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I feel like, sometimes, when I talk about in-person selling to other photographers, I get nods of understanding from whomever I am talking to on the outside, but the “yeah, but you don’t know how I feel” on the inside.
Here’s the deal, though: I do remember how you feel.
Most people I run into who do in-person selling didn’t start off running their businesses that way. A lot of us started off doing what we thought was “easiest,” which often is shoot-and-burn photography. We want to be creatives, and thus create beautiful artwork that people will proudly display in their homes; but we don’t want to deal with much of the business side. We would rather hand over a disc, or USB, or create a download link, just so we don’t have to worry about much other than working at the session and then editing afterward.
I remember when I first started out in business, I had a dear friend (who was a wedding photographer) tell me that I should do shoot-and-burn. For her, it made sense: she could work at the wedding, edit the images, and then turn them over to the clients. I remember her saying, “But, Rosie, why put extra work on yourself?”
At first, I believed her.
But, here is what I didn’t fully realize at that point in time: 1) I wasn’t a wedding photographer (with years of experience and market knowledge on what to charge), and 2) I was about to head down a hard road, business-wise. Oh, and apparently, 3) I learn best by figuring out things “the hard way.”
When I launched my business, my family and I had just moved to Houston, Texas. We were also pregnant with our fourth child (and my others were all barely four and under). I was so excited to get my “DBA” and make myself a legal business owner in the eyes of Texas and the Federal government. I even towed all of my babies to all of these fun steps because, well, I didn’t know anyone to babysit my kids!
My business started out slow; but right around the time my fourth baby was born, it started to boom. I would work with three, four, or five clients (families at that time) every weekend.
Even though it seemed like I was making money, as I was charging $150 per session, I found myself constantly working (whether it be shooting or editing), and I found myself becoming an increasingly stressed-out and snappy wife to my sweet husband, and an emotionally and physically wiped-out mother to my young children.
To add insult to injury: all of this money I THOUGHT I was making wasn’t much at all. After upgrading my camera body, paying taxes, and other business expenses, I had worn myself down for only $400 in profit for that whole year.
Something had to change. For me, it was changing to doing in-person selling.
Let me tell you about some of the biggest fears I had going into in-person selling so that you can determine whether this business approach is right for you (and trust me, a lot of these fears are very common, or else I would not be writing a blog post about it!).
The fear of change, or losing your clients.
I won’t lie: change is scary.
Psychologists will tell you that the fear of losing what you have often outweighs the potential gain from change.
When you are determining your true fears about heading into in-person selling, I will be honest with you: your client base may change a little. Or a lot.
But, after you read this, really think about something: is your “status quo” really making you happy? Or, can you consider how much you can gain by making a few changes and really improving your client experience by offering in-person selling?
What I want you to do is write out a list of “pros” and “cons”. Before you start, though, I want you to write out two “pros”: more time with friends and family, and more money per client.
When weighing out your options, I want you to think long-term. Focus on what you will GAIN by trying in-person selling. By shifting your mindset to business possibilities, instead of always wanting to accommodate everyone else’s perceived feelings (whether founded or not…to be brutally honest, I think that we- as artists- tend to care a lot more about other people than they do about us), you will be surprised at what goals you can accomplish.
The fear of hearing negative feedback.
This is one of the most common fears I hear, as we tend to hold our art close to our hearts.
BUT, if you do your job in educating your clients about your photography style (and are consistent with your work!), and if you really focus on understanding the needs of your clients ahead of the session through doing either in-person consultations ahead of your session, or sending questionnaires to be filled out by your clients, chances are, you will do just fine.
Your clients’ experiences with you start WAY before the in-person ordering session. If you are consistently “wowing” them with your customer service, and if you are consistent with your work, you have very little to worry about regarding negative feedback.
I will say, though, that sometimes you will hear constructive critiques. This is different than negative feedback, like “I hate every image in here and want a refund.”
Every once in awhile, I hear feedback about how a woman feels based on how I posed her (good and bad!), or questions regarding angles and lighting. I look at these honest moments as positive things for my business.
Why? Well, because I LEARN from them. If a woman didn’t buy an image because she didn’t like how she was posed, you can guarantee that I will be more sensitive to that pose again in the future. I will figure out how to make it better for the next session. Most times critiques make you better, which will result in more profit in the future.
The fear of not having space (or TIME) for in-person ordering sessions.
If you have a studio space, awesome! Chances are, you probably have a spot where you can cozy up with your clients to do an ordering session.
But, if you are like most mom-togs, or if you are just trying to keep costs down, you may not have a space to welcome people into.
I was “there” when we lived in Texas. So, what did I do? I added an insurance rider to my property (this is A HUGE THING!! Never welcome clients to your home without business insurance that covers you and your property.
If someone comes to your home for business, and trips on your front porch on the way in, your homeowners insurance will not cover you. Be safe about this, and contact your insurance company ahead of ever offering your home as an in-person ordering session option.), and did in-person ordering in my dining room.
Since I worked with high school seniors, I always insisted that a parent was present, or else I would postpone the ordering session until one was present. This is do-able; but you have to be smart about it!
Another option: bring your in-person ordering session to your client! If you have a laptop, you can bring it to your clients’ home, along with some product samples.
When I do this type of in-person ordering session, I bring my RedTree album, some prints of various sizes, announcement samples and an 11×14 canvas (my preferred vendor for most products is Millers Lab. You want to bring enough to be a resource for your clients, but so much that it’s overwhelming or hard for you to bring it in and out of their homes.
Notice that I never mention projectors here. I know that some people in the industry will slam me for this; but honestly, when you are starting out, you don’t NEED all of this extra stuff to head down the road to success. Think smarter, not harder. If you just have a computer or a laptop, use those. Something is better than nothing.
When it comes to finding time for in-person ordering: schedule it in. This sounds so simple; but it’s a step that most people overlook until it’s too overwhelming to even try.
I set aside time every Tuesday and Thursday evening on my calendar for ordering sessions. I do that because it’s what works for MY schedule (and my kids are often asleep AND my husband is home to help if they do happen to be awake).
I don’t give my clients a very loose leash on scheduling my sessions, as I know that I have to make this timeframe work for my business and my family. When I send my clients the email to let them know that their gallery is ready, I give them two or three ordering session options that work for me, and my clients commit to one of my options. Remember: as a business owner, YOU control your schedule!
Here is the bottom line: you can make in-person ordering work for you, your family, and your business. By addressing your fears, and working toward confronting them, you will find your business growing in ways that you only imagined before.