You know the feeling. You’re excited about your new client. Confident you’re going to do an awesome job. And of course, you’re going to get paid for the work you deliver. Then it all heads south. Your dream client turns into a nightmare. Suddenly you’re being asked to justify your prices. Even lower them. No matter what you do, nothing makes this client happy. You are working twice, even 3x’s as hard, and getting paid a fraction of what you’re worth.
To be honest, I know very little of this feeling from my own business experience. I’ve been in business more than 32 years, yet haven’t had to deal with this much because of an important strategy I employed early on. However, as a business coach, it’s the #1 struggle I see amongst my clients and audiences I speak to. The reason I haven’t had this struggle over the years is I did something as a 22-year-old that I wasn’t highly aware of at the time, but I certainly am now. Looking back, I realize what I did was the primary reason for my success and how I made tens of millions of dollars over the years as a portrait photographer and business coach.
I’m sharing this with you so that you can get out of the struggle and create a business with far more ease, that makes you feel valued and gets you paid what you’re worth. Nothing pains me more than seeing talented people and those with a passion for serving others, be made to feel like they are “less than.” I think the creative makers, innovative thinkers, and change agents today are our MOST important contributors in the world and should be leading the charge to create a better world and deserve to be amply compensated so they can live a life of having it all.
Here’s one thing I know for sure. When soul-centered, well-meaning, purpose driven people in business do well financially, they become even greater givers. Take Oprah Winfrey and Elon Musk. Good hearts and passion are coming into the world and making a huge mark on the world they will leave behind. I’ll bet you would love to have an impact like that too. That’s why it’s important you have this one important strategy that changed my life and will change yours as well; so that you can build an amazing business, serving yourself and the world with unlimited possibilities.
So that you understand how I learned this strategy let me set the stage. I grew up in a small, very middle-class town about 2 hours north of New York City. After attending photography school, I returned to my hometown to start a business. I borrowed money from my grandparents and renovated an old bank that would become my photography studio. I was so excited to make something of myself in my small hometown. But instead of living the dream, I spent two years working entirely with the wrong clients. Nice people and all, but not willing to pay my prices and I spent every day as a start-up business pounding the pavement trying to get business and the rest of the time feeling horrible that people thought I was over-charging them. But in my mind, as a family portrait photographer, I was creating a memory that would be handed down for generations. I encouraged prospective clients to consider how priceless these memories would be to their children. As the youngest of three boys in my family and having just one photo of myself as a child, I tried to instill the importance of recording their children’s childhood. From my soapbox, I tried to proclaim how what I was creating was priceless.
And no one cared.
Finally one day, a nice lady who stopped in my small studio sat across my table and said, “your pictures are lovely, but I’m wondering how I’m going to pay my mortgage this month. I don’t have the luxury of worrying about my kid’s memories.”
I sat back in my chair and realized the reason for my struggle. Ever have the feeling you’re “barking up the wrong tree?” Yeah, that feeling. I was completely working with the wrong clients. Here I was proclaiming the priceless value of long-term memories to a target audience who could only worry about today and whether they were going to make their mortgage or rent. My value for long term thinking did not match their value for getting by. It’s as if we were speaking two different languages. And we were.
As luck would have it, shortly after the conversation with this lady in my studio, I got lost. Literally lost. A wrong turn on a parkway and instead of heading where I intended, I was going to Connecticut. Not wanting to venture too far, I got off the next exit intending to turn around. Except there was no re-entry at this exit. So I wandered through country roads trying to get back on the parkway. To my amazement, these country roads led me past sweeping lawns and huge brick mansions like I had only seen on TV. Perfectly coiffed landscapes and every property lined with a stone wall. If I had ever dared to dream what perfection looked like, this was it.
These were luxurious homes, lived in by people who clearly had an eye for beauty, a high standard of quality and a desire for luxury. These were my kind of people! Not sure why a kid from ‘small town NY’ had such an appreciation for these same things, but I did! These were my peeps! Without even meeting anyone, I had a sense that I “got” these folks. I was confident we shared similar values for planning ahead, being buttoned down, meticulous, detail oriented, high standard, and beauty. It was as if there was a non-verbal communication because I got them and I sensed they would get me. I could be successful here.
The condensed version of the story is I did move my business there. My business increased 5X my first year there. I became the most in-demand portrait photographer in Greenwich, CT generating tens of millions of dollars in sales, and to this day can say I LOVE every one of my clients. Love. That’s not something most businesses can say about their clients. It’s because I built a business working ONLY with my RIGHT CLIENTS.
So how did I do that? And how can YOU be valued for what you do and paid what you’re worth?
Learn your ideal clients’ Secret Language.
No matter what market you want to serve in your business, it’s up to you to understand your ideal clients’ Secret Language. By that, I mean non-verbally, verbally, and the written word. I’m sure you’ve had that feeling that someone gets you. Or, you pick up a book and read the back cover and think, “wow, this is me and exactly what I need to read.” How about in your personal life when someone does something unexpected for you, but it’s exactly what you wanted. You didn’t even have to ask. It’s because someone took time to understand who you are, knows what’s important to you, and delivered without you needing to ask.
Not growing up wealthy, I didn’t know the Secret Language of the affluent, but I knew there was one. And I knew I had to learn it to attract them. Early on, I realized a vital part of the secret language of the clientele I was going to photograph. With money comes a burden of responsibility. You see, for many families, it’s common that the oldest child gets more stuff and the younger children get hand-me-downs. I was the youngest of 3, so by the time I came along, my mother had to return to work to help the family meet the bills. So I didn’t have as much time with my parents as my older brothers did. As I mentioned earlier, there’s just one photo of me as a child. Clearly, my parents ran out of interest or time to capture family memories by the time I came along.
But in an affluent family, because there are sufficient resources for all, no child gets less than the others. They all get a good education. Equal treatment when it comes to the first car. And they would be appalled to look back at family photos and see they didn’t photograph the younger children as much as, the older ones. So what was the whisper in my ear? That my primary role as their family photographer was to help them be the most responsible parents they could be in having their children photographed. Throughout the years, when I contacted my clients, as I often did, to remind them we needed to photograph a younger child to match an older sibling, they never saw this as a “sales” call. I was serving them. It was my role because, although they never verbalized the need, I knew they needed me to make sure all their children were treated equally when it came to family portraits. I knew their Secret Language.
No matter what market you are serving, there is a Secret Language. Signs and triggers that your ideal client responds to and emotions that grab their attention. Appearances, the words you use, pricing psychology— it all adds up to a deep understanding of the Secret Language of your ideal client. The result is they feel heard and understood in such a profound way they don’t even recognize it. Instead, they feel it, which creates far more loyalty.
Here are some strategies to consider. The language of the high-end client is a clean presentation, simple and few options, with prices rounded off i.e.: $350, $500, $1000. They prefer free bonuses and upgrades over discounts. Think Neiman-Marcus.
The language of the low-end client is a very busy presentation, a lot of options; prices narrowed down to the 1/100th of a cent. IE: $19.99, $45.07, $147.65. They need to know they are getting the best possible price. Think Walmart.
Those are the extremes, and there’s everything in between. Target, which hits a massive audience has a Secret Language too. Do you know what it is? It’s the language of being value conscious. The typical Target shopper cares more about getting real value than it being the cheapest. Designer labels for less. I often wondered if the fact the store is called Target isn’t part of their secret language in and of itself because they certainly hit the target and reach a massive target audience.
Test this out someday. Go to a high-end store like Neiman-Marcus. Notice the merchandising, the colors, the lighting, and the feel of the environment. Does your website look and feel like this? Go to Walmart. Notice the merchandising (don’t trip over things in the aisle), the lighting (might need sunglasses) and how you feel in the environment. A bit chaotic. But you’re getting a great price!
Who’s your RIGHT CLIENT and what’s their Secret Language?
The key to success, having a business that you love, and are amply compensated, is deciding who your RIGHT CLIENT is and building a business for them. People you care so deeply about serving that you are willing to take the time to understand their Secret Language. Because, it’s about understanding people and making them feel seen, heard, and understood. How could that not be the key to a successful business when you are someone that comes from the heart and works with passion?
The Secret Language—attracts your RIGHT CLIENTS and makes being in business easier than it’s ever been.
If you’d like to know more about the strategy of Secret Language to get your RIGHT clients, register for my Free online Masterclass by clicking here. There are many times available so you can attend when it’s convenient for you!
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