When I was in middle school, I was very shy. So shy that I’d nearly throw up if I had to order a pizza on the phone, or ask someone for directions. I made my parents take my Girl Scout Cookies forms to work because I would never ever be brave enough to go door to door, even in the neighborhood. The idea of ever selling anything gave me hives. No way. No how.
Fast forward to 2011 when I opened my photography studio. I realized straight away that I was going to have to sell my work to people. That is, if I wanted my studio to be a business and not a very expensive hobby. Like everyone, I struggled with setting my pricing, figuring out what to offer and how to offer it. Those decisions were more difficult for me because I knew that when I’d decided, I’d have to put them into practice. BY SELLING STUFF.
I laugh at myself when I remember this, because over the past four years, I’ve come to love the sales process with my clients. How? Because I don’t sell to my clients, I serve them.
I approach every ordering appointment from wanting to fulfill my clients’ desires—even the ones they don’t yet know they have. I understand that the value of my products is not solely based on the product itself but the commissioned art inside. I’ve learned to suggest, not upsell. And I let my clients be grownups by letting go of worrying about how they’re spending their money.
You serve your clients by believing in the value of their commissioned art
When clients hire a photographer they expect to purchase prints, digital images, albums, canvases … you name it. Most people aren’t particularly fond of having their portraits made, and so they see it as a means to the end of actually having photographs they can look at. I know, crazy, huh?
My job in serving my clients is to create a product lineup that will fulfill my clients’ desires for how they want to display their photographs AND provide value equal to the price I put on those products.
When I first started, I used an inexpensive album vendor and felt guilty about what I charged for it. The photos inside were good, but I honestly worried about whether the album would hold up over time. I moved to my current vendors Finao and Floricolor (a sponsor of this website) and no more guilt. The products are gorgeous, archival and high-end … and worth every penny I spend to have them made and my clients spend to own them.
But the value of these products does not lie in the materials they’re crafted from. It lies in the commissioned portrait art that fills the album, or is printed on the 16×24 aluminum print. Once that idea settled into my head and heart, I began believing in the value of my work and stopped justifying my prices. (When people ask why my albums are “so expensive” my answer is they have commissioned custom artwork from me, and the albums display that artwork in a way that is not only beautiful but a lifelong investment. And guess what? They get it.)
Finally, I chose to invest in several samples of each product I offer. No one likes to purchase something sight unseen, especially when it’s a true investment piece. When you can show what you sell, you better serve your clients … and increase your revenue.
You serve your clients by suggesting
The word upsell makes me throw up in my mouth a little. It seems very self-serving, all about money in my pocket at the expense of my client. At the same time, I know if my clients only purchase my smallest album, I’m out of business in a few months. So it’s important that my revenue is increased by my clients purchasing more.
The distaste dissipates when I approach “upselling” from the standpoint of serving my clients. My job is to listen to their needs, wishes and desires, and then suggest products that meet them.
For example: last week, a client was ordering two 16×24 canvases for her bedroom, but couldn’t decide between two photos. I reminded her that I offer 10 percent off her canvas order when she purchases three or more. I simply suggested it (and then shut up). She was grateful that she didn’t have to choose and told me so. Did she spend more? Yep. Did I make more money? Yep. Is she really excited that she will have her three favorite photos hanging above her bed? Hell yes.
I often suggest:
- Adding images to her album when she’s “in between” the image counts I offer.
- Moving to the next-sized album if she’s looking at my small book.
- Purchasing something for the desk or the wall.
- Digital collections.
I know what to suggest to my clients because I come to understand her lifestyle and personality, how and where she lives, whether she has children or frequent visitors and her budget. If I know she has little kids, I’ll still suggest a piece of wall art for her bathroom, walk-in closet or other discrete place because I want her to own a piece of artwork she can see every day to remind her of her beauty, courage and sensuality. I know if her husband travels and she wants him to take an album with him, I’ll suggest my small album with more images rather than my medium book with fewer. By understanding her needs and desires, I can better serve her.
You serve your clients by believing in your own value
It took me a while to believe that my work was “worth” what I charge for it. Part of jumping that hurdle came from just having more experience creating boudoir portraits. Part of it came from hearing from clients about how much they valued my work. Yes, the lovely wedding-quality album is something to ooh and aah over, but the amazing photos of them inside it are the real treasure.
I had a breakthrough on this topic about a year into my business when a client told me that she would have paid double for the experience and album because of how it changed her attitude toward herself and her body. I was shocked. She’d spent $1300 with me including session fee and had been my biggest sale ever. Her comment got me thinking about the idea that I don’t just take pictures, I create commissioned art portraits. I serve women by showing them who they really are, which is a priceless thing. I saw my work and business with new eyes. I decided to start believing that I was worth it. And the effect on my revenue was immediate. When I was unsure about my own value, my clients felt that. When I became sure, my clients were even more sure of my value and began to purchase more artwork.
You serve your clients by letting them be grownups
The first time a client order spent $2000 on artwork, I experienced a mix of emotions. Yes, I wanted to do the happy chair-dance, but I was also overwhelmed by a feeling of guilt. My client paid with a credit card, which put her into debt. She had talked a bit about some hardships her family had gone through, and I made the assumption that money was a little tight. I imagined spending more than $2000 on boudoir photos myself and how I’d feel about it. I closed her purchase and felt a lump in my stomach for days afterward.
Getting over this sense of guilt took two things: First, I had to believe in the value of my own work. Then I had to hear this from a workshop leader:
How other people spend their money is none of your business.
Wow. That is a game changer. The leader said that when we get emotionally involved with how much money a client is investing in us to the point of judging them for spending it (or ourselves for accepting it), we are disallowing her from acting as a grownup who can make her own decisions. If a client chooses to go into debt, that is not my business nor mine to judge.
I still want to do the happy chair-dance when a client makes a large purchase, but I don’t think twice about what she is investing anymore as I swipe her credit card or set her up on a payment plan. Letting go of judgment about how my clients spend their own money is the single biggest factor in the doubling of my average sale in the past 18 months.
Learning all of this and changing my attitude about selling took away all of my fear and distaste for the process. Now, the ordering appointment ranks second to shooting in my favorite parts of my job.