Time for Play is Over, It’s Time to Get Serious About the Business of Your Business

For years I have been amazed and disappointed in those that provide continuing education to professional photographers. While some photographers/speakers have always incorporated profitability into their teaching, most have used the theory of, “raise your prizes, shoot whats fun and you will be just fine”.  Just the other day I saw a program advertising a seminar on the “boutique” studio. Boutique studios and other boutique businesses in my area are scrambling into new markets and discounting services just to keep their doors open.  You can’t really pamper people when there aren’t that many people willing to pay for pampering!  Yes, clients still have money to spend, but they are much more conservative with their spending.  If your area is anything like ours, businesses like restaurants that provide good foods with an excellent experience at a modestly high price are thriving in this economy, while the very expensive restaurants are closing, along with those that were over-charging for the locations and quality of food they offered.

In times like these, people want Tangible Value, or Value that they can see and understand.  There was a time when clients would just pay the price and believe you were the best in town.  Now, clients what to understand why they know of 50 soccer-moms and students that will go to the park with no sitting fee and give them all of their images for $50 and you quoting a minimum order over the phone of $2000!  That is a huge difference that the average person can not comprehend over the phone.

This brings up the next area of your business.  When I first started into photography 25 years ago, we had large orders, but we had to work for them.  We priced our sessions high enough to help cover the costs, as well as to qualify our clients, but low enough not to scare those that could truly afford what we do away.  Although the economy is tough, you can still “SELL” $5000 worth of portraits, but the client needs to be looking at the beautiful images of the one she loves to spend that kind of money.  She will also need the guidance of a “SALESPERSON”, not a viewer who’s only job is write-up the order and fetch coffee.  Very people in this economy are going to spend serious money over the phone, so our strategy must change.

To keep the volume of clients up, our sitting fees must reflect the times in which we work.  You can keep sitting fees higher and then discount them (people love saving money), but there can’t be a $100 difference in sitting fees between you and someone who is almost as good as you are. In this economy,  people want value and although you might be slighter better, if potential clients don’t see you as $100 better you are simply sending clients to your nearest competition. The “charging more mentality” simply does Not Work in this economy and especially in this economy with so many untrained people devaluing what we do!

Once you set your sitting fees (or discounting them) to keep the flow of clients coming through your studio, you need to thoroughly train your staff how to sell.  Whether you listen to Tom Hopkins or buy some older Charles Lewis audio tapes, they will provide a your sales people with the tools they need to sell people what you have created.  When money is tight, the lofty notion that your work is so “good” it sells itself is a sales path called de-nial which comes with a large dose of de-lusion.  You have to educate your clients as to why and how you are better than lesser priced alternatives and then learn to sell your products to create larger sales.

I don’t want to write another book this morning, so the last suggestion is to use your client’s excitement to see the images you have created to your benefit.  For years we have shown our clients their images right after the session is over.  We are a higher volume, higher priced (I like those two in combination) Senior Portrait Studio.  Our Sitting fees and smallest package keep us competitive with other studios which have a much lower sales average, because we train our sales people to be sales people not order takers.

While many other speakers might argue, I go with research and methods of very large corporation that actually have data to back up their process.  Large national studios and department store photographers for years have shown their photos right after the session is over because they realize without the client’s excitement, they would sell very few photographs (you seen the photos they take, if someone had a chance to take them home and lose their excitement,  they would never get an order!).  Using the client’s excitement, combined with high quality portraits and the orders sometimes amaze even me.  Showing after the sessions works because I use corrective lighting and posing and produce portraits in the camera that are 95% as good as they will be once they are retouched.  And for those that think it is impossible to sell from un-retouched images, I sold millions of dollars worth of un-retouched images using film and the clients understood that acne would be removed, why can’t they imagine it now?  This is only a problem if you are photographer that relies on Photoshop to salvage what you capture, which I do not!

Love it or hate it, our profession has undergone some major changes lately which have been multiplied with the change in the economy.  You and I have no control over either one, but we do have the ability to adapt and thrive.  You can’t sell in a recession the same way you sold when money was free-flowing and people thought nothing of using their credit cards to excess.  This is just common sense.  In every area of business, you see the businesses that are adapting to their new business environment and thriving and those that hope that can keep doing business the way they always have and the President will get the economy back on track.  Those businesses are closing their doors.  Many false steps have been taken by standing still!

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~ by jeffsmithbooks on July 31, 2010.

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