Looking around the family portrait field, photographer Kelly Jones sees too many struggling photographers. She sees photographers leaving easy sales on the table, letting valuable client relationships atrophy, and giving work away for prices that don’t even cover their expenses. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
As Jones has demonstrated in her own Naples, Florida, business, it takes only a few steps to get on the right track. Jones practices her craft on location, mostly on nearby beaches, and conducts sales meetings in clients’ homes or via Zoom. She’s established a reliable framework for building a six-figure income that can work for any family portrait business, regardless of whether you work in a studio or on location.
“The opportunity is out there to increase your income if you know how,” she says. “It’s something every photographer can do, and there are no limitations once you understand how to do it.”
Step 1. Offer more than digital. The quickest way to limit your sales is by cutting yourself out of the printing and product revenue by giving clients all the digital files. If you want to present the option of digital files, incorporate them into a package or as a bonus after clients have purchased above a given threshold. Otherwise, you’re selling yourself short.
Step 2. Talk about the past. Have a conversation with potential clients about their past experiences with photographers. What were their expectations? Were those expectations met? Was anything missing? Use this opportunity to talk about what you can do that’s different.
Also ask what they did with the images from their most recent family session. “For so many people who used a shoot-and-burn photographer, the answer is nothing,” says Jones. “Show how you can do better. The shoot is only half of what we do as photographers. The other half comes after the shoot when we help our clients display their images artistically. Getting clients excited about that is important, and it happens during that exploration stage.”
Step 3. Target the right clients. Consider how to reach clients who are interested in artistic displays, not just a collection of digital files. To reach those ideal clients, figure out where those people are finding your business, and reach out to them there. This could involve social media marketing, community outreach, professional networking, email, advertising or, most likely, a combination of all these elements. Having an annual budget to target market to this audience is also important.
Step 4. Show what you can do. Don’t just talk about it; show people what you can produce for them. You don’t need a dedicated studio or sales space. Wall design software programs allow you to project images onto the space where they’ll eventually hang. “That is a huge opportunity to go into clients’ homes and show them how their images will work in their actual space,” says Jones. “Demonstrate what’s possible by putting together ideas on the wall.” If you’re not able to visit a client’s home, you can do a version of this virtually through an online meeting.
Many album design software applications allow you to pre-design albums then virtually flip through the pages on a monitor or on the client’s TV during a home visit. “I don’t know how many times I’ve had clients say, ‘I didn’t know I wanted an album until you showed it to me,’” says Jones. “Clients love seeing their images displayed together on a page. They love seeing the story of their session, even if it’s just a one-hour shoot.”
Jones always includes extra pages in her album designs, which helps the clients see more options and fall in love with more portraits. “They never want to cut pages,” she explains. “The extra time spent to design the album on spec pays off enormously.”
Step 5. Display some wow factor. Show products people want to invest in, unique items that clients may not have seen before—acrylics, reveal boxes, painterly finishes—things they can’t necessarily buy online. Whether yours is a luxury brand or not, when you have unique offerings, you boost the overall sales numbers.
Step 6. Price for profit. A huge part of getting to six figures is setting prices at a level that generates a reasonable profit. “A lot of photographers are afraid to make the leap to higher prices, but if you’re looking for clients who will invest four to five figures, you have to price appropriately,” says Jones. That means knowing your numbers, including your cost of sales, your profit margin, and your revenue goals for the year. Work backward from your revenue goals to determine session and product pricing.
Bonus step: Set the stage for repeat success. The lifeblood of any six-figure portrait business comes from repeat clients and referrals. There are so many opportunities for family photographers to continue and extend the relationship with additional family photos, senior portrait sessions, extended family portraits, specialized location sessions, holiday sessions, the list goes on.
“The important thing is to keep the lines of communication open,” says Jones. Get all those contacts in your email database and reach out to them even if it’s just once a year. You could remind people of booking deadlines for special promotions, like holiday sessions, or just drop people a note to let them know you’re around. You don’t need an excuse. “It doesn’t have to be salesy—just a reminder of who you are, what you do, and how you can help.”
Jones also suggests sharing both personal and professional images whenever you reach out. She likes to share snapshots of wall art she’s produced, which offers a glimpse into how other clients are displaying her work and inspires clients on what they could be doing with their portraits. She also shares photos from family vacations and other personal events to help maintain a friendly tone.
Following these steps should set you on a course for reliable six-figure earnings. To fast-track your path to profits, Jones also recommends avoiding the following missteps.
“Clients want service. They don’t want to turn to the internet to figure out how to print and display images. And they want quality. When you look at what’s offered online and at big box shops, there aren’t the same high-quality, artistic options that professional photographers can produce.”Kelly Jones
Don’t: Email a gallery. Too many photographers simply email an online gallery, and that’s the last clients hear from them. When you do this, you are limiting the opportunity for additional sales and cutting off the potential for a longer relationship. “Clients want service,” explains Jones. “They don’t want to turn to the internet to figure out how to print and display images. And they want quality. When you look at what’s offered online and at big box shops, there aren’t the same high-quality, artistic options that professional photographers can produce.”
Don’t: Assume that higher sales are not possible in your market. “Don’t make an assumption about what someone values based on what they earn—or what you think they earn,” says Jones. “Sometimes the people living in a $10 million home are the most frugal, but the more modest family that is down at the beach on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation is willing to spend much more to commemorate it.” Take your biases out of the process and let clients make the determination of value.
Don’t: Shortchange yourself by not offering higher-end options. You need pricing structures that allow people the option to spend more. Don’t limit yourself based on what you think people would pay or what you would pay. Create options and pricing structures for people who want something special.
“Bottom line: You’re worth it,” says Jones. “Don’t shortchange your artistry! You are worth so much more than the pennies that are being charged out there.”
Jeff Kent is the editor-at-large.