Or, How to Do Things Your Customers Will Love
People are always asking me what are some of the ways, in the portrait market, I close a sale and bring in revenue. Before I even begin to speak about one of my favorite, tried and true methods, let me say I hope NO ONE is still using paper proofs. Not only are they so last decade, they are also detrimental to your bottom line. They’re there, already printed and so tempting for people to want to take home and ‘think about’ (translation: scan). Also, they can encourage clients to devalue your work, because well….there they are, in those convenient little sizes that just seem so…….cheap. And you’re not going to do anything with these anyway, so why can’t I take them home with me????
And now a word about online proofing. If you are not already limiting the time these galleries remain up, you are losing revenue. When a customer first lays eyes on their proofs, they are totally excited. They want to run right out and share those images with everyone they know and love, from their sister to the guy behind the counter at the post office. Each time they look at these images, they get their ‘use’ out of them. If they’ve had the ‘privilege’ of looking at them for months on end, with no price of admission, they’ve gotten their FULL use out of them. All of their friends and family have seen them and the excitement is g-o-n-e. By the time they come in to order, all those images they couldn’t live without, have been narrowed down to two 5 x 7s. I kid you not. I have seen this happen time and again. It doesn’t matter whether I put up a gallery for 30 days or 90 days – the orders ALWAYS come in days before the deadline, if not on the very last day. The longer the gallery is up, the smaller the orders.
Back to the topic at hand – how to increase your bottom line. Under promise and over deliver. One of the ways I have done that is to create a collage for my customers BEFORE they come in to view their proofs and place their order. I realize after many years of being in business, that most of my customers want most, if not all, of the images. So I sit down with all of the images from a given shoot and come up with a collage and print it off on my printer, just for a quick and dirty example to have in my hand to show them. I have not had one single customer walk away without this collage. Sometimes a few changes are made, substituting one or two images they like better, but each customer orders one of these collages.
There are as many different types of customers as there are personality types. I won’t go into all that, but I will say that MOST customers often feel overwhelmed, when presented with a large array of stunning images of themselves and/or their families. I have come to understand that we do them a disservice when we just throw all of the images at them and expect them to know what to do. They are usually not photographers, visual artists or designers and simply don’t have the experience or confidence to envision the possibilities for their photographs. When we create some parameters for them, they are usually grateful and happy to fill in the blanks. What we are offering them is a valuable service, as well as taking care of them. People will return to even a mediocre photographer if they feel taken care of. Trust me, if we all had to have talent to make it, none of us would know who Posh Spice is.
When designing collages, it is helpful to have a ‘standard’ format. For example, I decided I would offer a standard size of 16 x 20 inches mounted on heavy matboard with a total of nine images. This is the largest ‘standard’ sized frame you can easily purchase ready made and the matboard prevents sagging and wrinkling. When I first began, I cropped the images square and arranged them into three rows of three. That was fantastic for one or two subjects, but quite tricky for groups. So I started playing around with other shapes and sizes. I strive for a certain symmetry, just to make things easy and not drive myself too INSANE with choices. I am a Gemini and do have a hard time choosing, so I find it helpful to set some ground rules for myself. See? And we expect our customers to design something? It is really surprising how many different looks you can achieve within fairly narrow parameters.
Pricing can be made very attractive, keeping in mind you do have a certain amount of work involved in producing a collage. Occasionally I will feature one image, usually the center piece, as large as a 5 x 7, and the rest are usually either 4 x 5, 3.5 x 5 or 4.5 x 4.5 inches. Add up what you would typically charge for nine different 5 x 7s (the smallest size I would advise selling) and then discount it slightly. Talking points for your customers:
- They receive nine distinctive images
- They have a great visual ‘story’ that will make them smile for years to come
- It does not have to be ‘custom’ framed or matted – can be dropped into ready made frame
- Because it has already been produced, they can receive multiples at a reduced price as gifts for grandparents (and that means NO substitutions – otherwise you’re reworking it)
For those of you who no longer offer prints, this is still a good idea. Simply go ahead and create it and either upload it to their proof gallery or project it in your presentation room. Charge a design fee for this to be included on their CD/DVD.