I must say that the last few day’s worth of posts have generated a great volume of comments. Specifically my comments about Session Fees have raised some interest.
Take this comment from Mike:
I think we’ve hit a roadblock somehow. I agree with what you’re saying, but I find it hard to apply it to portrait clients (as opposed to wedding clients), only because it seems to be very difficult to sell to them on the front-end of the process. A potential wedding client *needs* a great photographer on their important day and will pay good money for one, but a potential portrait client rarely has that same kind of “need”. Instead, I’ve found that portrait clients must be sought out, tempted with great work in order to get them to book, then booked with some sort of financial commitment up front (or none??), then have an enjoyable and memorable session, and then be tempted again with great photos. I don’t see see how to *not* charge big on products and make your money that way.
Difficult? Why? A wedding certainly is an advantageous trigger for photography, but portrait photography contains just as many – birth, graduation, family milestones, etc. If you feel that the trigger is the problem, then create the need for a few more triggers in your client’s mind. I know there are portrait photographers that try to get clients to come back every few months, which other than extreme cases in newborns I really don’t understand. But when we were photographing portraits we told our family clients when we believed the triggers would be that would keep them coming back every few years (first child in grade school, first child in college, last child in school, etc). You can develop these triggers for yourself instead of waiting for the market to dictate them.
You can opt to look at any scenario as a search or an attraction. You can either go out into the world and try to entice clients to you or you can create something remarkable and let them come to you. This works for any product or service. It certainly can work for portraits just as effectively as for weddings. What you have identified is a lack of commitment from portrait clients. That doesn’t mean that portrait clients WON’T commit, just that they haven’t been shown anything the compels them enough.
If they want to work with you, if they want what it is that you do and they believe in why you do it (your branding!) then they will play ball by your rules. When I did photograph seniors extensively I worked on a commission basis for a particular large product (a book, a wall portrait or both). You had to commit to one upfront. Those were the breaks. I don’t understand the concept of shooting a session and hoping that they like the photos enough to own them. What you are doing in this case is presenting an additional obstacle which does not benefit either the client or the photographer. Essentially you are adding another plea for acceptance into the mix. The client already hired you. They already like what you do and want it for themselves. In my opinion, that is acceptance enough. By setting up a system in which you indicate that the client might not like what you do you are creating doubt in their minds as to the reliability of you/your studio to deliver on your value proposition.
One of the things that Mike has brought up is the issue of trust. I don’t see a portrait session as anything different from a wedding. I sure as hell am not reshooting a portrait session just like I can’t reshoot a wedding – why would I? If I am what I say I am, then I will do what I say I will. There should be no need to undermine ourselves by indicating that we may not deliver. This need to tempt and cajole the clients to do what we want is a commitment issue. But I think the problem lies not in the client’s unwillingness to commit, but the photographer’s lack of confidence building. Flip it around – who do you trust more to deliver on expectations – a $50 portrait photographer or a $1000 portrait photographer?
Everything is the photographer’s responsibility. We can’t afford to blame a client for not acting the way we want them to. First, we have to build the system that makes it work, and we have to make it so the client is thrilled to follow our rules. I have a big directive in my business – I don’t shoot on spec. I made this decision a long time ago. It is a line in the sand that I drew to establish a level of respect for what I do and what it is worth. Of course, you guys are free to do what you want and my way isn’t the only way. But I have learned that my most precious resource is time, and I will not spend any time on work that isn’t making what I need it to make. In my business it is never a question of whether or not a given job will make what I need it to, I am focused on whether this will be the biggest job I’ve ever done.
So many things are a matter of perspective. You can ask why a client would commit to an investment up front without seeing the images. Or you can ask why they wouldn’t want t0 trust an expert to create the perfect piece. Every perceived negative is a massively valuable positive if you look at it in the right way.
This isn’t a portrait example, but bear with me. I recently had a wedding client that kept talking about her $10,000 wedding dress budget. I think the beginner wedding photographer might view this client as braggy or perhaps gifted with more wealth than discretion. It became clear to me that wasn’t the case. This client was very busy, and not an expert in wedding dresses. She wanted to look a certain wayamd be confident that everything would work out. Her method of controlling the situation and being completely confident of her decision was to budget enough money for the product (and more importantly service) that she knew without question that her goals would be satisfied.
I think photographers have a huge problem. They are focused completely on price. Price is what something COSTS, value is what something is WORTH. If we focus on value, we can stop trying to beg and tempt and dance around the price. Photographers look at a sum of money and think that a client would never pay that much. Flip it, ask yourself what a client would be thrilled to invest that much in.
Hey, I’ve got a lot of opinions. I’d like to hear more of yours. Let me know what you think in an email, comment or tweet. Also, if you’d like to work through your pricing/value proposition or solidify your branding to the point where the clients are looking for you instead of the other way around take a look at my consultations page.