Building trust and rapport with clients is essential, both in getting the best results from your work and maintaining a strong, mutually beneficial relationship.
Danielle Tirserio of EVOKE Boudoir shares how crafting a luxury, intimate experience around her services has set her apart in her industry. She also discusses the principles that helped her grow a loyal client base and sky-rocket her photography business in just three years.
RM: What sparked the idea to start your company?
DANIELLE: I was still working full time and [had just given] birth to my son, Sawyer. I had asked for a camera before he was born and I studied basic beginner photography guides and just started shooting. It caught on and I attended a conference for amateur and semi-pro portrait photographers during the fall of 2012 in Dallas, TX. It was the first time I was away from my then 9 month old. As a new mom, I was struggling to find my identity and purpose in this world. I felt that photography was the path to help me find it. Little did I know how this [conference] would shape my life.
The keynote speaker was Sue Bryce, an acclaimed portrait photographer from South Auckland, New Zealand. It was clear from the mesmerizing images that flashed through her slideshow that Sue was gifted at making the everyday non-model Jane, looks as if she was pulled from the pages of Vanity Fair. Sue looked out on the conference crowd, a majority women, and proclaimed her mission to "photograph any woman who had ever looked in the mirror and not felt good enough."
You could feel the air in the room change, as we all thought about what this statement meant as women, mothers, daughters, partners. How we all were relentlessly tough on our bodies, our bumps and wrinkles. She wanted to transform and empower women through her photography. I knew at that moment I wanted to do exactly that.
RM: What an inspiring way to realize your calling.
DANIELLE: Half a decade later and 3 different studios under my belt, I'm operating one of the most successful beauty and boudoir brands in the Washington, DC region.
RM: That's amazing. What would you say your company does exceptionally well?
DANIELLE: My focus has always been the self-worth of my clients. Specifically with boudoir, a vulnerable and raw genre of photography, I know I'm entrusted with my clients' self esteem and I honor every woman that walks through my studio.
Since our studio offers a luxury service, we pay close attention to the details, down to her guilty pleasure of dark chocolate (we have Ghirardelli squares and champagne waiting for her when she arrives). The artistry has always come naturally, but it's always been about the connection and the layer of trust between me and my amazing clients. The women and their stories are what make EVOKE Boudoir the success that it is today.
"It's always been about the connection and the layer of trust between me and my amazing clients"
RM: How have your personality and strengths shaped the way you've built EVOKE Boudoir?
DANIELLE: I've always been fairly outgoing and bubbly, although I find myself a bit introverted in larger groups. That's why I think the 1-on-1 nature of portrait and boudoir photography is a perfect fit. It's also been my way to inject some über girly things into my professional life that would have never flown in the corporate world.
I literally get to play with pretty lingerie, champagne, makeup and chocolates every single day :-D
I'm also fairly good at making clients feel at ease immediately. We only have a short time to get them to let their guard down so we can achieve a stunning portfolio. I have to get them to trust me or it will show in their body language and facial expressions.
RM: Was it ever difficult for you to establish the value of what you do? What role did branding play in conveying that value?
DANIELLE: OMG yes! Value is a huge hangup in the photography industry and with creatives in general. I entered the photography industry in the era of the "shoot and burn" photographer. However, the more time that my passion for photography was taking away from family or personal time, the more I knew I needed to increase the value I associated with it, and price myself appropriately.
I think that [positioning] myself in a specific niche helped me up my value and opt for a luxury, lower volume service.
RM: How has your company evolved and grown since starting out? And how important has it been for you to lean into your personality and strengths to facilitate that?
DANIELLE: Goodness... My images have gotten better. Does that count? :-)
I honestly love the change and I welcome it. In looking back at what my brand was at the very beginning, the contrast is stark and that only means one thing: I kept learning and evolving. I know that I'll have to continue that path if I want continued success in the competitive industry. Evolve or die. LOL.
My messaging and visual identity [have also] shifted over the past 5 years. I feel like I started out with a brand that reflected more of what I was studying in the industry and not necessarily my own personal flair. I don't think I had quite put my finger on it yet. My current EVOKE brand has more of an injection of my personality, and my messaging reflects the various personas I'm trying to attract as clients.
I've learned to communicate more casually (think uptight corporate language) without sacrificing clear calls to action for my prospective clients. I feel like I've found a balance and it's resulting in more inquires and even more conversions and sales.
RM: Speaking of conversions, what have been the most effective strategies for finding and converting new clients?
DANIELLE: I still rely heavily on social media (Instagram and Facebook ads), but I think that most businesses tend to overlook their current client base [as their] most valuable asset in generating strong leads that convert almost 100%. I've been focusing very hard on the client experience and educating my ladies about our referral program. If you don't have a referral program you're really missing out on viral marketing in its rawest and non-techie form.
"If you don't have a referral program you're really missing out on viral marketing in its rawest and non-techie form."
RM: Great tip! Now, we all know that no business is perfect. But you're clearly rocking it out in yours and enjoying every bit of it. What would you say has contributed most to your sense of satisfaction in business?
DANIELLE: I think it's always important, when you're designing your business, to put YOUR LIFE'S priorities at the forefront of what drives you, instead of simply focusing on business-centric goals, like quarterly numbers, sales averages and marketing strategies.
What kind of countries would you like to visit? Do you really want that Audi? Did you want to take the family to Disney this year? You work so that you can have fun in life. It's a bonus when your job is just one of those fun things!
RM: I couldn't agree more. One of the things I hear my clients, who've been in the game for a while, say is they're ready for a “grown up” business. What does that mean to you?
DANIELLE: It's funny because, as I mentioned, I came into the photography game when my "competitors" were charging $150 for a CD of images and calling it a day. I spent a great deal of money investing in education up front to make sure that I was pricing myself for profit right from the very beginning. I paid attention to those who were handling their photography businesses like professionals and not hobbyists. Not knocking the hobbyists, their goals were just different than mine. I feel like this helped me rocket to six figures in gross sales by year three.
RM: Congratulations! I guess you'd say you've reached that level, then, yes?
DANIELLE: My business sustains the life I want to live, but I feel like I have more things to learn and strive for. I have a grown up business, but I always want to have fun. I think I'll always have a thirst for education and lifelong learning. When it stops being fun, it's time to listen to that little voice that's telling you which path to go down for the next adventure.
RM: What has this business made possible for you in supporting the kind of life you want?
DANIELLE: I am the master of my time, my income and my level of stress. It takes a great deal of discipline to know that you're the only one steering the ship. It's all on your shoulders and that weight gets heavy at times. It also forces you into action when perhaps procrastination would have been the "day job" option. My schedule is a mosaic and it allows me to make time to chaperone my son's events, attend conferences and never, ever, ever have to ask for time off. We work hard and we play even harder.
RM: Now that you've achieved this level of success, what's next for you and EVOKE Boudoir?
DANIELLE: I really want to launch some online courses for photographers and perhaps host a workshop here in the DC area. Education (specifically online through outlets like Creative Live) is what helped me achieve my success so quickly. I feel like I need to honor that space by giving back to other people who want to learn what gifts they have inside of them. Every time my clients allow me to walk with them through their web of vulnerability and fear, I am immensely honored and humbled.
And I want to make a million dollars before I turn 40. There's that too.
Danielle Tirserio is the owner and award-winning lead photographer at EVOKE Boudoir, Northern Virginia and Washington, DC's top luxury boudoir studio. Her expertise is boudoir and beauty photography for ALL women. Boudoir is not one of many genres—IT IS her specialty. Danielle is a member of the Association for International Boudoir Photographers (AIBP), the Professional Photographers of America (PPA), and the Do More Wear Less community. You can see her stunning work at evokeboudoir.com and connect with her on Instagram (@evokeboudoir).
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