A portrait sales blueprint

Bruce and Josh Hudson share their formula for portrait sales success

Behind every successful business is a successful system. Portrait photography is no exception. Over more than 35 years, Hudson's Portrait Design, located outside of Seattle, has established proven systems not only for driving strong sales but also building relationships that lead to years of repeat bookings from loyal clients. Now, the father-son duo of Bruce Hudson, M.Photog.Cr., and Josh Hudson share the blueprint to that successful system.

© Hudson's Portrait Design

Step 1: Marketing

You need to create the desire for your products. For photographers, this process often starts with showing people your work, demonstrating the quality and craftsmanship, and displaying the unique artistry you’re able to put into the work.

For Bruce and Josh, all marketing is based on decades of accumulated insights into their target market, which includes demographic characteristics as well as details such as where clients send their kids to school, their civic and charitable interests, and more. Then the Hudsons position themselves as niche providers for a specific audience and focus their marketing acutely on that target.

Step 2: First contact

The first call or email by a prospective client is a critical step because it allows the photographer to build rapport, create excitement, and establish a sense of confidence in the photographer’s professionalism. It’s also the first opportunity to determine if the client is a good fit based on their budget and what they want from the studio.

There are two primary goals associated with this conversation:

  1. Qualify the client in terms of expectations and comfort with ballpark pricing.
  2. If the prospect is qualified, book a consultation session.

The Hudsons have created scripts for phone, email, and text conversations that provide responses to the standard questions (and objections), such as:

  • Can I get a price list?
  • I’m too busy for a consultation.
  • Can’t we just do it over the phone?
  • Do I get a CD of images?

Based on client responses, the Hudsons provide explanations to help build rapport, excitement, and confidence—or they detail next steps so the client always feels informed about the process and comfortable with what happens next.     

Step 3: Consultation

This face-to-face meeting establishes the artistic direction for the portrait session and exposes the client to the possibilities offered by the studio. The Hudsons have organized the consultation into six steps:

  1. Set the tone by introducing the client to the studio and process.
  2. Show the possibilities related to products and artistic treatments.
  3. Ask questions to determine the client’s motivation and preferences.
  4. Educate the client about products, policies, and pricing.
  5. Schedule a go-see session at the client’s home to view the space and coordinate the image plan with the décor.
  6. Book the portrait session and collect the deposit payment.

Step 4: Portrait session

This is where the setup work translates into an artistic product. Bruce, who does all the photography, focuses on creating a memorable experience that’s personalized to each client. Using the information gathered in the go-see session at their home, he focuses on creating wall art for particular spaces. Keeping those spaces in mind, he shoots for specific products, which removes any speculation about what the client might like. Instead, he creates everything with a purpose that’s been pre-determined by up-front client interactions.

© Hudson's Portrait Design

Step 5: Projection sales

Clients coming in for a sales session have been pre-qualified and educated, and they’re motivated by what they’ve seen so far. So this session is less about selling and more about selecting the final images and products. During each session, Bruce or Josh projects the images at actual size using slideshows set to music in software that’s specifically designed for presentation and ordering. Working with the client, they edit down the final selections, size each chosen image, and close out the order.

Step 6: Delivery

Product delivery is a celebration. The Hudsons hand-deliver the images to the client’s home. They also provide a thank-you gift as a token of their appreciation.

© Hudson's Portrait Design

STEP 7: Ongoing relationship

“I don’t want to book just one session with a client,” says Bruce. “I want this relationship to last for years.”

After the sale, the Hudsons stay in touch with clients, nurturing the relationship over time and sending notes at key life milestones. These timely, relevant, and thoughtful communications help keep Hudson Portrait Design top of mind for the client’s next sessions.

Step 8: Next opportunity

The hard work was done up front. The next sale is a matter of maintaining the groundwork that’s already been established. The Hudson client base has been qualified, educated, and motivated. These conditions make the next sale more likely, much easier, and substantially quicker. The clients are also part of the Hudsons’ carefully maintained and very valuable marketing list. The more Bruce and Josh can return to this ever expanding group and continue to service them effectively, the more the studio’s sales grow. This group is also the greatest source of referrals, which forms the lifeblood of any successful photography studio. 

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Jeff Kent is the editor-at-large of Professional Photographer.