If you sell prints, you’ve probably given some thought to portrait collections. And by “given some thought,” we mean you’ve probably spent hours tearing your hair out, calculating COGs, structuring and restructuring packages, crunching numbers, and generally remembering why you became a photographer rather than an accountant or math teacher.
The irony is, you probably won’t see a huge payoff for all that mental energy. In fact, the typical portrait collection -- a big ol’ canvas, a few 8x10s, and a handful of gift prints -- could actually be hurting your business. Many photographers sell some variation of that collection simply because it’s what everyone else does. But haphazard portrait collections can hamper your sales and cause you unnecessary headaches. Here are a few potential problems you should be aware of -- and simple steps you can take to avoid those pitfalls and make your collections work for you.
Pitfall #1: Collections aren’t tailor-made.
As custom photographers, we market ourselves as the alternative to one-size-fits-all photography. We promote our inimitable vision and our ability to capture each client’s unique personality. So why would we expect all of our clients to want the same exact configuration of images? What are the chances that a client in a cozy bungalow will want the same collection as a client with a grand two-story formal foyer? How many people mix canvas with framed prints in the same wall display? And what are the odds those wall prints will actually get framed?
Solution: Offer a simplified selection.
Rather than designing an arbitrary mix-and-match collection of products, show three or four easy-to-sell wall displays for clients to choose from. (Use our Inspire Guide: Wall Galleries for the most striking presentation and to give clients an easy way to preview their displays!) For each wall gallery, offer a price for all canvas, all prints, or all framed prints. Use decoy pricing to drive clients towards canvas and framed prints; they have an “heirloom” feel and will be the most likely to get displayed right away (which, in turn, will attract more clients).
Pitfall #2: It creates more work.
When you offer standardized portrait collections, you typically end up fielding requests from clients asking to tweak this or sub that or add this or remove that. Again, clients rarely have the same tastes or same needs, and it’s hard to convince someone to invest hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on something that’s not exactly what they want. Of course you can always make adjustments -- but each time you do, you have to dust off your calculator and present another option. And that takes time, becomes confusing to the client, and which brings down your hourly rate.
Solution: Cater to your clientele.
To minimize changes and substitutions, look back at last year’s order history and see what your most popular (and profitable) products and print sizes were. Use that as a guideline when building your collections. There may be a boutique product you absolutely love, but shoehorning it into a collection might deter clients from ordering that collection. Instead, order a sample, talk it up at your session, and offer it as an a la carte option. If it catches on, it can always be added to your deluxe collection!
Pitfall #3: The “money-off” mindset.
There’s a tendency to tout the amazing savings clients get by ordering a collection, but this can devalue your work. Say you create a collection that mixes prints and digital files -- low-COG, but high-value, thanks to the digital files. You promote it as “30% off a la carte prices!” Now your client wants to add a high-COG product, like an album or canvas. Are you prepared to match your 30% savings?
Solution: Change your wording.
Promote your products, not your discounts. Set a price for each collection, but instead of trying to frame them as a bargain, educate your clients about their investment. Let them know that wall displays will let them relive those happy memories every time they step into their living room. Suggest a collectible keepsake album of their favorite images, so they can share their memories with friends, family, and future grandkids. (Once they see how personal and tactile an album is, they’ll probably want to order one every time they book a session.) Instead of treating your collections as a math problem or sales gimmick, design them to be a true collection of your artwork -- and they’ll start to sell themselves.
So don’t shy away from collections; they are the perfect solution for guiding clients toward attractive galleries, boosting your bottom line and establishing yourself as the must-have photographer for custom portraiture.
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.