How to create a client experience that results in repeat bookings and referrals.

February 1st, 2021
family of four walking on sidewalk holding hands with the young boy leading the way, followed by dad, mom, and young girl.

You’ve spent countless hours learning your craft, building a website, and marketing yourself, but have you put this same amount of time and effort into creating your clients’ experience? As a portrait photographer, I’ve learned that building an amazing and consistent customer experience is a surefire way to get repeat bookings and client referrals.  

Make a good first impression.

First impressions do matter and the relationship with a client starts before you get the booking. When a client calls, answer the phone and be attentive.  I know that sounds simple, but so many photographers don’t answer their phones or don’t call potential clients back in a timely manner.  Same goes if they send an email, respond quickly with warm, yet professional, language and make sure you answer all their questions. 

photographer working on laptop sitting at desk

In this first communication,  they are already assessing if you are the right photographer for them and this is your opportunity to stand out.  How you stand out from the rest is up to you, but find a way that gives them a glimpse of how the rest of their experience working with you will be. 

Send a welcome packet and helpful tips.

So you’ve nailed the first impression and you have a new client. What’s next? Send a welcome packet that gets them excited about their photo shoot and prepares them so there are no surprises. My welcome packet comes in a beautiful folder that allows them to keep everything organized. 

My welcome packet contains: 

  • Welcome letter 
  • Contracts 
  • Pricing
  • Product list with photos of products that I think they might want 
  • “What to expect during the shoot” guide: There should be complete clarity about what they can expect from me (and I expect from them) from here on out. Clients appreciate this transparency and guidance because it allows them to enjoy the process and not wonder about the what-if’s.  
  • With my portrait clients, include a digital guide to “What to Wear.” They are super appreciative of receiving this information even before they ask. (Bonus: This gives me well-dressed, color-coordinated families that I can show off in my marketing materials.)

Talk about goals & photo ideas.

Once contracts are signed, you’ll want to set aside some time to have an in-person visit or a video call with your client to get more details about the goals of their session. Are they looking to have their family portrait taken to display in their home, create holiday cards, or build an album? 

Suggest appropriate products and sizes and have a well curated selection of samples (albums, gallery wraps, holiday cards, etc.) for them to see and handle in person. Discuss where these will be displayed in their home or office to get them excited about the final products.

Shoot day:

It’s shoot day! If you’ve done everything suggested above prior to the day of the session, you’ll be in really good shape. A few important things to remember the day of:

  • Make sure all your equipment is charged and packed in advance
  • Arrive early 
  • Check out the location and the light  
  • Have a cheat sheet of poses and names of people, etc. with you in case you blank
  • Life happens! Be prepared by keeping a small pouch with some wet wipes, a mini sewing kit, band-aids, etc. – you never know when clients will need to wipe messy children or mend loose beading on a wedding dress!
  • This may seem obvious, but make sure the clients have your phone number; this will ensure they can easily reach you if an emergency arises, or they have trouble locating you at a busy shoot location.

woman hugging man from behind both facing camera
Photo credit: Portraits by Cheryl

If this is a shoot that involves children, expect parents to arrive slightly frazzled and stressed. It’s your job to calm everyone down and create a fun atmosphere. Every photographer has their own bag of tricks for this, but they all come down to creating some distraction and easing them into feeling comfortable in front of your camera. Even if you’re stressed, you need to gush confidence, levity, and positivity until it is contagious. 

friends hugging side by side

When the shoot is over, make sure you say your goodbyes and thank young children for “playing” with you. I’ve had numerous clients tell me on the way home that their children ask to do it again! Get the client excited about seeing their photos and confirm the date you’ll meet for the Selection Session (this is what I call a Sales Session). 

Turn your images into income.

Sell your photos online from your own custom store. Set up is quick and your clients will enjoy a seamless shopping experience.

Sneak peak:

Within 48 hours of the shoot, I like to give clients a “sneak peek” by posting a few of my favorite images on my website’s blog and on social media (linking back to my website). They are anticipating this and they signed a “model release” form with the contracts. The posts creates excitement for the Selection Session and will get shared out to their friends and family bringing me new clients.

photographer sharing images on instagram

Product delivery:

When they place their order, set expectations for when their products will be delivered. I pad the delivery time a little so if there is an unexpected delay they still get it on schedule. If all goes smoothly, they get their order before I promised! During the wait, give them little text or email updates. Before social distancing hand delivery was best, but if you need to ship it or drop it at their doorstep, make sure you pack it with personal touches like a handwritten thank you note and a surprise gift like a photo ornament or an extra print for their office. And, of course, call them to make sure they received it and love it!

Follow up:

The order has been delivered, so you’re all done, right?  Not quite yet. While they are still newly excited about their experience, start them thinking about their next session. Also, let them know about any referral or incentive programs you have. I give clients several of my business cards with their names on the back to give to their friends and colleagues.  They can earn free prints and even a free session, if the people they refer complete sessions with me. 

Over the next few months, you’ll want to reopen their private online photo gallery and send them incentive coupons at targeted times like Mother’s/Father’s Day and major “gift” holidays. And finally, just shy of a year after their shoot, send them an email with “memories” of the last year’s shoot (like FaceBook and Shutterfly do) and an incentive to book a shoot in the next month. 

I know this takes a lot of effort and planning, but it’s worth it. Repeat clients are the heart of a strong business and the word that they spread of their experience with you will bring you more new clients than any other method of marketing. Photographers that rely solely on their beautiful images to build a client base are missing out. Imagine how much your booking would grow if each time a client receives a compliment on one of your images, that they freely share details of their amazing experience and how even the kids ask to do it again!


  • Cheryl Dell'Osso

    Cheryl is the Director of Content Strategy at Zenfolio and the Owner/Photographer at Portraits by Cheryl and Seniors by Cheryl in Raleigh, NC. Cheryl has mentored countless new photographers looking to build successful photography businesses.

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