It was early 2016, and I was attempting to jump-start my portrait photography business after moving to a brand new town. On top of that, I’d had the brilliant idea to switch from family photography to corporate photography, and consequently lacked a relevant portfolio to show prospective clients.
I quickly discovered that no one knew or trusted me enough to book a session, especially with all of the other photographers already in the area. It was the perfect recipe for large, round tumbleweeds in my bank account and long, sleepless nights.
After months of religiously attending networking events and handing out my business cards, I knew I had to do something different, and soon.
With a flash of inspiration, I decided to throw a portrait party…with pizzazz.
Spoiler alert: I’m going to tell you how this story ends right now. The decision to throw a portrait party was a game changer for my photography business.
It was instrumental in gaining momentum, clients, income, a strong portfolio, credibility, testimonials, reviews, referrals, and even a persistent buzz around town. It was all practically overnight.
That’s why I’m convinced a portrait party can be a wonderful tool to help you grow your photography business.
First thing’s first: What is a portrait party, and why should you care?
Let’s make sure we’re on the same page here.
First of all, what is a portrait party? The short answer is that it is a lively event where you gather a bunch of people together and take their portraits. It can range from simple business headshots to full body family portraits.
And why should you care? Glad you asked. Simply put, a strategic, well-planned portrait party can kickstart and transform your photography business.
Whether you are trying to get your new portrait business off the ground, or you’ve been in business for years and need to give your business a solid kick in the pants, it can be an extremely effective strategy when done well.
Now let’s go over the benefits, along with some practical tips.
The Benefits of a Portrait Party: Let Me Count the Ways
Let’s go over the specific ways a portrait party can help grow your business, along with some actionable tips to help you throw your own.
Benefit 1: A Strategic Portrait Party Can Bring You Immediate Clients
Let’s be frank. The immediate cash from your portrait party probably comes to mind first. You get to work with a fairly large amount of people at one event, and because you will essentially be doing a mini session with each person, you are able to offer their sitting fee at a promotional price.
This reduces the barrier to entry for the folks who would otherwise be on the fence about spending money on a photographer they have never worked with before, but it still adds up to a healthy profit for you at the end of the day.
In addition, working with a group of people at one event is great practice as you develop your craft. It can be a great confidence booster if you are still getting accustomed to interacting with clients.
You may be wondering how to get people to come to your party in the first place. A few tips including passing out flyers, spreading the word to family and friends, and creating a Facebook event.
If you really want to up your marketing game, seek to form a strategic alliance with your local Chamber of Commerce or related organization that shares your target audience.
If you are a member, there is a solid chance they will put your event in their email newsletter if you request it. This was very effective for me, as I was offering business headshots.
You can also partner up with a charity or organization of your choosing and offer to donate a portion of the event’s proceeds back to them. This will give them an incentive to help spread the word to their contacts.
Between handing out flyers, spreading the word on Facebook, and having the Chamber of Commerce helping me promote, we were able to reach my available 12 portrait slots quickly. As icing on the cake, we even had to put together a wait list for my next party!
Benefit 2. Your Party Can Bring You a List of Contacts to Market to in the Future
As wonderful as it is that you get a bunch of clients, it is just as important that you get their contact information. Furthermore, to really maximize the opportunity, I suggest you invite people to come even if they’re not getting a portrait.
Require them to register online, or sign in upon arrival. Even though these folks may not trust you enough to pay you for a portrait, they may still be curious enough to show up, and that’s half the battle. It’s a prime opportunity for them to come to check you out without the commitment of getting a portrait.
View your portrait party is an info-gathering event. Afterward, you have a list of clients and prospects that you can further build a relationship with through newsletters and phone calls. This list is an absolute asset to your business.
Benefit 3. It’s a Great Portfolio Builder
Another result of your party is that it helps you fill your portfolio. Having more work to show will go a long way towards helping you get clients in the future. Put the resulting images on your website and in future printed marketing material to get more clients. In the weeks following your event, drip the images out on social media.
If you want to go a step beyond simply posting images on your site, write short case studies on each of your portrait participants. When you have them register for the event, include a short survey about how they plan to use the photos.
Then, after your party, write a series of short blog posts about each client, using the info from their registration survey, along with the casual conversation you had with your subjects during their photo session.
Benefit 4. It’s a Prime Opportunity to Gather Testimonials, Reviews, and Referrals
Following up with your participants after the party is crucial. I suggest you schedule a series of automatic emails to go out afterward so that you don’t chicken out or get too busy. Ask for testimonials. Ask for reviews of their experience. Ask for referrals.
By the way, if you want the reviews and testimonials to be positive, make sure everyone has a great time. In particular, if your room layout is open (like mine was), be aware that the prospect of having other people around during their photo session may make some clients nervous.
You will have to put in extra effort to put them at ease. However, I also find that my clients get the “deer in headlights” look whether they are at a private session with just me, or at a portrait party with a small crowd watching, so it will be your job to make them feel comfortable either way.
Make sure you engage them in light conversation. Get them talking about themselves. Dare I say crack a corny joke or two. And remember to keep a warm smile on your face as much as you can, because it helps them reflect that warmth back to you. Use those ninja photographer skills!
Benefit 5. It Helps Create a Lasting Buzz About Your Business After the Event
It was this benefit that surprised me the most after my event. Throwing my portrait party changed the way people perceived me, and this new “street cred” followed me around for months.
Literally six months after my party, I had the CEO of a magazine invite me out for coffee. Almost as soon as we settled down with our steaming cups, he looked me right in the eye and began with the question, “So aren’t you that photographer that threw that portrait party networking event?” Apparently, that occurrence held weight in his mind.
So how do you create buzz? The key is to capture the essence of your party through thorough proper documentation. Have an assistant take photo and video footage at the party, and make sure YOU are also in the footage, interacting with people.
Afterward, you can turn it into a short, impactful marketing video to create a buzz in your local area. It doesn’t have to be long. Mine was all of about 76 seconds and was comprised of still photos, video, and music.
Post it on social media, and also on your website. This infinitely maximizes your exposure by allowing people to see how cool you are, even though they may not have been at your party.
It’s amazing the way a little video with music can change the way people view you as a photographer. I can’t stress enough how it helps you build credibility in your community.
A Pro Tip: Step Up Your Game and Give It Pizzazz
Ever get a flyer for a Tupperware, makeup, or (insert commodity here) party at someone’s house, and think to yourself, “Oh look, another one of these parties.”? Safe to say, you may have some preconceived notions about the countless product parties that seem to happen on a daily basis in people’s homes.
Holding your party in a home lumps your service with Tupperware. Do you really want that? (For the record, I do like Tupperware). Needless to say, I suggest not having it in a residential home.
Your portrait party needs to stand out. The power is in the planning. I suggest holding your party in a professional space, such as a hotel, conference center, or coworking space. If you have your own studio space, that works as well. This simple decision will be vital in differentiating your party from the fray.
In addition, set the stage and make it festive. Having fun, tasteful background music and simple refreshments will make it more of a classy affair. I also recommend setting up extra lighting equipment in addition to the lights you actually plan to use.
Think of them as strategic props. In an age where everyone seems to have an uncle or cousin with a DSLR that never seems to budge from the auto setting, your guests need to see how professional you are. Having command of external lighting helps communicate that you take yourself seriously…and, therefore, they should too.
As you can see, when done strategically, a well-planned portrait party can help de-commoditize your business from the rest of your local market and help you stand out as a local thought leader.
It can bring you clients in the short term, but also a list of contacts to build a relationship with for the long term. It can fill your portfolio with high quality, relevant images, and supply you with client testimonials and reviews.
With one event, it can take you from having virtually no client list, portfolio, or social proof, to be being viewed as that “cool” photographer with a healthy dose of buzz surrounding them.
Consider the possibilities for your own business.
Kickstart Your Own Party
Due to the number of requests from fellow photographers wanting guidance on the process of throwing their own portrait party, I created a kit that does exactly that. It’s called the Portrait Party Success Kit, and contains a detailed step-by-step guide, along with checklists, pre-designed flyers and forms, and even email scripts to get your portrait party on its way. Affiliate link: Learn more about the Portrait Party Success Kit at prophotographerjourney.com.