Good clients, the people who understand the difference between a portrait and a snapshot, who understand the value and enjoyment a portrait of their loved ones brings and of course who have the money to pay for it!  They are still out there, you just have to find them.  An old success/sales speaker named Zig Ziegler once said that you mine for prospects like you mine for gold.  You have to move literally tons of dirt to find even a single ounce of gold, but you don’t look at the dirt, you look for the gold.

Before the change in our economy, things were easy.  You had hoards of people spending money they really didn’t have and I guess felt like they would never have to pay back.  You had photographers so sure the “boom” would never end they designed custom studios that had no purpose but to be a studio, as well as planning their business and expenses to keep spending with the pace of the boom.  But all booms pass and this one did with a vengeance.

The point is that all of us got lazy.  It is easy selling any product to someone with unlimited resources (large limits on credit cards paid off by the equity in their home when max’ed out).  It is easy to qualify potential clients when even people on the “wrong side” of the tracks have high credit limits.  The truth is we haven’t lost the good clients, we have lost the clients that had no business spending the kind of money most of charge for photography.  As you look across the country, it is not the high-end studios that are suffering the most.  There are still many clients that want quality photography and want to deal with high quality studio.  It is the studios that were priced in the middle that have all but disappeared.

The swell in newbies and soccer mom’s working with paying clients, in part, was caused by the number of people who still wanted to purchase photography but they simply don’t have the money for good photography.   These people shop around and shop themselves into snapshots, which is OK!  Those are not your clients.  As profession photographers we have to go “old school” and relearn how to run a business.  We have to learn how to qualify people on the phone.  This a simple process of learning how to sell your photographic services verbally (by verbally painting a picture in their mind of the unique process that leads up to an amazing image of their loved ones).  Once you have sold them on your studio, you give them basic pricing information.  This is the point where you qualify them.  It does no good to start to work with someone who doesn’t have the money to buy what you sell.

Young photographers have a problem with this, but to be successful you MUST SEND SOME BUSINESS AWAY!  If everyone you talk to on the phone can afford you, you are way to cheap to profit from the work you sell.  When people complain about the price you charge while you are on the phone it is a good thing.  First, if there is no way they can afford you, they will simply say thank you (or “that ridiculous”) and hang up.  If they can afford you, but it is more than they would like to spend, they will complain.  This also shows that you are painting the right picture in the client’s mind when you are selling them on the phone.  I might not like the cost of a new Harley, I might complain I could buy a nice car (at least by the time I have all the chrome put on), but guess what I am still going buy a Harley!

The second way photographers got lazy is that most of them no longer know how to sell.  They present the images and ask what the client wants to buy.  No No No!  Selling is finding out what the client wants and helping them to get it.  You do your clients a huge dis-service if you don’t take the time to find out what they truly want to buy.  I have seen photographers/sales people have a client give all kinds of subtle ques that they have an interest in a wall portrait, but never explain all the options to the client, nor talk to the client about where the portrait will go in their home to find out what they truly want.

Selling is the most important single thing to your business.  Selling only works if you have a great product, qualify your clients and then take the time to find out what each client wants and then help them to get it.  Helping them to get it is simply listening to all their comments (called a stall and/or objection) answering/dealing with them and then asking questions that keep them focused on what they want.  While looking at a wall portrait size, you say this portrait is $1250 and let them respond.  She could say, I will take it, but probably not!  She will probably say “that’s ridiculous!”  At that point, most sales people stop, but you want to help her,  so you ask a question, “is it the cost of the portrait that is the problem or is it the size of the portrait that you don’ t like?”  Then listen to what she says and help her overcome the objections to get what she truly wants and can afford!

I could write a book on this subject, maybe I will, but not here today.  There are many great resources for sales training.  Tom Hopkins, while older is still a great starting place.  If you want training specifically for the portrait business, look up old audio series on selling by Charles Lewis, the dude knew his stuff.  If any of you are close to Fresno, Ca.  I am giving a workshop on Success in Portrait Photography on June 11th  WORKSHOP INFORMATION


~ by jeffsmithbooks on May 18, 2012.


  1. Well said.

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