6 steps to working smarter, not harder, at your photo business
For many of us, being a self-employed photographer means that our goal is to grow our business without any limitations or boundaries between our clients and ourselves. We have trouble saying no, and we believe the busier we become, the more successful we are. At Fischink Photography, we too fell into this scenario. We started our senior picture business working out of our home with seven seniors and we’ve grown to two full-time studios and more than 200 seniors in just three years. We did whatever we needed to do to grow our brand—morning shoots, evening shoots and weekend shoots. If we scheduled a two-hour session, it might take two hours and 45 minutes because the light was amazing. We were bound to the button… the shutter button that is.
Eventually, Shannon, my wife and co-owner of Fischink Photography, questioned how we were running our business: When did we plan on spending time with our children and actually enjoying the fruits of our labor? Have we considered that our clients have something else to do with their day? That’s when it hit me: We needed to change our habits, our workflow and our goals so our business could blossom into a fun, enjoyable one.
Here is the step-by-step approach we took to our business:
Pricing is probably the hardest area for a photographer to nail down in their business. When Shannon and I were starting out, we attended several pricing seminars, spoke with fellow photographers and came away with an information overload. Do I have packages or go a la carte? Do we have a session fee or no session fee? Finally, we came to the decision to price to our customers the way we would want to see prices if we were the customers—simple and easy to understand. So we put minimum order sessions in place in our studio and have never looked back. All prints and products are a la carte, and each session has a minimum order that our clients must meet or exceed. The beauty of minimum orders is no guessing games. We know the minimum our client is going to spend, and our client knows the minimum they are going to spend. Clients love the flexibility and variety—they never have to feel boxed into purchasing a package with prints they may not actually need.
Example: Two-hour model session. The cost is $799.00, which consists of a $199.00 session fee and a $600.00 minimum order. The client will see 25-30 edited images with four to six outfit changes. The session is 10 minutes in our studio for headshots and two outdoor locations within a 12-mile radius of our studio. The two locations must be within 10 minutes of each other.
I believe this is the most overlooked aspect of running a photography studio, yet it is by far the most important. Client consultations set the tone for your entire workflow. We do our consultations in person and they run about 30 minutes. We provide the potential client with all our pricing information and have them fill out an application so we can get to know them better and find out what kind of look or style they would like for their senior pictures. We are also able to start setting quiet barriers with our clients by letting them know we photograph Monday through Friday only and our last session begins at 4 p.m. Believe it or not, parents will pull their kids out of school for senior pictures. We schedule our sessions at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. with a 4 p.m. option. By letting our clients know our hours up front it allows them to plan accordingly for this once in a lifetime investment, and it also allows us to begin the payment process. After going over our pricing, which includes three session options, a one-hour at $499, a two-hour at $799 and a three-hour at $1,199, we explain that we understand this is not a cheap investment but we can accommodate their budgets with an easy payment plan.
3. Session day
This is where it seems to go a bit haywire for many photographers. If there is one part of your workflow where it is critical to staying on time and task it is session day. We have prepped our client as much as possible so they know to be prepared. We owe it to our client to be just as prepared. Here are the key tips for keeping your sessions running smoothly.
- Image and frame count. As stated prior, I only show 25-30 edited images in a two-hour session. More importantly, I only take 40-50 frames during that session. Keeping it loose and natural can wreck your time on a session. Also, while the client is changing into another outfit I cull and count my images, getting rid of bad frames and making sure I’m on pace for my image count.
- Portable changing rooms. It is so important to have this with you. It keeps the client from straying back to the car or a public restroom to change, which eats up valuable time.
- Showing the client the back of the camera. Always show your seniors the back of the camera. They will be most critical. If they like the image, move on. If not, find out why not, recompose and shoot. This will keep the excitement level at the order presentation high.
- Shoot to sell. I shoot six types of photos during every session. For cropped photos, I shoot headshots, three-quarter and full length. And for perspective, I shoot from above straight on, and from below. By having all six types, I provide enough variety in each session for my clients to want to purchase multiple prints and products from a variety of poses.
- Collect payment promptly. Most importantly, when your session is complete be sure to collect the second payment. We collect two-thirds of the client’s money prior to their sales presentation.
This is the easiest part of our entire workflow. Our post-production for retouching is two to three minutes per session and for album design it’s five to 10 minutes. Our entire post-production is outsourced. We use rebooku.com, which provides us free proofing with our retouch and album designs. Post-production is time consuming. This is valuable time you could be using to photograph more clients or spend time with your family and friends. If it doesn’t make you money, then don’t do it. Offset your outsource costs in your session or print fees.
Everything that occurs on this day should be based on emotional thinking and not rational thinking. You want this day to be a classy and personal experience for them. We use a very low-pressure sales structure by starting out with a slideshow of their pictures set to music (animoto.com) and move into selecting which images they like and don’t like. Two things always occur during our order presentation: our clients always get a book and they spend above their minimum order. Here is why: the client has already previewed their images on the back of the camera during session day, so they already like all or the majority of their images, which conveniently fit into a coffee table book. Our client has already paid two-thirds of their minimum order. They owe us a few hundred dollars at this point. Due to the emotional attachment to their images and the fact “money spent is money forgotten” our clients are more inclined to spend above their minimum order without being pressured. For us, the most important part of the sales presentation is getting the client to purchase the coffee table book.
6. Reward the client
Provide your client with a nice surprise at the end of your order presentation. We highly recommend a free two-week wesbsite gallery for your clients to share with friends and family. Zenfolio has amazing galleries with a shopping cart that can be viewed on mobile devices too. Not only is this a nice gesture of your gratitude, it will bring in some additional sales from family members who were not able to attend the presentation.
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Ty & Shannon Fischer are national award winning photographers based in Ohio. For years they have been teaching hundreds of photographers around the country on how to create profitable and efficient studios. They also run a professional post production services company and a volume sports photography company.
Fischink Photography | www.fischink.com
Rebookü | www.rebooku.com
Next Generation Sports Photography | www.nextgensportsphoto.com