©Sigmon Taylor

Walk the Walk

It’s one of the most persistent and common questions photographers ask: How do I increase my income? Photography entrepreneurs have found a variety of answers to improving their profitability, including new marketing strategies, improved sales techniques, differentiated product offerings, and many other solutions.

While all those tactics help, one thing I’ve learned over the past 20 years in business is this: You’re leaving money on the table—and more important you’re underserving your clients—if you don’t believe in what you do and what you’re providing. I know; it seems like a no-brainer that confidence is essential to business success. And it definitely feels like a generic answer. But hear me out as I explain specific ways to build your confidence to ask for the money you deserve.

Surround Yourself with Excellence

It’s always fun to be at the head of the class. It strokes our egos to be the expert or the go-to when someone has a question or is stuck. It feels good to help, and it reassures us that we’ve got it all together.

But there’s danger here. Even if you’re doing a lot of things right, it’s easy to stop striving for significant improvements if you think you’re out ahead of the pack.

A few years ago my husband, Michael Taylor, M.Photog.Hon.M.Photog.Cr., API, F-ASP, and I started a very small mastermind group with three other topnotch studios. Each is at the top of the photography profession in both business and photographic skill, and Michael and I have admired them for many years. In this group we’re definitely not at the head of the class. We’re constantly stretched to think differently. As a group, we look outside our industry for solutions and innovative ideas. We push ourselves to constantly improve and never settle. Nothing is off the table.

I’ve seen firsthand that as we surround ourselves with experts, my own confidence increases because I know I’m constantly working toward a higher standard.

A family poses for a portrait at a photography studio
Do You Feel Great About What You Charge?

We’ve all dealt with anxiety in the sales room at some time. When I stopped to question where my anxiety came from, I realized it stemmed from the belief that something we were delivering wasn’t worth the price we were asking. When this insecurity crops up, it’s a good idea to take a look at three things:

  • The quality of the product. Am I using the best vendors or am I trying to cut costs?
  • The quality of the photography. Is my skill set sufficient?
  • The quality of the experience. Is everything from the physical space where business is conducted to product packaging and processes meeting the standard I want to set?

This was the source of my unease, and I’ll share how I overcame it.

Photographer shows a child her picture on the digital back of her camera
Your Service Must Outpace Your Prices

We run a high-end boutique studio, and our pricing is not for the faint of heart. I realized that on some subconscious level there were a lot of little things we were doing that weren’t congruent with a luxury business model. For instance, although our studio was very nice, the landlord hadn’t done any work to the parking lot in several years. When I was honest with myself, I knew it made for a lousy first impression. I hated that parking lot and it made me feel bad every day when I came to work. Furthermore, our space was small with low ceilings and didn’t allow for display portraits in the sizes I believed clients should have. I felt uncomfortable talking about those sizes when I didn’t have any properly displayed in our studio. It felt sales-y and that’s not what we’re about.

When our lease was up, we moved our studio and almost immediately things began to change. The building and parking lot were more impressive, and the new space was warehouse style, so it accommodated much larger portraits and more of them. But beyond the physical improvements themselves, I could acknowledge and be proud that this change was a way to serve our clients better. That excited both Michael and me, and we hunted for other ways to improve our clients’ experience.

We were now able to demonstrate our conviction for wall portraits and our belief that a family portrait is the most valuable art someone can own. We also made our framing area more prominent, letting clients know that we’re a complete one-stop solution, from creation to framing to installation, all for their convenience. We can and will take care of everything.

We started looking for ways we could surprise and delight our clients—from small gifts to a beautiful tray of healthy snacks on the conference room table to making lunch or dinner reservations for them post-session, complete with a surprise dessert. Some of our changes cost a little money. Others cost nothing: meeting clients at their car to help carry items they want to use in their session, holding the baby or playing with the little ones while Mom is in the makeup chair, steaming outfits that were wrinkled in the car.

Photographer makes photos with gallery of portraits in background

We also put our money where our mouth was with a happiness guarantee. For example, one client wanted to make an adjustment to the retouching we’d originally agreed on, and it necessitated us reworking and reprinting one of her wall portraits. Rather than being upset about the extra cost and work on our end, I found myself loving the fact that, because we charge what we do, I could easily handle the problem and make her over-the-moon happy. Again, this bolstered my confidence in the prices we were charging. On the rare occasion that a problem arises, we can make things right and do so in a manner that a high-end client expects. No ifs, ands, or buts.

It also felt great to upgrade a few features on our albums, retool our printed products, and spiff up our packaging. All these upgrades aligned with the prices we were charging.

As our sales increased, we were able to take fewer jobs, be more selective of clients, and spend more time with each. 

Monica Sigmon

As my confidence grew, our sales grew. I no longer had even the slightest anxiety in the sales room because I truly believed our prices were commensurate with all aspects of what we were delivering. I was asking for the money I believed we earned and deserved.

As our sales increased, we were able to take fewer jobs, be more selective of clients, and spend more time with each. This allows me to take as many phone calls and answer as many emails as necessary to ensure the wardrobe for the session is just right, make house calls to measure walls or to discuss redecorating around artwork, and even to create a customized storyboard for a project. All of these elements layer more value into the experience we provide. They also they feel familiar to our high-end clientele.

Making these changes was a slow process that took about a year. The result: We doubled our average sale without raising prices. I always knew the work and the physical products were in line with our pricing; now I have the client experience to match. There is no better feeling than knowing in your heart of hearts that you can—and do—provide something of deep meaning, value, and worth. 

Monica Sigmon and her husband, Michael Taylor, own Sigmon Taylor Photography in Williamsburg, Virginia.