Laura Cottril is a portrait photographers in the San Francisco Bay Area that provides clients a complete portrait solution. Learn from her experience how she has been able to almost double her per session sales by spending quality time with her clients.
A big key to Laura’s success has been to go to the client’s home for the initial consultation. This is a great way for Laura to develop the relationship, view the client’s style, and provide a high level of customer service.
If the client primarily has small, high quality art, matted and framed, Laura suggests fine art photos in matted frames, and doesn’t recommend a canvas. Laura takes this opportunity to brainstorm display ideas and get excited about the session with the client. This is the “planting seeds” portion of the relationship, when you and the client are developing a plan together. Then when it is time for the sale, it is simple to refer back to the plan when presenting your work.
Laura also takes photos of possible display locations that she can use in the sales session with ProSelect. The program enables her to show the client room with their portraits displayed as an overlay at various sizes. This is a big hit with the client and also shows what “too big” or “too small” look like. You may think you don’t have time to be spending with each client like this, but because of this client commitment Laura photographs less clients and makes higher sales per client.
Some client’s don’t want large portraits of themselves and their family around the house. For these clients she leads with portrait books. Laura takes their word with a grain of salt as she has had clients say they didn’t like portraits all over their home only to turn around and purchase exactly that! It is very different once a client experiences the process and sees the beautiful portraits of their own family! Another great selling point for portrait books is when the client “loves them all” and “how can I ever decide?”. A portrait book is a great solution and Laura emphasizes the benefits in that each portrait is retouched, the book is custom graphic designed and the book itself is made from high quality archival materials. This book is a special way to include all the client’s favorites in a beautiful package.
“I prefer the coffee table book over a thick paged flush mount album because I think it looks more like an art book I would find on photography at the book store. Someone once compared the stiff page books [flush mount albums] to books you read to babies and I never got that out of my head. My goal is to provide my client with a high quality product that also has a high perceived value and something they could not get on their own.”
Portrait books have a lot of time and talent involved in photographing, creating and printing them. Laura makes sure to capture the value of the book with a simplified strategy.
“Rather than quoting a huge number for the book and having them go into shock over it, I’ve come up with a “per page” cost. This way I quote to the client how much it is by the page and tell them they can make the book larger or smaller to fit their budget! This puts the cost decision in the hands of the customer, and doesn’t make me the bad guy. Even though it is still expensive, when it is broken down as a page cost, it feels more acceptable to the clients. Most of my clients will order a twenty page book. I let them know that they should average 2-3 images per page. Less if they want more full page images. This helps the client narrow down their favorites in order to fit their page count.”
Laura charges a similar amount per book page to her 8×10″ portrait price. Having multiple images on a page and the design work required makes a photo book page a good value for the client. When they ask about the pricing, once this is pointed out it makes sense and the client feels more comfortable. This formula only works if you are charging adequately for your 8×10″ prints. Costs factored in to the 8×10″ are print cost, retouching and packaging. Laura also subs out the retouching and graphic design for the books so these costs are factored in at 30% of her total cost to the client. This also allows for 30% business overhead with 30% going to you. It is easier to stand behind your pricing when you understand what your costs really are. When you consider that you are receiving 30% of the sale of the book you must also consider if you feel like you are getting paid what you are worth. What is your “happy” number? (Note: even if you are doing the retouching and graphic design, you should be compensated for that. Your time is money!)
Once photos are selected, if the design calls for a couple of extra pages Laura often adds them with no extra charge to the client. The cost of a few extra pages is minimal and the client is thrilled when you point out your bonus gift to them.
Laura’s strategy seems to be working. In the last year or so average sales per portrait session has almost doubled.
To find these higher-end clients, Laura partners with other local businesses that cater to the type of client that Laura wants. Laura calls this micro-targeting. Here’s a couple of examples:
- One recent partnership is with a landscape architect who plans to give her best clients a gift certificate for Cottril’s photography. “The intention is for me to photograph the family in their newly landscaped yard. By also photographing the landscape architect and providing her with samples, I can share my experiences with her clients. In turn she can provide me with guidance in my yard.” One thing Laura does to make it a win-win for the referring company is to ask the families if the images can be used on both companies websites.
- Another example is a referral from a friend that is a post-partum doula. Marketing photographic services to families with newborns is not an original idea, but having a plan in place to get referrals to the right clients makes all the difference.
Once you’ve taken a photography oriented sales class or two, you will find you are getting a lot of similar information, look into sales training outside the photography industry. Looking at training outside the photography industry will provide a fresh perspective and also give you ideas that will work with your marketing partners.
Sources for sales and marketing information and training that have helped Laura include PPA Studio Management Services, Sarah Petty of joyofmarketing.com, and Jesse and Sharla of rejuvenateyourpractice.com.
Choose the Right Suppliers
Laura advises not to offer too many products, focus on a few high value products that customers can’t get elsewhere. Laura generally offers clients:
- Canvas wraps
- Photo Books from SharedInk
- Fine art prints from Jonathan Penney
- Gift sized photos and holiday cards are add-ons to the sale
Along the way Laura learned to outsource things that were holding her back. Laura says: “Let go of things you don’t enjoy.” This philosophy, which she “learned through pain”
, allows her to spend her time behind the lens, servicing clients, and networking.
When selecting products Laura advises that partnering with suppliers can make a big difference in studio success. Currently Laura outsources her photo retouching and album design. (editors note: Laura outsources most of her page design, but she designed this awesome photo cover. This is what Laura has to say about SharedInk:
“Hands down I am always impressed with Shared Ink customer service! My friend and I used to joke that (you) were just sitting there waiting for us to send you a book because the response time was so great! This is so helpful for my business as the ordering process is so smooth, with any questions or problems worked out quickly. This keeps the book ordering from being bogged down and helps me get my client’s books to them quickly. I appreciate when anyone can help me keep the flow moving!”
Laura Cottril Photography specializes in maternity, children and family portraits using natural light. Laura has been profiled in Professional Photographer magazine, Rangefinder and ProPhoto West magazines. Laura continues to learn and expand her skills and is in the process of becoming a master and craftsman, and enjoys having speaking engagements and seminars to share her expertise with other photographers. You can see Laura’s web site at www.lauracphotography.com.