Photography Marketing & Selling Secret #19: Portrait Policies For Profit

If You Run Your Business With The Correct Policies, You'll Be Running To The Bank To Make Big Deposits!

If You Run Your Business With The Correct Policies, You'll Be Running To The Bank To Make Big Deposits!

Question: Are you running your photo business, or is it running you – and how’s it working for you?

One of the biggest mistakes I see photographers around the world making is they don’t have very specific, carefully determined policies which they adhere to – no matter what, regarding the running of their photography business.

In my opinion, here’s the top 9 most important policies for the portrait end of your business:

1.  No photography will be done without a Pre-portrait Interview.  Period.  No exceptions.  Why?  Because this interview is a critical part of the “System” for making your studio extremely profitable.  In this interview, you inform them of your policies, prices, etc. and collect the Pre-Paid Creation Fee (see below.)  This is also where you let them know, in a very positive, enthusiastic way, that your Originals don’t leave the studio, and aren’t posted online (see below,) and that you project the images for them, about a weak or two after the session.

2.  No photography will be done without a Prepaid Creation Fee, paid in ADVANCE of the day of the session.  And, the Creation Fee does NOT ….  go toward the finished  photographs.  This is important because you want your clients to be fine with paying you for your time and talent.  If they are willing to give you a Creation Fee, that does not go towards the purchasing of the images, but only covers the time involved in planning and creating them, then they are probably going to be good clients to work with, because they understand that you are a creative artist, and that your time & talent are valuable.

3.  The Originals never leave the studio.  No exceptions. No paper Originals are printed. No “thumbnails.” No CD of the images for them to take home & make their decisions. In this day and age, you just CAN’T allow this.  If you do allow this, you might as well take out a gun, and shoot yourself in your shutter hand, because you are KILLING your chances for good sales and profits.  (See #8 below.)

4.  50% minimum paid before printing the portrait order.  And everything is paid in full before leaving the studio – no “partial order pickup” or any other arrangements.  Back before I knew any better, I was so excited to get a decent sale, that I often would be afraid to ask for payment, thinking it would kill the sale.  So I’d go ahead with the order before having AT LEAST 50%.  Then, the client would end up never picking the order up, or wanting to only pick up part of it, and I had lost not only the sale, but I had lost the printing costs, too!  The same goes for when the client picks up the finished portraits.  Never, ever let ANYTHING leave your studio that isn’t paid for in full, and be sure the entire order is paid for before any part of it may be picked up. 

Now, I do have a few students who are having good success with a payment plan for their clients.  I feel this is okay, as long as you do it with a credit card.  The client gives you the credit card number, etc. and gives you permission to charge a certain amount each month, until the balance is paid off.  But, in my opinion, you still don’t want to order the photographs to be printed, until you have collected at least 50%.

5.  Never give away free photographs.  I don’t care how much the client invests with you, you do not give away free photos.  You can discount them, under special circumstances, if you like, but you don’t give them away for free.  This also goes for your marketing.  For example, many photographers, who don’t know any better, give away free wallet portraits for seniors, if they book by a certain date.  I don’t recommend this.  What this does, psychologically, is decrease the perceived value of their photography, and dramatically hurt the total average sale in the end. 

6.  No nights or weekend appointments.  This is a real Life and Family killer!  As a professional, it’s vitally important that you “train” your clients how to treat you.  If you are available any time of the day or night, any day of the week, etc. this trains them that your time is not valuable to you, and that they can get you to do anything for them.  The result is they don’t show up for appointments, or they show up late, and they have little or no value for you or your time and talent (and thus your product and service.)  The clients are running you, and you are out of control.

On the other hand, if you are available only certain hours, and certain days, and if you are extremely busy and booked up, and you stick to this, then this sends an entirely different message to your prospects and clients.  It says your time is valuable.  It says you are successful, busy, and in great demand.  People want to work with people who are successful.  Thus, they will modify their schedule in order to work with you.  (Yes, there are exceptions from time to time when the lighting requires you to create the images at sunset, etc., but other than this, you don’t work evenings.)

7.  Never mail out price lists (or publish them on-line!)  Never, ever mail out or publish on-line, your prices.  It’s just not smart, and it usually sends business away if your prices are high enough for you to make a living.  Or, sending out your prices attracts business to you for the wrong reason, if your prices are extremely low.

8. No images published on line.  I can’t stress this enough.  Any time you let your images leave your studio, whether physically, or on-line, you hurt yourself in many ways.  Just because we can do it, doesn’t mean you should do it.  The technology can hurt you so easily.  Remember this always:  People invest in photography for emotional reasons.  And the point of highest emotion is the first time your clients see the images.  Therefore, you must be with them at this moment, and help them to become happily involved with your images, right then and there.  To do otherwise is business suicide for the photographer.

9.  Always project your images.  Never show your client anything smaller than a 30×40 to start – and preferably a 40×50 or 40×60.  We know that the first image a client receives of her photographs is the lasting image.  It’s a proven law of sales.  Therefore, every time you break this law of projection, you suffer the consequences.

This is the single most important business decision of your career – how you present your images to your clients.  This one decision will determine, all by itself, where you live in your community;  where your children go to school; what kind of car you drive; how many vacations you take; and how much fancy photo equipment you own. 

If you will set these nine above policies as THE WAY you run your business, you will sleep better at night, and you will earn more, much more money, on less, much less work.

All the best,

Charles J. Lewis

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Creativity International / Charles Lewis Photography PO Box 848, Ada, MI 49301 | 616-868-0373