Two weeks ago I was the guest on a photo booth webinar series put on by PhotoBooth Supply Co. We discussed various topics, all having to do with relating to customers and building rapport. Not everyone was able to watch the live webinar or the replay, so I had a transcript of our conversation made. It was an hour long conversation, which is quite long in text form, this is the second half of our chat. Hope you enjoy it.
Joe: So other than just pick up the phone, is there a better way of handling the phone call or the email that comes in?
Chris: I think whether you’re answering the phone or you’re writing an email, you have to put something in there that’s going to separate yourself from everybody else, because if the customer is just getting a back of bunch of auto-responder messages, it’s pretty obvious. We’re all going to have a template format we respond with the same kind of information with our prices. But before all of that, we’ll take a second to check out the client, you can usually find a website for them if it’s a corporate entity or even if it’s a personal inquiry, you can look them up on Facebook and just see, whether they are about.
Let’s say the customer is asking about a booth for a Sweet 16, some mom is calling about her daughter’s Sweet 16. My wife will make it a point write back an email, something like “Oh my goodness! 16 years old, we have two daughters who are 5 and 3, I can’t believe that you have a 16-year-old already. I can’t imagine that how they’re …” I know that not everyone is doing that because people it takes extra time. But it’s so conversational people will write back to that. People love talking about themselves and their families and so if there is any kind of personal touch, you can make either on a phone call or an email, before all of the information about your booth and about your rentals. I think that’s so important to do because, people want to know you’re an actual person and they’re not just answering an autoresponder. Find some sort of personal ground, “congratulations on this, congratulations on that” or “the venue that you’re going to use is really nice, we’ve been there many times beautiful what an awesome choice.”
Joe: Absolutely, I think you’re totally right, in this information driven age where messages come fast and often, for example, we get so many people thanking us for responding to email so quickly. And I think you’re right, I think responding with a personal touch I mean, I personally try to do it as much as I can. I handle a lot of the emails for our company here. It’s really hard sometimes to keep up especially on a Monday, when you have Friday, Saturday Sunday worth of emails. I do try to get back to each and every one as soon as I can. I think that’s really to the way to build that relationship and keep it going where people know that when they call you or leave an email, you’re going to respond back or if you’re not; hey, I’m going to be out of the office working on a job but, I will take care of you and they develop that trust that’s going to keep that relationship strong.
Chris: Yeah. especially with the emails. You’ve got to put yourself in their shoes for a minute. It’s 2015 we have all this technology, and plenty of people are unsure of you. Most people are never going to come to our house before their event to see the booth and many never actually call us. Most communication is over email and there has a be a level of trust since these people are going to put down a deposit that’s a few hundred dollars and in the end, the cost is hopefully a good hefty cost everyone is charging out there. It’s not going to buy a gallon of milk at the store or some other small purchase online, it’s a significant cost for people and you have got to understand that people want to know that they can trust you, that their money is going to be in good hands. People want to have some kind of relationship built with you. That’s why we try to be patient with customers, there is a lot of patience to be had in this business with planners, with brides, with customers but, it’s all good and it’s all worth it. I know it takes time to go through every email and give personal responses to but in the end, there is money to be made and that’s why we’re in this business after all.
Joe: Yeah! And then when you’re not able to do it all yourself, there are systems and places where you can hire a virtual assistant which can be a very inexpensive if you’re running a business that you’re handling you know 10s if not dozens of emails a day, there are people who can actually physically do it for you. They don’t have to be in the same place as you and it’s relatively low cost maybe a few hundred dollars per month. You know, one rental could cover the cost of that person you’re hiring out in addition to the services that you have and everything else you do is profit. So moving ahead a little bit more, one of the four points that we’re going to talk about before we talk about your blog a little bit more in depth; why does your wife make more sales than you? I know the answer to this question, being there myself but, I want to hear it from you first.
Chris: Well, yeah that was one of the blog posts I wrote that got a lot of attention and this is something that I don’t realize when I first got into the industry. I don’t know about you but I think across the industry, most of our customers in general are woman. The planners are mostly women, the brides planning their own wedding, even the corporate administrative staff, they are often women. We have moms planning their child’s birthday party and so let’s face the fact that women really are better at connecting with other women. It’s more awkward for me to take a phone call from a woman than it is for my wife. She can better relate to them. As much as I try to build a reputable relationship with people, at the end of the day my wife has the gender that allows her to do it more easily. It just comes natural for her so she answers all the phone calls. I don’t take any of the calls in the business. I make sure that all the calls go to her phone and just doing that, makes a huge difference. She brings a story into the conversation when she answers the phone, I haven’t told her do this, it happens naturally. Likely, the first thing they talk about is not about the photo booth. There is something else they can usually first talk about besides getting down to business. That establishes a quick connection, quick rapport, and quick trust. I find that the longer she stays on the phone with them, the more likely we’re going to get their business. There is a back and forth there is a trust building that’s happening and so I encourage you to take your time. They talk about children, about family, we got married once so she can relate to brides. Eventually they talk about the photo booth and what the prices are and it makes everything go over so much smoother.
I do respond to a lot of the emails. My wife also responds to email but it’s automatic that the signature is going to come from my wife’s name. Google allows you to insert a photo of yourself in the profile picture so that’s a photo of my wife. If you’re just a guy I don’t know, I guess if you’re not married and you have a girlfriend, or a friend that you’re in business with.
Joe: You want to have the female face as part of the image because, those are people reaching out. And that’s sales 101 is developing rapport, it generally has nothing to do with the product or the service you want to sell or offer. It has to do with developing a bond, a trust, and ability to continue on without that awkward feeling. Because at this point, they trust you enough to ask questions and they know that you’re going to them the answer and hopefully, a truthful answer.
Chris: Yeah. Exactly and it’s like you said people will book your photo booth if they know, like and trust you. We have higher prices than other companies, but, we get bookings because people like us. People trust us so it’s not all about the price, it’s not necessarily about the features. At the end of the day, they want to know that you’re going to show up at their event on time like you’re supposed to.
Joe: Do you have any more time to talk? Because I have a couple of questions related to what we’re talking about.
Chris: Yeah, let’s go for it.
Joe: I’m going to jump around a little bit here, because it’s just a little bit easier. Before we talk about networking and meeting people, meeting planners, getting involved. Certain areas of the country, networking doesn’t necessarily work as easily for those people. I grew up in New York and it was a very pay to play location where people didn’t necessarily refer you based on merit or working with you necessarily all the time. They would refer you if you gave them a gift or if you did something for them. Nicholas was actually asking, reaching out to multiple entertaining companies and offering them Photobooth services and then would you provide them a commission or kick back for those bookings? Is that something would work well or what’s your opinion on that?
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. I haven’t ever had to payout a kick back from a referral. But if that’s what it takes, I think that’s a reasonable request. Hopefully, there is enough margin in your prices so that it’s not going to hear you to give $50 or 10%, whatever you guys agreed up on. I think that’s reasonable if someone is going to refer your business that’s going to make you few hundred dollars in the end, absolutely. Even if you are in a tough spot in the country there is not a whole lot of networking going on, you’re finding it tough to get started, then you should be the catalyst to go start a group, it’s very easy to do now with Facebook groups, with sites like meetup.com. You can be the one in your area then start the whole thing up and have control over it, you can hold the meetings, you can have the network and then you’ll be at the center of this whole thing. I think that’s another option as well if you’re having a hard time based on where you are and there is not a lot going on. Odds are whereever you are, you’re probably not the only one doing it. Someone else has the same business or one that’s similar, in the same kind of industry, and there’s some common ground that you can relate upon.
Joe: Nadia here has, a great question and it might need a little bit of more explanation from you being an expert in this but, after making contact with the client, are they ever disappointed that it wasn’t you who showed up at the event? Maybe because you hadn’t attended. Now, my opinion would be, you set that expectation earlier, that it may not be you, it might be an attendant doing it. But what do you find in some cases when we have people who have multiple booth or that they can have multiple businesses or in some cases, wedding photographers who are shooting a wedding and they need the attendant to actually operate the booth or they’re doing two different events. How do you approach it so there is still having a personal connection, they still trust you? Even though it’s not the same person who’s going to be there with them.
Chris: Right, that’s an awesome question. We make it clear from the start that on the day of the event it’s likely that it’s not going to be me or my wife attending. It’s going to be one of our attendants that’s going to be there. That’s not going to be an issue, once you make it clear from the beginning and it hasn’t been a problem for us. As we’re talking about building relationships and rapport, there have been plenty of brides that have actually been disappointed because my wife hasn’t gone to the wedding in the end because they’ve felt such a connection to her. But not in the sense of they were upset, it was just that they missed out on meeting the person that they’ve been dealing with for months or a year.
Joe: That’s a great point you know, they expected her to be there and then this guy with a goatee shows up. Trust me, I used to be that way at one point or two. And you show up and obviously they know who you are. But, obviously they’re really excited.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. But I think if you just like you said, set the expectation from the beginning, every business has employees. This a small businesses, if you have some kind of success, you’re going to have other people that are going to be able to go out there and do the actual work for you. And so we make that clear from the beginning and no one’s ever been angry that it wasn’t us that showed up. Tell them, we have an attendant who’s going to be there and they’re going to do an awesome job for you. Let them know that this is not the guy’s first gig, he’s been around a long time, he does great work, he’s going to do a great job for your event. Get them excited about the person who’s coming because, hopefully you have a great people, you have someone great in mind that’s going to do the event for you and obviously, if we have tenants we trust them, that they’re going to do an awesome job, they know what to do and they know how everything works, everything is going to go smoothly and just give them that reassurance. We’ve received awesome feedback from clients saying you know, by the end of the day the attendant felt like one of their family members that was there. It’s important to have great people.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. We’re going to go back to some basic questions because we have some questions coming up and I’m seeing the trend here and I think this will probably work well. If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what would be the one piece of advice you would give your younger self of how to do something different or how to be better or whatever it might be that could or would have made a difference if you knew it back then?
Chris: I think earlier on, I would have gone to more of the networking events and I would make it more to the point to figure out who all this people are. I think that’s what I would say and one more thing, make a push into the vendor event industry connections, the networking as soon as you can. Because, often there is a lot of people like I belong to some of the Facebook groups in my area there are hundreds and hundreds of people in the group but there is only a handful of people that you actually see respond back and forth and actually are talking. The rest of the people, maybe their business is no more but they are just silent out there. If you can come onto the scene in your area and you’re new, and you can connect with this people and talk with people and get to know people, and stay active.
It’s not going to matter then that you’re just on the scene, that you’re new. They want people who are involved who are connected with them so I wouldn’t make it a point to do that. I was probably shy at first at some of the events and not talking to all the people that I should have been talking to. So, go speak to the DJ, give a card to him, because you’re going to be setting up early. You know we usually get there at least 45 minutes earlier to set up. It doesn’t take long but it gives us time to talk to people, to meet people at the venue, to meet the other vendors and talk business.
Joe: Yeah, I think that that really comes back to the theme here, which is getting to know people and letting them know that it’s a personal, it’s a small business and you’re not, unless you really are a conglomerate or a large company, handling 50 events per day, don’t look that way. Because people will actually look past you because you’re too big and there won’t be that personalized service. When people realize it’s a personalized service, they will, appreciate it more and that they gain value for it. Which goes back to what we were talking about, producing meaningful valuable products, and then people will buy those products or services because, there is value behind it. Everything you do shapes your business and everything that you put into it shapes your business. So I think this is pretty awesome.
Chris: Yeah, exactly. I think we’ve got to also keep in mind that a lot of these events that we’re doing, the parties, the weddings, even the corporate events. These are things that happen either once in a lifetime or once a year, once every 10 years you know, if you’re doing like a reunion or something like that. These are a very, very special days for people. Even though we’re doing it on a weekly basis with probably multiple events per week, and it kind of gets old and same old things to us, we’ve got to keep in mind for these clients, these are often once in a lifetime events that aren’t going to happen again and they want to know that you’re approaching it from that angle. That’s why I think like you said, that you are not just this huge corporate entity that is doing 50 events a week. I’m doing more of a lifestyle business and concentrating on 2 to 4 events a weekend.
Joe: In your off time when you’re not actually working, I know you mention briefly before how you were getting a photoboothtraining.com put together, you were doing a lot of self-educating. What are your favorite things now and what have you use to learn and educate with it exactly anything specific, any particular books or I know you mention there was some podcasts you listen to, what did you do then and also what do you continue doing now?
Chris: I haven’t been read books, to be honest about the topic. I do listen to quite a few podcasts and none of them, besides the ProBoothTalk podcast is a photo booth related or event industry related podcast. The other podcasts I listen to are generally about online business and most of our leads come in online, so I’m able to pick up some tips and advice for marketing and advertising the booth.
Joe: I have a personal collection of podcasts I do listen to a lot, I’ve actually done some production on some as well. I think one of the things people especially who are here listening right now, what Chris is bringing up is, these are things that you can easily put on your phone while you’re driving to work for 20 minutes. So if you have a full time job or you’re commuting, a lot of these podcasts are 15, 20 minutes long. Some of them a little bit longer like a 45 minute to an hour but you can download it and listen at your leisure, wherever you want.
A friend of mine, he listens to it while he is washing dishes. I mean he would put his ear buds in do dishes and he’ll be able to listening and learning while doing that. My wife for example, she’ll listen to it while she’s editing photos. And a lot of these podcasts really, hone in on any small business or any entrepreneur or anything that you want to grow with.
Chris: Exactly, and it’s completely free. Like you said some of them are only 15 to 20 minutes the other ones are an hour and just put on in the background and you’re going to get ideas for different things to do in your business. Whether it is how to create Facebook ads, Google ads, email marketing, how to tell a story. There are tons of different topics that you can adapt to the photo booth business.
Joe: I know that you, on your photoboothtraining.com website, you do have an opt in, but you have a great offer that goes along with it that has a 100% free no strings attached right?
Chris: Absolutely. If you decide to sign up for my email newsletter, which is also completely free, you will get an attorney drafted, attorney approved photo booth rental contract. And I send that to you into different formats, a Word document and also a fillable PDF, whichever you prefer, you can download right from the links when you subscribe. But, you should probably have your local attorney take a look at it before you use it. At least have someone maybe a paralegal or somebody take a quick look at it. It was a New York attorney who drafted it but it is general enough that I think it’ll work in most areas for these purposes. It’s important to have contracts, it’s important to have one that’s solid. We’ve ne er had a problem with any kind of contract or having to refund deposit or have something go wrong. Here we are in 2015, in a litigious society and things happen so contracts, insurance these are all important things to have.
Joe: Absolutely, and if anyone doesn’t realize that’s a $100 value, if you’ve got to take your contract and have someone draft it for you, it costs you money, but having a contract versus no contract is key and having someone local look at it is important. Every municipality has a different way of wording things and you want to make sure you’re covered. As you mention, insurance is also important, there are a lot of different insurances out there. These will probably be topics that we’re going to have in the future because, a lot of business owners actually don’t realize they need coverage or they don’t have adequate coverage and need to know what’s going to happen if they ended up an emergency. So that might be a future topic coming up right there. So they’ll sign up, they’d get this newsletter from you as well as the contract right?
Chris: Yeah, every week I send out a newsletter. My subscribers are the first to know when a new blog post is up. I try to provide valuable information, you can actually use in your photo booth business and make some changes. So far I’ve had a great response and I’m excited about to go forward with the blog.
Joe: What’s really great is, I’m looking at the front page of your blog and the latest blog post is “5 photo booth website mistakes.” But I’m also thinking about the biggest mistakes people make as photo booth owners and how they can fix it. What are the biggest mistakes any photo booth owner makes and what is the easiest way to fix them?
Chris: Probably, not treating the business like a business and treating it more like a hobby. This business can generate a viable income. There are folks out there, I’m sure you know them, that are doing this full-time. Regardless of your business size, we have to treat this like a business and not just a hobby that we do on the weekends. There are a lot of different companies popping up out there that are really undercutting, under-pricing, and under valuing themselves, that in the end won’t last. If you’re going to be around a long time, I want to be in this business for the long haul, you’ve got to be serious. I don’t think the photo booth industry is just a flash, I think it’s here to stay. But if you want to be in a business for the long haul, you have got to treat it like one, be professional. Practically this means, answering the phone when it rings and getting back to people as soon as you can, answering emails as fast as you can, getting the insurance, paying sales tax if you are required, using the contracts and so on.
Joe: Awesome, well wonderful. I think that’s the take away from today is you can’t run this as a hobby. Even if you’re doing it as a supplemental income, you still have to treat it like a business. For legal reasons or just because you want to keep it going for 5 or 10 years or whatever it might be and not have to branch into something else because you let it fail.
We’re starting to run out of time but I want to give you an opportunity to either tell us anything else that you wanted to share that came out of this, maybe something that you learn from building your blog but, any last words that you want to give the community here that are listening?
Chris: Yeah, it’s “just keep at it” keep doing those events. If you have invested money into a photo booth and you’ve probably put in a bunch of time as well, let’s just not just have it sit around in the living room. That’s why I’ve started the blog. That’s why we’re doing this webinar. You have got to find ways to get out there, be found, fill your calendar, have your phone ring and your email inbox fill up. It’s one thing to have a photo booth, but after that, you know where do you go from there? How do you make sure you’re consistent and you’re marketing, and you’re advertising. Keep at it, it’s an awesome business to be in, it can be very profitable, it’s one like as you said at the beginning it’s not a lot of heavy lifting.
Joe: Okay, and then other than your website, do you have any other ways of people contacting you directly?
Chris: You can reach out through my email address on the website, it’s just at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can look me up on Facebook, we have a page on there as well.