Your first photo proofing and sales session – Your First Customer Series, Part 9

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on April 3, 2010

in This is Business

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(Click here to visit the summary post for the Your First Customer Series!)

Home stretch folks! With this article on the photo proofing and sales session, we focus on the second-to-last article in the Your First Customer Series.

If you’re an ethical and honest businessperson, trust me when I say that showing and selling your photos is far less stressful than most beginning professional photographers believe it to be.

You don’t have to dress things up or make your art out to be something it’s not; you don’t have to hard sell or upsell or practice salesman chicanery; you don’t have to do anything that makes you squirm in your seat or leaves you reaching for the Pepto-Bismol.

Your goal when proofing photos for clients and “selling” them files, prints, and products, is simple and noble: do everything within your power to help your client get the most long-term enjoyment possible while staying within their budget.

You don’t have to try and convince your client to buy something they don’t want, but you do want to expose them to options they may not have considered.

For example, I always tell my clients…

“I’m a crappy salesman, I’ll tell you that from the start. I have no interest in selling you something you don’t want. I want to make sure you end up with something you and your family can enjoy for years and years. Let me give you a few ideas to think about as you’re picking out which images you want to buy…”

I then give them information on the products I really, truly feel they will get the most enjoyment from. Wall art for families, wallets for high school seniors, digital files for digital-native families, 8×10’s for elderly relatives, whatever suits that client’s situation.

So take a deep breath, feed the cat, stock food and drink nearby, and let’s dive into the ways you can best present your photos to a buying client and turn them into lifelong customers and referral-makers.

Presentation: Online vs. Live

The vast majority of photogs present proofs to clients in one of two ways: via online galleries or in-person live viewings on a monitor, big screen TV, or projection screen.

I’ll tell you right now from bitter experience: live outsells online every time.

Especially when you’re starting out, you’re likely to be selling to a lower-level buyer – they hired you because you were inexpensive, and they’re interested in getting the most value for their dollar. These are folks who are more interested in value than convenience; they’re more likely to “borrow” your online proofs, print them out regardless of quality, or just post them to their Facebook profile and never buy anything.

It’s no insult to your client to simply recognize trends like these. Even when your client does something that doesn’t strike you as fair (or sometimes even legal), you still want to respect them as clients and people and understand that they are coming from a different perspective than you.

There are ways to meet clients like these in the middle so they don’t become timesinks with no commensurate payoff in the end, but that’s a topic for another article. Today I’ll relate these clients to your photo sales session.

Putting images in an online gallery and letting that gallery of photos sell to your client on their own time and turf is a perfectly valid method to move product; but let’s be honest, it’s not the best way to present your art, educate and help your client get the most long-term enjoyment from their purchase, or build rapport.

A live sit-down with a client gives you face time, lets you build on their overall experience with your business, and lets you play expert adviser. Clients are bound to have questions, and if you’re not there to answer them or even help them know what questions they should ask, you’re doing a disservice to your art and to their ultimate enjoyment of your art.

That sounds more harsh than I mean it to; I know that most likely your inclination is to use the ease and convenience of online selling to do the heavy social lifting for you. A live proofing and sales session requires that you have a location to meet at (your home, their home, Starbucks) and a method to present your art (Apple iPad, laptop, projection screen) – these technical details come on top of the pressure to impress the client and not come off as a used car salesman. Add in the struggle and inconvenience of trying to match schedules with your client so you can get together and proof images for an hour or so, and online selling takes on a shiny veneer.

You’ll gain some time and take a bit of pressure off yourself, but there is a trade-off that I’m not sure balances out: no face time / experience-improving time with the client, no opportunity to educate and assist the client, and because of this, I can guarantee you will get a smaller sale from your shoot.

Clients, especially at the starter level, lean toward buying several small prints of their favorite images – a handful of 4×6’s. They’re cheap and because of one-hour photo labs, they’re familiar to the client. Clients often don’t think in terms of wall art, or groupings, or albums, or Facebook audio slideshows.

If you do find a client who buys these kinds of higher-end products from an online gallery, it’s most likely because a previous photographer already educated them. If you can avoid it, don’t play lackluster second fiddle to a more proactive photographer who came before you. Be that photographer who teaches their clients the value of higher-yield products – show them once, and they’ll be better buyers forever.

For years I did online viewings only, simply because it was easy and convenient. But I was consistently disappointed when my clients would buy strings of 4×6 prints, destined to languish in confinement within a dusty album or wooden box, deeply-tucked on someone’s bookshelf. My outlook fell to the point where I was just thankful when a client bought anything at all instead of stealing the dang proofs for their MySpace pages – forget about wall art or lay-flat coffee table books.

When I upgraded to live viewings projected on a 10-foot screen, the difference was monumental. I started moving some 16×20’s and 20×30’s for the first time, started feeling like I was using my expertise to help clients get real value from their buy, and most importantly for my business, revenues and profits both went way, way up.

There’s something about a scheduled proofing session where a client shows up, checkbook in hand, that creates the expectation of a notable purchase. It’s not as convenient as online, but that’s a good thing; it puts the client in the mindset that you are putting serious time and effort into helping them make a smart buy, and they’re going to reward you for that with a better purchase.

Online proofing and selling is cheap and easy; what mindset does that put your client in?

It won’t bankrupt your business, but online proofing is not going to do you any favors, either. When weighing your options, just be aware of the trade-offs – if they’re worth it for your situation or client base, don’t hesitate for a moment to go with online. Only you know what works best for you as a person and you as a business.

There are more than plenty of successful photogs who do proofing solely online – it’s by no means impossible. But I personally feel there’s more to be gained from the personal touch of live proofing, especially for a newly-minted pro photog in desperate need of repeat clients and all the word-of-mouth referrals they can get.

Whatever venue you choose, let’s explore how to maximize client adoration and personal profits at the same time – easily and ethically.

Proofing online? Get a retainer

I gladly offer online proofing to clients who prefer it to a live viewing. Sometimes folks just don’t have the time or inclination to drive out to the studio a second time. Sometimes they’re only in town for a short time and coming back to do a viewing isn’t possible.

We have a lot of dude ranches around my town and I pick up many family reunion shoots from their visitors. It’s not feasible to ask 12 groups from one big family to come in and view proofs when they’re only in town for a weekend – online is by far the better option for all involved.

I’ve found a simple and fair way to make sure I get paid for my time, run off potential right-clickin’ proof bandits, and give my clients an option to view their photos online at their convenience.

First, get a retainer. It’s this simple:

“We prefer to bring our clients into the studio to view their proofs on our big, color-calibrated monitors, but in your situation it may make more sense to put the proofs into a private online album so you and your family can look at the images on your time and make your purchase from home.

“We do ask for a $100 retainer to put your proofs into an online album, but you get 100% of that back as print and file credits, so there’s no extra charge.”

Then shut up! Let the wheels turn in their heads, and they will either agree that the online album is their best choice, or they won’t. If they prefer to drive back out for a live viewing, that’s their prerogative. If they balk at the retainer, stand your ground – let them know that because of problems you’ve had in the past, if you didn’t collect the retainer, you couldn’t offer online proofing at all. If they still balk, and it’s a deal breaker for them, let them go – odds are real good they’re just looking for a free ride.

I’m a big proponent of very customer-friendly policies, but again – you are a professional and you deserve to be paid for your time. Wild and woolly online proofing combined with my suggested pricing scheme of no session fee and no minimum order just draws too many digital proof bandits.

For the retainer amount, I like 10 times the price of your smallest regular print. If you charge $10 for a 4×6, ask for a $100 retainer. If you charge $40 for anything 8×10 or smaller, ask for a $400 retainer. Scale your retainer to match your print prices and your market – a part-time photographer averaging over $1,000 per client shouldn’t have the same online retainer as the startup averaging $50 or $100 per client.

A word about watermarks and copyrights

If you’re going to do online proofing, you’re going to get right-click proof bandits. The “it’s digital therefore it’s free to copy” mentality of netizens hasn’t waned much, despite the fine efforts by iTunes and company to create attractive alternatives.

I for one love it when my clients “steal” their proofs. Hell, retainer in hand, I encourage it. I tell them…

“You’re welcome to ‘steal’ any of the proofs from your album for your Facebook, MySpace, or to e-mail to friends and family. If you have any favorites that could use some touch-ups, just let me know, and I’ll do some custom Photoshop work on them at no charge.”

(at least a half dozen grognards just clutched their chests and reached for the Bayer aspirin…)

“The only thing I ask is that you keep my framing on the image with my logo and web address on it.”

Never – I repeat, never – have I gotten into a copyright fight with a client over ‘stealing’ proofs with this practice. If you just take a few minutes to educate them as to what they can and can’t do, then find ways to help them do what they want legally and fairly, they’ll do the right thing. As always, anyone who doesn’t is in the vast minority – don’t stress about them.

As with my philosophy on session fees and minimum orders, don’t treat your clients like criminals. They’re paying clients who love your art and experience and are willing to trade their hard-earned money for it. They’ve trusted you to do good work – trust them to do right by you. The few who don’t aren’t worth worrying about to the point that you degrade the experience for all your other clients.

As for how to watermark your images, you can see at the top of any post on this site an example of how I do mine. A semi-transparent thin bar across the bottom of the image with my logo on one side and web address on the other.

I don’t write PROOF in massive half-opaque lettering across the center of every image, nor do I put a massive © dead center on every proof, nor do I write DO NOT COPY all over my site and images. Do you think your clients feel respected and valued when you take every blatant precaution to guard against their stealing your photos?

If your default impression of your market is that of a bunch of thieves and criminals hell-bent on pillaging your business into bankruptcy, I’ll tell you now, you’re in the wrong business. Go into IT security – you’ll do great, kid.

Letting my clients post their watermarked proofs on their MySpace and Facebook pages has multiplied the volume of my business. There’s little better endorsement marketing you can get than a senior or family using one of your images as their default profile photo for all their hundreds of friends to see.

Educate your clients in a respectful way, then give them credit that they’ll do the right thing. They’ll respect the fact that you’re one of the rare few photographers that doesn’t treat them like bank robbers. It’s an easy way to differentiate yourself from your competition.

In a future article I’ll cover the wide, wide variety of venues you can use to do online proofing. You’ve got self-hosted, third party-hosted, full-service options and more. I use a self-hosted gallery with a shopping cart plugin. You may prefer to start off with a service like SmugMug to handle your online proofing and sales. You might use a combination of Flickr and e-mail to take orders.

Whatever you use, try to make the experience for your client as pleasant and simple as possible. Don’t let the service, technology, or process get between your paying clients and the art they want to buy.

The hardware – Live Viewing and Sales Session

Want to improve your per-client average on sales? Find ways to improve their overall buying experience.

The quality of your art is the first factor in how much you’ll earn per client, and what you can charge clients for your work. Second, though, is the experience your clients enjoy while working with you such as, during a proofing and sales session, how you present your art for their perusal and purchase.

Assuming you’re starting at the bottom and working your way up, you may do your first in-person proofing session on a slow little laptop in the middle of Starbucks. With time, clients, revenue, and investments back into improving your clients’ purchasing experience, you will eventually do live viewings in your own home or studio; on a big screen monitor, projection screen, or perhaps even in a dedicated viewing room with comfy couch, your art on the walls, and a waterfall in the corner.

Or perhaps not – you may prefer the privacy and free-spirited nature of doing location proofing sessions at the local coffee shop or in clients’ own homes. I’ve met photogs who do well with laptops and portable projectors to show full-size proofs right on a client’s wall. As they say in car sales, behind the wheel seals the deal.

From my experience, the larger you show your images, the easier it is to sell large prints. Most folks think an 8×10 is a big print, easily large enough to mount on their walls – at least until you show them how glorious their photos look as 16×20’s and 20×30’s.

Don’t discount using prints to sell prints. Many photogs for years have printed 4×6 proofs from photo shoots to use as sales tools. An investment of $10 or $20 on a set of printed proofs, including a few of your best shots as 8×10’s or larger, is a smart one.

Consider the benefits of printed proofs: equally effective for proofing on location or in your home/studio, no need for a laptop or computer monitor for display, no investment in new tech or equipment needed, tactile for clients to touch and handle, as mobile as a good laptop with no worries about dead batteries or technical issues, and probably best of all, they’re immediately available to sell: consumers pay better for convenience and immediate satisfaction. You can even offer the set of proofs as a single product for a discounted price. What you don’t sell you can use as examples for future clients.

However you show proofs to your clients, do so with confidence. Whether it’s on a 10-inch netbook or a 10-foot projection screen, feel good about the art you’ve made together and share it with enthusiasm. Your attitude, as much as your proofing tools, will help you sell your art.

The software – Live Proofing and Sales Session

Any computer you use for proofing is going to come with the software you need to show your art. Windows, Mac and Linux computers all have built-in image viewers that work great for displaying your art full-screen and zoomable.

Upgraded photo viewers, like the Bridge viewer that comes with Photoshop (which is what I use), add some helpful features like being able to tag or otherwise mark images as you view them. This is vastly convenient when you’re flipping through photos clients and your client says, “That’s a keeper… That’s a maybe… Oh, definitely no.” Two stars, one star, no stars – then you can sort and segregate accordingly. Easy peasy.

Most photo viewers include a slideshow option, which combined with some nice music, is a great way to initially present a photo shoot to your client. You can do this with your basic viewer and a separate music player like Windows Media Player or iTunes. Some advanced, sometimes expensive, photo viewers can do pretty fancy things to show off your photos. They often include royalty-free stock music that eliminates the legal complexities of what you can and can’t play during your presentation.

One of the most popular new photographer services is web-based Animoto, a slideshow program that makes very impressive slideshows easily – and importantly, for you to sell to your clients. A slideshow your clients can easily purchase and share with friends by e-mail or on Facebook is an attractive product that digital-friendly folks will pay well for. Animoto and similar purpose-specific software makes this an easy addition to your product offering.

For your hi-res digital file sales, you’ll also want some CD burning software, and if you have a decent printer, good label-making software. I use the freeware CDBurnerXP with the SureThing CD/DVD Labeler software along with the dead easy unitasker Avery CD/DVD Label Applicator to provide impressive CDs to my clients.

I also include a little “Copyright and License.txt” file on each CD which includes my contact info and in layman’s terms outlines what I ask clients to do or not do with their images. When I’m sitting with a client and burning their CD, I tell them about the file and what it’s for. Again, educate your clients and they’ll do right by you.

Location, location, location

There’s a great deal of talk and sometimes money put into where photographers hold court for their proofing and sales sessions. Some photogs do so in their clients’ homes, some do it in Starbucks on a laptop, some have beautiful and elaborate sales rooms.

While I believe in creating the most positive and memorable (as Seth Godin would say, ‘remark-able‘) experience possible for your clients, I’m also mighty frugal. I don’t think having a professionally-decorated sales room is overly beneficial if you’re selling to a low-end market. Does Wal-Mart have leather couches and fountains in its bathrooms? No, but The Madonna Inn of California sure does.

Scale your presentation to your market. Most of us want to end up in the fancy sales room with the projection screen and canvas prints on the walls, but that in no way means you have to or should start there.

Wherever and however you do your proofing and sales, be confident and comfortable. Don’t be ashamed if the best you can do is a set of 4×6 proofs laid out on your client’s dining table. Don’t be ashamed if you’re showing images in Windows Photo Gallery on a 10-inch netbook. Focus your energy on helping your client get the most enjoyment from their purchase and you’ll quickly bypass any imperfections in your presentation.

As an aside, I’ve always loved coffeehouses for client meetings. It’s modern, it’s artsy, it smells fantastic, the atmosphere is light and friendly, and four bucks is a great deal to ‘rent’ a table for a couple of hours.

Preparing To Proof

Okay – you’ve got a location and method for showing proofs to your client. Let’s get ready to make some money!

Regardless of where and how you present your proofs, be prepared:

  • Dress nice and smell fresh. Don’t go overboard on the cologne or perfume. Remember, you’re still making an impression – present yourself as professionally as you present your art.
  • If presenting on location, make sure batteries are charged and carrying case or bag is clean and organized. If you’re nervous, do a run-through of the entire process before your presentation. Software should be working great, your slideshow should look and sound good, photos all where you expect them to be and looking their best.

If you’re meeting a client at their house:

  • Smile a lot, accept any hospitalities your host extend (drinks, snacks, tour of the house or property). Don’t take anything you don’t like, but allow your clients to be gracious hosts.
  • Take control – find a great spot to present your art. A kitchen table is usually a good neutral ground where everyone can snuggle up and get a close look at the images together. Everyone should be comfortable and able to easily see the proofs.

If you’re meeting a client at a middle ground like a coffeehouse:

  • Needless to say, get there first and get set up. As with an in-home sales session, find a great place to set up where clients can be comfortable and see your art. Try to find a quiet corner so everyone can be heard easily.
  • Make sure your waiter or barista knows your name and that you’re meeting a business client. Let them know your client’s tab is to go on your bill, no question. Show forethought and preparation – your client will be both gratified and impressed. Consider a couple cups of coffee, glass of wine, or cappuccino a very worthwhile business investment.

If you’re meeting a client at your home:

  • Be set up and ready to roll when your client arrives. Make sure the room is comfortable in temperature and light, that everything is clean. tidy, and dust-free, and that you have drinks and snacks available. For adult clients, it’s not inappropriate to offer a glass of wine. Having coffee brewed or brewing can also create a nice aroma and show your consideration of your client’s potential needs. Spray a light air freshener if you like – as with cologne and perfume, don’t overdo it.
  • Make sure distractions are limited. Turn off the phone, TV, and radio unless it’s providing the soundtrack for your sales session. Have your spouse take the kids outside to play, out of earshot, and let them know not to disturb you during your session. Same with pets – a barking, jumping, scratching, whimpering dog will only annoy your client. You have control over your home, your domain – design as pleasant and delightful an experience as possible.
  • Don’t forget to clean the yard and entry to your home. A great sales room only does you so much good when your client steps in dog poop or trips over your son’s bicycle on their way into your home.

Presenting & Selling

This is the moment that many new photogs worry about so much – showing art to a client and taking their money for it.

But if you’ve done your job – listened to your client, conducted an attentive photo shoot, and prepared your images and environment for presentation – this is one of the easiest and best parts of being a professional photographer.

Be confident. Feel good about getting to share the custom art you made for your client. There’s nothing to fear, so don’t let fear bog you down with nervous thoughts like, “What if my art’s not good enough? What if they’re disappointed in my photos? What if they think my prices are too high?”

Listen – your clients already want your art. If you ethically marketed yourself, your clients knew what they were buying before they booked with you. If you took your shoot seriously, did your homework, practiced, and then performed to your best ability, you’ll likely deliver art and an experience far beyond their expectations.

I like to start my proofing session with a slideshow. Often just a fade transition with some select tracks (legally licensed) playing in iTunes. It may take a few minutes, but a good slideshow with music can set the mood for your entire session.

As soon as the slideshow ends, let your clients share any comments of admiration, then be sure to compliment them on the shoot – tell them how much you enjoyed shooting with them and feel free to share an anecdote about one or two select images from the shoot. If you exude positivity and enthusiasm, so will your clients.

Here’s my general process (and as always, philosophy) to help you help your client get the most out of their art purchase:

I start, as noted above, by telling my clients I’m a horrible salesman and that my intention is only to help them buy what will give them the most long-term enjoyment and personal value.

“With that said…” I tell them what kinds of products I think they would get the most enjoyment from. Depending on the buyer (senior, senior parent, newborn parent, family of four, family reunion, 50th wedding anniversary, etc.), I’ll suggest different products that I feel they will enjoy. I always encourage clients toward more visible and sharable products like wall art for the home, wallet prints for friends, 8×10’s for close family, digital files for Facebook profiles, etc.

I tell clients that although most folks lean toward lots of small prints like 4×6’s, those tend to end up in boxes and albums that just collect dust and aren’t enjoyed daily. Wall art, for example, will become a centerpiece for daily enjoyment by family and a conversation piece with friends and guests.

Clients may ask for a reminder of your prices and a pad to write notes on; have these ready.

Flip through images first to last with your client giving a Yes, No, or Maybe on each one. Let them know this process is to cull down the overall selection and show only the best images they want to consider for purchase.

Once you’ve primed your client with some ideas and concepts they might not have thought of, tell them to start with the bigger pieces and go down from there, whatever they want to buy. “Start with what you really want to have and enjoy for a long time, and we’ll add in the rest as we go.”

After your first pass, clients will usually have cut down the selection by 50-percent or more. Keep in mind what I’ve said in previous articles – as your art improves, so too improves your ratio of must-have’s to good shots to leftovers. As you grow as an artist, clients will have a harder time not buying more and more of your art. You’ll see your per-client sales averages grow with every measure of style and experience you gain.

Separate out your No shots from your Yes and Maybe’s. Move the Yes and Maybe images into a separate “Best” folder, or if you use a program like Bridge with built-in rating and sorting features, filter that way. Separate the wheat from the chaff so your client can more easily peruse and purchase.

After the initial slideshow and the culling pass, your clients should now have a pretty good idea of their favorite images and what they want to buy. Bring up their Yes and Maybe images in a thumbnail view and make those thumbnails big enough to easily tell one from another (I tend to go for 8-10 on the screen at a time). Slowly scroll through the set, and ask your client what they would like to start with.

At this point, unless your client asks for advice, get out of the way. As they peruse images, slowly scroll through their options, and let them know they can ask you to scroll up or down, or to see an image full-screen. You’ve primed them to make an educated purchase, so give them control here and hush – let them consider and buy what they love.

If your client does ask your advice, give your honest opinion. If you have comparisons to offer from other clients, give them. If you have a personal opinion, give it. Just be honest, don’t try to upsell or be a salesman. You’re not trying to make money – you’re trying to help. Give advice as you would to a close friend. Treat a client as such, and they will respect you for it – and buy more because of it.

Let clients go down their mental list of what they want and need to buy. As they wind down or seem to get to the end of their list, ask if there’s anything or anyone they’re forgetting – desktop prints for the workplace, hi-res files for home or office computer wallpaper, prints for grandparents or extended family, prints for close friends or godparents (that’s one that is often forgotten), etc. Again, you’re not trying to make more money – you’re trying to help. You should never have to convince a client to buy something – your role is to present, advise, and facilitate maximum enjoyment.

When your client does finish their purchase, glance at your notes (you were taking notes during your presentation and proofing, no?) to see if there’s anything they mentioned wanting that they forgot to buy, then tally the purchase.

The grognards say you should never tally in front of a client. They tell you to go into a separate room to do the adding because, as the numbers climb, so will your client’s blood pressure. Walk back in, hit them with the total and without pause say, “How would you like to take care of that?” Don’t give them the chance to back out or have second thoughts, they say!

Here in Texas, that’s called horses***. Straight-up, hard-selling chicanery. If you have to trick and trample your client into buying beyond their wants or means, your business model is flawed, to say the least.

That said, when you do give your client a total cost, shut up! Photogs new to selling and not yet confident in the worth of their art are all too ready to start offering discounts and concessions, even before the client says a word.

“Well, umh, uhh, geez, ehh, the total is $254.42, but that’s a lot of money…how about $200 even? Is that okay? I can throw in some free 20×30’s, would that be alright? Or I could just give it to you for half off, err, uhh, how about just $125? Is that too much? I’ll throw in FedEx overnight shipping for free…”

To quote The Interwebs, “STFU!”

“Your total today is $254.42,” said with an adoring smile.

“Alright, will you take a check?”

“Certainly.”

Easy peasy.

Is that what you were so scared of?

If a client does balk at your prices or the total of their order, don’t devalue your work by providing discounts and concessions; offer to help them reduce the size of their order. Never negotiate or start discounting just because a client doesn’t want to pay your prices. Your art is worth what you ask, probably even more, but there’s no reason you can’t help a client identify where they can trim their order and still get great products to enjoy.

No matter what a client buys or how much they spend, treat them all with the same respect and enthusiasm. If a client buys one $10 digital file on CD, don’t scoff or insult their purchase. If a client buys $2,000 in massive prints, don’t fall out of your chair or become star-struck and gushy. Whatever the purchase may be, show humility, gratitude, and professionalism.

And don’t ever feel guilty for taking someone’s money. I’ve spoken with plenty of new pro photogs who expressed guilt for taking a hundred or so dollars from a client. Again, your art is probably worth more than what you’re asking, and it’s every bit the client’s right to buy what they want and can afford. If you sell to them ethically and honestly, you never have to feel bad for taking clients’ money. Most clients will hand you a check while thanking you for doing the work you do – it’s a good profession we are in.

Remember: just because you wouldn’t pay your own prices or couldn’t afford them, doesn’t mean your clients won’t or can’t.

Finishing Touches

Take your client’s payment and thank them for their business and the opportunity to work with them.

If you didn’t at the photo shoot, have them sign your model release right after they sign their check. Ask if you can send them your e-mail newsletter and/or add them as a friend on Facebook.

Explain what happens next; that their print order should arrive from the lab within 3-5 business days, or their CD will be available for pick-up in 15 minutes, or whatever is appropriate for their order and your delivery policies.

As soon as your client is out of sight, perform a well-articulated fist pump.

Soak it up – you’re a money-making professional photographer! Truly, from me to you, congratulations!

There’s one more article to go in this series: The Follow-up. I’ll share with you some hints and tips to make a great impression with your clients after the sale, and how to maintain a positive presence in their lives so you get the most and best word-of-mouth marketing possible.

As a side note, thanks for sticking with this article beginning to end. Six-thousand-plus words is a beast of an article to read online (roughly equivalent in size to 17 pages in a novel), but I hope what I presented here will greatly benefit your photography business. With a pinch of confidence and a lot of respect and love for your clients, you’ll soon have to hire people to count your money.

Next Steps

  • Educate yourself on what royalty-free music is and where you can get it. Photogs don’t want people violating their copyrights, so don’t violate the copyrights of your fellow artists.
  • Brainstorm session: Unless you’ve been hanging out in Tibet all your life, you’ve probably been a pretty regular consumer of commercial goods. You buy food, cars, electronics, toys, clothes, etc. What are some of the best sales / buying experiences you remember? What made them special? What about those experiences can you emulate in your own sales sessions? File this in your Brainstorms folder.
  • From tasty tidbits to long-form journalism, I do my best with PartTimePhoto.com to share my experiences as a part time professional photographer so you can confidently make your transition from an amateur photographer to a paid professional. If you like what you’re reading here, feel free to click on the “Subscribe” link at the top of any page of this web site.
  • What was your best-ever proofing and sales session like? How about your worst? What tips have you picked up that have helped you better thrill your clients and sell your art? Leave a comment below, e-mail me, or call or text me at 830-688-1564.

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Mark April 16, 2010 at 5:59 am

Outstanding. You have helped me with the ‘mental’ part of the business like no one else. I will be reading this article a couple more times. I have a client who just called yesterday wanting to setup a family shoot. I’ll be using your tips during the ‘ordering session’.

Man,keep up the great work. You are a blessing to the photog community.

Mark

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor April 16, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Thanks so much for the kind words Mark! I’m glad to be of help. Let your photog peers know about the site if you think they would gain something from reading!

Thank you for your readership!

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Rebecca Brittain July 28, 2010 at 11:46 am

Great article! I moved away from in person proofing for the ease of online, and it stinks! Will always be proofing in person now. I’m past that stage of feeling guilty for taking money, lol, but you are so right in how lots of photogs think.

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Liana Cosgrove August 13, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Hi James-
How do you get your logo on the bottom of your photographs? Do you use an action?

Thanks!

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor August 13, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Yes ma’am, combination of a Photoshop Action and a PSD file with the transparent logo. I do have to use two separate actions and PSD files, one for vertical images, one for horizontal.

I use Camera Raw to process my images, use Image Processor to convert all to JPEGs, touch up individual proofs in Photoshop if I need to do detailed or specific work, go back to Camera Raw to process my favorites as black and whites, then sort in Bridge by vertical than horizontal and and use Tools – Photoshop – Batch on each set with the appropriate Action.

I’ll be sure to write an article on this in the future, or perhaps do a video from start to finish, so folks can follow along and just plug in their own logo and web address. 🙂

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Tiffany Lombardi September 1, 2010 at 11:32 pm

Oh yes, do the tutorial for logos! I haven’t been able to figure that out yet…

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor September 7, 2010 at 12:36 am

Hey there mates! I just posted a step-by-step tutorial for how I do the watermarks on my photos, per your request! You can read it at http://parttimephoto.com/how-to-watermark-your-photography-proofs-for-the-web/.

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Johan October 2, 2010 at 8:29 am

Thank you for this post, just what I needed right now! Thank for sharing this.

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor October 2, 2010 at 8:50 pm

You are most welcome, Johan! Thank you for your readership and support!

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Karen November 20, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences and being open and honest with other photographers. So often it becomes a “secret of my success” and if I share it, you may steal it and be more successful than me. I have just begun the transition from part time photographer to more 3/4 to full time. I recently was given information on live proofing and have already started to form ideas of how to transition my buisness from online proofing (which I recently got burned) to live proofing.

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor November 20, 2010 at 6:34 pm

You are very welcome Karen, thank you for your readership and kind words!

You won’t regret making the transition to live, in-person proofing. Even the most rag-tag options – proofing together on a laptop in a cafe, or looking over a set of 4×6 proofs together – will with great consistency beat your average sales with online proofing. And that live proofing experience is yet another touchpoint where you can improve on the invaluable repeat customer relationship.

Congratulations on your successes as a part time professional photographer! From a couple hours a week to 40 or more, if we’re doing work and getting paid by happy clients, we’re all professionals. Growing our businesses to do more and more hours of work we love each week, creating art and serving beloved clients, offers great rewards both personal and financial.

Many established photographers have a scarcity complex that seems to pervade their every act as an artist and business owner – they are convinced the world is out to take advantage of them and leave them bankrupt – to the point they are both peer-unfriendly and customer-unfriendly. Then they complain about how the digital revolution has destroyed their livelihoods!

I don’t care what I sell – photos, jetliners, furniture, cattle – I have to remain in touch with the culture of my clients and stay innovative within my industry and market. Not just in camera gear – God bless it, the gear is the least important influence on today’s buyers – but in my marketing, in how I reach and stay in touch with and relevant with my clients and their lives, in the products I offer while ensuring they align with my clients’ wants and needs.

Frankly, if any of my local “competition” read this blog and learn what I know and out-hustle me in my market – more power to them. It’s my job to stay vigilant and dynamic and exciting and endearing – it is not my job to keep my competition behind me, but to keep myself ahead. We don’t have control over anyone but ourselves – not the market, not our competitors, not our industry – so focusing on how we can lead our market and give our customers the most exceptional experience possible, from start to art, is where our success lies.

Best of luck as you continue your successful ways with your business! Please do keep me posted on your adventures – I would love to hear about them!

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Naomi June 4, 2011 at 10:29 pm

I think I’ll sound like a repeat of what everyone else is saying, but wow – LOVE your site! I came here via a link on google when I was searching online proofing options. Up until reading your article, I was thinking that was the easiest way to go. Now I see it was the easiest for ME to do (confrontations and selling people stuff is NOT fun to me…but if it comes with photography, then I’ll get over it…) I’m also a “do-in-yourselfer” and the idea of having to sit in a room of pressure to buy prints does not sound enthusing to me – I would by far rather order the prints I want in my own time. But I think my husband’s right when he said that most people want someone else to take care of stuff like this for them – that’s why they’re paying me. I saw this especially with someone recently when I gave her a baby gift of baby photography of her baby and watching her eyes glaze over when I said “go to Shutterfly and….” Here I thought I was giving her a deal on handing her the CD and saying “here you go – save money without going through me”, when in fact I think she would have liked it far more if I had said, “what can I do for you?” Ah well…I think that’s off topic…I just wanted to say how much I LOVE this site and will be rereading this stuff many-a time in the future!
One quick question on proofing…my husband and I were talking the other night and he suggested one of those large photo frames for proofing – http://www.digiframes.com/related/3180-11863/piximodo-reflection-20.html – using the idea that it’s a big screen that you can take places, vs a projector that most coffee shops would probably have a problem with. Have you ever used one for this purpose or know anyone who has? This thing’s pretty spendy…and I want to know it’ll be useful before I spend the $200+…
Thanks again!

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor June 6, 2011 at 10:11 pm

Thank you for your commend and kind words Naomi, I truly appreciate your readership!

First let me say, you will likely find selling easier than you expect. So long as you aren’t being dishonest or devious anywhere in your marketing, your clients know your art and your prices in advance, and they only have to “buy what they love.” You’re exchanging value – your art for their cash. They are willing participants in the experience – concentrate more on giving them the most comfortable, fun sales experience than on “selling” anything. That’s the beauty of this philosophy of selling – people buy what they love; the more art you create that they love, the more you earn, as it should be.

I sell both prints and digital files. The kinds of clients I attract love my digital offer, so that’s most of what I sell – but for those clients who do prefer the white-glove assistance of buying prints through my studio, I make it easy as can be for them. I don’t try to press one product or the other on folks – they tell me what they want because I ask. If they don’t know, I educate them on the benefits of both, and help them choose.

Now let me play devil’s advocate – if the entire sales experience (I’d suggest trying it before you decide you dislike doing it) is a drag for you and you begin to see it affecting your desire to book clients, then by all means, go with online proofing. Sales sessions take up your time, you have to have a location and equipment to proof with, you have to work with your clients’ schedules to book a second get together after the shoot, and after all that, the entire experience may be very uncomfortable for you. My wife despises ‘public speaking,’ and running a sales session would make her sick to her stomach – wouldn’t be worth it at all.

If you get comfortable with selling in person, I can almost guarantee you’ll improve your per-client averages. The value is great for in-person proofing – offering your expertise in choosing images and products, the ability to answer questions on the fly, the opportunity to educate clients about other products and buying options – but I try to impress here on PTP that you absolutely don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, no matter what anyone says are the “best practices.” You are your own artist and business owner and only you know yourself well enough to mold your business model to your personality and talents.

There are ways you can make online proofing more profitable for you and a better experience for your clients. Here are a few ideas:

– Create an attractive multi-page PDF that gives your “sales speech” for you. It can include examples of products, recommendations for different clients’ needs (someone who wants wall art versus someone who wants Facebook photos), educational information on copyright, etc. Just a 3-5 page PDF can both empower and impress your clients.

– When you e-mail your clients the link to their private online proofing album, include the above PDF, and also provide your personal suggestions for what images would be good for what purposes / products. Some images are better hung on the wall over the fireplace; some are better put together as wall groupings; some are great for Facebook; some are great as wallets to send to family or friends; some will look great on an office desk, and so on and so forth. Recommend specific uses for specific images – this is also a great way to help your clients mentally explore options they may not have before considered. Pique their interest and imaginations. More attractive options = higher per-client sale. Again, educate and empower.

– Want to step up to the next level? Do a video or audio slideshow of your sales presentation – show your suggested images, show potential product uses, and offer your advice and expertise on what you believe would best serve your client’s needs. By the time you’re showing a client proofs, you should have an extremely good idea of what they want to do with the photos you’ve made together – work from this, and again, spark their imagination with some other great ideas as well.

The most boring thing you can do is e-mail a client a link to an online album and say “Just use the shopping cart! Bye!” Always look for opportunities to make these touchpoints an exceptional experience for your clients, whether it’s in person or on the phone or in an e-mail.

The digital frame you’re looking at is certainly an interesting option, but for $200-$300, you can buy a full-on laptop, or a netbook, or what I’d suggest if you go this route: an iPad. It’s much smaller, but the interface is flawless, you can put it right in your clients’ hands, and it’s almost exactly the size of an 8×10 print, which is what you’ll most likely sell the vast majority of until and if you move up to the ’boutique’ and wall art market.

My favorite place to sell is of course in front of my 30″ Dell PC monitor – but next to that expensive beast, my iPad is a formidable second choice. It’s got a great screen, it makes your photos look fantastic, it’s super easy and intuitive to use…it’s hard to beat. And wildly useful outside of just showing photos. Start using it for your booking calendar, for having clients sign contracts right on the screen, for e-mailing them copies of their contracts and receipts for purchases while they’re standing right next to you – you will impress, this I promise.

Please let me know what you decide on and how it works out for you! Remember, the most important act is to do work – market, book, shoot, sell – don’t get bogged down, no paralysis by analysis. People want to buy your art – help that happen, and refine the process as you go along. Congratulations on taking the next step in your business! If there’s anything I can do to help, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

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Kevin Stacey October 19, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Thank you for your sage words of advice James!!! They are much appreciated. One question (OK 2 questions)I live in Michigan- any advice indoor photo shoots for the winter? I have a portable backdrop, strobes and stands and such… Is it feasible to do photo shoots inside a clients home?

Thanks again,

Kevin

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor October 21, 2011 at 8:05 am

You’re more than welcome Kevin, thank you for your kind words! You do beautiful work, I really enjoyed visiting your site and looking at your portfolio. You have a wonderful command of light, and an admirable reserve in your post processing to let your lights and shadows play well together – I struggle with that myself sometimes; my natural inclination is always to push my images ‘too bright.’ Lovely work!

For indoor shoots, I am a big fan of window light – you would have to buy hundreds of dollars in strip lights and modifiers to get the kind of beautiful light windows produce naturally for photos. And you can modify the quality of that light with something so simple as a curtain or sheet. I know plenty of photographers who own retail studios that use nothing but window light and reflectors.

You could go the backdrop/strobe/stand route, but I’d only warn that it can get very easy to burn out having to haul around and set up that gear at every client’s home. I’ve learned over the years that the less gear involved, the more I can focus on really seeing the available light, and interacting with my client to make beautiful photos. Simplify the process to stay focused on the art.

It’s perfectly feasible to shoot in clients’ homes, even with a portable studio, but you leave a lot to chance – you never know if you’ll have enough room, if you’ll need to move their furniture, if there will be conflicting light from windows, if the walls will be painted and cause a color cast on your subjects, and so forth. You should be able to pull off nice headshots easily in a client’s home, but if you’re shooting more than one person or if you’re shooting 3/4 or wider portraits, space and the size of your backdrop does become an issue.

Again, I won’t say it’s impossible by any means, but in my mind (and with my style of shooting) it creates more problems than solutions for making salable photos.

You can do a lot with a window and a reflector. Poke around Google and flickr to see what’s possible.

Also consider partnering with local businesses that have nice interiors. A coffee shop is a great place for couples portraits; a toy store or children’s resale is a great place to photograph kids; babies are beautiful anywhere. Think the same way when shooting in someone’s home – photograph a couple sitting and drinking coffee together near a window, or a child playing with toys in their room, and so forth.

And feel free to be playful – get on the floor and photograph babies crawling; do family photos from above with everyone laying in a starburst pattern on the floor with their heads together; photograph kids under a blanket on a bed with a flashlight and their favorite book; think in life moments – often it’s the little things that we remember most fondly years down the road.

I hope this helps Kevin! Thank you for your readership, and please do keep me posted on your adventures in professional photography! I’d love to see how your winter portraits turn out.

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Kevin Stacey October 21, 2011 at 8:44 pm

Wow James, you blow me away with your dedication to your readers! Thank you for the quick response and advice (again) Your kind words about my photography gave me a boost of confidence. Your site has given me so much knowledge and hope that what I am trying as a part time photographer is not (too) crazy… Just to know that there are others like me out there trying this is great. Thank you again for what you do and the time you spend doing it.

-Kevin

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor October 22, 2011 at 9:09 pm

Thank you Kevin! You’ve definitely got the artistic chops, your market just needs to learn what you have to offer. And you are not alone! The digital revolution has opened up this whole industry to talented folks of all makes, models, shapes, sizes, ages and backgrounds. We are living in a more visually-driven world than ever in the past, and photography sits at the center of all media but television, which is itself waning in the wake of YouTube, Hulu and Netflix. Especially with Facebook providing a hugely visible, social wall for folks to hang your photography on, the opportunities are just endless. This is an exciting and blessed time to do what we do!

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kathryn February 28, 2012 at 11:38 pm

This article was amazing. Not only did you make me miss Texas, I learned a lot reading it. Great perspective. Thank you.

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor March 25, 2012 at 11:50 pm

Oh my gosh Kathryn, I so enjoyed visiting your portfolio tonight! Those babies! Soooo cute! And you capture them so well, your clients are truly blessed by the work you do.

Thank you so much for your kind words and readership! If you’re ever back down in Texas, please don’t hesitate to look me up for a visit! And please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures this year!

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Vianna May 4, 2012 at 11:23 pm

Ummmmm….Ive just made all of those mistakes…but at least I now know what I am doing wrong!
Thanks for your post and sharing your knowledge and experience. I look forward to combing through this blog for more info that can help build my new business.

I was wondering, what would you suggest I do now that I have put my images up on line for viewing and how I can get the client to buy more products.

Thanks and I await your reply.
Vianna

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor May 14, 2012 at 12:11 am

Thank you for your comment and kind words Vianna! I love your logo on your web site! And your photos are lovely as well!

As long as you are proofing online, you’re going to have a glass ceiling on your sales averages. Putting photos online takes away a huge opportunity, through in-person viewing and ‘sales,’ to further your relationship with your client. It’s a major touchpoint in your timeline with any given client, and it’s very hard to improve sales when you’ve handed over the responsibility to a web site or gallery.

I highly recommend switching to in-person viewings, in your home studio on your desktop computer, at a neutral ground like a coffee shop on your laptop, on your iPad, whatever you’re able to do. You will see measurable improvements in your sales averages (and likely also your referrals and repeat clients) very quickly.

That said, there are plenty of photographers who have enjoyed success with online proofing. If you stick with this route, I’d suggest trying to let your words serve as a tour guide and consultant when you send out your e-mail to your client with the link to their album.

– Be friendly, be personal; talk a bit about how you enjoyed the shoot, include specific moments, and what you feel about the photos that have come out of the shoot.

– By this point, I assume you have talked with your client (pre-shoot and during) and have a good understanding of what they wanted to end up with from the experience – wall art, wallets, digital files, etc. Use this knowledge as your primary area of commentary in suggesting certain images to match those purposes. The client can always buy what they want, but you’re the expert; don’t be afraid to offer guidance and suggestions.

– Always tack on an additional, creative idea – a product or usage for the photos your client may not have thought of. I always like to encourage my clients toward canvas, wall clings, accordion prints, whatever I think they might find cool. Always create a little window of opportunity for clients to see something they didn’t know about, and invest if it excites them.

– Have a ‘sale’, a special of any kind, that encourages your client toward buying a product or package you love to sell. For example, I always offer a big discount on CDs that include all my hi-res files from a shoot. It costs me next to nothing to produce other than processing time, and over half my clients buy it upon suggestion. The savings are deep per-image, but the cost is always more than my average per-client sale – which just serves to raise my per-client sales averages!

– Be clear about how they can order, and what happens then – are the proofs fully edited or just for exposure? Are blemishes removed on anything your client buys? What’s the turnaround time for what they could order (prints, wall art, files on CD)? Is there any tax or are the prices as-is? Bulk discounts? You don’t have to say yes to all this, you just have to answer the five most likely questions a client may ask.

– Ensure the tone and texture of your e-mail is focused on helping your client buy what they love. The goal is never to maximize sales, upsell, or get a client to buy something they don’t really want. By the time you deliver proofs, you should have a dang clear idea of what your client wants to do with the art you’ve created. Show them how best to make that happen, and give them “one more thing” (as Steve Jobs loved to do) to potentially multiply their enjoyment of your art.

Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures! I look forward to hearing how your sales improve here in 2012!

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Matt Black May 9, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Hey James,

One quick question. I already have the projector, screen, etcetc. but would like to display photos to scale. IE: “Here’s what an 8×10 looks like on the wall.. and here’s what a 40×60 looks like”

I’ve heard this software exists, but I honestly can’t find it for the life of me. Any thoughts?

Thanks! Excellent article.. all very true!

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor May 14, 2012 at 1:07 am

Thank you for your readership Matt! I greatly enjoyed visiting your site tonight – you create beautiful art! Such a lovely command of light, and shadow!

To answer your question, I think ProSelect is the software you are talking about: http://www.timeexposure.com/ps_review3.php

I can honestly say that, while I have done projected viewing and had great sales results, I’ve never tried to display images to scale. But I’m very big on digital sales, so wall art isn’t my game – if you’re leaning toward the latter, I don’t think you can beat projected proofing. As they say in car sales, “Behind the wheel seals the deal!”

Please do keep me posted, if this software works for your needs, and what the results are for you on the sales side!

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Sophie July 20, 2012 at 3:36 pm

We’re making the switch to in-person proofing sessions, and this is really helpful. Thanks so much for the novel!! 🙂

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor August 12, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Absolutely my pleasure Sophie! We’ll call it “long-form how-to blogging.” 🙂

Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures as you make the transition to in-person proofing!

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Melanie September 24, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Fantastic article! I’ve done a few in-person ordering sessions now and this is very helpful in covering all of the details I might have otherwise forgotten or not known about! Thank you!

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Kaili Renno April 12, 2013 at 11:16 pm

I can’t even tell you how much I appreciate this article. I have looked everywhere for advice on in-person sales and have found nothing! Last year I paid for a subscription for an online gallery and it was a huge waste of money and I literally NEVER made a sale. I want so badly to start doing in-person sales, I have quite a few senior sessions coming up and would love to see my clients have some quality prints in their home instead of profile pictures on facebook! I have a couple of questions and I’m hoping that you will still receive notifications on this article! This might be a no brainer, but I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to actually take the order. I’ve played around with a couple of ideas, excel spreadsheet on my phone that will auto tally prices, tax, possible shipping, etc. or manually write image name with desired print sizes and quantities. I want to be sure that I look professional and organized, and, well, legit. Do you have any advice on what has worked best for you? I love the idea of having the slideshow on an iPad in the client’s hand, and may have to track down a projector in the future. Also, do you present the client with an invoice at the time of the order, via email following the session, or when you deliver the products? I hope my questions were presented clearly. Again, thank you so much for this valuable advice. It was exactly what I was looking for.

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Rollin June 17, 2013 at 5:53 am

O U T S T A N D I N G !
Thank you for sharing your expertise with us.
God bless you, your family and your endeavors.
Rollin

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor July 20, 2013 at 10:54 pm

Rollin, thank you so much for your kind words and your readership! It really does mean so much to me. Keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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tisha June 19, 2013 at 2:47 pm

it was a lot to read but very very informative still need to go back and learn more about retainer fee and I soo wondered how to even make a sale I’m soo new to all this and u have absulouty great tips and words of wisdom thank u soo much this website truley is my saver!!

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor July 20, 2013 at 10:55 pm

Tisha, thank you so much for your kind words and readership! I’m so glad you’re enjoying PTP. If you have any questions or if there’s anything more I can do to help, please don’t hesitate to let me know! And please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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JP September 17, 2013 at 10:30 am

Great article! It is interesting to see the shift from online proofing to in-person proofing. My wife is a photographer and we switched to in-person proofing and it is well worth it. We almost never sell digital files and our clients mostly purchase packages that include 16×20 framed prints. We wanted to utilize our iPad for this but there wasn’t a good way to sort images with the client. So if anyone is interested, we are creating an app for the iPad that is for in-person proofing sessions. It should be out sometime in October. The Facebook page will keep you updated and will have some giveaways soon! https://www.facebook.com/youproofapp?ref=ts&fref=ts

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor May 26, 2014 at 8:31 am

JP, thank you so much for your readership!

In-person proofing provided one of the biggest leaps toward financial success with my photography business as any other choice I’ve made in business. I cannot overemphasize the value of the additional touch point with the client, being able to sit down with them, visit about the art you created together, continue your rapport and relationship, and strengthen both purposefully.

Many photographers who do online-only proofing just lack confidence – they’re deeply affected by ‘imposter syndrome,’ and send their proofs to their clients with a cringe, thinking, “This is it! They’re going to hate these photos and be mad and tell everyone I’m a horrible photographer and I’m going to be sooo embarrassed!” Then, when the client says nice things and buys several photos, the photographer thinks, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe they bought something! Man I lucked out this time.”

That’s a real, emotional, psychological response that so many startup photographers deal with. And the first time a client truly is unhappy, for any reason valid or otherwise, the photographer is crushed – all their fears become realized, and it’s enough to make them withdraw from the industry before their art and business really gain traction.

With in-person proofing, you’re able to create yet another wonderful experience for your clients – not just through tricks like fresh-baked cookies and custom water bottles, but really just being nice, caring about their happiness, and giving them invaluable guidance in how to best enjoy their art once they leave the sales session.

Thank you again for your readership! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Tomas Haran September 25, 2013 at 8:41 am

Fantastic article!
I’m looking to improve my customer’s experience as well as increase my sales. I want to go to the next level. This has really helped me a lot and I’ll make sure to go back and review again. There are so many options and so many areas of improvement for me.

Thanks!

Tom

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor May 26, 2014 at 8:36 am

Tom, thank you so much for your kind words and readership! I greatly enjoyed visiting your web site today, you’re crushing it my friend!

Your clients are blessed by your work – keep it up! I love that you kickstart your site off the first link with client testimonials – absolutely some of the best marketing you can’t buy.

Thank you again for your readership! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Jeremy MacLeod June 3, 2014 at 6:04 am

I love your page James and I’ve been reading it daily. I’ve been taking photos of friends and family for a few years now. Some with my photos up on their walls and them being asked if they were professionally done. I did a search but I’m unable to find one on your site. Are you able to provide an example of a model release or provide a link to an example or provide more detail as to what should be in it?

Thank you,
Jeremy

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor June 3, 2014 at 7:15 am

Thank you so much for your kind words Jeremy! I truly appreciate your readership.

That’s wonderful that you’re getting plenty of practice working with friends and family, and that your art has brought them such joy that they’re hanging it on the walls to enjoy it daily. That alone is gold.

I base my model release off the New York Institute of Photography’s basic release, available here:

http://www.nyip.edu/photo-articles/archive/basic-model-release

You can customize to your heart’s content.

I ask every client I shoot with to sign a model release. “Just in case,” this covers your butt for your blog posts, social sharing, and any advertising you may do with those photos down the road. It’s a great habit to get into.

Thank you again for your readership Jeremy! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Arleen July 22, 2014 at 10:21 pm

I really enjoyed reading your article. I love talking with my clients (many whom I know) and wouldn’t mind sitting down with them to review pictures . I agree with many of the points you make.

However, currently I just post all proofs online in a private gallery with a signature line at the bottom of each picture. When I send my clients the link, I also include my pricing information (which they also received when they booked) and indicate that the proofs just contain some minor lighting touch-ups but no facial touch-ups yet. In addition, when I post, I occasionally will take a photo that appeals to me and include several versions of it to show my client other possible options (eg. soft focus, sepia, fade out, etc).

Why do I currently do on-line viewing of proofs?
I’ve always thought it caused a lot of pressure on their end to view and make decisions on what they want (and how many and what size) in real time if we had an “official” review session. Besides, folks seem so incredibly busy that I’ve always felt it would be really tough to coordinate schedules.

I’ve felt my sales have been reasonable (1-2 large prints, a few 8x10s, several 5x7s, several digitals on average), but I have seen that folks can really put off decisions (e.g., photo session in September, but didn’t order until April when they realized they needed pictures for invitations for upcoming parties & visiting relatives!)

So — I’m not sure if I should nix my current approach of the on-line viewing of proofs? If I give them the choice, I would think they’d always choose the on-line approach (e.g. if on-line, they could see the results as soon as they were available, vs having to wait a week or two until we could meet up).

In the past, when they have been ready to order, I have offered to meet them in person if they wanted to review the pictures again/had any questions. I’ve only had one client take me up on that (but it was a very useful session because I was able to offer my advice, we were able to talk about what she was going to do with the pictures, etc) — so I can definitely see the advantages of being able to talk with the client one-on-one.

Thanks for any additional insights you may have on working with folks’ busy schedules!

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor August 2, 2014 at 9:29 pm

Thank you so much for your comment Arleen! I greatly enjoyed viewing your portfolio tonight, you do lovely work for your clients! You have a great grasp of location and studio lighting, and your clients obviously have a lot of fun with you!

I think you hit squarely on the head of why in-person proofing beats online:

“It was a very useful session because I was able to offer my advice, we were able to talk about what she was going to do with the pictures, etc.”

It’s a bit of an extreme comparison, but how about this:

On your next photo shoot, let your client know that you’re going to provide them all of the support they need in taking good photos, but you won’t actually be at their photo shoot. You’re going to send them a tripod, a camera, a couple lenses, batteries and cards, a list of some good locations around town that you really like. That way they can take the photos whenever and wherever they want, without pressure or rush or scheduling issues…

What’s the missing ingredient here?

You, of course.

What’s the missing ingredient when you post your proofs online and send your client an e-mail with the link and some kind words and basic instructions?

You!

We artists (as with so many business owners) have what Chip and Dan Heath call the Curse of Knowledge: we know what we know, and sometimes we forget that others don’t know what we know.

As a professional photographer, it is / should be very rare that your client knows more than you about your product and what to do with it to get the most enjoyment from it. You want to be the expert in the room when folks are talking about home decor featuring portrait photography, wall art / hangings, gallery wraps, canvas, framed prints, groupings of prints, how to display portrait photography in a hallway versus a living room versus a stairway, what prints make the best gifts for extended family, what digital products you offer and how your clients have most creatively used them, and not the least important: Why.

Not only is your guidance an invaluable resource for your clients to get the absolute maximum lifelong enjoyment from the art you create with them, but the in-person proofing and sales session is another touchpoint in the experience you create for your client. It’s the difference between ordering off the drive-thru menu at McDonald’s and an insightful waiter at a great restaurant who knows the menu inside and out and can make experienced and wise recommendations, liaise between you and the chef, and help create a wonderful dining experience for you and your guests.

Not even speaking to the financial benefits of your client making a decision during the sales session, knowing what they don’t buy they will never see again, and having the expectation even before the photo shoot that their full investment will be made within a week or two period of your shoot. I try to book my sales sessions within a week, days if I can, of the shoot itself. There is an immediacy and gravity to the proceedings – these are not hundreds of dollars to be spent willy nilly or ‘whenever’.

Now, devil’s advocate, I know plenty of photographers who do fine with online proofing. They’re happy with their sales and their process.

But from my own experience (especially charging no session fee and having no minimum order), in-person proofing both increases the size of the average client sale, and it greatly adds to the overall experience they walk away with, leading to better testimonials, more social sharing and recommendations, and greater client rebooking and referrals. Win-win-win in my experience.

When it comes to confidently booking these sales sessions, here’s exactly what I do, especially in my day job work as a newspaper advertising director who lives and dies by the in-person appointment:

“Would Friday at 6 p.m. work for you guys?”

The answer is always yes or no – and you go from there. I let clients know to set aside about an hour to go over all the proofs, talk about options, and make their buying decision. I don’t press the issue, but I ensure my clients clearly understand the expectation that money will change hands. I make sure all decision makers are involved in the session.

If a client needs a more expedient or convenient process, I encourage them toward my regular mini-shoots, which are usually themed for a certain holiday or season or event. These are flat-rate shoots that include prints or files on CD, artist’s choice (no proofs, no sales session), a shorter shoot, and a less custom experience overall. The same quality follow-up goes into servicing these clients, putting them in my existing client sales funnel / pipeline, but their time and money investment is tight and efficient.

Different opportunities for different clients with different wants and needs to still take advantage of your art and the experience you create for your clients (always remember, they’re paying for both, not just the prints or files they walk away with).

I hope this helps Arleen! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Arleen August 3, 2014 at 9:23 pm

James — Thanks so much for your detailed and insightful response! You gave me some really good things to think about and reflect on… Whereas before reading your site I probably hadn’t thought a whole lot about in-person proofing — my interest is now piqued to the point that I’m going to try some in-person proofing sessions during this upcoming senior-season and see how that works out. Again, thanks so much for your comments and for your encouragement!

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor August 17, 2014 at 10:17 pm

You’re so welcome Arleen! Please do stay in touch and let me know how it works for you, and your impressions!

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Oddvar Sæth August 18, 2014 at 3:25 pm

Great article. My wife is a photographer with her own studio. We are in the middle of deciding between several things, and I find your article very helpful. Could you be kind to share your thoughts on the issue of selling a USB stick with “all” the photos at a fixed price. Until now, that has been one of the things that customers value when booking with my wife. But now we want to sell more prints and wall art, but doesn’t want to loose her “good rep” as a photographer who sells the pictures on USB for “free” personal use at a good price. How could we combine this with selling prints and personal proof sessions? One model I’ve been playing with, is that the customer can still buy the pictures on a USB stick as always, but if they want the same price as before, they must order prints and photo products for a certain amount of money. Otherwise, the price of the USB stick will be much higher. What do you think?

Thanks again, and kind regards from Norway:)

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor August 18, 2014 at 3:47 pm

Thank you for your readership and comment Oddvar! So glad to hear of you reading from all the way in Norway!

The USB stick with all the good photos from the shoot is a great idea! Same concept as a CD, except a little more modern. The custom-printed work and presentation that Artsy Couture does is really awesome. If you can find something similar there, it’s a very nice way to present the final product to your clients. Just be sure your prices afford the extra expense.

I typically charge a flat rate per image, then make a nice discounted offer on a CD full of images, so you’re just cutting to the chase and offering the full shoot at a fixed price. Folks love to know what they’re paying for in advance, and there’s no reason you can’t do that – I know most of the grognards who subscribe to big upsells hate the idea of the client knowing what they’re in for before the sales session (because then they can’t work their ‘sales magic’ to get folks to buy more than they really want or need), but I’m the opposite. If I ask you what something costs and you’re wishy-washy, I’m not going to trust you – I know you’re trying to work me for more money.

For your pricing and to help shift more sales to wall art and prints, I’d start with your Why:

Why do you want your clients to buy more prints? Or better, why do you feel your clients should buy more prints? Why more wall art? What are the benefits to this over the USB stick and having prints made themselves?

Digital is hot, so you’re going to have to work harder to find clients who value wall art over easy digital shares.

One option could be to make the USB stick a value-add once folks buy a certain amount of prints or wall art. The stick can be purchased separately (at a higher price than you’re probably now selling it at), or folks can by $XXX in prints and wall art and get the stick for free.

This isn’t necessarily more profitable, up front; if you were selling a USB stick for $295, your only expense was the stick. If you do it as a throw-in at $295 worth of print/wall art purchases, you’re now paying for the stick and the prints at the same level of income. So you have to increase your stick value by enough to cover that difference. Maybe sell just the stick for $295, or make it a throw-in on $395 worth of print/wall art purchases.

But you have to have a Why. I love selling clients Wall Art, even though very few of my clients buy it – I truly believe it’s one of the best ways to enjoy the art you’re purchasing, to enjoy it daily, to run into it every time you pass your living room or hallway, and get a smile on your face looking at the portrait of your family. Files on a USB stick are very utilitarian – once that stick goes in a drawer when you’re done sharing the pics on Facebook, odds are very low that you’ll ever look at them again, much less enjoy them on a daily basis. Wall art solves that problem, and is well worth the investment, multiplying the benefits the family enjoys from the purchase of your services.

If you can establish a really good Why, the onus is on you to market to the right people and sell to the right people with the right message to show them Why prints and wall art are of more value to them than the USB stick. Still offer the latter, you don’t want to deny a client what they want just for the sake of creating a false scarcity, but have a really great pitch that can sway folks to see and invest in the value of good prints and wall art.

It’s all about education. If you listen to your client, understand their wants and needs, and can connect the dots for them between what they feel they want/need and what you believe they will enjoy even more than what they know walking in the door. But it’s on you to communicate that effectively and compassionately.

I hope this helps Oddvar! Thank you again for your readership, and please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Amy July 22, 2015 at 5:32 pm

Thank you for this awesome information!!

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor July 23, 2015 at 9:48 am

Thank you so much for your kind words and readership Amy! Keep rocking it!

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Edwin van der Veer December 9, 2015 at 5:00 pm

Hi James,

Phew! That was quite a (very worthwhile) read!

But let me say thank you for sharing this as it applies to photogs worldwide.
Personally, I put a lot of time in setting up an online proofing gallery, but after reading your article I must agree, that a personal visit or a client coming over to your studio, is way better than any online proofing experience.

After my first shoot at a birthday party, I put all of the images online for my client to share (yes, without watermark unfortunately). And that’s exactly what she did. She shared all of the (pretty large) jpeg’s to her friends and family (naming me as the photographer, so that was pretty decent to do) telling me, those friends would probably contact me for the prints.
You guessed it, that never happened. (they already had everything they needed)
So yes, I felt pretty stupid, but it’s a lesson learned 😉

Anyway, thank you again for putting this knowledge on your blog. Very valuable!

Cheers!

Edwin (The Netherlands)

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor December 13, 2015 at 2:47 pm

Edwin, thanks for your comment and sharing your birthday party story!

I can’t tell you how many photo shoots I have deep in my DVD archives of clients who never purchased a thing, but sure ’nuff did download and share all the proofs from their online gallery.

I don’t think it’s so much a malicious thing as a priority thing – like so many people who for so long downloaded music illegally and for free, they thought because it was digital, there was no cost to copy, and thus no value in purchasing. I like to think for most folks, it’s more ignorance than mal intent.

I can’t say enough good things about in-person proofing. Beyond the naturally bigger sales, it’s such a valuable additional touchpoint to make another great impression on your clients, to be remark-able, to earn referrals, and to ask: for those referrals, for introductions, for testimonials, etc. To hand off your clients’ entire buying experience to an online gallery instead of providing your presence and expert guidance so they can get the most out of their order (regardless of the size of that order), is just a missed opportunity.

Thanks again for your readership and support Edwin! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Ronnie March 3, 2016 at 5:56 pm

Great advice. I’d add that you want to make sure that you can send password protected galleries, as well as include watermarks on the images. I can’t stress enough how important those two things are. I use http://www.Format.com for this.

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor March 8, 2016 at 9:29 am

Thanks so much Ronnie!

Format.com does make beautiful portfolio galleries, but for me, they can be pretty expensive. I’m partial to SmugMug, where when you search for a discount code online, you get the first year for around $48 total – much more palatable if you’re starting from scratch. Though I don’t use the features, I believe they also offer password protection and built-in watermarking.

Since I moved to in-person sales, and seen both my per-client sales average and my percentage of repeat clients go up, I’m hooked. I only use my web site to show my portfolio and bring people into my sales funnel.

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