As a relatively new professional portrait photographer, I scoured the internet for information about in-person ordering sessions. At first, it did not look encouraging. I was told that in-person ordering sessions are time consuming. Some photographers suggested that I needed an expensive projector to really “wow” clients. Not to mention, I lacked any real sales training. An informal poll suggested that people love online galleries. As a result, for my first few months, I did online photography galleries. It worked, but I felt this nagging desire to try in-person ordering.
After some experimentation, I’ve found a way to make in-person ordering work for my business. It cost me nothing in time AND money. First, I’ll provide the reasons why this works for me so you can decide if it works for your photography business. Then, I’ll provide step by step details how I pull it off with my clients.
Here are some of the ways that in-person sales have really worked for me:
- Clients feel cared for and confident in their choices. Photos are an investment and people have questions before making financial decisions–especially when they are tied to emotions. Photos are much more emotional than a television or household appliance. I answer questions about everything: the most affordable way to get this combination of products, whether the baby looks happier in this picture, or what size print would look best on a specific wall. I find clients need an unbiased opinion more than they realize. We also get the opportunity to have off-topic conversations and really get to know each other. This builds trust.
- Sell different products. It’s easier for a client to picture a coffee table book in their home if you set your samples on the kitchen table for them to page through during your session. I can try and sell “lay flat pages” until I’m blue in the face from my website, but when they open a book and see that the image stretches from right to left, it’s like magic. In addition, most people think 8×10 is a large print. Until you hold a 20×30 canvas on their wall in comparison, they don’t realize what they are missing.
- Sales will increase. Clients feeling better about their decisions AND they buy larger prints. This in inevitable. There is a direct correlation between my sales and whether I have an in-person session. My sales are on average two times higher in-person vs. online. (I still give my clients the choice between how they prefer to order though.)
- You and your client will save time. I save time because I’m not emailing links and passwords to galleries, answering questions on the phone, or reminding people to get their order complete. My clients aren’t feeling nagged or worried about finding the time to make decisions. I’m not stressing over what to do if they don’t place their order in time. I might spend two hours driving to their home, answering their questions, writing down their order, collecting their payment, and explaining the time line from there, but when I leave, I’m DONE. And they are done.
- I’m showing my best work to my clients. The images appear full-screen and color-corrected on my laptop monitor. I’ve noticed how different monitors and web browsers can really wash out or over saturate colors. You don’t have to worry that clients are distracted by these elements.
To me, the benefits outweigh the costs. However, here are some drawbacks to keep in mind:
- You have to schedule an ordering session at a time that works for everyone. This can get tricky. Online galleries can be posted, viewed, and ordered from 24 hours a day. Ordering sessions are more difficult to schedule.
- Hard to find the time. If you have a large number of clients per week or you live far away from many of your clients, the extra travel time may not be made up in saved email time or extra sales like it does for me.
- You already make your max from every sale. If you already sell your most expensive packages and products online, then in-person sales are unlikely to improve your average sale.
- If the thought of in-person sales makes you nervous, don’t feel like you have to do it. You do need to be fully informed about your products, confident in the images you are presenting images, and ready for some critique. It can be rattling to hear questions like, “Why did you crop that picture that way?”
- If you have a large family and an extraordinary busy schedule, in-person ordering might cause more stress than benefit. That’s perfectly fine. There may be ways to improve your online ordering by finding time to show clients products during your session or providing a 10 minute phone consult.
Finally, here is how I have made in-person ordering work on a budget.
- Instead of investing in fancy software to present images, I use Lightroom 3 and some old fashioned supplies.
- I load my finished images into Lightroom 3. I name my images clearly to facilitate ordering (i.e. 1-20). I also reset all stars and labels to present a clean view to the client. Here is an example of the settings I use to create a simple, effective slideshow. Lightroom 3 has a nifty feature that fits your music choice to the slideshow too.
- I pack a bag with the following basic items: laptop with edited images, power cord, paper and pencil, your price list, a calculator, a tape measure, and any sample products. My sample products include coffee table books, color swatches for book covers, prints, and a sample canvas.
- When I arrive, I set up and play the slideshow. By using the functionality of Lightroom 3 (grid, compare, survey), I can help clients narrow down their favorite images or even show them what a good grouping of three would look like in a frame. I also like to use the stars to rate favorite images and filter then once we make some progress. By simply highlighting a few favorites and pressing the “N” key, you can help clients narrow down their choices, as seen below.
- At this point, we usually discuss what products they may like to purchase while weighing cost. We look at what they’d like to spend and the best way to stretch their budget. I try to be aware if the clients need a moment alone to discuss pricing. Making financial decisions can be a bit awkward in front of a stranger, even if I am helpful and friendly. Sometimes I find a quick way to give them that privacy by saying, “Why don’t I let you discuss what you’d like to do? I have to step out to my car for a moment.”
- I write down exactly what the client wants (i.e. 8×10 of images 1, 5, 9) and start adding things up for them as we go along. Sometimes we stop to measure an old frame or walk around the house together with the sample canvas to decide on the right size.
- Then we finalize their selections and I check to make sure I have all the information necessary for the ordering step (photo book cover options or framing options are as important as sizing). I then take care of payment/receipts. (If you would like to accept credit cards on the road, I’ve had good experiences with Square Up. I use my phone with their free credit card reader.)
By taking the time to meet with clients one-on-one like this, I’ve found my clients are happy because they feel like they ordered just the right items and they do not have any tasks hanging over their head. I’m thrilled because they are extremely satisfied and my sales are higher.
In-person ordering allows me to deliver the exceptional customer service experience. But you don’t necessarily have to add “full blown” in-person ordering to your plan to achieve these objectives. Simplifying the ordering process based on what your clients want and need is all that matters. It’s also a personal decision and at the end of the day, you have to choose what is best for you, your business, and your family!