Within many genres of professional photography, profitability comes not only from charging a fee for shooting but also from the sale of tangible products. Maximizing the product sales for your existing clients is the first place to start when looking to increase profits. Many photographers are finding that it is not enough anymore to send clients a link to an online gallery and then hope that they place a huge order. Bringing a high level of customer service, industry savvy, and good old-fashioned salesmanship to your clients’ purchasing experience can make all the difference for your bottom line.
It’s important to realize that the effective sale of images begins before any photos have even been taken. Seattle-based portrait photographer Laurence Kim describes the pre-session consultation as the most important part of his sales process. In his words: “How will your clients know what they want unless you help them?” Discussing your clients’ product options prior to their photo session is a great way to get them thinking in the right direction. As a professional, your clients are relying on you to guide them and help them settle on the products that are best suited for their needs.
For example, Laurence brings precut pieces of dark colored foam core to each pre-session consultation, usually in sizes 30×40, 20×40, and 16×20. He encourages his clients to walk around their home with these boards and hold them up over the fireplace, in the hallway, etc. to start thinking about what size prints they will realistically need. Prior to this process it is quite likely that they considered an 8×10 to be a large size. Read more about this from Laurence’s previous Blog post on the subject.
Remember that you are not selling a stack of prints. You are selling an experience, and the pre-session consultation allows you to start that experience in the best way possible. Most people are new to purchasing professional images. They may have had experiences with buying class photos or getting pictures taken with the local mall Santa Claus, but most have never worked with a top-notch boutique portrait photographer. Because of this Laurence brings samples of some of his best images to each consultation as high-end print products like gallery wraps, metal prints, albums, etc. By showing beautiful images he has created for others, his clients begin to see him not just as a photographer but as an artist creating lifelong memories that they will want to cherish forever. As Laurence explains, “In order to sell luxury products like portrait photography and get at least four figures per session, you have to create emotion — a desire for your photography. You do that by showing your potential clients your best work and telling them the stories behind it. “
Many photographers have found that in-person ordering is not only an easy way to increase their sales — it’s also another chance to have more positive interaction with clients. Minnesota-based wedding and portrait photographer Shelley Paulson explains that she had an aversion to selling face-to-face at first but has come to truly love ordering sessions. Going through images with her clients allows her to enjoy their happy reactions as well as hear valuable feedback on which images they like and why. Over time this has improved and enhanced the way she works and the images she produces.
This brings up an important dynamic to consider. When clients first see their images, this is when they are the most enthusiastic about them. So have the ordering process when the excitement level is at its highest. Senior portrait photographer Jessica Edwards explains: “As time goes by, the newness wears off and clients tend to purchase less. People are more emotionally attached to images when they are new, and they spend more money when buying on an emotional response. This means that making a purchase when they first fall in love with the pictures is when they’ll spend the most money.” For this reason many photographers make an in-person sales session a requirement. As Jessica points out: “Having a scheduled time and location for clients to place their order makes it more likely that it will get done in a timely manner. If left up to the client, life can easily get in the way and make them procrastinate about picking out what they want to order.”
Another advantage of selling face-to-face is avoiding confusion. With most clients not having the experience of purchasing from a professional photographer before, it is easy for the amount of products and options they are faced with to seem overwhelming. In Jessica’s case she assists her clients by helping them compare images side by side, sort them into folders and offer her opinion on which photos bring out their best qualities and showcase a memorable moment. When sitting with a client she can explain all their purchasing options thoroughly and help them to find the right products to suit their individual needs. In her experience when you make the process easy, clients are less likely to have buyer’s remorse or, even worse, become overwhelmed and order little to nothing.
An additional benefit of selling in person is the opportunity to showcase the quality and beauty of the products you offer. Allowing your clients to see, touch, and experience products like gallery wraps, accordion mini albums, printed books, etc. makes it that much easier to sell these products. Family and children’s photographer Sunee Palladay brings example products with her to each sales session but she also takes it a step further. During the review process she uses a projector connected to her laptop to project her client’s images right onto their wall. If they love an image and want to see what it would look like in an 11×14, she can adjust the display to give them a very good idea. For her this approach has resulted in sales of larger prints and showcase products, greatly increasing her profit margin.
This same approach works with all kinds of products. Keep in mind that with in-person sales the quality of the products you offer must be on par with the quality of the images you create. Many clients who have never purchased professional products before are used to products offered from brick and mortar chain stores and are easily awed by the high-end materials and polish of professional labs. Jessica Edwards saw a large jump in album sales when she invested in some sample high-end albums from her favorite lab: “Recently I wanted to start offering Miller’s new signature albums to my high school senior clients. I put them on my pricing menu and before I could get a sample in the studio, I had several sales sessions. I tried my best to explain the product to each client, and even showed them pictures of the albums. I did not make a single album sale this way. However, when I finally got around to making and ordering a sample, the very next sales session, I sold the most high-end version of that album that I offered, which added an extra $2,500 to my senior sale.”
Conducting sales sessions in person can be extremely effective, but this does not diminish the importance of offering online sales as well. For example, after a sales session, Sunee Palladay uploads each client’s images to an online, password-protected gallery. Her client can then share the gallery with relatives who are not local, opening up another revenue stream for prints and products. This also helps aid in follow-up sales. Clients often take advantage of viewing and ordering more products after their initial purchase on their own. Helping them with the first sale can give them the understanding of how your pricing structure works and how to go about choosing and ordering images they may want down the road.
Shelley Paulson also finds that digital sales are a great way for her to control quality. For digital file sales she allows what she calls “gift-sized” printing up to 8×10. She has found that when clients are given a disc of photo files, they are not always sure what the next step is or where to go to get the best quality prints. To make ordering small prints easy, Shelley retouches and uploads her client’s purchased digital files to an online, password-protected gallery that she calls an “ordering gallery.” She adds just a 10% markup to the base cost of prints to cover her time retouching and reviewing orders when they are placed. This keeps the cost affordable for her clients and ensures that the prints ordered will be the quality that she maintains with all of her other products.
If you use an online website provider like Zenfolio and upload your client’s images to your website you can take advantage of mobile solutions like MyProofs or the Zenfolio iPad, iPhone, and Android apps. These programs make it easy to show client images on a mobile device right from their proofing gallery as well as help select favorites or place orders.
When considering how to grow your business and increase your profits, we recommend adding some face-to-face time with your clients. At the very least you will learn what is working or not working with your pricing structure, review process, ordering options, etc. Knowledge is power and you can only gain that knowledge if you go after it.