Several years ago, I was attending the Regional Convention of the Mid-East States Professional Photographers Association. I was scheduled to give a presentation on how advertising and promotion were related to profit. It was always a great time to get together with old friends and fellow photographers.
One evening while enjoying an adult beverage, a photographer sat next to me and asked if he could ask a question.
“Sure, go ahead,” I replied.
“Do you have constant cash flow all year long?” he asked.
“Yes, pretty much,” was my answer. “I mean, I have periods that are slower than others, but I generate enough business that I can pay my bills, my employees, and myself all year long.”
“Wow, that would be GREAT–it seems like I can barely pay the rent after the Christmas season is over! How do you do it?” he asked me.
“Well, I have a promotion schedule in place. Every month of every year, there is a promotion…sometimes two. It helps eliminate the ‘feast-or-famine’ situation so many studios find themselves in.” I told him I was giving a presentation and he would benefit from attending. Even though it was early, he said he would.
This photographer’s situation is far from unique. It seems like after we have finished the busy season, we all have a natural tendency to let down. You know, coast…take it easy. And that’s not good. When the camera room is “dark” we are losing profit.
Here is how most photographers work: they start off a little slow. Then, they get busy. In fact, they are so busy they can’t do anything but keep up with the influx of business. But an event comes along that triggers a slow down. It might be a change of season if you live in a resort town that depends on tourists. It may be the beginning of school if you are a high school senior grad photographer. Conversely, if you are an undergrad photographer, you are just ramping up for your busy season. So not all photographers have the same business peaks.
I hesitate to use the word “secret,” because it is so over-used, but here it is anyway: the secret to eliminating the rollercoaster ride of “high season/low season-itis” is to develop a promotion strategy.
As this is written, my studio would have finished our blitz campaign to nail down prom photography contracts, which we usually worked on from January through early March. We would be preparing for our Easter promotion, where we photographed children with lambs, bunnies, or baby chicks (depending on what my daughter felt like wrangling that season).
After that, we would be advertising our Spring Special.
After that, we would be advertising a High School Senior Reorder Special along with a 50% off all frames sale.
Then after that, our “Last Chance High School Senior Special.” This was for the kids that didn’t think they were going to graduate, but the principal stopped them in the hallway and said, “I don’t know how you did it, and I don’t care how you did it, but it looks like you’re going to make it after all and you won’t be my problem next year!”
Next was the Cap & Gown Portrait Special, which was then immediately followed by the “Photograph the Family Before They Go Off to College” Special. We were also selecting and photographing our Senior Ambassadors for the next crop of Seniors. These were our walking billboards. Some principals were [insert your choice of expletive here] and would prohibit our Ambassadors from handing out literature…but they couldn’t do a damn thing to keep the kids from showing their portfolio of portraits to all of their friends during study hall, lunch, and other breaks.
We did an Easter, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day portrait offer at the local Country Club every year. It didn’t hurt that I was a member. You mean I worked on Easter? Yep. It was just a couple of hours, and I normally saw about $4,000 for that couple of hours work. Then my wife and I would have our family come to the club for Easter Dinner. It was great.
After that, it was High School Senior Portrait time, along with the wedding season, and I worked 9 days a week. Well, at least it seemed like I did. That kept us at full speed until school started in September.
Now, our mornings and early afternoons were empty…for a little bit. We took a brief respite, then advertised our $9 session special: your high school senior portrait session was just $9…any one you wanted…just as long as you came in between 9 AM and 1 PM any weekday. That means Saturday was the regular price you betcha!
After the seniors slowed down, we did some nursery schools and some undergrad work. We did a fall special, a Halloween Special, and then it was time to advertise our Christmas Special. On a few Thanksgivings, I did family portraits for a few families who had far-flung families who hadn’t been together in a long time due to the distance. The $500 session fee made it worth it. Yes, I have photographed families on Christmas Day, same situation, different session fee: $750 (keep in mind this was quite a few years ago).
We took a few days break but we were busy after Christmas photographing families who were together at the Christmas break. On New Year’s Eve, I was back at, you guessed it, the Country Club, taking prom-type portraits for the crowd. We didn’t have to work too long. You had to make sure the portraits were taken while the guests were still able to stand for them.
This pretty much took us through January. We ran a copy and restoration special in February and March, and Gee, where did the time go? It was time to start all over again.
This worked smoothly. My local newspaper ad salesman got to the point where he didn’t ask me if I was GOING to run a special–he just called and asked if I wanted to use the same ad with the same picture for the same dates!
Now, of course, it’s not that simple to get started. But once you get started, it is a profit producing machine. And after all, aren’t we all doing Photography for Profit? Would you like to receive a FREE PDF* outline of how to do it? Just sign up for our notification list, and it will be on it’s way to you. Use your best email address; disposable email addresses will be, well, disposed of!
Until next time, may ALL of your photography be PHOTOGRAPHY4PROFIT!
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