25 Questions by Richard Donovan

When I first started doing planning session with my clients I was scared out of my pants. What do I say? When do I say it? And all the “what ifs” flooded my thoughts. Then I heard one of my mentors say that the person asking the questions is the one in charge. Years later one of my students and good friend, Craig McNiel reminded me of this in a letter which I have modified for this post. He gave me the credit but I thank him for teaching me what I had taught him.

I have to keep reminding myself daily what the purpose of the questions is; to build rapport, build trust and to find out the emotional triggers and why they are really here. We are professional problem solvers. Find out what the client problem is and provide a solution to their problem. Hence the questions.

Everyone I meet wants or needs a family portrait, however not everyone is a client. Even if they fall into the affluent or ultra affluent category which is my target market, lack of respect for me as the artist, who I am and what I do, and how I do it is a deal breaker, and I will fire a client.

The greater the degree of trust you build, through these questions but also in the education you provide about what makes you special, different or unique when you first meet at the PPS (Portrait Planning Session), the greater the potential for a positive outcome (sale). The more you help them, the more you are worth.

If you’re getting skunked at the projection you have to go back to the beginning. I do not send out my price list prior to the Design Consult, they see my guide the first time they come to the studio. Even then I do not hand them a printed price list. I don’t want them bailing before they know what I’m about. As I take the client through a PPS, I educate them to what I’m all about. At the end of the PPS, I review my Planning Guide with them as well as the investment list. There are a small percentage of prospects that will disqualify themselves, which is fine with me. Those who object to my price will generally call it good. I don’t want to waste a tremendous amount of time, effort energy or resources for no result at the projection. The sooner your client knows where you stand, the better you’ll both fare in the end.

Here are a few questions for building rapport and trust. Make sure you listen and make notes on the answers! Some questions are the same, just asked in a different way.

1. Have you seen any of our work before?
2. What attracted you to the work?
3. What motivated you to contact us?
4. Where did you first see my work?
5. Why a Family Portrait now?
6. What does your family do for fun?
7. When was your last portrait made?
8. Tell me about the experience?
9. Why have you decided to do a portrait now?
10.What’s significant about this point in time?
11. What do you want this portrait to say about your family?
12. How do your husband/kids feel about doing this family portrait?
13. Do you have any thoughts about where you might want the portrait created?
14. If “every picture tells a story”, what story do you want this to tell about your family?
15. What’s most important to you about this family portrait?
16. Is there any place that is special that your family goes to? (Maybe cabin or vacation condo?)
17. Do you have a particular location in mind for your portrait?
18. If you could go anywhere to do this where would it be?
19. Do you have a favorite place you like to vacation?
20. In your home where do you feel you would get the most enjoyment from your portrait?
21. Do you see your portrait as being more formal, classic or casual?
22. Do you have a preference, seated or standing?
23. What style of room do you see this portrait hanging in?
24. If this were the last portrait taken of you, how would you like to be remembered?
25. Is there anything “Special” about your family that I should know?

You will not ask every question on this list. Choose the ones that work for you.

These are a few of the most important questions. You can come up with many more that fit your style of business.