Photography4Profit

Use your camera & photographs to earn cash

Tag: income

PROFIT: Keep the Peaks, Lose the Valleys

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.

Profit: Keep The Peaks

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!

 

*offer may be withdrawn without notice at any time

Do You Know Who Your Customer Is?

Now, I just KNOW there is more than one of you out there thinking, “What a stupid question!  Of COURSE I know who my customer is: anyone with cash, credit card, or a checking account!”  Well, okay, I had that coming.  But I think you know what I meant.

By not identifying your target customer, you really don’t know how to reach them.  You risk being one of the 3 out of 5 photographers who start a business and then close it just 3 years later.  By identifying the type of customer you want in front of your lens, you can be a focused beam of light, targeting the customer you want–and avoiding the customer who does not want the type of photography you do.

Here’s a real life example: at one of our regular meetings with Lisle Ramsey, one of his clients told him they were having problems getting customers.  So Lisle asked how they were advertising.  Turns out that they were using ads in programs for school plays, grocery store receipt tapes, and on service club calendars.  Lisle asked the photographer, “What type of photography are you hoping to do?”

The photographer answered, “My passion is creating Illustrative Portraits…I just can’t get enough customers in front of my lens to pay the bills.”

Make Sure Your Advertising Message Reaches Your Target Customer

Lisle said he could help with that.  “First, stop the service club calendars and school play adverts. Very few, if ANY, of the people who see those are interested in what you do.  They are simply a donation.  Advertising on grocery store receipts may have its place, but not here!  Now, do you have any landscape photographs or avant garde portraiture?”  The photographer had those plus some very dramatic black and white images.

“Good–those will get you in the door of the places I want you to visit.  Make sure you have releases for the portrait subjects.  If you need new prints, get the negatives to our lab and I’ll have them printed ASAP.  We’ll give you the studio sample discount.  Next, go to your local art galleries and ask for a showing.  The gallery owner will receive a commission on your sales, but it will be worth it. If the art gallery says no, then visit your local museums–they LOVE events like this!  If that cannot be arranged, check with a local college.   Set the date 5-6 weeks from now.

“To advertise this display, call a list company and ask them to break out a list in your immediate market by zip codes.  You want people with college degrees, an income of $50,000 or higher between the ages of 28 and 55.  At the same time, if you can obtain the list of the members of your local Country Club and art societies, by all means do so.

“While you are waiting for your list to be delivered, design a four color card.  Use three of your very best images showing the photography you want to do.  The only words on the front should be ‘A Personal Invitation’ in Palace Script and your logo.  On the back, announce this event with time/place/date.  Tell the printer to print 500-1,000 EXTRA cards without printing on the back for use later.  Inform the recipients you are unveiling a NEW type of photography.  You would appreciate it if they would come and give their opinion (people LOVE to give their opinion).  Keep it brief and to the point.  Finally, mail the cards at LEAST 10 days before the event.  If you do not have the time or staff to do this in house, farm it out to a mailing company.

Use The Event To Make Yourself Known To Your Target Customer

“At the event, have cheese and wine, and coffee and tea in a silver service for those that don’t partake.  Display your portrait on an easel with a card that lets people know that you are the artist.  Dress appropriately.  Yes, I know…you’re an artist.  That does NOT mean you have to dress like you are eccentric or living in a hovel.  Mingle and talk to as many people as possible, introducing yourself as the artist and ask how they like what they see.  Be prepared to hear some negative comments–not everyone will love what you do and that’s okay.

“At the same time, have a female employee (they are less intimidating than males) dressed in an evening gown go through the crowd with a guest book.  Don’t just leave it on a table–it won’t get signed. As she obtains this information, have her ask what they think of the images they see.  Any person who is especially complimentary or makes a comment such as, ‘I would LOVE one of _________ on the wall of my living room!’ should have a small identifying mark placed next to their name.

“A few days (not a week!) after this event, follow up with a handwritten thank you card to those who attended.  Three days after you have mailed the cards, CALL and thank them.  At this time, you will explain that you are developing a new style of photography and you are looking for subjects. Tell them that you will provide them with a complimentary (NOT “free”) portrait session.

“Finally, let them know that just for taking part in this program, you will provide a  Miniature Masterpiece in exchange for their signed model release.  Of course, there is no obligation to make any additional purchase…but if they are so inclined, special prices will be available for 30 days.  At the time of viewing the portrait studies, inform these clients that you will be having an in-studio display, and they can purchase any portrait size 16×20 or larger at 50% of your regular studio price in exchange for allowing you to display them for 30 days.”

At Our Next Meeting, I Was Curious About The Results

At our next meeting in St. Louis, I asked the photographer how the promotion went.  “It was fantastic!  I had more portrait sessions that month than I had the previous three months combined!” he explained.  “I followed that up with displays at one of the local Country Clubs, one of our local colleges in the Art Department, and two at upscale women’s clothing stores.  I am booked solid for the next 2 months (keep in mind that for this photographer a full day was 2 sessions due to the amount of time each session involved).  Even better, my customer list has over two dozen new additions!

“The best thing?  My reputation has soared.  Every time my spouse goes shopping and uses the credit card, the clerk checks the name and asks, ‘Are you married to the photographer who makes those beautiful photographs?’  I’m finally doing the photography I want to do: no more sports teams, no more Communions, and no more weddings unless I get a couple who wants my Illustrative Portraiture.”

I Wanted To Make Sure MY Target Customer Didn’t Forget Me!

Now, this was around 1997 (back when we were using film).  I adapted this method for my studio when I wanted to introduce a style of photography similar to Kim Anderson’s.  For those of you who don’t know who Kim Anderson is, he is the photographer who puts all of those photographs of children dressed in old time adult clothing with a hand tinted look on calendars and other items.

Living in a very small town, I didn’t have the option of having an art gallery.  The local museum was interested, but they couldn’t fit MY schedule into their schedule.  No problem!  I just advertised it as an “upcoming display” (I ended up having a display at a local shopping center).  I used the Lisle Ramsey “Call-Mail-Call” technique.   First, I had my studio manager (my daughter, Angie) create a target list of customers with children.  Next, she and I split the list and called each customer.  We asked them to watch for an important announcement in the mail.  Then we mailed the invitations.  Some called and made appointments immediately.  Angie then called each customer who had NOT made an appointment.  While most did not set an appointment, quite a few did.

The customer was instructed to bring the correct clothing and any props. Of course, we coached them on that.  By using customer props it prevented repetition in the portraits from one session to the next, and I didn’t have to purchase any additional items!  For participating, I offered a complimentary portrait session.  I offered 50% off any portrait purchase 16×20 and larger.  I also offered a 25% discount on any gift size portraits IF they purchased a wall portrait.  No wall portrait purchase–no discount.

I did NOT offer the Miniature Masterpiece free as an inducement.  In my area, too many people took a free portrait and ran.  The Miniature Masterpiece was a product from Lisle Ramsey’s lab: it was a 4×5 on a canvas panel, and was very low in cost.  From time to time, we offered this as a bonus for booking an appointment during a slow period or as “a little something extra” thrown in with an above average portrait order.

This promotion hit ALL of my targets.  I had just moved to a home studio in a nearby village.  Even though at that time I had been in business for over 25 years, I was concerned about being “forgotten.”  This special introduced us to new customers, reintroduced us to some old customers, and let the general public know we hadn’t closed. Oh yes, I almost forgot…it also introduced our checking account to some of our favorite Dead Presidents!

What You Can Expect

Normally, when you run a special such as this your results will be as follows:

  • One third will buy nothing,
  • One third will place a nominal order, and
  • One third would buy your car if you offered to sell it to them!

Now that we are living in a digital world, this type of promotion is SO much easier.  It can be advertised by email and social media, and sample prints are delivered in a matter of days instead of weeks.

Something like this does more than just bring you more income.  It builds your brand in your community.  It gets you out of your comfort zone and gives you a fresh perspective on your photography.   More importantly, it brings you a new customer or two (and many of these new customers may not have even considered you before this).

If you would like some Photoshop actions that can help you create unique images, you may want to check out these great deals from DealFuel: PS ACTIONS and PS EFFECTS.  I use these myself!  Would you like to know how these images were lit and modified in Photoshop?

Send me an email using your BEST email address to steve@bohne.com with the words LIGHTING in the subject line, I will send you a PDF file explaining it in detail at NO COST*.  That’s right, absolutely free.  And you don’t have to worry about me spamming you or selling/renting/loaning/or giving away your email address.  I hate spam just as much as you do!  Besides, I don’t have enough spare time to mail you a bunch of junk.

So, know you want to do, know who your customer is, know where you can find the customer you want to serve, and YOU will be on your way to doing MORE Photography4Profit!

Until next time, may all of your shadows read 7 and all of your highlights read 245!

*This offer may be discontinued without prior notice.

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