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Interview with Amber Foster Smith for the
Your Big Small Business Podcast with Teresa Porter

[00:00:00.325] – Teresa Porter

Hey, you’re in the right place. This is your big small business where the conversation is a plus and the language is PG 13.

[00:00:10.645] – Teresa Porter

If you’re anxious, awkward and an entrepreneur, we’ve got practical solutions to everyday small business struggles. Today’s episode, we’re talking about difficult client emails and how to craft the perfect response. Joining us is Amber Foster Smith, a photographer owner of Studio 557 Creative Coworking Space and owner of Vend Raleigh. As always, I am your friend and fellow business badass Teresa Porter. Today’s advice: if you mumble it in the shower, you probably shouldn’t put it in an email.

[00:00:47.305] – Teresa Porter

All right, let’s do this. All right, we’re so excited today we are joined by Amber Foster Smith, and she is of Amber Foster Smith Photography here just outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s technically in Holly Springs. And we are so she’s with us today because really, I think if we talk about it, the best way to describe Amber is multi passionate. She is a woman who has three small businesses and two small ish kids.

[00:01:18.155] – Teresa Porter

And on any given day, she is busy with all of the above. So the thing that I love most about Amber is even when she’s busy, she’s not wearing it as a badge of honor. She’s just super productive and focused on making an impact on people in her community and fellow entrepreneurs, especially women. She’s done some amazing things in our area and including running Vend Raleigh, which you might have heard of, Vend Raleigh. They focus on kind of all the same things.

[00:01:47.375] – Teresa Porter

Amber has built her life around connection, empowerment, education and like we like helping fellow small business owners. We’re super excited because Amber is latest and greatest venture in Studio 557, which will be a awesome creative coworking and workshop space, bringing together fellow multi passionate creative entrepreneurs to kind of exist in the same space, feed off of each other’s energy, and can’t believe Amber has stepped away from the baseboards, the painting and the light fixtures to join us today as we talk about client emails.

[00:02:23.705] – Teresa Porter

Everybody, this is Amber with Amber Foster Smith Photography Vend, Raleigh and Studio 557. It’s a mouthful, Amber. You do quite a few things.

[00:02:32.725] – Amber Foster Smith

Yes, it is. Oh, my God. She made me laugh so hard. I am so happy to be here. And yes, I am very excited to be stepping away from baseboards, light molding, studying, painting and all of the things.

[00:02:44.015] – Teresa Porter

How’s it how’s it going right now? How is this studio project?

[00:02:47.195] – Amber Foster Smith

Oh it is going, it has been a long time coming. We first started looking at spaces in April of 2019, so it has been a long journey and the build out process is about ten times longer than we assumed. But we’re near the end. So we’re just at the point where we’re waiting for the building to receive its final inspection so we can do those final inspections on our end and then get to opening, which is what I’m excited about.

[00:03:11.675] – Amber Foster Smith

I can’t wait to finally get past all of this in between phase and get back to creating and connecting again. I miss it so much. And then a pandemic, you know, we’re kind of limited, so.

[00:03:22.955] – Teresa Porter

Well, you know, you say pandemic. And I think it’s been kind of a weird time for all of us. But at the same time, we know it’s not for forever. And, you know, speaking as a photographer in the area connected with other photographers, just like you are, I know that the need has been there for a very long time to have this kind of did not just have a physical space that has walls and structure and a place to use desks, lights, space boards.

[00:03:46.985] – Teresa Porter

But to actually have a space where we can bring our energy together because I think so many of us creates alone. So it is going to be nice to have us all together for sure.

[00:03:56.315] – Amber Foster Smith

It’s one of the jobs we say we’re more than just a desk and four walls.

[00:04:00.705] – Teresa Porter

I mean, very true. It’s about that environment and having the energy when when everybody comes together. So today we’re talking about a fun topic, we’re talking about difficult client emails. So I, I know all of us. And no matter what your industry is, no matter what your business is, you have probably had an uncomfortable email, a disappointing email, a disgruntled email. We’ve all had various forms. And and I you know, when I pitched this to Amber, I said, Amber, come on to the podcast and tell us about the worst emails you received.

[00:04:37.095] – Teresa Porter

And so she has just has one in mind today, although I’m sure there’s many that you could have picked from. So we’re going to talk about that email and then we’re going to talk about what we should do as business owners to make sure that our response to emails is professional, appropriate, and gets our message across without being too cringy and sometimes swallowing the things we really want to say. So with that in mind, Amber, that was your setup. Can you tell me a little bit about the email we’re going to hear today?

[00:05:05.255] – Teresa Porter

Give us the setup. Give us the rundown on the situation.

[00:05:08.105] – Amber Foster Smith

Oh, so when Teresa asked me immediately, I had this one client experience. Not an email, an experience, you guys, because it was interesting from beginning to end, I’ve had a few good, like random emails that I could have pulled. But I think this one I wanted to share because it was not only a mix of just not only just client emails, but then phone calls and in-person awkwardness, even thinking about it again, made my anxiety level just go through the roof.

[00:05:35.135] – Amber Foster Smith

Thank goodness this one is over. But the story, the kind of set up behind it is I met a couple at the bridal show and they were getting married. They weren’t getting married here locally. So they just wanted to hire me on for an engagement session. Super excited. They seemed really nice. Talked with the bride over the phone. We did all of my normal pre client discussions and we talked about what they wanted to do, where they wanted to go, how my process works, what they can expect from me, all of those things.

[00:06:04.155] – Amber Foster Smith

We did that over the phone and then they didn’t have time to meet in person. So we did it over the phone. And then also as a backup, I always email out everything that we talked about over the phone by email. And I say this is so that you can share it with your partner or whoever. Is that decision making part of your process? So that way, that’s always been my thing of hopefully no lines get missed in the process.

[00:06:30.605] – Amber Foster Smith

So session ended up going great. Really excited. We had a great time and I am an in-person sales photographer. So for those of you who don’t know, what that means is that instead of delivering my clients all of the digital images, they come and they meet me for a full service where they get to pick out their favorite digital favorite images and then choose what they want to do with them rather than just got dumped with a whole bunch of digitals.

[00:06:54.335] – Amber Foster Smith

So about 10 minutes before their reveal session, the husband calls me and he is angry. You guys, like, really angry.

[00:07:02.765] – Amber Foster Smith

And he says, I don’t even know why I’m coming.

[00:07:06.155] – Amber Foster Smith

And I said, well, I’m really excited because I’m going to show you all of the portraits that we captured together. And we had talked about doing the dates and I was telling him how excited we were to do these different things. And before I can even finish my sentence, he goes, well, but if you’re giving me all the digitals, why am I coming in to see you? And my heart dropped.

[00:07:24.645] – Amber Foster Smith

And I said, oh, OK.

[00:07:27.275] – Amber Foster Smith

And as much as I wanted to be like, are you crazy? You don’t that’s not how this works. I said, OK, well, and I reiterated to him some of the things that I had already shared with his fiancee. We had even talked about it during their engagement session. Smooth things over the best that I possibly can. I said, just come on in. You know, you’re already on your way. We can talk about it more once you get here.

[00:07:49.355] – Amber Foster Smith

But you guys, my anxiety was already like through the roof. At this point, I’m like, what am I going to do? So that means he doesn’t even know my pricing when it comes to digital. This is this is going to be a disaster. They show up.

[00:08:00.635] – Amber Foster Smith

And overall, considering how it started, I felt that the reveal session went pretty good. They had decided on some save the day, decided on a few prints. And at that point in time, I designed their save the dates after they left. Now I do it as part of their review session. So I went after they left to design their save the date, sent them back. I didn’t hear from a couple of days checked back in. And then this email is the one that I got the groom to be responds.

[00:08:30.605] – Amber Foster Smith

Thanks so much. They look great here. I have attached my notes below and I look and it is the save the dates that have been red line circled with all of his notes, including I would like a different type of font that’s blah blah blah, and has all of these requests. And I would like to increase the spacing here and then has circled every little spot in the picture that he wants cleaned up. These are five by seven, save the dates.

[00:08:56.735] – Amber Foster Smith

It’s like the proof is ten times bigger than it’s ever going to be printed. And so he circled everything. And I’m like, OK, you know what? Fine, OK.

[00:09:07.475] – Amber Foster Smith

And then I continue to read the email and it goes on to request that he would like to have me, “Photoshop his fiance’s body in different places to change her body shape.”

[00:09:20.645] – Amber Foster Smith

Oh, at this point, I am furious as a woman who is a huge advocate for body positivity, no matter your shape, your size, nothing. I was angry because here was a man telling me to, quote, Photoshop his fiancee to be like, OK, take a big deep breath. Yeah.

[00:09:43.565] – Amber Foster Smith

What are we going to do, right? So I kindly emailed him back and said, thanks for your input on the Save the Dates. I basically did whatever he wanted as far as changing the spacing at that point, it was a client’s preference, not design principles anymore.

[00:10:01.045] – Amber Foster Smith

But when it came to the body modifications, I said, thanks for letting me know about the additional portrait editing that you would like to request, those types of requests are outside what we traditionally do, which include blemish removal, stray hairs, wrinkles in shirts, et cetera, so that any type of body modification is something that we outsource. Here is what that fee would cost. Please discuss it with your fiance and at her approval. I will send those off.

[00:10:34.125] – Amber Foster Smith

So what I did was make sure that he knew that this was outside of our scope of what we provide, what it would cost, and then said I will only do it with your fiance’s approval to which he very quickly emailed me back and said, well, I have asked you to do it, so I would like it.

[00:10:54.345] – Amber Foster Smith

Oh, I.

[00:10:56.755] – Teresa Porter

Oh, girl, my, my, my.

[00:10:59.205] – Amber Foster Smith

I’m even furious right now. I can feel my cheeks getting red, just rethinking this. And I was so mad.

[00:11:04.425] – Amber Foster Smith

I was so mad and I was so angry and I’m like, OK, again, emailed him and reiterated if you guys would like to have a conversation over the phone about it, I’d love to, but unless I hear from her, that is not a service that I will provide.

[00:11:20.085] – Amber Foster Smith

Well, he emails me back and says, well, since it’s going to take an extra three days to get those turned around, we’ll just go ahead and move forward without them.

[00:11:28.515] – Amber Foster Smith

All right. Everything gets in groom, then request to come and pick up the products because he wants to quality control, check them before he brings them home. That’s fine. No problem. Here’s the crazy thing. You guys, he shows up to the studio, tells me, thank you so much for this amazing experience that he’s had. He had the best time. It was unlike nothing he had ever experienced before. He was very impressed with my customer satisfaction and what I did to go above and beyond to make sure that they were happy, reiterated all of these things, then went on to go ahead and tell me that he thinks that most of the communication breakdown between his wife and I was due to a language barrier, which you guys, I promise you, I talk to her quite a lot and there was no language barrier, but then went over to kind of cover up himself on things.

[00:12:23.995] – Amber Foster Smith

And I said, OK, well, you know what? He walked out of the room. He was happy and he sounded like a raving client, which actually made me breathe a sigh of relief.

[00:12:31.185] – Amber Foster Smith

I’m like, OK, yeah, I handle this well. And the end of the story is about two weeks later, while I’m in the most stressful time of my life over the course of a five year period, probably I get a notification for Facebook that I have received a three star review and I go in and it’s from this guy. And he went on to talk about feels like there was poor failure to communicate.

[00:12:57.715] – Amber Foster Smith

I’m way overpriced for what I give, et cetera, et cetera. I calmly walked away, took 12 hours to breathe it in, formulated a response, let it go. Just said, you know what, we’re done. Let it go. Only three days later to have his fiancee leave another three star review, but this time with no comments. So it’s not like I could really respond back to it. I did. But so, yeah, it was a, you know, a nightmare client.

[00:13:28.585] – Amber Foster Smith

And I think what just makes me mad was that when I looked back at the end, I feel like, you know, there are some places that I could have tightened up and learn from. So but my best learned experience was from this. No matter how much I try my best to communicate, we can’t control how our clients communicate with one another.

[00:13:45.805] – Teresa Porter

True. Very true. Can I ask you, how did you when you were in the earliest steps of the of working with them, did you feel like there was a moment where they lost trust or never had trust or tried to assert control over the situation? Sometimes I feel like when you get to the end of it, in the totality of the picture, you see, wow, there was there were these early indications. Did you have any early indications that this was going to go awry?

[00:14:18.235] – Amber Foster Smith

No, not really.

[00:14:20.695] – Amber Foster Smith

There have been a lot of clients in the past where I’ve seen those red flags and I kind of step back and I’ve never thankfully had to tell a client, hey, I don’t feel like your right fit. Thank goodness most of those things have worked their way out naturally. But no, nothing. I mean, when I met them, it was a great first meet. I had a lot of great conversations with the wife to be over the phone.

[00:14:43.945] – Amber Foster Smith

I felt that we had developed a really good relationship. The day of the session went excellent. They were really excited, all of the things.

[00:14:52.225] – Amber Foster Smith

It wasn’t until I got that first phone call on the way to the reveal session from the groom where where it hit the fan.

[00:15:00.775] – Amber Foster Smith

And I knew things were not going to be looking up afterward.

[00:15:05.605] – Teresa Porter

What’s interesting is I sometimes feel like there’s two camps of people that come in the door and say they didn’t understand people who really didn’t understand and because they didn’t have the information either from me or from their partner or spouse and also people who come in and say they didn’t have information but are are using it as a tool or a negotiation technique. Did he use it as a chance to? And now I know some of your conversation didn’t happen specifically over email, but the same principles apply.

[00:15:37.405] – Teresa Porter

Did he use that feeling of lack of communication or lack of understanding to try to to get something out of you? Or was it truly just why am I here? I don’t I really don’t get it.

[00:15:49.585] – Amber Foster Smith

Good question. And that’s I think one thing that I struggled with was that I’ll never know, for instance, because he explained it as that his wife didn’t understand and that she was unclear. So which I mean, and maybe that was the case. Who am I to say but, you know, it was in my contract that that, you know, that they signed that says, you know, digitals are not included on all products are a la cart.

[00:16:22.965] – Amber Foster Smith

It was in the contract they signed. It was in the original email, like explaining what it was. It was in our original communication with the day I first met them, what what to expect it was in communication over the phone. And so I know that he knew at some point whether or not he read it, remembered it, I don’t know. I am very confident that she did, but I do. I feel like looking back on the situation, I think that they had trouble, a lot of trouble communicating.

[00:16:53.985] – Amber Foster Smith

And so I feel that. Particularly that there’s probably a good chance that she didn’t tell him, she didn’t tell him what to expect and whether that was purposeful or accidental. I don’t know. I have had a few clients over the years who I awkwardly realized that they did not inform their husbands that they had a full price list before they walked into their reveal session or that the album and the wall art that they told their husband ahead of time that they wanted they just didn’t attach a price to it.

[00:17:24.495] – Amber Foster Smith

When he said, sure, honey, whatever you want.

[00:17:27.915] – Amber Foster Smith

So I don’t know. Yeah.

[00:17:30.195] – Teresa Porter

Do you do you feel like your communication strategy leading into the the disagreement to when it kind of fell apart? Do you feel like your communication was fairly tight and this was just one of those fluke things that happens? Because it sounds to me like you are so solid in your business principles that you’ve been able to kind of say confidently, no, we talked about it on the phone. We followed my steps. We always follow the steps.

[00:17:59.065] – Teresa Porter

So tell me a little bit about about that part of it, about the the pre before it all goes bad. How do you how do you secure it?

[00:18:08.885] – Amber Foster Smith

So I think I heard you talk about this actually last week, talking about the you know, when somebody says, oh, you didn’t tell me. And I’m thinking back like I know that I would have told you at time A, B, C, D and E. So even if I missed time, B and C, I know I told you at A, D and E, like I know that I’ve told you enough times that even if I missed it once or even if I missed it twice, I know you know, it’s on my website, it’s in all of my communications.

[00:18:41.745] – Amber Foster Smith

And the one thing that I feel that with my client experience that I’m always very, very meticulous about is making sure that I treat all of the clients with that same very attention to detail experience from from the very first meet until I send them on their way. When we part at the end, I even have timelines that say I even have like a template. Basically, that is my workflow that I attach to the outside of their folder that then has dates and checkmark saying on X date I enter them into the software on X date we had our location and wardrobe consultation on X and I check them off. All of my emails are done by templates. I take a base template of making sure that I have all of everything that I need in that one email and then I customize it with the personalization of what I’m excited about with their session, something that’s unique to them, but that meet, that core of it is always the same. So I know that everybody is hearing the same things over and over again.

[00:19:51.015] – Amber Foster Smith

So I think having those that workflow are those principles that you are making sure that you hit with every single client, make sure that you know that you’re doing the same things every time. But that was actually one thing that I learned after this experience was, hey, maybe I think that my emails are clear, but maybe they’re not. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe maybe I’m being too wordy. Maybe I’m not being wordy enough. And so one thing that I started doing was I actually was a great experience for me was I used to work with interns through Wake Tech when I taught photography over there.

[00:20:29.565] – Amber Foster Smith

And so every semester when I had a new intern come in, I had them read over all of my email templates and I had them read over my entire website. It was like their day two activity. And I said, Is there anything after you read all of this that you don’t understand isn’t clear? Or and then I would also ask them later on in the process, like, hey, do you think there’s a better way I could explain this?

[00:20:50.385] – Amber Foster Smith

Or do you think there’s a better way to know whatever? So it helped me go back and try and make sure again that things were tight, that all of my communication was as clear as possible.

[00:21:02.625] – Teresa Porter

That’s awesome. If you’re just joining us, we are talking to Amber Foster Smith, who is a multi passionate entrepreneur, business supporter, fellow badass. I think every year she has a new thing going and excels at all of them. So we’re here with Amber. Give us just a second. We’re going to be back with some follow up questions for Amber about what do we do when we’re feeling all these feelings about difficult client emails and what she thinks is going to help all of us make all of our email responses more successful.

[00:21:33.915] – Teresa Porter

So give us a second. We’ll be right back.

[00:21:43.585] – Teresa Porter

All right, and we’re back with Amber Foster Smith of Amber Foster Smith Photography. She also runs Vend Raleigh and Studio five five seven, which is her new venture. Amber, we were talking before the break about, you know, this really tough client exchange and client email you had. I think all of us can relate, even if we’re not photographers, to receiving a difficult email. What would you say we should do when we get that email and we’re feeling all the feelings for us about that first moment when you received that email?

[00:22:18.895] – Amber Foster Smith

Oh, depends on what kind of day I’m having. If I’m having a good day, then, you know, that’s one thing. If you’re already having a bad day and you’re just like, oh, let me tell you what I want to know, I would, OK, but we actually say that behind closed doors, we don’t say yes.

[00:22:34.045] – Teresa Porter


[00:22:36.595] – Amber Foster Smith

I think it’s oh, how to handle it.

[00:22:42.325] – Amber Foster Smith

I think there are always often so many things that we want to say that we really want to say.

[00:22:47.545] – Amber Foster Smith

But we should not say as business owners or just as kind, considerate people in the world. I say reserve those feelings for when you call up your girlfriend to scream and vent or in my situation, that is most often my husband. He knows everything about me and my business. And so he really gets it and he knows all about my clients and he works a lot with me in my business. But yeah, I will usually take a big, deep breath.

[00:23:15.295] – Amber Foster Smith

I think you said this before. How often is it that we get sidetracked by those client emails when we check something on our phone real quick and then all of a sudden you’re in a panic because it’s ruined everything you were trying to do and now you are just in a tizzy. Your anxiety is through the roof. You’re angry, you’re mad, you’re feeling all of the feelings. And the biggest recommendation I have is to walk away. Yeah, you’re right, though.

[00:23:39.835] – Teresa Porter

I like what you said about that, like the interruptions in the day, because you’re absolutely right. We are consuming email all of the time. Yeah. Ninety nine point nine percent of it. Just generic regular business things. And then all of a sudden this one pops up and inevitably it’s at a moment you can’t fully read it, can’t fully process it. You just get hit with the emotion of it. You’re absolutely right. You know, finding a trusted person that you can talk to about it, offline off printed text, it’s not over Facebook.

[00:24:13.015] – Teresa Porter

And, you know, I think one of the things that someone once said to me is if they will talk about others to you, they will talk about you to others. And so if we’re constantly on Facebook talking about negative client experiences. Even if they are incredibly true. It is going to influence how your clients perceive how you work with fellow clients. So I like that you have your your spouse to vent you. I have my spouse to vent to as well.

[00:24:43.165] – Teresa Porter

And what’s nice, too, is there sometimes that outside perspective that we need to be like, oh yeah, reading into it, it’s not that serious.

[00:24:49.915] – Amber Foster Smith

Or, you know what, I love that you say that, because that’s one of the things that I think is super helpful, is that, you know, sometimes you want to talk to somebody about a situation that’s going on. And when you start, I say venting because it usually is venting. I say that you should almost identify what you want out of your vent session. And this is something that my husband and I have learned over the years is what do you want out of venting?

[00:25:17.365] – Amber Foster Smith

Do you want an ear to listen to you and tell you that the that client has lost their darn mind? And Amber, you have done all the right things. You’re fine.

[00:25:27.235] – Amber Foster Smith

Or do you want the friendly devil’s advocate who’s going to say, well, Amber, did you do this?

[00:25:36.025] – Amber Foster Smith

And usually I will say, oh, busted. I didn’t. But, you know, I think it’s very helpful because over the years, even in learning how to have a healthy relationship and even we jokingly say and even fighting and not happy discussions with my spouse where I was like, what do you want out of this? I’m angry. Do you want to make it better or do you want to me to say, like, do you want me to fix the problem or do you want me to listen?

[00:26:01.045] – Amber Foster Smith

Like, if I’m having a bad day, what do I want out of it? Honey, I just want you to listen to me and I just want to cry and I just want you to hold me and tell me everything’s going to be OK. Yeah, sure. Honey, I’m lost. I’m confused. I need someone to help me get through this. What do you want out of it? So I think it’s always helpful to that when you get in a situation where you don’t know what you want to do, that if you’re going to confide in somebody else, you make sure that they’re the right person to.

[00:26:25.765] – Amber Foster Smith

If you’re going to go to someone for advice, make sure that you’re going to the right person for advice.

[00:26:32.755] – Teresa Porter

Very, very, very true. And I like what you said to about, you know, kind of wanting to know what do you what do you need out of this, and that’s for the venting session. But I would also say that’s for the email response to so many times what we want is to be understood or what we want is for someone to come back into a good relationship with us, that it felt like things were going great, what happened?

[00:26:57.525] – Teresa Porter

And in a professional situation, you’re not often going to get that reassurance back from a client once a relationship has broken apart. And, you know, so I think there’s a lot of asking yourself, what do I want from this? Sometimes I say in an email, I ask myself, like, do they care? Is it on them to care about?

[00:27:19.695] – Teresa Porter

And that I think when you have a job that is a very person to person, relationship based, very feeling, very sentimental, it can add to the complication. It’s not you know, you want this commodity here is the commodity. It’s definitely a relational thing. So I love the way that you you put that about kind of wanting to know what somebody wants from it. I think that’s a question ourselves about the email, too. Is there a type of email you dread?

[00:27:47.175] – Teresa Porter

I mean, we certainly dread the bad ones, but is there like a normal email you dread? Yeah.

[00:27:54.075] – Amber Foster Smith

Can I go back to your last question for me, please? Yeah. Yeah.

[00:27:56.445] – Amber Foster Smith

I mean I, I like threes that I have something on that we go for and I have notes.

[00:28:02.805] – Amber Foster Smith

I have notes. I was just trying to find them. One of the things that I have heard you preach about before is when you are delivering what you refer to as the hard truth of an email. You say do not explain, justify or defend. And that one I had to sit with that for a while because so often I want to do one of those things.

[00:28:27.915] – Amber Foster Smith

And so explaining the, you know, putting out the hard truth out there is a one sentence of this is how it is. This is how it works. This is what happens is often times is very difficult for me. And I think that’s one of the things that when deciding what do you want out of your email, most often the client doesn’t want an explanation or they don’t want you. They just want what they want and they don’t care. Like you said, you know, does this person care?

[00:28:56.445] – Amber Foster Smith

They don’t care why you have something priced at whatever price. They don’t care why this is. That person probably didn’t care why or why not. My ethics were I’m not going to quote Photoshop your wife like I don’t do it, but they don’t care.

[00:29:12.945] – Amber Foster Smith

And so me going off on a tangent of why I don’t do it wasn’t necessary and because it would have gotten me nowhere. But I thought that was one thing that really, really resonated with me of one of the things that you preach when it comes to the best practices for client emails.

[00:29:31.815] – Teresa Porter

When I think piggybacking off of that to the when you send an email to me a an email, it’s a communication, it’s not a back and forth, especially if you’re delivering a hard truth like this is my boundary and you’re not going past it. So explain or justify or we defend. What we’re doing is we’re providing extra information and we’re giving them things to respond back to as if it matters or as if it changes your boundary and it doesn’t.

[00:29:58.125] – Teresa Porter

And I think about it. It’s like it’s like parenting. Your kid asks you for a snack. Like how many times a day does a kid ask for a snack? You can’t always say yes and you don’t have to explain. The answer is

[00:30:07.905] – Amber Foster Smith

I have a teenager.

[00:30:08.955] – Amber Foster Smith

So the answer, you know, lots of snack. They just gave up. They gave up asking both of them. Actually, both of them. Well, they’re nothing.

[00:30:16.245] – Teresa Porter

They just they’re a little older. But, you know, there’s always the there’s always that I think know when you explain or justify or defend your opening up a conversation where no conversation is needed.

[00:30:25.425] – Amber Foster Smith

Oh, no, that’s good.

[00:30:27.315] – Teresa Porter

So, go back to go back to emails that you dread that aren’t maybe the emails we all think we should dread. Bad emails.

[00:30:38.775] – Amber Foster Smith

I’ve got templates for everything, girl. Let me tell you, any time that something difficult has come up, I write it and I save it. I use Evernote for anybody who hasn’t heard it. It’s amazing software. They have a free version, but it’s basically like an online version of those big giant five inch binders that you used to carry around in school. And you can have different notebooks inside of notebooks and all sorts of different notes. But I have a client template emails for everything, for my portrait clients for what I used to do weddings all the time. Doesn’t matter what it is. I’ve got a response for it. And I always pride myself that if something comes up, I’ve got a crafted response. So the ones that I always dread are the ones that I have never experienced before or the.

[00:31:24.975] – Amber Foster Smith

Yeah, something new. I’m like, I’ve been doing this for a long time. There shouldn’t be something new. I should have experienced most of it by now. But the ones that always throw me off are something that is new, a new or a different ask. Is a new or a different ask for some type of either photography or activity or something that I’ve never done before, that I don’t know how to price accordingly and I really, really, really want to do it.

[00:31:55.185] – Amber Foster Smith

But I value my time and I need to price accordingly. But I’m afraid that I am going to price myself out of the opportunity and fomo.

[00:32:05.355] – Teresa Porter

Right. And you want to do it.

[00:32:07.965] – Amber Foster Smith

I actually you guys, here’s the perfect response. I just texted Teresa last week in a tizzy because I had an opportunity and I really, really wanted to take care of it. And I’m like my usual way of going about this isn’t working right now. I made sure that I knew the right person to call and ask. And I said, Teresa will be the right person to send her a message.

[00:32:30.975] – Amber Foster Smith

And I was like, Hey, girl, quick question. And it was like I just needed a valve, someone to verify for me, like my thought and my train of thought. Yes, correct. But that email oh my gosh, I stumbled over it so many times and it was because I wanted to do something and I was afraid that they weren’t going to see my value in it or, you know, shoot. I probably would have done it for free, but I don’t want to set that standard for the industry.

[00:33:02.175] – Teresa Porter

So interesting. I think you have hit on the crux of every difficult email, which I don’t even know I could have formulated. But it is that it’s when we personally want or need something and we have to communicate it in a way that it’s not always just setting boundaries. It’s because sometimes those are easy or firm. Boundary doesn’t change. It’s the ones where it’s something new and you want something out of it. You know, I know that the opportunity you’re talking about and it’s like, can they afford it?

[00:33:31.695] – Teresa Porter

I don’t know what’s in the budget. I’m not sure. And what we’re doing is we’re not saying, hey, this is what I have to make per hour. We start to get into crazy world, which is but I really want to do it. So I would do it for free. But I can’t tell them that because I have business expenses it is our own circular logic that makes those emails difficult.

[00:33:52.005] – Amber Foster Smith

And oh yeah, it has nothing to do with them. It was my no whole mentality like fighting with myself. Am I good enough. Like should I charge this, you know, what do I tell them. Is there a way that I can open up a door, you know, to ask them what their budget is so that I can perhaps do this accordingly. But yeah, that entire email string was just in my head. I was in my own head and didn’t know what to do.

[00:34:15.375] – Teresa Porter

Yeah, absolutely. And I think, you know what? We can go back to templates in a second. It’s the ones that are our template busters. That throw us off. And, you know, one of the things that I found is really helpful is when I’m feeling like I don’t have all the information I need to really help them. And to give a quote, you know, you’re asking for quote, This is not something I’ve done before, is to get them on the phone and say, listen, can I just be candid with you other person on the phone.

[00:34:44.595] – Teresa Porter

I really want this opportunity. I think it would be amazing. This is what my standard issue rate would be. Can we have a candid conversation about what what is available there? What opportunity is there? Because if not, then let’s if not, then let’s follow up with further things that we could do, you know, other opportunities that this could lead to. And that back and forth is a conversation. Therefore, in my mind, shouldn’t totally happen over email unless, of course, you’re designed by committee and there’s fifty people.

[00:35:16.195] – Teresa Porter

And those things, not just not easy communication patterns. Tell me about your template emails. There’s a ton of photographers that sell templates. How do you feel about templates you can purchase? Do you think that’s a good way for a new if a new business person is listening to this call, is that something good for them to do or not? Or how did you build your your template inventory?

[00:35:39.915] – Amber Foster Smith

I love that. That’s a really great question. I say that it really is going to depend. And here’s why I say that. I think it goes back. Remember how I said you need to decide who you’re going to vent to and make sure that you’re asking the right people. If you are going to purchase email templates, you need to make sure that you’re purchasing them from a trusted source, from that quote, “right person”.  Going and sometimes there are really great freebies out.

[00:36:09.825] – Amber Foster Smith

But, you know, I’ve seen ones come across that just the grammar is completely incorrect or like that there’s a punctuation or spelling error or whatever, like, great God, those were free.

[00:36:19.335] – Amber Foster Smith

But you need to make sure that where you’re getting them from is a trusted source. Who knows what they’re talking about? Who has the experience to come at it from that direction? You know, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it as long as you’re using them as a starting block. If you take their emails, you know, verbatim, copy and paste, there’s a lot of things that in an email you’re trying to relay usually a part of your client experience.

[00:36:50.615] – Amber Foster Smith

So unless those are customized to how you deal with your clients and how you work with your clients, those templates aren’t going to mean anything to you or you know, I think the most important part is it doesn’t sound like your voice.

[00:37:03.255] – Teresa Porter

Oh, good. I was hoping you could say that. Yes. Oh, yes. Yeah.

[00:37:08.315] – Amber Foster Smith

You know, I have a very distinct way of how I talk and, you know, not slang per say, but, you know, phrases that I say are things that I do. And if a client can’t close their eyes and read an email and hear me saying that to them, then it’s not right. So if you get a client email you client template email that you’re using and they’re using words that you can’t pronounce out loud or that you could never even spell without having auto correct or Grammarly give you a flag like you should be using them.

[00:37:43.565] – Amber Foster Smith

But I think as long as you use them as a starting point to customize from when I first started out, I didn’t know what the most professional way was to respond to things, because either one, I had never been in that situation before. I had it learned from an experience. I didn’t know what the right things to say were. I didn’t know how to address these hard things. And so at least saying from somebody that I knew and I trusted, hey, this has happened to me before.

[00:38:07.535] – Amber Foster Smith

This is how I dealt with it. These are the words and the phrases that I use to help diffuse the situation. And it worked for me. And I hope it can work for you to hope it can work for me.

[00:38:17.165] – Amber Foster Smith

But as long as it’s me and I think that’s where I’ve learned over the years of the templates that I’ve come up with did start with something that I may have gotten from somebody else originally. But as the years go by, I have constantly adjusted and changed those to suit my voice. And what the way that I work in, the way that I talk and the way that I do business. So I don’t think it’s a bad option as a starting point as long as you aren’t using them as they originally came.

[00:38:49.125] – Teresa Porter

Isn’t that interesting? I think there is I am a huge, huge fan of having paying somebody to do something so that I can that I’m not at. And I think in template emails that you can get and by the way, this is not leading to me selling templates.

[00:39:06.205] – Teresa Porter

This is this is not a lead up this over there.

[00:39:09.355] – Amber Foster Smith

There are a couple of nuggets for me that I like to read this as I should use the phrase.

[00:39:14.795] – Teresa Porter

Well, and I think that there is remember, there are powerful phrases and the phrases that I have learned, I’ve either invented myself or tried it once and it worked really well or I learned them from from somebody else. And I’ve now interpreted it for myself.

[00:39:29.445] – Teresa Porter

You know, phrases like “you may remember” .  You may remember. It is a really nice way of saying, I already told you this. And I think it’s that softening language without becoming a big old mush ball that is missing. When you purchase a template, it is meant to address a it is a commodity, is meant to address as many people and fit as many holes as possible. So so I don’t totally disagree with template emails.

[00:39:57.415] – Teresa Porter

There are certainly some helpful ways that they work. But I do think picking up key phrases from them and like you said, like I’ve said, you know, personalizing it, email is very informal. So any are or very sorry. Email is very it’s not informal.  That’s not the word, although it is in a sense.

[00:40:16.005] – Teresa Porter

But I don’t mean it’s impersonal. Its impersonal, that’s it. Adding something that sounds so much like you or is a personal nugget of something about you reconnects the relationship. And that’s really what we’re trying to do in an email is bring the relationship back together.

[00:40:32.505] – Teresa Porter

All right. Well, do you have any closing thoughts? So if you were talking to a while, you are talking to business owners, so maybe they’ve received their first really uncomfortable email or they just need encouragement. You know, what would you say to our business owners out there, our fellow entrepreneurs, about, you know, closing thoughts on difficult emails?

[00:40:55.095] – Amber Foster Smith

Get out of your own head. I think that’s so often the biggest problems that we have in business are the ones that we create for ourselves and our own head that don’t need to be there.

[00:41:10.445] – Amber Foster Smith

You know, hindsight, the phrase hindsight is 20/20 is so wrong after the year through which, you know, it’s funny, but I think everybody is going to go through it. I think it makes you stronger. I think it makes you a better business owner. I think it makes you a better person for learning how to deal with hard situations. And the good news is, is that after you’ve been through that hard situation, you can look back and say, I know what worked or I know maybe what didn’t work. How can I do better next time?  I think I’ve told this jokingly to a lot of people, about 20/20.

[00:41:50.975] – Amber Foster Smith

I was like, how did you get through 2020? I woke up every single day. I said, OK, yesterday went great or yesterday went bad. Today is a whole new day. Can today be better than yesterday? And if it isn’t great again the next day and you try again and if it’s better the next day, fantastic. And if it’s not you get up and you try again. Because eventually, just trying and trying and trying, you’re going to learn every single day and where you are 30 days from then the insight that you’re going to have looking back and say, you know, that wasn’t as hard as I made it out to be if I had just stood my ground to begin with or if I had just made this one consideration, or if I had just opened up my eyes to see whatever it was, it would have been so much easier.

[00:42:37.775] – Amber Foster Smith

So I think that when the hard emails come through or the hard conversations happen, that once you get through them, the most important thing is what you learn from them and how you’re going to apply that moving forward.

[00:42:52.565] – Teresa Porter

That’s so good. I love what you said about, you know, it’s about applying it forward. It’s about the moment that you’re living in now, the feelings that you’re experiencing now and still the knowledge that in seven years and seven minutes and seven hours, it might not be the most significant thing in your world, even though it can feel very alarming and crushing when it first comes in. I have been speaking with Amber Foster Smith of Amber Foster Smith Photography Vend and Studio 557.

[00:43:20.285] – Teresa Porter

She is absolutely incredible. If you’re in the Cary, Raleigh, Holly Springs, Apex Durham,Triangle area and you are looking for an amazing creative space or just a place to be inspired, I guarantee you you will have an amazing experience once this amazing venue opens. We’re going to be so blessed as a community to have you. And I just want to say thank you for all the encouragement you do for entrepreneurs and, you know, helping women specifically have the courage to to do what they need to do to charge what they need to charge to have that confidence.

[00:43:53.135] – Teresa Porter

I think you have so much to offer. So Amber Foster Smith and Amber Foster Smith photography dot com, Studio 557. Definitely. Check her out. Amber, thank you so, so much for being on with us.

[00:44:04.325] – Amber Foster Smith

Thank you so much for having me.

[00:44:06.455] – Amber Foster Smith

This was so much fun and such an honor just to share things about things I’ve learned over the years and hopefully give back to some of you out there who may be trying to face those difficult situations.

[00:44:18.455] – Teresa Porter

Awesome. Thank you, Amber. You guys have you have a good rest of your night. Go go paint dry drywall or something.

[00:44:24.455] – Amber Foster Smith

Yeah, my husband just not home early from work. It looks like we might be off to do more work.

[00:44:30.555] – Teresa Porter

Oh, boy. Well, pace yourself. Thank you have Amber a good one.

[00:44:36.635] – Amber Foster Smith

Thanks. You too.

[00:44:45.415] – Teresa Porter

Well, we had a fantastic discussion today with Amber about difficult client emails, I know we covered a lot of material. There is still information available and a conversation ongoing. If you want to talk more about this or maybe share your own worst client email, you can read my worst client email and how I handled it, including when she asked me for other options that were me just cheaper. Oh, yes. So if you’d like to read my worst client email and my thoughts on how you can best respond, go to TeresaPorter.com.


That’s where we’re having a conversation on the blog about my worst client email as well as conversation in our Facebook group. We hope you will join us. It is called Business Mastery with Teresa Porter. That, of course, is me. And I would love to see you over there. If you have any thoughts about difficult client emails or any topics you would like for us to cover in the future, you can reach out to me directly at [email protected]


As always, I hope you keep kicking ass and taking names and not taking any crap. You guys are badasses. Keep it up and have an awesome rest of your day.