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Stop Telling Your Clients They’re Beautiful. Do This Instead.

Stop Telling Your Clients They're Beautiful.  Do This Instead.Okay, I only sort of meant what I said there in the title.  Oops.

You know how sometimes you say stuff you only half-mean?

Like when I’m watching Parenthood and I jab my index finger at the TV and say “I can’t stand how Jasmine and Crosby handle their arguments, I’m never ever watching this lousy stuff again,” but them I’m right back there watching the show again next week?

Yeah, I sometimes I only sort of mean something.

(But seriously, Jasmine and Crosby?  Pull the plug on the passive aggression and learn how to reframe and reflect.  Please and thank you.)

Here’s what I really mean:

Have you ever had someone walk up to you and say “Oh, you look so cute today!”

And you said “Thank you,” and maybe even felt flattered.  But then your brain went into a tailspin that sounded something like: “Yeah right, I’ve got circles under my eyes, my kid puked on my shoulder this morning, I bought this old thing in the clearance bin four years ago…..” 

Our minds can create nasty hailstorms of defensive doubt in the face of a compliment.

But have you ever had THIS happen:

You’re at a party hovering over the cheese platter.  You hear your name from twenty feet away.  Your ears perk up the way they only do when you hear your name unexpectedly in someone else’s conversation.

You slide your feet a little closer and catch the rest of the sentence:

“(___Your name here___) rocks at being a mom (/dad).  I drove through her neighborhood yesterday and saw her wearing a superhero cape chasing her kids in the front yard.  They were laughing and it was like something out of, I don’t know, a commercial or something.  And did you see the cupcakes she brought to Madison’s party?  They were incredible…”

What then?

You’d probably blush a little.  Smile.  Feel proud.  Then try to be cool and pretend you weren’t eavesdropping.

20130709_untitled shoot_3688It’s the same basic experience as before (someone is saying something nice) but your reaction is usually different.

It’s not that someone telling you that you looked cute or beautiful can’t make your day.  It completely can.

But let’s admit it – sometimes we use words like “you look cute” or “you’re so beautiful” in a bit of a superficial way.  Not bad superficial, just light conversation.  Positive things to fill space.  You’re beautiful, she’s beautiful, the person down the street is beautiful, the last client you had was beautiful.

Though true, these words get bandied about a lot – to the point that sometimes their meaning can feel diminished.

(And as an aside, if someone has poor self image, simply telling them they look beautiful doesn’t always reassure them.  Sometimes, especially if they disagree, this can have the unintended effect of making them think the opposite even more strongly.  Simple, one-line compliments unfortunately do not usually diffuse years of bruising self-beliefs.)

But what about when someone offers an example?

One that shows, rather than tells, that you’re beautiful?

Offering evidence why you are beautiful/amazing/a good parent makes it really hard for you to completely dismiss what they’re saying.  You can’t really say they “didn’t mean it.”

Because that compliment came bundled with Cold. Hard. Proof.

It cannot be disputed that you did, in fact, chase your kids in a superhero cape.  And yeah, now that they mention it, you’re pretty proud of how hard you worked on those cupcakes.

It can be hard to swallow positive adjectives about ourselves.  It’s even harder to see the good things we do when we’re busy ruminating on this morning’s spilled makeup or our kid’s undone hair.

But when someone concretely points out wonderful things you have done, those adjectives suddenly feel a little more real.  Even in the midst of doubt, we say “Well yeah – I DID do that!  Maybe I AM those things!”

(This is, incidentally, one way therapists work with people to overcome negative beliefs.  Rather than the therapist wasting time arguing “You are TOO a good parent,” they help the client find examples that illustrate their good parenting.  That helps someone internalize the positive belief for themselves, rather than a therapist trying to force a belief on them.)

The example gives the adjective a fighting chance.

20130709_untitled shoot_3687When you write about your clients, don’t just say they’re beautiful.  Don’t just say they’re amazing.

You’re a photographer – your job is to SHOW them these things.

In photos, yes.  But it doesn’t have to be photos alone.

You can do it in words, too.  (They can complain about how their chin looks in photos – but not your words.)

You can hand them a written bouquet of all the things you observed them say or do that made you form that “beautiful” impression you have.

That dad?  He mastered the art of hair braiding so he can do his only daughter’s hair when his wife is out of town on business.

The woman in these headshots?  Totally overcame a paralyzing fear of public speaking to lecture at the local authors’ group.

This business owner?  She raised two children and sewed all those baby hats between night feedings to build her Etsy business.

These are things that make them beautiful, interesting, impressive.

If you build your post using these examples, rather than your own opinions (no matter how gushing), the client will be deeply moved.

To them, it’s supremely flattering to have you point out actual evidence of their amazingness.

It shows you paid attention.  It shows you really care about them.  It shows you took time above and beyond the superficial norm to search for their beauty.  It shows that you aren’t just spraying them with glitter because you want to keep them as a client – it offers evidence that you really, truly see them as they are.  And most of all – it makes it even easier for the person to accept their gorgeousness.

Send them into looking at their images with that in mind already.

THAT, friends, is customer service.

So no, I guess I’m not asking you to strip ‘beautiful’ from your vocabulary.

I’m asking you to show it in writing just like you show it in photos.

Do it,






P.S.  If you’re not a photographer, this still applies to you.  If you write about companies, don’t just say they’re “awesome clients.”  Talk about what makes them awesome.  I see you sitting there – you’re not off the hook!


  Irresistible Words is here!

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P.P.P.S.  Are you new to Psychology for Photographers?  Welcome!  Don’t forget to grab your FREE copy of How Clients Make Decisions About Money on your way out.



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  1. Shannon K on October 3, 2013 at 1:58 am

    Fabulous article! It’s so true!

    While I really have had wonderful clients, I haven’t even thought about pointing out WHAT really makes them wonderful. This really resonated with me and I am part of the P.S. crowd. Not a photog but totally taking this to my business. Thanks!

  2. Val Frania on October 3, 2013 at 2:03 am

    Great ideas! I’ve been thinking my posts are a bit average and needs punching up. I want to be an interesting blogger. I will be back.

  3. April on October 3, 2013 at 2:15 am

    Again! Zing! Love finding another thoughtful post that combines my psych background with practical application for photography. As always, brilliant Jenika. Loved your book on websites. Still have it on my nook to peruse for inspiration for my blog!

  4. Kim on October 3, 2013 at 4:17 am

    Oh my gosh, Jenika, I LOVE Parenthood!
    And I do the exact same thing! Too funny.
    Thanks for another great post, your articles are always super helpful and I really appreciate you sharing the love. 🙂

  5. Maggie on October 3, 2013 at 7:58 am

    I love this post. It spoke to me…possibly because I am one of those people who can’t take a compliment without thinking, Oh how sweet you are for trying to make me forget that my hair looks like a wig I dug out of a clearance bin in a Halloween costume shop, or that my eyes are so puffy, you probably think I some horrible type of glandular problem.

    And perhaps that’s why I compliment other people so much, because it’s my hope that if I present it in just the right way, they will know I mean it, and they will feel it, and it might brighten their days. However, even though I have always thought that this was something I do well, I just learned something very valuable from your post. I am in sales, and knowing how to make my clients feel good, is not just about getting more sales, but so that I can build a relationship with them that will help them trust me and know that I am sincere and truly care about them – because I do. Thank you for teaching me how to do this better; how to do it in just the right way

  6. Martino Studioboda on October 3, 2013 at 8:03 am

    Inspiring and usefull post. I sometimes struggle when writing on my blog to find different words to describe how special are the couples of the photos. I’ll try to use your suggestions next time! Thank you.

  7. Trish Allen on October 3, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Thank you for the encouragement to dig deeper as we develop client relationships.

  8. Dale Lempa on October 3, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    I think there’s also something to be said for the fact that, in your second example, you are overhearing someone compliment you to a third party, and they don’t know that you are listening in. It seems much more credible when they say it apart from the intention to compliment you directly.

    • Jenika on October 3, 2013 at 2:18 pm

      Agreed. Although even if you were standing there, and the person knew you were, and said the exact same thing – it would still be a more powerful experience than the first example. For one thing, the example shores up what they’re saying. For another, they’re saying it when other people are around, which is flattering because they’re “spreading” a good opinion of you beyond just you. In my view, a blog has a similar effect, because usually we write “about” the person rather than “to” the person (e.g. we say “Jamie did X and Y” not “you did X and Y.”) A blog post feels like its written for others, including strangers, so it’s an amazing experience for a client to read, when they know many others are, too.

  9. Rachel Fellig on October 3, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    I adore you and you’re writing !! You’re always spot on…

  10. Rachel Fellig on October 3, 2013 at 4:52 pm


    Serves me right for multi tasking

  11. Savannah Dunn on October 4, 2013 at 2:24 am

    I love this! I actually drafted a post using these tips today, but I felt like it was too personal for the internet and I haven’t published it, yet. My client is extremely self conscious and even told me today “not to post the ‘fat’ ones.” I was deflated! But you’re right. There is a way to show your clients they are beautiful. Thank you for this post!

  12. April Maura on October 7, 2013 at 1:09 am

    This is seriously a great post. That is a really good point on noticing actions that make a person beautiful. It must take time to exercise that muscle but I am excited to try. I have noticed with family sessions that are only 2 hours long can sometimes be difficult in the midst of trying to get photos to gather these beautiful attributes. Is there any helpful tip for noticing them when you only work a couple hours with a client?

  13. Tracey Frugoli on October 7, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    Great post. Love it!

  14. Emily on October 7, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    LOVE this post. I am always frustrated both by how often photographers refer to a wedding as one of their “favorites” but also how hard it is to try to convey the idea of a “favorite” shoot or wedding without using that word.

    I try to ask myself WHY a shoot or wedding was one of my favorites. It’s a great exercise, and you’re right — it makes the clients feel so much more appreciated.

    There’s too much hyperbole in the world already- it can really dilute language and remove some of its punch.

  15. Tatiana Popova on October 8, 2013 at 7:55 am

    WOW! So simple and so truth. Love your blog, your words and your thoughts. Thank you!

  16. Angela on October 8, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    Love this blog post!

    It really resonated with me. I will definitely start following your advice going forward when I post client photos to my blog.

    Since I’m posting this anyways, I just want to say that I found your blog only this morning and I think I am addicted. I spent my breakfast and lunch breaks reading your blog and didn’t want to stop.

    I love how you merge psychology with photography in a way that is relevant for my business, and I feel inspired to work harder after reading each of your posts.

    So, thank you!

  17. John Merk on October 15, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    Right! Sometimes it sounds so ordinary that we forget what’s the true meaning of “beautiful”. Thanks for all the tips! 🙂

  18. Alicia on November 6, 2013 at 8:10 am

    Repeating the same things do often dilute the meaning and feelings we receive from the words others use and say to us. They are often over used words and we gain less from those things than we would the concrete proof and examples as you mentioned. My thoughts go to the ill people with the burden of health problems and their irresistible urge to complain. It’s often those closest to those individuals that hear the complaints the most and they too become a bit less noticeable and attention getting with each repeated time. It’s sad, but it is true, I mention this because it is so important what you have written about. I am a Communications and Human Services Grad and the two have served me well in my self-teaching of Photography the last three years and I strongly feel it will help in starting up my Business and beginning to get things off the ground. Your work here that you share is invaluable and appreciated. These things have the potential to resonate with our hearts and minds and I feel that’s the area we want to touch the most to begin with. Thanks again, Alicia

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