There's a Method to my Mullet: Turning One-time Clients into Lifelong Patrons

joe dirt

Okay, so I don’t have a mullet. The famed haircut has become more obscure with every passing year, (and that’s probably for the best) but it’s well-loved mantra lives on. Everyone knows it: “business in the front, party in the back.” While the mullet isn’t a sound fashion statement, it does have a lesson that will help you build your business.

Too many photographers and businesses in general try to lure in clients in with a “party in the front” mentality, offering too many discounts, promotions or more than they can or intend to deliver in general, leading clients to feel legitimately duped by the end of the transaction. Not only will they never return, but that bad experience (depending on the severity) will lead them to discredit the business to family and friends. With the help of social media and business rating websites like and, word-of-mouth marketing can do more damage than ever before. Granted, it can also do a world of good, but only if your playing your proverbial cards right. Don’t cheat your customers–you’ll never win that way. Never over-promise and then under-deliver. You’re better off all business than with a backward mullet.

Think of the mullet as a timeline.

Business in the Front

You want to be as professional as you can in the initial phone call. Don’t promise a deal. Don’t gush. Schedule a complimentary pre-session consultation. Insist on this step. In the consultation, keep the same tone. Only guarantee what you can. These are things like the length of the session, the scheduled photographer, the location and be sure to touch on any variables that can and might change. Be as honest as possible. If you have policies about missed sessions, late arrivals, minimum orders or anything of that nature, please do yourself and your clients a favor and be up front about it. You want to be warm, welcoming and gracious, but also very clear about your standard process. This will avoid unpleasant misunderstandings along the way. Once you book the session (after collecting a session fee) make sure that you follow up. Keep the professional vibe going as the session date arrives, be calm, welcoming and patient throughout the session, but not overly gratifying or apologetic. An even emotional keel will send the message that this is a business exchange, not a favor on one side or the other.

*What if it is a friend or family member? Go ahead and party on. But don’t work with people who are close to you if you feel that you’re running a risk of harming the relationship over it. The best thing you can do in those situations is get the expectations out in the open and be clear about the arrangement ahead of time.*

During the sales meeting, you will have to suppress the urge to croon too much. To overdo it. Throwing in this and that, making the client feel like a VIP. But this should never happen unless you have a bonus structure carefully built into your pricing. This type of behavior seems like great service, but in most cases it actually hurts your chances of creating a satisfactory experience for your clients. Why? Because once you promise it, it’s expected. It’s not special at that point.

Party in the Back

The time to throw in a special bonus gift or go the extra mile is once the order is complete. If it’s ready early, call the client and they’ll be pleasantly surprised. Did they order everything on the menu? Throw in a generous gift as a thank you. Were they generally easy to work with? Throw in a few wallet-sized gift portraits or something like that.

Of course you have to be particular about the terms of the “party”. Try to avoid rewarding clients with things that have a time frame. Don’t give them something that will depend on another transaction. You might think this would be good to get repeat business, but there’s no telling what your schedule will look like when they want to redeem that free session or finally take advantage of that credit. Make sure the gift is part of the final transaction, and either tell them it’s a bonus gift from you or include a note so they know that.

The best practice with things like this is to do it sporadically, so it doesn’t become expected. All benefits go out the window if you’ve built up an expectation. The core of your success can’t rest on gimmicks, but a little extra here and there does build client satisfaction immensely.

Micro to Macro

You also want to apply the mullet timeline to your overall client relationships. If someone walks in your door the first time, there’s no reason they should have the same treatment as someone who has come to you for over ten years. One is a potential client, the other is a proven patron. It’s okay to celebrate those relationships, because both are exciting, but don’t do it in the same way.

Have you ever seen your cable company offer new clients half the price that you pay for their service? Banks do this too. Just like a backward mullet, this approach can be seen from a mile away and it’s less than flattering.

I recommend model searches during slow seasons to get new clients, as well as Facebook mixers for adults and parties for seniors. And let’s not forget referral programs.

For long-standing clients, make room in your schedule if you can. Give them an extra pose, or something of this nature. Offer a client appreciation luncheon or dinner, if you’re so inclined. These can be a great way to make old clients feel appreciated and allow them to bring friend that just might become a new client too. The more creative you can be with your “party” approach, the less of a rut you will create for yourself in setting an unreasonable standard in your day-to-day operations.

Comment to share your approach to getting new clients, rewarding old ones and exceeding client expectations every time.


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