"I really need the disk. We want them all, and we want them on the DVD. We don't need anything else."
If you've heard it once, you've heard it one hundred times. Your first, maybe second interaction with a client and they have stated up front, the only thing they want are the files, not another thing.
You might charge $300 or $3,000, but if you are simply handing over all your files with no other products (tangibles), you are probably doing your business a huge disservice. Yet, over and over we have also heard from clients, "Once I had the images, I had no idea what to do with them. I uploaded them to a photo site so friends and family could print them, and I put some of Facebook, but after that, I was sort of stuck and did nothing." By providing your client with the option to do nothing, you are enabling them to put their images alongside old family snapshots in the proverbial shoebox... not displayed, not enjoyed, and certainly not providing a return on their investment. When clients are left to determine what to do with their images, you have essentially handed over the presentation of your art and provided absolutely no value add on top of the creation of the images.
It's a matter of return on investment... After listening to hundreds of not only photographers, but also clients, in most instances, we have found that clients are more likely to value, even LIKE, their images more, if they were provided to them in the form of a product (rather than just a digital file). When clients are provided with (i.e. they purchase) products, they are more likely to display them and "visit" them often (whether it be browsing through an album, or passing by a wall print). And because of this, they are more likely to appreciate both the investment they made in custom photography and their return, and invest in it again in the future. And while a client buying "all the files" might add up to a larger, one time, sale, as a small business owner who is creating a sustainable business, your goal should be to create a client base that understands your value, and will provide you with repeat sessions and a lasting relationship. Even if your client "loves them all," encouraging them to select products that showcase even just some, or maybe all, will ensure that your work, and their investment, does not end up at the bottom of a kitchen junk drawer or lost in a keepsake shoebox for eternity.
It's a matter of differentiation... To be successful in an industry that has extremely low barriers to entry and is doubling in size almost daily, you must be able to differentiate yourself. One of the major differentiators you can create between you and your competition is to provide add-on services other than just shooting the session (and burning it to a DVD). If you provide the value on the front end (i.e. impressive marketing materials, correspondence and pre-session consults), then you should be providing the same value once the session is complete (tangible products). Let's face it, any client can take a disk down to Walmart or Costco and make their own enlargements. With permission they can even create wall size canvases with your work to share on their walls. However, when their friends and family remark on the images (which you must hope have been printed to an acceptable standard) and they ask "Who did those for you?" are you comfortable with their response of "I printed them myself at Costco!" or would you rather have them say "We ordered them from our professional photographer." And if they can do them on their own, alongside their own personal snapshots, have you created any real value add or differentiation? And if they purchase no product, and you offer just the DVD, what is to differentiate you from the pop-up studio down the road who does the exact same thing for hundreds of dollars less? Walking away from clients by handing over a DVD is much like giving the bank teller your money, and hoping that they remember to deposit it.
A matter of planning and education... You probably know all of this, and while you might do it for the "ease" of transaction, you might also do it because how on earth do you convince your client that there is anything better than a DVD with "all the files?" It starts with planning and education. How are you engaging and educating your clients prior to the session? Are you simply scheduling time with them and hoping that it all works out for the best and you get a great order? Or do you discuss their intentions for the session? Photography is an investment. Ideally, before each session, you and your client discuss what sort of images they are looking for, and what they plan to DO with their images. You can talk "What to Wear" and "Where to Shoot," but it is almost a waste of everyone's time to blindly shoot without understanding their eventual image usage. If you understand what they are looking for, then you can focus on shooting for that... and ordering will be much more productive because the conversation will move from "I want them all on disk" to "That's the image we would like on canvas over our fireplace" or "These are the 8X10s we will need for the grandmother's." No doubt that clients may still want them "all" or at least files of the ones they ordered as products, but if you can provide your client with the guidance to DO something with their images, undoubtedly you have increased both your value-add and their return on the investment. And, you will probably be in business much longer too!
But they still want them all... Keep in mind that often your clients have not thought through the "What do I DO with my images?" question and so "all" just seems like the best alternative because it leaves all their options open. Having the pre-session consultation, and narrowing down their specific goals will allow you both to understand what the absolute "must have" images will be. From there, you have simplified specific aspects of the ordering session, and even should the client purchase digital images, they also understand what, in addition, they will be purchasing prior to even shooting the session. This helps you both set realistic expectations about their budget and their plans. It might also be worth pointing out that it is impossible to know what "all" looks like prior to even shooting the session. We know as a professional, you will deliver a gallery that is consistent with the work you showcase in your portfolio (and you should be able to show clients multiple example galleries). However, we also know that things happen and there are so many uncontrollable factors: light/weather, how is the baby/child/family is feeling, stress and other dynamics that could drastically reduce the length of the session. So "all" might not be 50 images that have both range and redundancy, but might be 20-30 images that meet their goals of the session. There may be images that are worthy of significant enlargement, as well as filing the gift albums for grandma, but "all" isn't really necessary. Or the opposite could be true where every image is spectacular and the client can fill their immediate goals, and then much much more. But attempting to define "all" prior to the session is not always productive. We understand, if it works for your pricing model, and you can achieve profitability and make a smart business decision, you might sell them all. But do so at a high premium, and structure your offerings so that when they get them "all" they get something tangible as well. Remember these important points (which are included in our Essential Pricing Guide for Portrait Photographers):
• If you are going to sell your digital files, charge a premium (at least 2-3 times your product sales goal) in order to keep your studio viable
• Unless your client truly values their worth, "the Disk" is very likely lay around in a desk drawer
• Be scalable, don't make "all" your easiest package to purchase, otherwise you will never have the opportunity to provide your clients with the specialty products and value-adds that differentiate you from every new "Photographer" in town
• It is possible to create packages that meet both the digital needs of your clients and your studio product goals We understand that in this "digital age" our clients can become focused on only that. However, our job as professionals is to continue to raise the standards of our industry and provide our clients with takeaways that can be held in their hands and placed on their shelves and walls as well as digitally archived. And that "ease" of digital is not always the best way to sustain a profitable business for the long term. And we also understand that determining exactly how to value products versus digital images can be confusing, and that you want to be all things to every client.
It is for these reasons that Design Aglow continues to share industry insights with respect to both artistry AND business, and has created valuable education tools such as "Essential Pricing Guide for Portrait Photographers" to help you navigate these challenging topics and guide your business in a smart, and successful, direction.
~ The F Stops Here is an exclusive collection of articles by Design Aglow, designed to be used and shared by photographers. Look for this column twice monthly here on the Design Aglow Blog and feel free to grab & share on your site, blog and/or social media pages with a byline and link to DesignAglow.com.
From a very early age I loved taking pictures and looking at them in magazines and books, but the art of photography captured my heart when I was a teenager, on my first overseas trip to Wales. From that point, I began shooting with a little film SLR and having my friend model for me. In college I took some digital photography and visual communication courses as part of my communication studies major, and decided to pursue a career in photography. I became a legal business and took my first paid client at age 20, and it's been quite a journey and adventure over the past nine years.
I secretly bought a mail-order 35mm camera when I was 15, and took lots of ordinary photos of animals and nature for several years. Although I majored in art and studied photography in college, my career started in marketing and advertising, from the client service end. Then I had the most beautiful baby, found my old camera and realized how much I love photographing people.