In-Person Sales For Portrait Photographers
Aaron and I had a little discussion in the Master Photography Facebook Group a couple weeks ago that led to my asking if he wanted to come on the show and talk about it further. I had shared my recommendations on lighting gear for photographers who are looking to get into lighting, the basic kind of stuff a photographer needs for the least amount of money possible and still end up with functional equipment that gets the job done. You can check out that episode called Getting Started Lighting Gear 2019.
Who Is Aaron Taylor?
A little about Aaron and why we had him come on this episode to talk in-person sales. Aaron is a weekend-warrior in-person sales photographer for families and seniors and educator for budding photographers. He is also a full-time high school English teacher. He has had photos featured in July and September 2019 issues of Shutter Magazine and wrote a feature in Digital Photographer magazine about how to create professional headshots in your kitchen.
He teaches beginner and intermediate camera courses locally and mentors photographers one-on-one on everything from camera skills to business plans and post-processing to print sales. When it comes to his photography he likes bold, timeless photos that often include a mix of ambient and flash, which is partly how we were inspired to talk today.
What Is In-Person Sales?
In-Person Sales is when the photographer works with the client as an expert guide during a sales session. Typically an in-person sales photographer sells prints, albums, and wall art as opposed to digital images. That’s not a hard-and-fast rule, plenty of in-person sales photographers also deliver digital copies of photos to their clients.
The key concept is working with your client before and after the actual photography session and guiding them through image and product selection. Ultimately the photographer sells the client physical products.
There isn’t one way to do in-person sales. There are many ways to do this as there are photographers doing in-person sales. The one common thing is that in-person sales will make you more money than a shoot-and-burn model. It may not be for everyone, some photographers may prefer the shoot-and-burn (creating photos and only delivering images digitally to clients) model. You can make money as a shoot-and-burn photographer, just not nearly as much as in-person sales photographer.
How Does a Photographer Do In-Person Sales?
As was mentioned already, there isn’t just one way to do in-person sales, but most in-person sales processes have 3 basic steps:
- Convert a lead into a paying client, get some kind of non-refundable payment up-front
- Schedule the shooting session AND a follow-up session to happen fairly soon after the shoot
- Create the photos and sell physical prints to the client at the follow-up session
How To Convert A Lead To An In-Person Sales Client
Right now Aaron’s in-person sales process starts with a gift certificate offered on his website (he is currently using Wix for his website). Leads or potential clients turn into paying clients by purchasing that gift certificate valued at $500 for $100. He gets the value to $500 with a $250 session fee (some photographers call this a sitting fee) plus $250 in printing credits that are used at the follow-up session he calls a “reveal” session.
That $100 goes a long way to ensuring the client is serious about the shoot and won’t be wasting you valuable time. You could call this fee a lot of things, it doesn’t have to be a gift certificate, just make sure you don’t call it a deposit. The word “deposit” has come to have legal significance that could mean you will have to give them their money back even if the client doesn’t show up for the shoot.
Part of converting that lead into a paying client is letting the person know the value of the service being provided. Make sure your website clearly outlines the process with the shooting session and the follow-up session. Then make sure they understand how it is going to work by including all of those details in that first communication after buying the gift card.
It is a good idea to create a template for what will go into that first communication to make sure you don’t forget anything and the information is clear. Just keep a document on your computer or out in something like Google Docs or Apple Notes that has the details of the communication and replace the name of the client.
Tune the template as you use it with the first few clients paying attention to the questions they ask and figure out how to make it more clear so that you don’t get those questions. Aaron and Jeff aren’t doing it right now, but having a good video that describes the process may be even more effective in 2019 with so many people preferring to watch a video.
Prepare For The Follow-Up Session
Prior to the Reveal session Aaron culls out the obvious photos that clients aren’t going to be interested in (closed eyes, out of focus shots, test shots to dial in the exposure, shots where the flashes didn’t fire, etc). He does basic edits on all of the other photos, including many that he wouldn’t think will be appealing to his clients, and prints them on 4×6 proof prints (a proof is a small sample of a photo a person can use to judge if they like it or not but can’t do much more) the client will use to choose their favorites at the reveal. It is amazing how often clients choose and buy prints of images he never would have chosen himself.
Aaron wants his clients to be thinking about prints at the reveal session and using 4×6 proof prints instead of showing them images on a laptop or electronic device has made a difference with his clients. If at all possible, the client shouldn’t be given any digital copies of the images prior to the reveal session. It builds up the anticipation of that reveal session and it prevents the client from taking screen shots or downloading photos (even when watermarked) and then canceling the reveal because they have what they want.
However, there are some clients that really struggle to make decisions about which photos they want to print if they are seeing the images for the first time at the reveal session. For those clients, just to lower their stress levels at the reveal session, he will send them a proof link. A proof link allows clients access to small watermarked images that can be downloaded by the client for the purpose of reviewing them in advance of the reveal session. Aaron uses a watermark that is very transparent but covers a huge portion of the image so that it will be extremely difficult to use Photoshop to remove the watermark. Aaron also exports from Lightroom with a max file size of 1,200KB so that they aren’t good sources for printing.
NOTE: Jeff recommends photographers create “proof” images by exporting from Lightroom with the long edge set to 2,048 pixels as a better option for limiting the uses of those images for printing. You can sell this to your client as something that helps them because the images will get downloaded to their computer or phone faster and take less time to go through.
Products To Sell In-Person
Aaron brings a bag full of products to show the clients so that they can consider them while they are looking through those printed proofs from the shooting session. Finding the products you as a photographer want to sell at your follow-up session is the hardest part of in-person sales. It takes a lot of time and some financial investment to determine which products you really like and could do a good job selling to your clients.
You will be more successful with in-person sales if you can think like your clients. Draw on the experiences you have at that follow-up session and fine-tune the products you want to offer as you are going through the beautiful images they are choosing from. What is it the clients hiring you are looking for? Most of them won’t know, but they know it when they see it. If you can figure that out you are going to be way ahead.
Aaron mostly uses Miller’s lab for albums and does his printing using Bay Photo. Aaron loves the “dream print” process Bay Photo offers. It is gorgeous and the results make the prints he offers different. Try a dream print deep matte print through Miller’s and you will see the obvious difference. It is even obvious to his non-photographer clients who also love the results.
You can shoot your own family or friends to test out the products from the printing labs. Test out all the papers and printing types. Test out some of the other things like acrylic or wooden blocks for example. As you are testing the products out, be very discerning. If something comes wrong with the tests you do, let the printer know and they almost always will replace the item.
This is the part of the in-person sales process I (Jeff) don’t like. I love creating the images, both what you do in-camera and in post processing. I just really don’t have much interest in spending a lot of time on printing. Aaron spent about 18 months really honing in on exactly the products he likes from the print lab and how to get his images to really sing as they the products are printed.
Expect it to take some time to figure out what products you are going to sell your clients and how to get the images to look their best on those products.
Running The “Reveal” Session
Aaron drives over to the house of the client with the proof prints and product samples. He asks the client to go through the photos and just enjoy them the first time through. Focus on how cute the kids are and the fun expressions that were captured as he created the images and don’t worry about which is their favorite and what they want to print.
After that first pass enjoying the photos, they go through them again and put them into piles. The print pile, perhaps a maybe pile, and a no pile. This part of the process takes most of the time in the reveal session. They narrow the photos down to the 10 or 15 they like and then start to talk about the needs of the client like:
- Which photos are going on the wall and how big does the print need to be on that wall
- Which photos are going in albums
- Which photos need to be printed for Christmas gifts
While they are looking at the photos in that first run Aaron is filling their table with samples. He shows them the two different types of papers he prints on and other products like acrylic blocks and some other things he has found many clients like. This is an important part of the process where the client can very easily envision the photo they are looking at on that proof print on one of those sample products.
All along the way Aaron is building an invoice for the print order. He deducts that $250 printing credit the client purchased as part of the gift card they bought at the beginning of the process, and then they give him a check or a credit card before he leaves the house.
Aaron then goes home and orders the prints to come to his house. He checks the prints to make sure they don’t have any problems and then hand delivers the prints to the client. It is an amazing moment to see a client gush over the prints. You don’t want to miss that moment. It is fun for you, they love it, and you build that connection. There is little chance the client is going somewhere else the next time they need photos.
How To Price In-Person Sales?
Pricing for any kind of client is always a challenge for photographers. One of the most frequently asked question we see from photographers is how to price their services or even a specific print. How should a photographer go about pricing their in-person sales service?
First you need to do your math. You have to start with how much money you want to make with photography. You would never take another job if that job did not tell you how much money you were going to make. Do you want to make $10,000 extra per year on top of a day job? Do you want to make $75,000 a year and have photography be full-time? Be really honest with yourself and decide how much money you need/want to make and then do some math from there.
Once you know how much you want to make, you move on to how many hours you can spend to make that money. Divide the amount you want to make by those hours and you have an hourly rate. Then you have to add in overhead costs. The cost of your gear, the cost of a website, the cost of printing. You won’t be successful if you are overly optimistic here, be honest with yourself and really do all you can to be fully realistic.
You can incorporate some market research into the equation as well, but that should be information that guides you some rather than having that determine what you are going to charge for the service you provide to clients. There is a market for every photographer. Just like there is a market for Ferrari, BMW, and Hyundai. There is a buyer at every price level. You just have to learn to find the buyer for your market.
Aaron says he is not a $10,000 per session photographer. He doesn’t know any of those people or how it is he could have his services be something they find – at least not yet. He knows that in his market there are photographers who change $300 for a shoot and will give you digital images. He knows there are $20,000 wedding photographers as well. He thinks that if you are confident in the service you can provide the clients will come.
Aaron did not start his business thinking about this. Like many, he started out thinking, “Well, if I can make an extra $200 this weekend by taking photos of a family, then that’s great! $200 is groceries and gas and a little fun for the week.” Well, that’s not exactly how it works if you’re doing it right.
Say you’re charging $200 for a family session and delivering 50-100 digitals. If you’re doing things right, you’re saving $60 for taxes, and you’re putting another $60 back into your business. That means you’re really only keeping $80 for yourself. Let’s say the entire job took you six hours (driving, emailing, the session itself, editing, etc.). That’s only $16 an hour. $16 an hour for the 24-hour stress and attention that comes with owning a business? That’s crazy. If you want that kind of money, go work at Starbucks and retain your sanity.
Marketing Your In-Person Sales Photography Service
There are a lot of ways to market your photography services. The most effective thing Aaron has found to help his in-person sales photography service is getting reviews on Google. The map location on Google for his photography business shows up in a search results really fast when people are looking for services provided in their area.
Aaron continuously asks his clients to review his service on Google. It doesn’t really cost him anything and Google values real evaluations of his service from other humans very highly. He uses his home address for the location of his photography service as far as the Google listing goes. Nine times out of ten the shoot and the reveal session are outside of his house but for the purposes of marketing the service he uses his home address.
If you are just starting out, just thinking you may want to have a portrait photography business, you have an advantage. You can decide up front you are going to use the in-person sales model. You can build up a portfolio and get to know the printing products by doing free sessions with family and friends.
If you do a good job with your family and friends, word will spread in your area and you will get referrals. All of this can be built up on the in-person sales process and you don’t have to go through the headache of switching from shoot-and-burn over to in-person sales. It is seriously tough to transition from shoot-and-burn over to in-person sales. It is worth it if you want to make money as a portrait photographer, but it is hard.
Don’t think that if you get your website launched people in your area will just start finding you. The only way to get that website noticed is spending money on online advertising. Sames goes with social media. You won’t have your social media account noticed outside of your family and friends without spending money on advertising. Your time (and money) is better spent talking to local businesses and spreading the word in your local area – at least initially.
How To REALLY Sell Your In-Person Portrait Photography Service
Here’s the thing: If you keep selling only digitals but at a price that will make you good money, you’ll quickly realize that (almost) no one will buy expensive digitals. There are too many other inexpensive shoot-and-burners.
Cameras are improving and post processing software getting smarter with artificial intelligence is lowering the bar on what it takes to create high quality digitals. You have to deliver something better. Print products are your “something better.”
Once you’ve done the math, it’s time to change your mindset. You have to come to believe the following and then your clients will too:
- Delivering only digitals is an incomplete service. Your clients have a lot more to do once you hand over digitals.
- Digitals are your most valuable product. Think of your digital photos like the recipe for Coca-Cola. If Coca-Cola sold their recipe to everyone who bought a can or bottle, then they’d quickly stop selling soda. It’s the same with digitals. You can’t sell anything else once you hand over a digital.
- Clients want prints, not digitals. They think they want digitals, but they really don’t. Clients do not want to hand over a hard drive or a social media to their kids, friends, or relatives. They want people to see their photos on their walls during parties. They want to sit with albums during the holidays. They want to hand down archival prints for generations. Think about our most cherished possessions. That one photo of your great-great grandmother, or that handful of photos of your parents when they started dating in school. Your clients want prints.
What Kind of Photographer Should Do In-Person Sales?
Any wedding, family, senior, newborn, boudoir, or pet photographer who is trying to make money from photography should do in-person sales. If you consider yourself a business, then you should make real money. Print sales is how you make good money.
A headshot photographer or corporate photographer will consider another business plan. Any business-to-business transaction is totally different. But if the typical transaction is business to consumer, then in-person sales is perfect.
For Aaron, in-person sales means he can do fewer sessions and make more money. Since he can only do this on the weekends, he’s really only looking for one client per weekend. When he went from making $300 to making $1,600 from one family session instead of five mini-sessions to do the same, he was sold. Do the math and earn what you’re worth.
Jeff: Godox SL-60W Constant Light ($140). I want to do more on my YouTube channel and I don’t have good constant lighting to do that so I am getting some constant lights to help.
Aaron: Rain Sleeve by Op/Tech USA. For $6, you get two amazing plastic sleeves to protect your gear in the rain. I used one of these in pouring rain for four sessions. Not a single drop touched my camera. Well worth the purchase.
- Facebook group is Master Photography Podcast
- Instagram account for the show is @masterphotographypodcast
- Find Jeff’s work at https://www.jsharmonphotos.com. Check out his Photo Taco podcast over at https://phototacopodcast.com where you can search all kinds of topics and find shows discussing the details. He is on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/harmon.jeff, Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/harmonjeff/ (@harmonjeff), and Twitter: https://twitter.com/harmon_jeff (@harmon_jeff)
- Find Aaron’s work at www.aarontaylorphoto.com, https://www.instagram.com/aarontaylorphoto/