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What the FBI Would Say To Your Target Client (Target Client Mastery 2/5)

In a hostage crisis, the FBI often sends in a highly trained negotiator. If you were in their shoes, what’s the first thing you would do when someone picked up the phone?

  • Demand they stop what they’re doing?
  • Lay out your strongest, well-spoken, 100% factual argument for why they should come out?
  • Charm them into compliance?

The FBI says: None of the above.

The first mandatory, unskippable step is: listening. (Really, it’s in the manual.) They listen to what the person has to say, without interrupting, perhaps just a few affirmative words to let them know they’re there.

Then they practice what’s called “mirroring,” which is repeating the last word or two the person said, then summarizing what they heard in their own words, without judgment: “Mmm, long time, yes. They took your house away, and it doesn’t seem right. It feels like no one gave you a chance, and you want them to know how you feel.”

A reader once sent me an angry email that I was, in their view, wasting time talking about “all this emotional crap.”

And frankly, I’m sure FBI negotiators would agree that they, too, would rather dispense with the ’emotional crap’ and get right to the ending-the-hostage-situation part. 😉

But they know the truth you can’t get around, no matter what the stakes are: If you want someone to change what they’re doing, you have to listen to them first. People are acting on feelings, and if you don’t pause to understand what those are, how can you change how they act?

This goes for you too: If you want people to change current behavior (say, looking at your website and clicking away without hiring you), you need to change your behavior, too. Start by asking open-ended questions and listen closely to what they tell you.

You don’t have to do this in person – you can begin by sending a simple email. I’ll even write it for you – check which one applies to you, below.

Tomorrow I’m going to tell you what the second step is, but it starts here, and it is mandatory – unskippable – if you want to change the results you’re currently getting.

If you have a group of past clients you’ve enjoyed working with, email the following:

Hey (their name),

How have you been? How is Doug? Does he still go to the games every Friday? I thought of you guys last weekend when I was there!

I’m writing because I wonder if I could get your opinion on something. I want to make sure I’m doing everything I can for my clients, and I also want to help people who are thinking of hiring someone make the best decision for them. Would you mind answering these questions, to help me understand what this was like from your perspective?

1) Tell me a little bit about why you chose to hire a photographer when you did. Had you been putting it off at all, and either way, what spurred it?

2) Before hiring me, or even before the photoshoot, was there anything that worried or stressed you about getting photographs done, even just a little? (It’s okay to be honest!)

3) Did any of those concerns actually happen? If not, what happened instead?

Thanks in advance for your answers. It’ll help me help others. It’ll be a breath of fresh air if I can give people searching for a photographer some honest, in-the-moment support with whatever they’re facing!

Your Name

Don’t have a group of existing clients yet?

I bet there are a few particular people who you would love to have as clients: Acquaintances who share your values, someone with good taste in the same general demographic (married with kids / about to be engaged / owns a small business). You can ask them for insights, and get a good foothold into their thinking. Send them the same email, modified a tad. You might ask:

  • Have you ever had professional photographs taken? If so, what did you like about that experience, and what do you wish had gone differently?
  • Imagine you were to go search for a photographer right now. As you browsed websites, what would be running through your mind? What might cause a little concern or stress?
  • Now imagine you found someone whose work you liked. What might make you pause or leave without contacting them to go to the next step?

Don’t have past clients and you’re targeting a hard-to-reach person like an editor?

Here, I would actually advise one of two things: Either write an article that you publish on your blog about what editors are looking for in good photography, or actually interview more thoroughly and feature a few of these gatekeepers on your blog. Then approach them in an email telling them honestly you want to learn more about what they do and how they think. Genuinely use their answers to help other people and give them a bit of free publicity in the process, and they’ll be more likely to give you the time of day. Questions might include:

  • What are some of the big stressors and big rewards of being a ______?
  • What do you wish more people knew about your job?
  • How could a photographer who is sending you work make your job easier?
  • What is going through your mind as you’re weighing who to hire?
  • Fill in the blank: The best photographer I ever worked with made sure to __________, and would never even think of ________.

It may seem strange, but most people really don’t mind sharing about their work, and pretty much everyone would love to be asked “hey, if someone wanted to make your life easier, what would they do?”

Here’s how many people to email:

Start with two, and see if you might need to change anything about your approach.  Like maybe the first editor blew you off, so you need to make it shorter or explain more what you’re doing when you email the next person.  Iterate and improve.

Ultimately I’d aim to get 7-8 replies.  I’ll tell you why tomorrow.  In the meantime, send the messages, and get your highlighter ready.

Of all the emails I’m going to send you this year, this is the one I most hope you take action on!

P.S.  Woo-hoo!  Rare sale happening today!

April 1 and 2, I’m hosting a virtual Target Client Summit.  If you’re about to spend a full season trying to sell your services, you need to understand clearly what your people need to hear.  Otherwise it’s like chopping down a tree with a blunt axe – way too much frustrating work, with less impact for every effort.  Let’s sharpen your message, ASAP.

Everyone who has purchased a class will receive an invite grab one to join us! 

Usually, the whole shop only goes on sale on Black Friday.  I’m breaking tradition to give everyone a chance to jump in on the summit:

Save $50 on any course:

Irresistible Website, $159 only $109

Irresistible Words, $249 only $199

Irresistible You, $219 only $169

Or save $109 off retail when buying any two together; $170 total when you grab all three.  Scroll down to the bottom of any course page to grab a bundle!


Need help deciding what to get?  Shoot me an email.  I’m not here to talk you into or out of anything, just happy to answer all questions.

Check out what you might be missing here.

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