by Guest Contributor Renee Bowen
Whether you’re a senior portrait photographer or just thinking about shooting seniors, chances are you’ve seen no less than 100 differing opinions on HOW to do things in the senior portrait world. There are many people out there on the internet vying for the position of “expert” … but very few have the financial success to back it up. Let’s face it, you can be a great shooter and ‘have a passion’ for photography, but unless you are profitable (meaning you are bringing income IN and using it to help support your family, and not just using it to buy a new pair of shoes once a month so your husband doesn’t get annoyed) and HAPPY (meaning you are fulfilled, and therefore creating MORE positivity and wealth in your life), then all of those opinions are just fluff.Running a successful senior portrait business is a full time job, as most of you already know…or are finding out very quickly. It’s a LOT of blood, sweat and tears. (If you’re reading this at 1:00 am because you need an editing break, you know what I’m talking about). Not only do you have the typical photography-related issues (such as continually improving your shooting and lighting skills), but you are working with hormonal teenagers and their oftentimes helicopter parents while juggling makeup and hair people, styling sessions, trying to learn snapchat so you can reach more of your market, trying to stay organized in your business, and so on. It’s not for the faint of heart!I receive tons of questions over on my blog and Facebook page on a daily basis from other photographers asking me how I do what I do. Things such as:
- How do you communicate with your seniors?
- Do you do in person consults before a session?
- How do you make sure they show up prepared?
- Do you share pricing info with them up front?
- What to you sell in your collections and what are your most popular items?
- How do you make those flower crowns that you use in so many of your shots? And do seniors even WANT those anymore?
- How do you run your model program and how do I get clients in the first place?
- How do you handle overbearing parents?
- How do you find a hair and makeup artist to work with?
- How do I even start when there are SO many other photographers out there trying to do the same thing?
The list goes on and on and on…In the last two years, my senior portrait business has exploded….I am busier and more profitable now than I have ever been! So I want to share with you guys some key things that I have implemented in my business that contributed to that success so that you can utilize some of them in your own businesses. Here’s the thing, though… the hustle is NOT included. For these to work, you have to make the decision to take action.
When I first started my senior business, I was completely and totally ignorant on all things ‘business.’ ALL things. I have a degree in Psychology….and while I grew up shooting film, loved photography and had been photographing events and families, I had not photographed any seniors up to that point and had no clue how to go about getting them to book sessions! This was in 2008, and way before all the senior portrait Facebook groups. Furthermore, nobody was even doing senior portraits in my area (not like I wanted to shoot them!). Now? I can spit in any direction and find someone who is a ‘senior photographer.’ And yet…. I still manage to average about $3,000 a client, with many of them being in the $4,000-$6,000 range. I have an incredibly loyal client base who do quite a lot of the marketing work for me, and get downright angry when another photographer tries to ‘copy’ what I do.So how did I do this with no business or marketing knowledge? I’ll be honest – it’s work. And what I’m going to share with you may not be what you want to hear, and it may not be what you’ve heard from other photographers, but if it hits a button with you, then you owe it to yourself to dig deeper.
- Get out of your comfort zone: This probably sounds a little cliche or new-agey (yes, I make up words) but it’s the foundation for growing in your business. Surround yourself with people who are better than you, who can challenge you and who are where you want to be (not where you are). You will never propel yourself forward if you are surrounded by people who don’t push you to be better; remember – growth is not comfortable. This may mean getting rid of toxic people in your life. Toxic people are negative, narcassistic, talk down about other photographers and are jealous. High level people are positive, build you up without blowing smoke up your butt and want you to succeed. Learn to recognize the difference.
- Communication is KEY: There is a big divide in the photography world when it comes to HOW we communicate with our clients. Some photographers will tell you the that only way to effectively communicate with clients is to meet with them for in-person pre-session consults; and if that is working for them, great. I do not do in-person consults. 98% of the time, I have not met my client IN person until the day of the shoot. I know some of you are literally freaking out about this right now…. it’s okay, take a minute. Again – this is what works for me and has worked for me from day one. Why? Because I am excellent at email and phone communication. I may suck at other stuff, but I know I am great at this. I have taught others how to do be great at this as well, and have created Client Communication Templates to help other photographers learn to do this. Everything from the first initial inquiry email to the follow up, and to the how to prep for your session email.
- Stop the stalking: Stop comparing yourself to other photographers and stalking their Instagram accounts. This is a big one! Do you think successful entrepreneurs spend hours looking at their competition’s social media accounts? No, they don’t. They are too busy going out there and making stuff happen. That doesn’t mean you can’t EVER look … just limit yourself and don’t get caught up in the ‘I wish I could shoot like that’ or the ‘I have to be perfect’ spiral of death.
- Don’t go it alone – find a MENTOR or COACH and take WORKSHOPS: I cannot stress this enough. If you are serious about your business and this is more than a hobby for you (or you if you WANT it to be) then you must – you MUST – invest in it. People have a tendency to think that just because it’s an artistic profession that photography can be easily learned; and while you may pick up the artistry part quickly, the BUSINESS part of it (the part that keeps you doing it and putting food on the table) is oftentimes the tricky part for many people. The best thing I ever did was invest in Seniors Ignite, and I have never looked back. I ate up all the information they provided on their blog and then some – I connected with other photographers through them and attended the yearly events where even more hands-on kick-in-the-pants learning happened. After the event in 2013, they noticed my work and I was then asked to come on as a lead shooter for them and have provided content for the blog, as well as for the in person events. Being in this group of high level creatives has helped surge my business forward (like I mentioned in point #1) in big ways.
In February of this year, a group of us from Seniors Ignite founded and launched a Complete Marketing Solution for a new breed of senior photography innovators called We Are The SEEN. The purpose of this program is to help photographers attract more and better clients with less work, and to help them stand out in their market. One of the keys to this is that we also provide them with a collaborative environment of other photographers to work with as well – ones who have the same goals and work together at a higher level to push each other forward in their businesses. Our private Facebook page for members is a pool of talent and awesomeness that is truly inspirational. We also host meet-ups throughout the year in different parts of the country to get that in person ‘push’ we all need so much as creatives. For those who are looking for more personalized, in depth learning we have created Build A SEEN Mastermind Intensives so that photographers can learn from 6 of the most successful photographers in the industry in a small and intimate environment. The next Build A SEEN Mastermind Intensive is coming up in Seattle in September, and we are excited to work with photographers who are serious about their business, and who are serious about becoming more profitable. We also started another new venture – a style + culture magazine for a new generation of the Undiscovered. SEEN Magazine was created for today’s youth (ages 16-28), and is NOT a photography education magazine. SEEN is a place for our clients and their stories – it is not a place for other photographers to love each other’s work and fill each other with fluff. This is a multi-industry collaboration that allows us to work with up-and-coming creatives and artists to share their stories through images, editorials and more. The feedback we have had so far is incredible.
- Outsource what you can: This is hard for us ‘type A’ crazy people, I know. BUT if you want to grow your business and have more time for your family, you will get over it and start delegating. Even if it is as small as having someone come in and help with invoicing or hiring a virtual assistant to keep up with copy on your blog, etc. I promise you, it’s worth it. I love mine, and she lives in New Zealand so she can work while I sleep!
- Organization: This is the key to my life in general. Without my calendar and ‘to do’ lists, I would NOT be able to do what I do. If you are not an organized person by nature, then hire someone to help you learn or to do it for you. You can’t give your clients a phenomenal experience if you can’t remember bits and pieces of their lives – such as the names of their siblings, what they ordered, or God forbid if you drop the ball on an appointment, etc.
- The second part of this is finding a good client management system. I have used others in the past, but Tave’ is what I have used since early 2014 and I love it… it has an easy-to-use interface and makes my life SO much easier.
- Cultivate relationships with clients: Being organized will allow you to focus on the important things, and be service oriented, with your clients. It’s the little things that people remember, and they like to feel special. Keep note of birthdays and special events in their lives and genuinely take interest – nurture these relationships. However, don’t go out and spend loads of money on cute pinterest-inspired handmade things that cost a bajillion dollars just so you can Instagram it and make people think that you are awesome….. seriously – stay within your budget (organization, remember?)
- Marketing and social media: This is an entire article topic in itself, but THIS is key – especially for those of you thinking ‘there are no $3,000-$6,000 clients in my area.’ I really do believe there are, but you can’t just post pretty pictures on Instagram and hope that they come to you. Yes, Instagram and now snapchat are THE places where my clients are (along with twitter), but the moms are still very much on Facebook so I kind of have to be EVERYWHERE. Yes, it’s exhausting, but not if you have a marketing plan and you’re organized (see point #6). Learn how to market to your target client. Period. Also, streamline your social media with apps that can cross-post or schedule posts ahead of time – then you’re really being efficient.
- Be resourceful and make things if you have to: Case in point – flower crowns. I see people post in various Facebook groups daily “Are flower crowns still IN?” Keeping up with trends is important for the senior market – and there are differences from one part of the country to another. For example, in Southern California where I live, flower crowns are very much still ‘in’ – most of my clients look as though they’ve stepped off the pages of a Free People magazine and love anything boho….but not ALL my clients want it. I take the time to get to know them (going back to point #2), and if they want a flower crown, I’m gonna make them one – why would I not make that happen for them? It’s another ‘something special’ that I can offer. If you’re interested in finding out how to make an easy fresh flower crown, I created a YouTube tutorial as well as an in-depth ‘how-to’ download with all the details. Head over to my blog and you can grab that link.
- Believe in yourself: OMG I went there…. yep, I went to that hokey ‘feel good’ place. Because guess what? It’s true. High level entrepreneurs don’t get that way because they think they can do it – they get there because they had the determination to know they could, and they didn’t give up. If you really want it, you can achieve it. Recognize your own worth and be humble. It goes a long way.
About Renee: Renee Bowen is a Southern California photographer who specializes in upscale, edgy Senior Portraits. She is best known for her editorial, magazine quality images that tell the story of her client while shooting on location in and around Los Angeles. Renee also mentors and educates up and coming photographers both one on one and in small groups, as part of the Seniors Ignite core group of lead shooters, and is a founding member of the magazine SEEN. Born and raised in South Louisiana, she came to L.A. in 1995 and fell in love with an actor, subsequently had three crazy kids (all now teenagers) and is obsessed with Game of Thrones, Outlander and Free People. Wine and chocolate are always appreciated (and needed).