With all the Internet’s photography product vendors at your fingertips, which prints and wraps and wall clings are the right ones for you to sell?
All of them!
And none of them!
Okay, okay, I swear I’m not trying to cheat here.
PTP reader Chase G. told me he was having trouble deciding what of the plethora of photography products he should offer to his clients. Between just the big boys – Miller’s, White House Custom Color, and the dozen other labs that advertise in photography magazines – there has to be hundreds of product options for photographers to sell to their clients.
When we talk about products like this – print sizes, coatings, frames – my mind immediately goes to the laminated price sheet so many photographers hand their clients during a sales session and then say, “What do you want?”
“What do you want?” is a great question to ask.
But you should have asked it two weeks ago.
You should have asked it as part of your very first discussion with your client.
It can be hard to steer the conversation that way initially – almost always, the first words out of a potential client’s mouth are, “What do you charge?” Or even more fun, “What do you charge for an 8×10?”
Bless their hearts, the vast majority of your market has no idea what they want. They have an inkling of what they think they’re supposed to want, but as my friend and fellow photographer Jessica says, they don’t know what they don’t know.
No more than I knew what I really wanted or the questions I should have asked the first time I walked into an Indian restaurant, a bubble tea lounge, a car dealership, or a swinger’s club.
Okay, I’ve never been to a swinger’s club, but I’ve drifted into some bars that surely left me wondering about the patronage.
But I digress!
When a client asks, “What do you charge for an 8×10?”, they aren’t really asking what you charge for an 8×10. They are, in the most ego-protecting way they know how, telling you they are lost souls in need of a gentle guiding hand.
And honestly, that’s your job. That’s why they’re willing to pay you – not just for your talents behind the camera, but to be their go-to expert for all things photography.
You need to be a photographer. You need to be a consultant. You need to be a social media guru. You need to be an interior decorator. You need to be a tech support dude or dudette. You need to be a psychologist. You need to be a teacher.
Want to earn clients for life?
You need to be a friend.
You need to be that friend who is better versed in photography than anyone they know, and always gives the best advice – who to work with, what kind of wardrobe to wear, what the photos should look like, what to buy, where to hang it or upload it, how to get the most out of their professional photography experience.
How do you do that?
Throw out your price sheet
There are three levels of sales experience:
- Purely passive. You let the client lead the whole experience, ask all the questions, and make all the decisions.
- Passive aggressive. You hand the client a price sheet and say, effectively, “Here, I’ll give you this much – now you do all the work. I have very little confidence in my own understanding of what I sell, I’ve never even seen most of these products in person, and I’m nervous, and oh gosh why didn’t I just upload the photos to SmugMug and let you order from there?”
- Compassionate. You start with, “What do you want?”, and you take the time to listen, ask more questions, understand, and apply your expertise to help your client get the most out of their experience with you.
It’s the difference between the McDonald’s clerk who asks, “Do you want fries with that?”, and the waiter who can ask you three questions to give you a perfectly suggested meal from the menu, down to the sides and specific preparation. And when you take that first bite, you never could have dreamed how much you’d love queso on your chicken fried steak (a revelation I experienced just last week at Lulu’s in San Antonio).
Guess which level I’d suggest you aspire to?
It’s hard, I understand – especially if you haven’t done it several times before, it’s hard to sit down with a client, show them your art, and then rely wholly on your compassion to guide them down the path to the perfect photography order.
That order can look like anything. Some clients will want a lot of small prints. Some will want big wall hangings. Some will want frames, some will want wraps. A whole lot will want digital. And even then, what can they do with those files on CD after you hand it to them?
What would a friend do?
What would a part time professional photographer do?
Know your products.
Don’t talk out your arse.
If you’re able, experience a given product first-hand before you try to sell it (have you ever seen a Wall Cling in the wild?).
Barring this, at the least call your lab and visit with them about the products you want to know more about – most pro labs are exceptional at this, because it’s in their best interest for you to be better able to sell their products. Ask if they can send you a sample package, or offer a studio sample discount. Ask if they will be at any trade shows in your state this year.
Be an advocate on behalf of your clients – do the research before you try to sell them something you have no experience with.
Picking your products to sell
The first step is to know what products are out there.
The second is to research, experience, and ask lots of questions about those products, so that you’re best able to match your clients’ needs with the options out there.
The third step is to introspect.
What do you like?
How do you experience photography?
What’s hanging on your walls?
What’s your computer desktop wallpaper?
What photos of your family are you sharing on Facebook?
Do you like digital or prints? Framed wall hangings or gallery wraps?
It’s important to understand that, as an artist and a business owner, you’re going to mostly draw in clients who are a lot like you (if you’re marketing yourself authentically).
When a client asks me, “What do you charge?”, I surely tell them – and then I ask, “What kind of shoot are you looking for?” … “What kind of look are you going for?” … “What do you want to end up with after the shoot – files to share on Facebook? Prints to send to relatives? Prints to hang on the walls?”
Over half my “selling” is done before the end of my first conversation with a client. If I’m doing my job, I should have a very good idea of what my client wants to end up with, both artistically and tangibly.
I’m a big digital fan – I love sharing photos on Facebook. I love the Likes and the comments from friends and family when I post a new photo of my kids or wife. I love flipping back through all the photos I’ve posted and seeing how much the kids have grown, and remembering our great life experiences together.
In my home, I love big gallery wraps. I love the pride and joy I feel when I look at the beautiful faces of my kids on those wraps. I love how often I look up from the living room couch, see those wraps, ever present, and smile. I’ll often stop in the hallway to study the wraps hanging there, just admiring my family, and being grateful for them.
For me, for James Taylor, these are the two primary ways I experience and enjoy professional photography. I would never buy an 8×10 – too awkward, takes up table space, too small to hang for me. I would never buy a framed portrait – too stuffy, too expensive; get that ornate carved wood pretentiousness out of here. I would never buy a coffee mug or mouse pad with my kids’ faces on it – that’s just silly.
But that’s just me.
I can’t tell you how many 8×10’s, framed portraits, coffee mugs and mouse pads I’ve sold over the last 14 years.
But those don’t make up the majority of my sales – not even close.
Know what does?
Digital files, mostly for sharing on Facebook.
And gallery wraps for the home.
Your personality shows in your art. It shows in how you conduct your business. It shows in your marketing, in your smile and handshake, in your business card, and how you carry yourself with a camera. It shows in every decision you make about your camera, your post processing, your sales session, all of it.
It makes sense then that the people you shoot are quite often going to be a lot like you. Not all of them, not even close, but the majority will have the same sensibilities you do.
Sell products that you love.
Sell products that excite you.
Be well-researched about as many other photography products as you can be, even if you would never buy them yourself.
Know what you charge for the products you offer, especially the ones you plan to recommend to a given client. You should have a good understanding of what your favorite vendors charge for most common products, so you can make up a price on the spot if a client throws you a curve ball. Don’t worry about getting it wrong – you can’t get it wrong, you are in charge!
Your job as a salesperson – as a friend – is to connect the dots between what your clients want, what their budget is to that end, and which products will give them the most long-term enjoyment of the art you’ve created for them.
This is another one of those ways to out-do your competition without spending a dime. It’s another way to create value for your clients out of thin air, and give them a great experience they can’t find elsewhere.
- Do your research. Visit your preferred lab(s) online or in person and study their product offerings. Recognize that what they’re pushing may not be what your clients want, or what you want to sell. Find products you love, study them, call the lab and ask questions about them. Request samples. Study the costs. Get an idea in your head of what you feel you should charge (4x to 5x cost for most products, excluding inexpensive prints). Learn everything you can about a variety of photography products so you can be an educated advocate on behalf of your clients.
- Put a shout-out on Facebook to your friends and ask them to tell you what their professional photography experiences have been, and what they ended up buying. If you have a nice following of fans for your business, post a contest asking folks to upload and tag you in a photo of how they enjoy their family portraits – as wall hangings, desk frames, wallets, even a picture of their Facebook photo album. Pick a random winner for a free photo shoot, and enjoy the fruits of both good market research and a new family to add to your portfolio.
- Brainstorm session: Get out your pen and paper, and make a Pro-Con sheet for all the photography products you can think of off the top of your head. Write down every Pro and Con you can think of for every product you can remember. Be extensive. Think realistically how people view, interact with, and enjoy (or don’t enjoy) every product on your list, and write those thoughts down. This will let you really put into words what you like and don’t like about all the products your clients could want, and it gives you an easy list of talking points for those products. File this away in your Brainstorms folder.
- My writing at PartTimePhoto.com exists to serve your needs as an amateur photographer making the transition to paid professional. I appreciate and welcome your readership, and invite you to subscribe to my e-mail newsletter at the top of any page of this site.
- If anything in this post has spoken to and inspired you, please comment below, drop me an e-mail, or call or text me at 830-688-1564 and let me know. I’d love to hear how you use these ideas to better your part time photography business!
- What should I charge for my part time photography? – Your First Customer Series, Part 3
- How to prepare for your first photography client’s call – Your First Customer Series, Part 5
- Debate: Is longevity the selling point for photography studio prints (and their prices)?
- You’re going to get screwed doing part time photography
- How to earn lifetime photography customers with the perfect follow-up – Your First Customer Series, Part 10