Ok, let’s try something.

Please picture your email inbox (or even better, bring it up on another screen). Unless you’re highly organised or have a brand-spanking-new email account, there’ll be a lot of different things in there

Here’s what mine looks like this right now:

Of all of those, what percentage will you honestly ever reply to? About 20-30%, right? Most of the senders aren’t even expecting a reply!

Now, what percentage of your Messenger inbox will get replied to? For a lot of people, the answer is 100%, but even if yours is as low as 60%, the senders of those messages are 300% more likely to see a reply than if they’d emailed you!

Now, when a potential client visits your website, where do you ask them to contact you? What do you use to get back to them? It’s email, isn’t it.

That’s CRAZY, right?

My wife and I run our studio together and like a lot of small businesses, we’ve watched the response-rates of our emails gradually decline. We’d get an enquiry, write back a carefully worded email full of helpful info and ways to take the next step with us, then we’d wait… and wait. Presumably almost everybody who sends an enquiry is genuinely interested at the time, but then the conversation goes into a full, cluttered inbox and it dies there!! That sucks for our studio and for the customer too.

So (and I’m guessing you saw this coming already), we’ve been moving as many of our client and lead conversations as possible over to Messenger, and I’m going to try to convince you to do that too. We’re also using bots quite heavily to automate some of these chats and save even more time.

In fact, our bot is literally chatting with two brides for me while I type this.

Automation takes all of this to the next level, but that’s a whole other blog post!

Here are a few examples of how Messenger is saving us time (without bots):

1) Those “How much do you charge” emails …

What are your prices? Can I get the digitals? Where are you located? Can I come and see you? What clothes should I wear? What if it rains?

If you’ve been running your studio for a while, these will all be very familiar questions. We’ve answered each of them hundreds of times. Maybe thousands actually.

With Messenger, clients and potential clients are able to ask these questions easily from their phones, and because Messenger is an informal conversational medium, these questions naturally turn into conversations. We answer the question and then ask one of our own, and the conversation continues as it would in a phone call.

So, if they ask “What are your prices”, we would send something like “Sure. We have lots of options – framed wall art from $x, albums from $y and smaller prints from $z. Is it for a special occasion or are the kids just at a super-cute age?”. Most people are too polite to ignore that question, right?

After a few questions, I generally try to move the conversation to a phone call (“Hey Jane, the answer to that question is a bit of a long one:). Do you mind if I call you?”)

2) Building excitement for a great shoot and beautiful products

There seems to be three types of portrait photographers:

  1. Those who contact their clients in the leadup to a portrait session. Whether it’s on the phone or in-person, this builds excitement, gives an opportunity to finalise the shoot plans and also continues the client’s education about the value of the beautiful artwork they’re going to create after the shoot. It takes time, but these photographers have found that it’s increased their sales and the happiness of their clients too.
  2. Those who know they should be making these calls, but don’t have time or hate the phone.
  3. Those who are just hearing about this concept for the first time (and that’s totally ok!)

I’m somewhere between #1 and #2. I love the idea, and when I have time I quite enjoy chatting with our clients. But we get chatting, and 30 minutes can easily disappear out of a busy day.

Recently, I ran a trial of automating these “calls” using our Messenger bot, and the results have been amazing. The sales have been good, clients have loved having the info written down so they can share it with their partner and refer to it later, and it literally takes one minute to kick it off for each shoot.

This blog post isn’t really about automation or chatbots, but with a bit of creativity you can achieve the same results by sending messages manually.

The best way to do this for free would be to type up a series of short messages that you can copy and paste into messenger for each client in the leadup to their shoot. Start by confirming the details and end every message with a question so that the conversation keeps flowing.

For example, “Hey Natalie, the weather looks PERFECT for our portrait session on Tuesday. Let’s meet at Elwood Pier at 4pm. How are you going with clothing selection – do you need help with that?”. When she writes back, you either paste in your answer with some helpful clothing advice (or a link to your blog post, pinterest boards or other resource for this) or move on to the next topic, like “Ok awesome. We often get questions at this stage about what comes after the shoot. Have you guys had a chance to think about how you’d like to present the photos in your home? Would you like some pricing info just in case the photos come out too well and you want them all 🙂 ?”

3) Scheduling, postponing and cancelling

You: When would you like to catch up to view your images?

Client: What dates do you have next month?

You: We’re fairly flexible on the 19th, 20th and 23rd. Which one would you prefer?

Client: We’re busy on those days, sorry

You: How about the 24th?

Client: Sorry, do you have any others next month?

You (to yourself): Sure, why don’t we start this entire conversation again from the start and burn another hour of my time!?!!

Does that sound familiar?

If you’re not using an online scheduling tool, I can highly recommend them. There’s lots of great ones (CanUMeet, Calendly and Acuity Scheduling are some of our favourite options). They’re life savers, but only if the client actually clicks your link and uses the tool – otherwise, you could lose the job entirely.

The problem we had before we started using Messenger in the studio was that we’d send the calendar link via email and it wouldn’t be seen. Now, we send a calendar link in the middle of a Messenger chat, when we know the client has their phone in their hand. In most cases, they click and start scheduling instantly. If not, it’s easy to send a follow-up message the next day like “I noticed you haven’t found a time yet. Need some help?”

4) Production and delivery queries

We pride ourselves on delivering prints, albums and other products quickly, and continuing to give a great service right through to the very end. Sometimes though, a supplier runs out of stock or we realise we’re missing an important bit of info.

These questions are perfect for Messenger, and we’re usually able to get very quick answers from our clients to keep production of their beautiful goodies on track. I’ve literally had clients respond in under 30 seconds over Messenger, and others over email which have taken weeks (and lots of reminders).

I could keep going, but those are the top four. I hope they help! You don’t need to invest time or money in a chatbot before you start using Messenger, but I challenge you to try the four things I’ve talked about in this article and then go back to email.

Email is dying. Don’t let it bring your business down with it.

Iain Sim

About the author

Owner and primary photographer at Hugster Family Photography, Iain and Jo | We Tell Love Stories and Kuvata Business Images. Based in Melbourne, Australia, talks too much and almost entirely closes his eyes when he smiles.

Thinking of setting up a chatbot?

Thinking of setting up a chatbot?

To see lots of examples of how a chatbot can help your photography studio save time, or to enquire about our training course and installable chat sequences, just click "Send to Messenger" and then choose an automated chat to play with. Or ask us anything at all.

It's free, and kinda fun. What have you got to lose?