (AOV)
The term customer value or customer lifetime value refers to how often an existing customer makes additional purchases and how much they tend to spend on each transaction in your e-commerce store. If you want to calculate an individual customer's value, you'll first need to use the calculations above to determine the customer's purchase frequency and average order value. Then you can divide their purchase frequency by their average order value, which will leave you with your customer lifetime value.
Purchase frequency / average order value (AOV) = customer value
How To Retain Customers in Nine Simple Steps
Now that you understand what client retention is, why you need it, and how to measure your customer retention rates, it's time to figure out how to put a customer retention strategy into place in your photography business. Here are our top tips for nine different ways that you can continue to nourish your relationships with your repeat customers and keep them coming back for more.
1. Set Customer Expectations
One of the best ways to encourage repeat customers to make another purchase is by making customer satisfaction a top priority in your photography business. This means being upfront and accurate in your product listings and when you explain exactly what's included in your different photoshoot packages. Never guarantee something that you're not absolutely certain you'll be able to follow through on.
When customers feel that they aren't getting what they paid for, or that their complaints aren't being addressed in a satisfactory way, they're likely to always associate your brand with those negative memories and leave dissatisfied with your brand. It's always better to under-promise so that you can over-deliver and exceed customer expectations, rather than overestimating your ability to deliver on your promises and wind up risking your customer relationships.
2. Add a Personal Touch
Most customer retention programs involve maintaining regular communication with your existing customers. Every time you communicate with your customers, whether it's through direct messaging or posting on your social media account, is an opportunity to show how much your customers mean to you. Sometimes it's the smallest things that make a difference, like using your customer's first name in your communications and making sure that it's spelled correctly.
Customers are more likely to connect with your business if they are reminded that there's a human being behind the brand. There are tons of creative ways to nurture a customer relationship through personal connection, like sending a handwritten thank you note with every print order or following up with personalized surprise offers designed to add value after a photoshoot. When you provide excellent customer service with surprise gifts or discounts, you encourage reciprocity in your loyal customers.
Another way that some brands like to encourage customer engagement is by maintaining an active presence on social media. Stay on top of your mentions and tags and respond to any posts or comments about your business in a friendly tone. Just remember to write as if you're talking to a friend so that it comes off as genuine instead of seeming like a canned response.
3. Offer Customer Accounts
Many online store owners choose to give customers the option to create an account when they check out, where they can save details like their billing and shipping addresses, credit card numbers, and favorite items in your shop. Customer accounts are a great way to improve the customer experience by streamlining the process of purchasing your product or service.
Not all of your current customers will want to create an account because they're worried about receiving a ton of promotional emails from you, but the customers that want to be kept up to date will likely opt-in to create an account and receive your newsletter as well.
4. Create a Loyalty Program
A customer loyalty program is a customer retention strategy that is designed to encourage an existing customer to make repeat purchases. Loyalty programs should increase the value you're providing to your customers every single time they make a purchase, so that as they spend more money in your store they're also earning points or getting access to personalized discount codes.
In addition to offering points or discounts, your loyalty program could function as a subscription service, where customers can save money on individual purchases by committing to a monthly print purchase or subscription box. Creating a Patreon account is another great way for artists and photographers to provide behind the scenes access and even physical prizes for a set amount of money every month through a membership.
5. Use Email Marketing To Send Regular Newsletters
One of the most effective customer retention strategies is email marketing. You need to stay in contact with your customers if you want them to become long term clients, so set up a schedule to send out updates and news as well as share your new products or sales.
Email marketing is a great way to build and strengthen client relationships and add value to your customers, while making sure that you're staying at the top of their minds. In addition to a regularly scheduled newsletter, you can follow up with a personalized email when a customer makes a purchase thanking them and providing a discount code that they can use towards their next purchase in your store.
Another way to add value and retain customers is by providing free educational content in your email marketing. Depending on your target audience, you can teach your customers anything from how to choose a frame for your prints to what to wear to a photoshoot. This is your opportunity to explain what problems your business solves, and why your loyal customers need your product or service.
When you offer educational content, you position yourself as an authority in your field, which will help your customers feel that they can trust you. By showcasing the value that your free content can provide, you'll also make it so that customers will be even more excited about purchasing your paid offers.
Since customers want to get to know the individual behind your photography company, you can also use email marketing to give them a behind the scenes view of how you create your products and what goes into having a career as a professional photographer. Connecting with clients on a more personal level is yet another way to increase customer loyalty (and your retention rate) through establishing trust.
6. Offer Discount Coupons and Referrals
Running sales, offering discounts, or incentivizing referrals can all be effective customer retention strategies. However, it's important that you exercise restraint when it comes to discounting your products or services. As a professional photographer, you probably want to be known for providing excellent work, not for being the cheapest option available. Plus, when customers get used to your work being on sale, they're more likely to wait to make a purchase when you're having a sale than to pay full price, especially if there's no sense of urgency, like a limited run of prints or a small number of photoshoot openings.
With that in mind, there are still plenty of ways to use discount codes or referral incentives to improve your customer retention rates. Some businesses choose to offer a standard 10% off coupon for first time customers when they sign up for the email list. If you want to increase your word of mouth referrals, turn your loyal customers into unofficial brand ambassadors by providing custom referral codes that they can share with their friends so that both benefit from receiving money off their next purchase.
7. Ask for Feedback
One of the best ways to improve your business is by using feedback from your current customers to improve your brand experience. Make sure that you're sending out a survey with questions designed to help you adjust your photography business based on customer complaints and input.
If your customers are not satisfied with some element of the customer experience, use that information to change your approach, and remember not to take customer feedback personally. In fact, when a customer goes to the trouble of writing a complaint about your business, that may indicate that they are still open to the possibility that you can resolve their issue in a satisfactory way. If you're able to provide great customer support and address their complaints, you may even to turn a previously dissatisfied customer into a loyal brand ambassador for life.
In addition to asking for customer feedback in a follow up email, provide a space on your website for customers to leave reviews of your products and services. A new customer who is still on the fence about booking a photoshoot with you or ordering a print will be more likely to trust an impartial previous customer, so having positive reviews written by your clients might be just what they need to go for it and make the purchase.
Another way to gain input on customer behavior is by examining your website analytics. Pay attention to where your website visitors are finding you, what search terms they're using, and how they behave when they navigate your online store.
8. Set up Automated Emails
While a personal email sent to a customer is a great idea for retaining customers, it's not always possible to follow up directly with every single customer, especially as your business continues to grow. Luckily, you can set up automated emails to be sent to your customers at regular intervals in order to improve their customer experience and increase their customer value.
For example, you may want to set up an automated email that gets sent out to customers who recently purchased a photoshoot from you. It might not make sense to offer them another shoot right away, but you could choose to follow up with an offer for a deal on purchasing prints from their recent photoshoot since that will complement and add value to their recent purchase.
Another way to make use of automated emails is by creating an email campaign that requests a review after a certain period of time. Make sure you space it out to ensure that they will have had time to receive their purchase and establish an opinion on the product before you ask for feedback.
Whether it's announcements about sales, studio updates, or new products, frequent communication will make your customers feel valued and increase your customer retention rate. By automating these updates, you'll free up time and mental space for you to focus on what you love to do rather than getting caught up in the day-to-day grind of running a successful business.
9. Provide Great Customer Service
It may seem obvious, but providing amazing customer support before, during, and after each purchase can make a huge difference when it comes to customer retention. If you're new to being a professional photographer, you may not have realized that customer service is about a lot more than being available to field complaints after a purchase is made. In fact, your customer service team could also be in charge of onboarding new customers and providing educational content before customers make a purchase.
Customer onboarding is all about teaching new customers how your products and services work and what value they provide. This is where you can talk about the quality of your photography prints and Lightroom presets, or break down exactly what is provided in each of your photoshoot packages. You can also explain how your offers can benefit your customers and why your products and services would make for a worthwhile investment. This is proactive customer service, where you're attempting to resolve any hesitations and address issues before they make a purchase.
Another must have for great customer service is a live chat tool. If customers can't find the information they're looking for on your online store, they may be dissuaded from reaching out, and you'll end up losing out on a potential sale. Having a live chat option helps customers feel encouraged to voice their concerns or ask any questions, plus it makes it easier to quickly resolve customer complaints without hassle.
Remember to treat customer inquiries and complaints as a priority, and if you make a mistake on your end, own up to it and apologize. As much as we wish every customer would end up satisfied, every business owner is almost guaranteed to come up against customer issues at some point or another. What matters most the way you handle problems, so do your best to take a negative experience and problem solve it in a way that takes responsibility for your shortcomings and will hopefully lead to a satisfied customer in the end.
Now that you've learned all about what customer retention is, how to measure your customer retention rate, and how to apply client retention strategies to your photography business, get out there and start nurturing those customer relationships!
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