The F-Stops Here: How to (Not) Bomb an Ordering Session

Do you feel like your images are stellar, but your sales are lackluster? Maybe you’ve heard mythical legends of four-digit portrait sales from other photographers; meanwhile, you’re nudging clients for weeks while they drag their heels and ultimately end up ordering a handful of small prints. It’s easy to feel discouraged, but chances are, you just need to rethink your sales technique. Here are a few common mistakes that can stifle sales -- and how to overcome them.

Mistake #1: Be vague about pricing.

If you simply say, “Sessions start at $150,” clients may assume they can get out the door with a handful of prints for around $200, which means you could both be in for an unhappy surprise. True, a savvy salesperson can convince a client to stretch their budget a bit -- but stretching and quadrupling are two very different things. Rather than relying on a back-end miracle, be upfront about your pricing. If you don’t want to post your price list, at least share the typical total investment range. It’ll weed out clients who can’t afford you, for your sake and theirs.

Mistake #2: Be sales-phobic.

Ignoring the business-y part of your business is a surefire way to leave money on the table, so you need to get comfortable with selling your work. Don’t worry, you won’t suddenly morph into a pushy used car salesman. You’re simply using your vision and expertise to guide your clients into choosing the images and products that will look best in their homes. That’s not so bad, right?

Mistake #3: Play it too cool.

We’ve all run into an ego-tripping photographer or two, and yeah, it’s annoying. But don’t swing so far in the opposite direction that your humility hampers your sales. You need to get clients excited about their images. You’re not just snapping the requisite annual portrait -- you’re capturing the story of their family at this moment in time. Talk up the value of your images, and encourage them to share the full story with a stunning canvas wall gallery or a heirloom album they can keep for years to come.

Mistake #4: Never venture offline.

Online ordering is convenient for your clients, and proofing websites can make the process completely automated on your end. So it’s tempting to shy away from the extra effort of in-person sales. But consider this: You probably spend up to 10 hours prepping, traveling, shooting, and editing each portrait session. By spending another two hours on an in-person ordering session, you could easily double (or triple) your final sale. (Just ask any photographer who swears by it!) That’s a 100 percent increase in sales for only 20 percent more effort. It’s worth carving out the time. Plus, you will only have to shoot half the amount of sessions for the same, or more, profit. Smart, right?

Mistake #5: Be super duper flexible.

In-person sales don’t work for everyone -- if you’re still holding down a day job, or your client works crazy hours, or there are a few hundred miles between you, online sales can be the only solution. But if you’re constantly bending policies and extending deadlines, your online sales can fall flat. Here are a few ways to make the most of online orders:
  • Leave images online for a very limited time. If you keep galleries up for 30 days, clients may get their fill of the images before they ever click the “checkout” button.
  • Share sneak peeks sparingly. They can dampen the anticipation. If possible, let the ordering session be their first glimpse at their photos.  
  • Set a reorder minimum to keep small orders from trickling in.
  • Let them know your archiving policies. How much will it cost to repost an expired gallery? How soon do you purge unpurchased images?
  • Offer an incentive if they order within the first 48 or 72 hours, such as a gift 8x10 desk print. It only costs you a small amount but has a big value to your client.

Mistake #6: Go with the flow.

Don’t just react to snags when they happen -- be proactive! Use smart design templates to create sample layouts, and suggest irresistible products that would look fantastic in their home. If you are doing in-person sales, make sure the financial decision-maker will be present. If you’re sending an online gallery, make sure the family isn’t on a week-long cruise. And put your policies in writing before clients book, so you don’t feel weird about enforcing them later.

Mistake #7: Don’t bother with samples.

Want your clients to invest in an album? Let them flip through a gorgeous sample album and see how it shows off your images and the story they tell. Want to sell them a huge canvas? Hold an 11x14 canvas and a 20x30 canvas over the sofa, so they can see how much more appropriate the larger size looks. Just one sale will recoup the cost of your samples, and it gives clients a true sense of what they’re buying.

Mistake #8: Don’t be a closer.

There’s a saying in sales: Always be closing. In other words, everything you do should have the ultimate goal of selling your products. This may have slimy connotations (thanks, Glengarry Glen Ross!) but it’s actually an important part of the luxury service you provide. Think about it: If you splurged on a salon haircut, would you want to blow-dry your own hair? Probably not. You wouldn’t think twice about helping your client choose a location or plan their outfits, so why balk at the idea of helping them complete their order? You want to serve your clients from start to finish, and the ordering session is the finishing touch.

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