Why I Changed to In-Person Sales (IPS)
About 3 years into my business, I was facing burnout. I was shooting sessions all weekend long from sun up to sun down, staying up until 2 am to finish my edits and upload to galleries, fielding calls and emails as soon as they came in, but most of all, I was missing my life.
Didn't I start this business to be my own boss? Then why was my calendar out of control, my time gone and no money to show for all of my hard work?
The breaking point came when I asked a returning client at her son's cake smash session how much she loved his newborn photos. Her response, "Oh yeah, I still haven't gotten around to printing them. They are in my desk drawer." I was heartbroken. I spent HOURS editing her baby's session to perfection and they had never been printed or enjoyed? There had to be a better way. How could I make my family happy and serve my clients better?
In researching successful businesses, I discovered that the physical print is not dead, clients will absolutely hire a photographer who sells products AND the photography studios who offer these services in-person make far more money than I could ever do on a shoot & burn or online gallery business plan.
If you are at this same point in your photography business (or see it in your future) I'd love to demystify some of the questions surrounding an In Person Sales (IPS) photography business model.
What is In Person Sales (IPS)?
In Person Sales is exactly what it sounds like. An in-person meeting between photographer and client where the client is shown their images and then selects the prints, wall art or albums for an order. All communication is done face to face and the order is placed (and paid for) at the time of the sale.
Why Should I do IPS?
First, it benefits your clients. Meeting with clients in person creates a deeper emotional connection to the images that you have created with them. You are also able to assist in print size selection including wall art design and guiding your clients through the ordering process.
Many clients want to print AND hang their photos. That is the exact reason why they had photos taken. But, most don't know what to do after they receive the digital files. Discs will sit in a drawer, waiting "until I have time". Six months or a year goes by and it may be time for another session but your client still may not have printed anything from their previous session.
In person sales will remove the uncertainty they may feel when making decisions regarding their art and offers them an expert (you) to help them.
Second, it benefits your business. You can generate higher income by offering prints and products to your clients than by simply shooting and handing over the digital files.
Math time. Assuming a Session + digital files = $250, you will have to schedule 200 sessions to generate $50,000 (that's just gross income, no taxes or business expenses covered). In order to generate $100,000, you will either have to shoot 400 sessions in one year (and risk burnout) at $250 or 100 sessions at $1000. Which sounds better? It's all about working smarter, not harder.
Who Does IPS Work For?
IPS has traditionally worked well for portrait & wedding/event photographers. Remember, that 25 years ago, there was no shoot & share or online galleries. All photographic sales orders were conducted in-person. Due to their digital nature, commercial, fashion or business headshots are not encouraged to follow the IPS model.
Where Do I Conduct an IPS Session?
If you do no't have a studio, you have a few options. You can meet at a public space such as a coffee shop or high end cafe. You can rent a space or studio specifically for your meetings. You can travel to your clients' homes and have the ability to show them the art possibilities on their walls. As long as you have a quiet space to chat with your clients and present their images, any venue is acceptable.
How Should I Show Clients the Photos? On a Television? An iPad?
For those with dedicated sales spaces, a large television screen or projector works great. You also have the option of a portable screen and projector if you travel to your clients and want to project images true to size on their walls. Some photographers prefer to use an iPad loaded with a proofing/selling app or a laptop loaded with viewing software.
Should I Have Samples Available? What Kind of Samples?
When you are first starting out, you won't need a sample of everything you want to sell, but you should have a few samples to show quality and allow your clients to experience the products in person. One sample album, one sample canvas, and some gift prints is a good way to start. If you plan to offer specialty or unique items, such as accordion albums, having them on hand is also a good idea.
How Do I Price My Products?
Photography pricing is a tricky subject and there are a ton of articles and resources available to assist in the creation of a price menu and packages or collections. But it starts with knowing your costs of doing business (CODB). You can't just ask a vendor for the print price and then arbitrarily decide to mark that price up 300% to sell. You also can't judge your pricing off the photographer down the street. Everyone's business costs are different and therefore their pricing will also be different.
How Do I Figure Out My Cost of Doing Business (CODB)?
If you haven't done so already, your CODB is calculated by taking into account all of your business expenses (gear, insurance, taxes, props, vehicle, office supplies, marketing, salaries, etc) and then figuring out your daily and hourly minimum for not only staying in business but also turning a profit. A great calculator is HERE.
What are Good Professional Labs to Look for Products?
There are many to choose from, including Simply Color Lab, Bay Photo, Millers, ProDPI, WHCC, Artsy Couture, Blackriver Imaging and American Color Imaging. Take a look at their product lines, shipping times, and then set up an account. Many labs will offer you sample images to help you calibrate your monitor to their printer.
How Many Images Should I Present?
This is really up to you as the photographer and what your goals are with your clients. You can remove the difficult decisions and present a limited number of images (25-40) to allow the clients to select wall art and gift prints. Or show them a lot (100+) and overwhelm them so they want them all and are likely to buy an album or full collection. Only you can decide which way works best for your personality and business plan.
What Do I Do About Digital Files?
So, this is the tough question that everyone making the leap to IPS struggles with. Again, this depends on your business plan but a few valid options are:
- Don't sell digital files at all, remove them from your vocabulary, and focus solely on printed art.
- Sell digital files at a premium price to encourage print sales and discourage digital file sales (i.e. your 11x14 print is $75, a digital file is $150, making the print option more attractive).
- Offer digitial files in collections only with a minimum purchase amount (i.e. collection B includes 1 16x20, 2 8x10s and 5 digital files).
- Include a matching digital negative with a print/pose purchase. (i.e. order an 8x10, receive the digital file & print release for an 8x10 size).
No matter what you decide regarding digital files, with in person sales they are not included as part of a session fee. If digital images are included, the client will have no incentive to order professional prints. In their mind, they can go to a big box store and print the files, and most won't care about the difference in quality. You also have the option of offering a digital app or web-ready digital images as incentives or add-on sales to clients.
There are photographers having success with a hybrid model of including digital files and setting up the sales appointment, but they are primarily well-established studios with a proven workflow and sales system. But no studio with yearly million dollar sales offers digital files in their collections. That, to me, speaks volumes.
What if I Lose All of My Clients?
In making the change to products and in person sales you WILL lose clients. Especially if you calculate your cost of doing business (CODB) and realize that you are losing money handing over all those digital files to clients.
It hurts, it sucks, but there are other clients out there. Ones who are willing to invest higher amounts in their sessions, ones who will love to have your art hanging on their walls, and ones who will return to you and refer their friends.
The In Person Sales market is different, you will likely be changing demographics so do not be fooled into thinking you can make the change to an IPS photographer and do the same marketing tactics you did as a shoot & burn photographer. It won't work. That's like Neiman Marcus trying to win over WalMart customers.
However, when you do find those clients, you will shoot fewer sessions and make more money while providing them a better finished service. Winning all around!
Do you have any questions or comments about In Person Sales? Leave us a comment below - we would love to hear from you! And please share our tutorial using the social sharing buttons - we really appreciate it!