Expert-itis. A disease that affects 7 in 10 photographers. Symptoms include: Listing twenty thousand options on your products list. Asking exhausted clients whether they want that in pearlescent, metallic, or lustre finish. Using funny words like “float wrap” and “gallery wrap” as if others should know the difference. Expertitis is believed to have begun in the medical community with doctors who talk at you with Latin-sprinkled babble, but it has spread through the photography profession like wildfire. Expertitis is not fatal, but it is extremely annoying to those around the infected.
Expert-itis is often a side effect of a really good thing – spending a long time immersed in photography. The problem is that when any topic consumes your days, it becomes second nature, and you start to assume everyone knows the same things you do. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a tween eye-roll for not knowing who Justin Bieber is, you’ll understand.
Psychologist Dan Gilbert said it best: “If you spend seven years studying the differences between grapes, no two will look the same to you.” Well, all I know is that some grapes are light purple, some are dark purple, some are green, and I can never keep straight which ones have the seeds that get stuck in my teeth. I just want something that tastes good. This would probably horrify the owner of a vineyard. And yet – do I put a 16×20 and a 16×24 on my print list right next to each other and not take the time to explain the real difference to my client? Your client does not care about that four-inch difference any more than I care about being able to spot seeded grapes from afar. They just want something that looks good.
Expertitis can be treated. Exact remedies will vary depending on the symptoms:
- Understand that offering lots of options may seem like a good idea, but instead of appearing flexible, you’re most likely paralyzing people. When people are faced with too many choices and don’t know much about the subject, they either pick the default (probably an 8×10 print) or choose nothing at all. A few choices is better than 30 choices, and people report being more satisfied with their choice when they picked from a smaller number of options
- Eliminate all but your favorite products from your price list. Offering everything will exhaust both you and your clients. Channel the Apple Store: Focus on selling a few things that are long-lasting and meaningful, and eliminate distractions.
- Cut down the number of decisions for each product. Keep in mind that 10 print sizes x 3 finishes x 3 mounting options x 3 color choices (B&W, sepia, full color) = 270 possibilities per image. Pick one signature mounting and finish that complements your work the best and eliminate the others – suddenly your clients are down to only 30 possibilities (size and color) per image. Offer only one color type per image, selected by you, and they’re down to 10 choices. Make a size recommendation for them, and they’ll thank you for not having to sweat through so many decisions!
- Eliminate all the cropped sizes from your price list and just sell the full frame. That means axing 16x20s and just selling the 16x24s. Your images probably look best full frame anyway if that’s how you shot them, and it’ll spare you from having to explain that if they get the 16×20 the image will be cropped. If you want to be really bold, sell 8x12s instead of 8x10s.
- If you’re selling a disc, give clients a list of all the full frame sizes (4×6, 8×12, 16×24, 20×30, 24×36), and explain that 5x7s and 8x10s will result in cropping. This will save them from wasting money and getting mad when Walgreens chops the top of Dad’s head off.
- After you’ve narrowed the number of products your clients have to choose from, photograph a sample of each one (mounted prints, gallery wraps, albums, whatever) and put them in front of your pricing list, and explain what each one is. And don’t rip off the text from WHCC’s website – those descriptions were written for photographers. Write it like you were explaining it to your grandmother.
- Once your list is pruned, put an asterisk at the bottom saying you’re happy to offer custom sizes and additional products upon request. That way you can still serve the small percentage of people who absolutely have to have a cropped size, but you’re not overwhelming the majority of people who just want something wonderful hanging on their wall.
- Grab a non-photographer friend and have them look over your website, your product list, and your promotional materials. Ask them to highlight anything that they don’t understand or that feels overwhelming. Revise.
You don’t have to live with expertitis. There is hope.
Jenika McDavitt runs a portrait photography business and blogs over at Psychology for Photographers, helping photographers run smarter businesses through a savvier understanding of human behavior. Drop by and grab a free copy of 13 Things No One Tells You About Photographing Children. Wave hello on Facebook here!