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How To Make More Money With In-Person Ordering Sessions

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.

lightroomslideshowsettings How To Make More Money With In Person Ordering Sessions

  • 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.

surveyview How To Make More Money With In Person Ordering Sessions

  • 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.

41 website How To Make More Money With In Person Ordering Sessions

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!

 

This article was written by Jessica Rotenberg of Jess Rotenberg Photography. She focuses on natural light family and child photography in Raleigh, North Carolina. You can also find her on Facebook.

 How To Make More Money With In Person Ordering Sessions

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23 Comments

  1. 1

    I love the idea but I honestly feel that my clients will be like: “What? I have to schedule time with you to order? Can’t you just send me a link online?”

  2. 2
    Jeanine says:

    Just do it! I do not make this an option for clients anymore because they would drag out online ordering for way too long. Now I get it down within 2 hours and they spend so much more.

  3. 3
    Susan Page says:

    Thanks for the great advise! One question…you said you didn’t have any financial investment, but what about the coffee table books and the canvas? Are these personal items you are using, or is there a way to have these companies provide you with samples for selling?

    • 3.1
      Jess says:

      Susan,

      Right now, I use samples that didn’t cost me an extra penny.

      I use my own KISS leather and linen albums that I paid for out my own pocket. (I’m so in love with KISS, I use them for my own things now too–true story.) I have a canvas that was cropped improperly by the vendor when it was printed and was redone for me. I use that as my sample for now but hope to purchase a larger sample collection at some point.

      Most places have a deep discount on sample pieces that you can work with, if you don’t have any on hand. If you have great photographs of your offerings, you could probably get away with photos of products. However, there is something magical that happens when you hold a canvas on someone’s wall or put an album in their hands.

      Let me know if you have any other questions.

  4. 4
    Dannell says:

    Love it! I wasn’t aware LR3 did the slideshow, etc! Is this article available as a PDF?

  5. 5
    Shari Hanson says:

    Thank you Jess! This was so helpful! I’ve been thinking about in-person ordering for at least 2 years now…but just haven’t had a clue how to do it with class on a budget… I can totally picture myself doing it just the way you described! THANKS A MILLION!

  6. 6
    Angel says:

    Agree!! After 4 years of offering only online ordering with minimal help I knew something had to change. Clients went from the high of loving all their images to the low of being totally overwhelmed with what they should do with the images. I thought I was doing them a favor by not pushing sales and I was actually making the overall experience worse for my clients. Orders would come in very late or not at all or even worse all at one time from several clients! Now I bring them in spend 1-2 hours and give them all the help they need in a similar fashion as above except I do have a studio and use projection. Sometimes they finish ordering at home if they need to but most people are busy and want to get it done rather than put it off. It solves all the problems from before and my sales tripled with no sales pressure at all. My clients are happy and not frustrated! Online galleries are still provided for 2 months with image storage provided during that 2 months only. I can’t say enough about how good this has been for my business myself and my clients! No more 15 orders coming in at once either!

  7. 7
    Angel says:

    Should have mentioned I’ve been doing in person ordering for two years now. They do not see the images until the ordering session and I start out with an animoto slide show before we open lightroom and start choosing. I have invested quite a bit on samples all over the studio and I too love kiss albums! It’s worth it but this budget option is awesome too.

  8. 8
    Dan Waters says:

    This is absolutely the best way to improve your average sales. However I have since learned that projecting your photos into a 50×40 inch frame (or similar size) with white canvas is the extra detail that makes all the difference. Yes I had to spend a lot on the projector and I had a company create the empty frame for me but it pays for the outlay within a couple of sessions. I was so pleased I even wrote a piece about it myself: http://www.getprophoto.com/index.php/projecting-your-family-portrait-photos-for-clients/

  9. 9
    Sara says:

    Do the clients have access to a price list before the ordering session, or maybe even before their session? Is there a good way for them to have a general idea beforehand what things cost so that they’re not surprised at the ordering session?

    • 9.1
      Jessica says:

      Yes, client receive the price list even before booking with me. I ask them to think about what types of products they want in their home as well as their budget before I arrive with the photos as well. There are zero surprises!

  10. 10
    Amy says:

    Thank you for such great information!! One question–do your clients preview the images on their own via an online gallery before your in-person session, or is the meeting the first time they see the photos? (Thanks also to Angel for your perspective!)

    • 10.1
      Jessica says:

      No, clients see the images the first time with me. I usually post their gallery online as well and give them the password before I leave so they can access their images afterward as well. If they prefer online ordering after I explain the advantages of in-person, then I’ll just let them do that as well.

  11. 11
    Alice C. says:

    What a great post! And I LOVE that last photo with all the windows. Sooo cool!

  12. 12
    Tomas Haran says:

    You are so right. Going forward I will be bringing my laptop, has fantastic screen resolution and do a slide-show style setup as well.
    Great tips and although they seem so easy to do we sometimes forget.

    Thanks!

  13. 13
    Sarah C says:

    Thanks for the info! I’ve been debating on whether or not to do in-person sales. Have you ever had an indecisive client who didn’t buy anything or bought very little when you initially sat down with them, so you had to meet the client again (or even several times) to finalize everything? I’m afraid some of my clients might want to meet a couple times. If that were the case, would you suggest meeting them in person then opening an online gallery or just meet them in person each time, period? How do you handle it? Thanks, Jess!

    • 13.1
      Jessica says:

      I make sure that I set expectations before we meet so that everyone leaves feeling happy (me and my clients!). If you tell them you’re just going to show them their images, then a client might feel pressured when you talk about finalizing an order and ask for more time. However, I just explain that we will order during our session and ask them to think about their budget and what they might want before. With the same expectation, I’ve not had any issues yet. I do provide an online gallery after we order so they can go back and look at their pictures. If you had a client who was having to decide between two favorite images, this might be a good way to let them sleep on it.

      So much depends on really good communication at every step. I’d encourage you to just try it and see how it goes. You do want your clients to feel happy with what they’ve ordered and the choices they made and figuring out how to do that in your business can take a few tries–it did for me.

  14. 14
    Teri V. says:

    Thank you everyone for all the pointers. I am just starting out and about to set up my first in-person ordering session. A little nervous? YES!!…for sure. But I am wondering, in all your experience, isn’t it overwhelming for the client to see the photos for the very first time at this meeting, and then be expected to choose and order on the spot? Do they ever change their mind once they sleep on it and want different photos after reviewing their galleries for the 12th time on their own? I think I would…if I was the client. What is your experience with this?

  15. 15
    Paul Finney says:

    Great tips as always – I just started doing in person ordering and would highly recommend it! Once the shoot is finished I book the viewing session and when the client returns to the studio their images are already playing on a slideshow via LR4 on a plasma TV, which they look through while I make the drinks! They the process I follows is much the same as your article! I still use an online gallery in case relatives wish to order, but only once the clients have made their orders!

  16. 16
    Natalie Kita says:

    THANK YOU for writing this article!!! I have been debating switching to in-person viewing/sales sessions, but have become overwhelmed with the options for making it work. This article has been immensely helpful to me!!!

    Three more advantages to in-person sales:

    1) Helps you guide clients in their selections (with online galleries, sometimes people make the oddest choices!)

    2) Helps clients feel more secure in the privacy of their images

    3) Prevents fuzzy grainy watermarked or badly cropped screen shots from ending up on Facebook and Pinterest, thereby poorly representing your work.

  17. 17
    maya says:

    I do in person ordering now, and I make more money than just posting on online gallery. I posted online only if they asked.

    Most of them did’t mind coming back to my studio to do in person ordering, but lately, some of them ask me that they prefer to see it online so their family can see it too. What did you specifically tell them?

    How about my client who lives 2 hrs away from me?

    Please advise.

    • 17.1
      Jessica says:

      Hi Maya, I just saw your post here. For clients who are farther away, you can still do an online gallery and implement some of the techniques above. Instead of sending them a link and saying their order is due in a week, you could set up a phone consult where you help guide them through the decision making process. You can also make sure to have your samples available at the photo shoot. While meeting them in person is ideal, there are ways to make online sales a better client experience.

      Does this help?

  18. 18
    david says:

    Do you have a sample of your price list?

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