Being a freelance retoucher in the beauty, fashion, and commercial industries can be incredibly competitive. Gaining loyal, repeat clients should be the top priority of every retoucher.
In the beginning, however, finding your way can be a real challenge. Below is a list of reasons why you may not be landing or keeping the clientele that you want, and how to fix it.
1. How You Reach Out To A Potential Client
As someone who frequently works with several retouchers, I have been approached by dozens of retouchers in the last year, with very different methodologies. Some will send a DM via Instagram, others a friend request on Facebook, others will send an e-mail.
The best ones are those that introduce themselves right away and provide a succinct message explaining the reasoning behind them making contact.
Below are some of the questions that you may want to consider answering for the potential client in your first message:
1. What is your name?
2. What do you specialize in as a retoucher?
3. Aside from monetary gain or portfolio development, why do you want this new client to work with you?
4. Are you interested in an unpaid test / collaboration with this photographer?
5. What is the best way to contact you?
6. Is it easy for this person to view your work or a portfolio?
7. Have you included a personal message, unique to this potential client?
8. Have you provided next steps?
While it isn’t necessary to include all of the above, it’s a great place to be, as you aren’t wasting their time with unanswered questions. One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to retouchers introducing themselves, is when their initial messages are generic “hello, how are you?” messages on social media. Those mostly go ignored, as I don’t take them seriously.
Make a strong first impression on the person you want to work with, show that you are considerate and respect their time and professionalism.
2. Your Portfolio Isn’t Strong Enough
One of the toughest parts of being a freelance visual artist is objectively examining the work of others, and turning that same lens of scrutiny back onto yourself. Is the retouching in their current products better or worse than your own? Is there a stylistic aesthetic to it that you can compete with at your current skill level?
As artists, we can be our own worst enemies, and feel that our work isn’t “good enough,” but the harsh truth is that there are levels of varying quality within the retouching world.
Download images from that dream client and place them next to your own. If your work is on par, or easily surpasses their current retouching work, then you are golden.
3. Your Technical Skill Is Too Low
Your portfolio is your resumé, so it is the next logical place for the photographer or commercial client you’re approaching to go.
If you’re a beauty retoucher, skin is the name of the game, and it should be the strongest aspect of your portfolio. The skin should look aspirational and believable, which is the most significant differentiator between a retoucher that is a novice, and one that is a master.
After that, it’s all about the details: do eyes look human rather than uncanny valley, is color grading purposeful and flattering, what about the hair or backdrop?
If any of those details do not satisfy, the potential client may consider you too much of a risk to take a chance on.
4. Missing Deadlines & Extended Turnaround Time
This is about keeping the clients you have, but timing is everything. If you miss a deadline, that is almost always an unforgivable offense with a client.
When you’re working with higher end brands, there is typically very little, if any wiggle-room that they have between receiving retouched images and preparing them for use. When it comes to a deadline, you should only ever under promise and over deliver regarding the time.
Being late is career suicide.
On that note, sometimes, when it rains it pours with retouching assignments. You may have a dry spell, and suddenly have four clients who all need sets of images completed by the same deadline. This means that your turnaround time may be longer than usual, and there is a possibility that this won’t sit well with a client.
Unfortunately, there are only so many hours in a day, and quality retouching is not something that can be rushed.
My advice is, to be honest about the time it will take, and seek every opportunity to complete work ahead of schedule, so that you can move on to other tasks without sacrificing quality if the deadline is too soon.
5. Poor Communication Skills
While it’s common for retouchers and clients to not always share the same native language, that’s not what this issue is about.
E-mails that aren’t responded to in days, or expectations that are set but later changed, are two big red flags for any business relationship. If you agree to a particular task, or a specific amount of photos, a deadline, etc, absolutely do not alter any part of that in the middle of the project.
One habit of some of my favorite retouchers to work with is sending a preview of one or a few of the first completed images, to gain initial feedback that can save them time and avoid the need for revisions.
There are a lot of great ways to have superb communication with your clients, but the main items to remember are: to be clear, to be concise, and to be prompt.
6. The Quality Of Your Work Slips
This has happened to me on several occasions, where a retoucher knocks it out of the ballpark on one set of images, but completely misses the mark on another.
Retouching is not a job for people that are lazy or that are not detail oriented, as there is nothing worse than hiring a retoucher and having to spend additional hours working on those images to fix issues that should have been handled by them.
If your retouching work isn’t perfect, then you proceed at your own risk sending it back to a client.
If you look at an image that you retouched after sending it to a client, and think: “I should have fixed this, this, and this,” then you, my friend, are fortunate if your client doesn’t notice it.
If you have set a standard of quality in your work, you must absolutely maintain it – no exceptions on busy days, public holidays, or weekends.
Making it in this industry as a retoucher can be hard work, and sometimes it can mean a change of perspective to get you moving in the right direction. Hopefully, the reasons above don’t hit too close to home. But if they do, better yourself and your career by taking the appropriate measures to win and keep your best clients!