by Guest Contributor Kristen Carter
About 3 years into my business, I faced burnout. I was shooting sessions all weekend long from sun up to sun down, staying up until 2am to get edits done and images burned to discs, fielding calls and emails as soon as they came in, but most of all, I was missing my life. Didn’t I start this business to be my own boss? Then why was my calendar out of control, my time gone and there no money to show for all of my hard work? The breaking point came when I asked a returning client at her son’s cake smash session how much she loved his newborn photos. Her response, “Oh yeh, I still haven’t gotten around to printing them. They’re in my desk drawer.” I was heartbroken. I spent HOURS editing her baby’s session to perfection and they’d never been printed or enjoyed? There had to be a better way. How could I make my family happy and serve my clients better?
In researching successful businesses, I discovered that the physical print is not dead, clients will absolutely hire a photographer who sells products AND the photography studios who offer these services in person make far more money than I could ever do on a shoot & burn or online gallery business plan. If you are at the same point (or see it in your future) I’d love to demystify some of the questions surrounding an In Person Sales (IPS) photography business model….
What is In Person Sales (IPS)?
In Person Sales is exactly what it sounds like. An in person meeting between photographer and client where the client is shown their images and then selects the prints, wall art or albums for an order. All communication is done face to face and the order is placed (and paid for) at the time of the sale.
Why should I do IPS?
1) It benefits your clients. Meeting with clients in person creates a deeper emotional connection to the images that you’ve created with them. You are also able to assist in print size selection including wall art design and guiding your clients through the ordering process. Most clients want to print and hang their photos, that’s why they had photos taken. But, they don’t know what to so after they have the digital files. Discs will sit in a drawer, waiting “until I have time”. 6 months, a year goes by, it’s time for another session and still no prints from the first one. In person sales removes the uncertainty they feel when making decisions regarding their art and offers them an expert (you) to help them.
2) it benefits your business. You can generate higher income by offering prints and products to your clients than by simply shooting and handing over digital files. Math time. Assuming a Session + CD= $250, you’ll have to schedule 200 sessions to generate $50,000 (that’s just gross income, no taxes or business expenses covered). In order to generate $100,000, you’ll either have to shoot 400 sessions in one year (and risk burnout) at $250 or 100 sessions at $1000. Which sounds better? It’s all about working smarter, not harder.
Who does IPS work for?
IPS has traditionally worked well for portrait & wedding/event photographers. Remember, that 25 years ago, there was no shoot & share or online galleries. All photographic sales orders were conducted in person. Due to their digital nature, commercial, fashion or business headshots are not encouraged to follow the IPS model.
Where do I conduct an IPS Session?
If you don’t have a studio, you have a few options. You can meet at a public space such as a coffee shop or high end cafe. You can rent a space or studio specifically for your meetings. You can travel to your clients’ homes and have the ability to show them the art possibilities on their walls. As long as you have a quiet space to chat with your clients and present their images, any venue is acceptable.
How should I show clients the photos? On a television? An iPad?
For those with dedicated sales spaces, a large television screen or projector is used. You also have the option of a portable screen and projector if you travel to your clients and want to project images true to size on their walls. Some photographers prefer to use an iPad loaded with a proofing/selling app or a laptop loaded with viewing software.
Should I own samples? What kind of samples?
When you’re first starting out, you don’t need a sample of everything you want to sell, but you do need a few samples to show quality and allow your clients to experience products in person. One sample album, one sample canvas, and some gift prints are a good way to start. If you plan to offer specialty or unique items, such as accordion albums, having them on hand is a good idea.
How do I price my products?
Pricing is a tricky subject and there are a ton of articles and resources available to assist in the creation of a price menu and packages or collections. But it starts with knowing your costs of doing business (CODB). You can’t just ask a vendor for the print price and then arbitrarily decide to mark it up x3 to sell. You also can’t judge your pricing off the photographer down the street. Everyone’s business costs are different and therefore their pricing will be different.
How do I figure out my CODB?
If you haven’t done so already, your codb is calculated by taking into account all of your business expenses (gear, insurance, taxes, props, vehicle, office supplies, marketing, salaries, etc) and then figuring out your daily and hourly minimum for not only staying in business but also turning a profit eventually. A great calculator is HERE.What are good professional labs to look for products? There are many to choose from, including Simply Color Lab, Bay Photo, Millers, ProDPI, WHCC, Artsy Couture, Blackriver Imaging and American Color Imaging. Take a look at their product line, their shipping time, and then set up an account. Many labs will offer you sample images to help you calibrate your monitor to their printer.
How many images should I present?
This is really up to you as the photographer and what your goals are with your clients. You can remove the difficult decisions and present a limited number (25-40) to allow the clients to select wall art and gift prints. Or show them a lot (100+) and overwhelm them so they want them all and are likely to buy an album or full collection. Only you can decide which way works best for your personality and business plan.
What do I do about digital files?
So, this is the tough question that everyone making the leap struggles with. Again, depends on your business plan but a few valid options are:
- don’t sell them at all, remove them from your vocabulary and focus solely on printed art
- sell them at a premium price to encourage print sales and discourage file sales (I.e. Your 11×14 print is $75, a digital file is $150, making the print a more attractive option)
- offer them in collections only with a minimum purchase amount (Collection B includes 1 16×20, 2 8x10s and 5 digital files)
- include a matching digital negative with a print/pose purchase. (Order an 8×10, receive the digital file & print release for an 8×10 size)
No matter what you decide, for the most part with in person sales, they are sold, not included as part of a package. (When digital images are included in with the session fee, a client has no incentive to order professional prints. In their mind, they can go to a big box store and print the files, and most won’t care about the difference in quality.) You also have the option of offering a digital app or web-ready digital images as incentives or add-on sales to clients.
There are photographers having success with a hybrid model of including digital files and setting up the sales appointment, but they are primarily well-established studios with a proven workflow and sales system. But no studio with yearly million dollar sales offers digital files in their collections. That, to me, speaks volumes.
What if I lose all of my clients?
In making the change to products and in person sales you will lose clients. Especially if this is the time that you also calculate your codb and realize that you are losing money handing over those digital files to clients. It hurts, it sucks, but there are other clients out there. Ones who are willing to invest higher amounts in their sessions, ones who want to have your art hanging on their walls, ones who will return to you and refer their friends. The market is different, you will likely be changing demographics so don’t be fooled into thinking you can make the change to an IPS photographer and do the same marketing tactics you did as a shoot & burn photographer. It won’t work. That’s like Neiman Marcus trying to win over WalMart customers. However, when you do find those clients, remember earlier where I said $1000 sales? Yes, those clients will allow you to shoot fewer sessions and make more money while providing them a finished service. Winning all around.
About Kristen: Kristen Carter is a maternity, newborn & family photographer residing in Gilbert, AZ. She specializes in fun custom on-location sessions capturing her client’s personality and creating beautiful wall art & albums with their photographs.