It is finally starting to feel like Fall in sunny California. And with the Autumn weather, comes lots of family portrait sessions for the holidays. If your business is anything like mine, October is the beginning of the busy season. Since the sun sets earlier, I have less time to book family sessions during the week (after school that is) and the weekend sessions fill up quickly.
From the start of my business in 2002, more that 70% of my overall revenue was done from September to December. Because it was/ is impossible for me to hire trained staff for only 2-3 months, in the beginning I found myself answering emails and setting up appointments from 5 am until late morning, shooting from afternoon until sundown and then editing and retouching images, designing holiday cards and sending out orders from 8 am until midnight. While the financial health of my business during that time looked great, my personal health and quality of life suffered.
So in 2013, I started to outsource all of my photoshop work and my holiday card designs. This freed me up to be more present for my clients when I was shooting and, allowed me to enjoy the holiday season with my friends and family. I tried several different companies when I was searching for photo retouching services and, unfortunately I was unable to find one that consistently delivered images that were up to my studio’s standards.
The concept of Blue Sky’s Retouching began in 2017. Since then, our professional portrait retouch artists have been providing photo retouching to me for each and ever session I shoot. It did take a few weeks of back and forth with my personal retouch artist to lock in my exact retouching style, but the time I put into establishing my retouching criteria has paid off in literally 1000 of hours saved. Now I am able to get out and shoot more sessions, while having the peace of mind to know that my images will be retouched and delivered to me within 48 hours of uploading them through the Blue Sky’s Retouching website.
I hope that your photography business will have an amazing holiday season and that you will have the opportunity to not only photograph lots of clients, but that you will also have personal time to enjoy the season with your family and friends.
Pricing Portraits for Profit
I don’t know about you, but I became a professional portrait photographer because I love capturing gorgeous images of people and creating long term relationships with clients. But let’s face it, I also wanted to pay my bills.
In a sea of Orange County photographers (my market) who charged anywhere from $50 to $5,000 for a portrait session and prints, how was I going to price my photography so I could have a thriving business and have thrilled clients?
Blue Sky's Formula for Determining Photography Portrait products pricing:
1) First, I researched best business practices for portrait photographers and found out that PPA say professional photographers should price their products at the minimum a 25% cost of goods.
What does that mean? Well first let's calculate the true cost of an 8x10 print:
So in order to be profitable, I would have to make $17.99 my cost of goods, which would be 25% of the price I would need to charge my clients. That meant I would need to charge my clients at least $71.96 for an 8x10.
2) I determined What type of Photography studio I wanted to create.
Because I wanted to offer my clients a unique portrait experience, and really stand out in my crowded market, I found that in order to be profitable, I would have to use a 20% cost of goods. So I started developing my price list, offering wall art, albums and folio images boxes with pricing based on that variable.
In order to attracted my idea client, who would pay the prices I was charging, I had to invest a lot of time into building relationships in my market, attending charity events, creating compelling email marketing, creating advertising campaigns on social media, creating a referral incentive program and putting marketing campaigns together. Not to mention shooting beautiful images, sitting down for an In Person Sales consultation (IPS) after the session and delivering beautifully retouched finished products.
These business tasks all took a lot of my time, but it was time well spent (my business has done over a quarter of a million dollars in sales annually over the last 5 years).
All of this made it a really easy decision to start outsourcing my retouching and editing. By using the 10 hours a week I had been spending on retouching, to focus on developing and growing my business, I have remained a healthy, thriving business for over fifteen years. By targeting a 20% cost of goods, I have easily been able to absorb the cost of outsourcing my retouching into my cost of goods.
As Sue Bryce says, “It is so important to ask yourself if you want to be in business or if you want to just get paid for doing something you love. They are not the same thing! You need to be ready for the business part of being a photographer if you are going to have a sustainable and successful portrait studio.”
I hope you found this helpful and it takes some of the stress out of creating a price list. If you would like to see if outsourcing your retouching is right for your business, click bellow to create a personal photographic retouching profile and have us retouch 10 images for your business free of charge:
AFTER THE PORTRAIT SESSION WORKFLOW:
Portrait photography post-shoot workflow is something that most photographers don’t focus on when first starting their business. With all the hustle of just going out and getting your first clients, let alone someone who is actually paying you, setting up a good workflow system is overlooked. But setting up a good system from the very beginning can actually save you time and help you stay organized. Which in the end will help you be a happier, more creative photographer.
Why should great workflow be a concern to you as a Portrait Photographer?
A PHOTOGRAPHERS STEP BY STEP GUIDE TO POST PORTRAIT WORKFLOW
The first step is to actually book and shoot a portrait session. From there, follow these detailed steps to ensure a successful workflow for every portrait session:
ORGANIZING YOUR IMAGES ON AN EXTERNAL HARD DRIVE
USING PHOTO MECHANIC SOFTWARE TO CULL YOUR IMAGES
CREATING AN EXPORTABLE CATALOG IN LIGHTROOM
EXPORTING THE LIGHTROOM CATALOG AND EDITING THE LIGHTROOM CATALOG OFF SITE.
SORTING AN EXPORTING IMAGES FROM A LIGHTROOM CATALOG
USING SMUGMUG TO BACK UP YOUR IMAGES INTO THE CLOUD
UPLOADING IMAGES TO BLUE SKYS RETOUCHING FROM YOUR COMPUTER
CREATING A PROSELECT CLIENT FILE FOR IN PERSON REVIEWS (IPS)
AN ANIMOTO SLIDESHOW WITH THE FAVORITES AND VIDEO CLIPS
I know this list can feel a little overwhelming, but take it from me, having a great workflow provides you with peace of mind and makes running a portrait business fun!
Links to all of the software and products mentioned in this article
In 2002, without any background experience, I opened a 3000+ square foot retail portrait studio in Laguna Hills California, complete with a hair styling and a full wardrobe of clothing. I had big dreams to grow Blue Sky's Salon and Studio (our name then), into a thriving business. While we did grow and achieve a lot of success, it was overwhelmingly stressful creating my own roadmap to building the business. So here are 5 things I wish I had done from the very beginning.
1). Build a solid Database from Day One: Your clients are gold. From the very first client you need to make sure you cultivate the relationship. The best way to do this is by creating a powerful database. Make sure you have all of their personal information including their first and last name, their cell and home phone number, their home address and the names of all of the members of their family. I also try to include personal notes about their family, so each year I get to know them better and better. If you are building a family portrait business (which I hope you are considering), the more you know about your client's family, the more you become a part of their inner circle. Once you are in, they will stay with you and better yet, they will refer you to their friends. Other really important information includes the last place you did their portrait session and what they have ordered from you in the past. For my database I use shootq.com. You can find some other really great portrait management softwares by checking out the blog post 8 Best Studio Management Software for Photographers by clicking here.
2). Define Who you want as your Ideal Client: When I started Blue Sky's Studio, my kiddos were in preschool. So naturally, I started targeting families with preschool age kids. I think this is a great strategy to focus on people you know who are in your inner circle, when you first start your business. Even prior to my retail store opening, I started asking my kids preschool if I could set up a fun portrait fundraiser that would raise money for the school and allow me to have some sample images before my business actually opened. This event had nothing to do with generating income for my studio, it was solely to start to create relationships and to provide the images we would need for fliers and newsletters, etc. (believe it or not there wasn't really any social media or even email marketing when I first launched my business). These preschool families also became the first people I put into a folder with hand written notes to target as potential clients. A year later, we transferred all of these people into a database and started creating a monthly newsletter. This newsletter continued to grow and now I have 3,200 people that receive it each month. Some of those very first families still come back and shoot with Blue Sky's Studio.
3). Back up your photos: I know a lot of photographers. Most of my photography friends have been in the business for years and we can all share one horror story, losing someones images. My story beginning with a leak in the upstairs bathroom opening up and pouring water into my office. In our rush to remove all of my computer gear, my very large hard drive was knocked over and ruined. At the time, I was backing up all of my images to SmugMug, but I was in the process of retouching a 60 page album of two teenagers, who had really bad acne, and a fussy Mom. I had finally completed the album retouches and had it signed off by the family. You can guess the rest, all the retouched images were on that hard drive. I literally fell to the floor crying when I realized they were gone. I started calling data recovery services and $2500 later, they were able to recover all the retouched files. Lesson very painfully learned. I now back up all my work as I am in progress.
4). Outsource what you don't know: Are you terrible with numbers? By all means outsource your bookkeeping. Do you hate sales, then hire a sales person because without sales our business never gets off the ground. Do you need to set up all your legal documents? Hire a lawyer who know what they are doing. The most important thing is that you set everything up correctly in the beginning so you don't have problems down the line. You should focus on what you do best, take amazing portraits, and leave the things that take your time and bring you no pleasure to people who are better suited to the job. I promise you that if you focus on what you love, the clients will follow and you will have all of the energy and enthusiasm to serve them the best way possible and create an amazing experience in which they continue to come back again and again.
5). Decide to actually create a business- That means actually setting everything up like a real business from the beginning. What are you going to sell? How much will you sell it for. How many shoots do you need per month at what sales average to support yourself? How will you find your ideal client? Who will create your website? Do you have a social media marketing strategy? I know all of these things sound overwhelming, but with a little planning, you can really break each one down and make it achievable. In the coming weeks and months, I am going to share everything I do to run a profitable and successful portrait studio. I hope you continue to come back often, and please give me any feedback or ask any questions in the comments below and I will get back to you as quickly as possible.