We were killing it. At least, that's what we thought at the time.
We'd been photographing weddings for a couple of years and it still amazed us that people would pay for it. We couldn't believe we could just show up, photograph the wedding, deliver a disc of images and get paid.
But the cracks began to show.
We were making more money than ever before, but we were also exhausted. Full-day wedding coverage will do that to you, it turns out. And when you charge what we were charging, you need to shoot a lot of weddings.
So yeah, we were tired. Maybe starting to burn out from all the hours we were working. And we started realizing there wasn't much money left over for us after all the time we were putting in.
But our clients loved what we were creating. They told us so themselves, all the time. "We just logged in to our online gallery and we're in tears! We can't believe how great these photos are, thank you so much!"
But if they loved them so much, then why did their galleries close with no orders or, at best $150 worth of orders?
Why didn't they have any photos printed when we'd visit them for dinner?
Didn't the images we created for them deserve more than a day or two of attention on Facebook? Was their "big day" just a flash in the pan to them?
It kind of snuck up on us, the realization that something needed to change. Either we needed to accept that the work our clients "loved" didn't actually mean as much to them as we believed, or we needed to change the way we do things.
If we didn't change something soon, we wouldn't be able to go on much longer.
There had to be a better way. A way that we could make more money without having to work more hours (the small business owner's unicorn, right?). A way to get our clients more than just a disc of images, so that they actually had something tangible to enjoy each time they saw it in their home.
After months of "research" (read: putting off the decision we knew we needed to make), we finally decide it was time.
It was time to stop playing business and start running a real business.
So we dove in to In-Person Sales headfirst.
- No more shooting and putting everything online or just handing over the files.
- No more rock-bottom prices.
- We added required meetings.
- We pushed everyone through this new process.
And we freaked out. We were terrified.
But then something crazy happened.
Our first family session after switching to IPS ended up being a $5,000 sale.
We knew we were on to something.
I suspect you're in a similar place.
- Working your tail off, enjoying the work, but feeling like there has to be a better way?
- Looking for a way to make more money without having to burn yourself out?
- Dreaming of providing your clients more than just digital files, a hug and a "see you around"?
In-Person Sales will do all these things for you (and more).
But it's not easy.
Yes, it's simple. It's straightforward.
But it's not easy.
You're going to have to work, to decide to stop playing business and commit to doing the hard work that others won't do.
But, I want to make that easier for you, right now.
We spent years of trial and error and thousands upon thousands of dollars learning how to do In-Person Sales in a way that served both our business and our clients. But you shouldn't have to make the same mistakes we did.
So here it is, everything we learned about switching from shooting and burning or shooting and selling online to In-Person Sales.
I hope this helps you see the same changes in your business and life that we saw in ours.
In-Person Sales is the single best way we've found to increase our revenue without having to equally increase our workload.
It is the vehicle we used to take our business from barely-scraping-by to $120,000 in a single year.
What I mean by that is, you can spend the same amount of time you were before, for about 10 times the pay. You're just spending your time differently.
On top of that, your clients will finally buy real products to enjoy every day and to hand down to their kids. And they'll love the process.
Rave about it, even.
So... more money, more work in more homes and happier clients. Seems like a good reason to look into In-Person Sales, right?
Let's dig in.
IPS Crash Course
Before we dive in to how to switch to In-Person Sales, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about what In-Person Sales is.
When most people talk about In-Person Sales, they’re referring to a three-step sales process:
- Planning Meeting: This is where you talk about the logistics of the session and start to talk about specific products your clients might want. We take it a bit deeper than this, as you’ll see in a minute.
- Session: This is… you know… when you take the photos.
- The Sales Meeting: This is where you sell the products you discussed during the Planning Meeting and find a home for any other products they might want.
And that’s the gist of it. That said, I believe the best way to make those three steps work as effectively as possible is to add a Setting Expectations step right at the beginning. We’ll talk about that in detail, right… about… now.
The Biggest Mistake You Can Make with In-Person Sales
The most common (and worst) mistake you can make when switching to In-Person Sales is to not properly set your clients’ expectations.
Without properly set expectations, In-Person Sales is just about worthless.
Worse, it feels bait-and-switch-y.
This is where most photographers feel “salesy”, because their clients are surprised by their prices or their process when it finally comes time to purchase some products.
On the other hand, properly set expectations turn what normally would feel like sales into you working together with your client to get them the perfect products for their needs.
... properly set expectations turn what normally would feel like sales into you working together with your client to get them the perfect products for their needs.
We need to set expectations for:
- The products we want our clients to purchase
- The price at which they’ll purchase those products
- The process we’ll use to sell them those products
And we want to set these expectations in, at least, these places:
- On your website
- On your blog
- On social media
- In your communications
Does the thought of selling your work in-person give you a nervous twitch?
Making the Switch, Step One: Turn Your Online Presence into an Expectation-Setting Beast
Set Product Expectations
The gist of setting expectations for products is that, anywhere someone sees your work, you want them to also see the product you expect them to walk away from your session with. If this is wall art, they should see wall art galleries all over the place. Albums? Album designs and photos of physical albums.
- On your website - Create a portfolio page (you know, like your weddings, seniors, families, etc) just for the product you want to be known for. I highly suggest picking one type of product and focusing in on only that product. So, if you’re going with wall art, you should have a portfolio page of only wall art mockups and photos of actual pieces you’ve delivered. Haven’t sold any wall art yet? No worries, click right here to sign up for a free 30-day trial of Swift Galleries (as in, FREE free... no credit card required), design a few mockups, export those to your computer and put them up on your website. Better yet, use some of your most recent (or favorite) clients’ photos for those mockups and share them through Swift Galleries to make some great wall art sales while still in your free trial!
- On your blog - Go back to your 3-5 most recent blog posts and add a wall gallery mockup (or an album design spread, if your product is albums). Talk about why that gallery is the perfect representation of your work, in physical form. This is your chance to really dig into the “why” of the products you offer, to start showing off your expertise and to make it clear that you have a reason for offering the types of products you offer. Do this for every single session you blog from this point, forward.
- On social media - If your blog is the place where you get to tell potential clients why you believe in the products you offer, then social media is the place where you get to have a two way conversation about those products. For every session you shoot, post a gallery to social media. Better yet, post two and ask you readers to “help you decide which one is best”. Run a “help me decide what our next sample gallery should be” contest at the end of your busy season and have people vote. Give the client in the winning gallery something for having theirs chosen as the winner (this gets your clients to tell their friends to go vote on their favorite sample gallery).
- Teasers - The In-Person Sales community is not big on posting teasers. The issue is that you may hijack that excitement your clients have when seeing their photos for the first time. There’s a lot of validity to that concern. However, I think you can use your teasers as a way to continue to reinforce your expectation for a wall art sale. Instead of posting a slew of photos for your teaser, post one wall gallery mockup. Now you’re giving them a chance to see a photo or two or three, but they’re seeing it in the context of the product you expect them to purchase. They’re seeing the end result. I've seen the benefits of reinforcing this expectation outweigh the drawbacks associated with posting teasers.
Again, the main point here is, everywhere someone sees your work, they should see your end product. This is how you become known for providing those products you want to be known for.
You become the photographer to go to in your market for that product. “Oh, you want canvas galleries? You should go to Chris & Adrienne Scott, I always see them posting those! Go check them out over on their website!”
Oh, and when you do start posting this stuff everywhere, don't be surprised if someone wants to buy...
Set Price Expectations
One of the worst things that can happen at a sales meeting is for your client to be blindsided by the prices they’re expected to pay. Thankfully, price is a really easy expectation to set.
So let’s do that right now…
- Pricing Page - If you don’t already have one, go right now and add a “Pricing” page to your website. Don’t hide it somewhere on About Me and don’t do the “contact me for my price list”. Let them know what to expect.
- But wait! - Don’t put your entire price menu out there. That will only lead to clients comparing you to other photographers on price, which is not the main thing they should be looking at when trying to choose a photographer. Instead, just give them something to hold on to. Go with “Sessions are $xxx and custom wall galleries start at $xxxx” or “Our typical portrait client spends around $xxxx on their photo products, some more, some less.”
We don’t need to show them everything, just let them know a rough estimate of what they should expect to spend.
- And one more place… - So you’ve added a general price range to your pricing page and you didn’t bury it somewhere in the depths of your website. Good for you. Let’s add that price to one more place, as well. Head over to your Contact page and add the same little snippet over there, “Sessions are $xxx and custom wall art galleries start at $xxxx.” Now, when someone contacts you, even if they skipped your pricing page, you know they had at least one opportunity to see your general prices.
Set Process Expectations
The absolute best way to handle objections and confusion during your planning meeting (things like, “I can’t make this decision right now, not without my spouse here” or “can you just put my photos online so I can think about it and order stuff later?”) is by letting clients know your process right from the start, then reinforcing that, over and over.
You can do this on your website with a quick note (emphasis on “quick”… people are busy, they won’t read a novel) about how you walk your clients through the product picking process to help them come up with the absolute best products for their session. Mention a quick blurb about how you’ll have a pre-session planning meeting to help them decide what to get and what products will be best for them.
When you meet with the client, start talking about some of your other process points, things like, “At the sales meeting, we’ll make all your product choices and I’ll get those ordered that week, so be sure that any decision makers are present.”
Set these expectations up-front and they won’t come back to bite you during your sales meeting.
Making the Switch, Step Two: Add in Pre-Session Planning Meetings
The Planning Meeting is an entire ginormous post in and of itself. There are so many reasons you should be doing them and, really, no legitimate reason you shouldn’t.
As far as return on time invested, the Planning Meeting is, by far, the best thing you can add to your process.
If you only change one thing in your business after reading this post, make it the Planning Meeting.
What’s the Point of the Planning Meeting?
The main goals of the Planning Meeting are to:
- Continue setting expectations for product, price and process
- Ask questions, then make suggestions about the best products for that client, based on their answers to your questions (we’ll dive way deeper into this in a future blog post on the Perfect Planning Meeting).
- Narrow down product options and try to come up with specific products for specific places in their home.
- Set the session logistics (where, when, what are they wearing, etc)
- Give them the estimated price they should expect to spend based on the products they said they’d like. Yes, you want them to leave knowing what they’ll spend. This is really, really important. But, this shouldn’t be a terribly surprising number since you’ve set that expectation on your website from the start.
How Should I Transition into Doing Planning Meetings?
Well, you could just dive in head-first and start doing them in-person in your meeting space or in your clients’ homes. But if you’re hesitant to do that, here’s how you can ease your way into them:
- Start with doing them over the phone at first or, if you absolutely have to, tack 15 minutes on to the beginning of your session. I don’t love this, but it’ll do if it’s the absolute only way you can make a Planning Meeting work.
- Transition to doing them in-person, either in your meeting space or at your client’s home.
There are pros and cons for each approach.
- Your place - you set the tone and mood and you have access to all your samples.
- Their place -they feel more comfortable and you have more access to see their style, their space and can make suggestions for great locations for wall art. This is also a huge boost in offering a personalized service, but it comes at the expense of impacting your Cost of Goods Sold since you’ll need to account for the extra time it takes to do these in your expenses for your time per session.
Making the Switch, Step Three: Sales Meetings
The general structure of the In-Person Sales meeting is this:
- Show them their final photos, once to just see them and enjoy them, then again to start thinking about which ones they love and which ones they could do without.
- Decide which photos will be used for the products you discussed during the Planning Meeting.
- Find a home for any other photos they love that don’t have a product yet.
- Take their payment.
So let’s talk about the different ways you can do this, without breaking the bank or going crazy.
Sales Meetings on the Cheap
I want to be really, really clear about this. Just because you start your IPS sales meetings like this doesn’t mean you have to do them like this forever. I like to keep this mantra in mind for situations like this:
Make it work. Then make it better.
In the case of doing Sales Meetings on the cheap, start this way.
Make it work. Make some money.
Then start buying things to make your sales meetings even better. Don’t go out and buy a bunch of new stuff. Don’t go into debt trying to switch to IPS.
Make it work by starting on the cheap with the things you already have. Then make it better by investing the money you make back into your sales process.
With that said, here’s how you can do Sales Meetings on the cheap:
- Use proof prints. You can order these from your lab and get them delivered pretty quickly. Write on those prints (“this one goes in this gallery as a 20x30 canvas and in the album.”). Bonus: they’re tangible.
- Use your lab’s stock photos in lieu of physical samples.
- Use a printed order form instead of invoicing software.
- Use something like Swift Galleries for selling wall art.
- Take payments with Square.
- Take post-dated checks if you want to offer payment plans, or look into something like PayKit.io.
Sales Meetings of the Rich and Famous
Here’s the other end of the spectrum, the all-in bet on In-Person Sales. Don’t do this.
- Buy a fancy-pants projector and screen
- Buy all the samples you can get your hands on
- Use ProSelect to sell wall art and other products
- Take payments with 17Hats or Successware if you want to do payment plans.
Somewhere-in-the-Middle Sales Meetings
This is where you really want to end up. Nothing obscenely priced, but you’ve got some specialized tools in place to help you do your sales meetings more effectively and efficiently.
- Use an iPad, your Laptop or a Mac Mini connected to your TV for showing slideshows and selling products.
- Use Swift Galleries for your entire In-Person Sales meeting (slideshow, cull, compare, wall gallery design and non wall art product sales).
- Collect payment with Swift Galleries' payment processing.
- Get a sample album; get the biggest, best, most pimped-out sample you can get. This will show all your options in one album and make all the other albums you show them look much more affordable (and those are the albums you want them to get anyway since this beast album will have an incredibly high Cost of Goods Sold).
- Add in the ideal size sample album when you can afford it. This is the one you want them to buy, with the number of pages you’d like them to buy.
- Get sample wall art products; get the smallest samples possible (yeah, smallest… keep reading). Use these for the sole purpose of showing the quality of your products. They need to be able to feel the thickness of your canvas, see how tight the corners are and the sharpness of your metal prints and acrylics. Just quality, don’t worry about size.
- Use Swift Galleries for showing those products in the context of your client’s own home, at the right size. This is far more effective at selling wall art than showing a 20x30 in-person and asking them to imagine it in their home.
But What About…
I know, you’re worried about a few things. Let’s tackle those now, shall we?
I’ll Lose all My Past Clients…
At face value, past clients seem like the hardest part about making this transition, after all, they know what your process was like before and they know how much you’re asking them to change now, right?
And with some of your past clients, this will be too much to ask. You will lose some past clients.
Fortunately, there’s another side to this coin. Your past clients are the easiest to show the benefits of your new In-Person Sales process.
Don’t believe me? Just ask them what they’ve done so far with the disc of images you sold them last year.
The vast majority of your past clients will not have done a single thing with the disc you sold them in the past. And this is great.
This opens the door (wide) for you to say, “and that’s why I’ve switched to this new process. It’s important for me to help you get real photos, photos you can enjoy around your home every day, photos you can hand down to your kids and their kids. I realized I wasn’t serving you as well as I could when I sold you the files. Now, I take the time to walk you hand-in-hand through the process of choosing the absolute best products for your photos and, I’ve found, this is why most of my new clients come to me. Of course you’ll love the photos, that’s a given. But you’ll absolutely love this personalized process I’m doing now.”
But Seriously, My Clients Only Want the Digitals…
False. Your clients only think they want the digitals because every other photographer they’ve dealt with before you taught them that they want the digitals. Offer products and offer this process that helps them figure out exactly what to do with their images and listen to your clients say, “I didn’t even know that was something people offered before I met you. Everyone else just gives me the files and says ‘good luck figuring out what to do with these’”.
Worst case? Your client truly does only want digital files. Great, sell them digital files. At a premium price. Again, you’ve set expectations from the start, this is no surprise to them.
I’ll Have to Buy All New Gear and Equipment for IPS
You’re just skimming aren’t you? Busted.
I mentioned this above, but I’ll say it again. Don’t go into debt switching to IPS. Don’t do it. Start small and let the sales you start with your basic In-Person Sales setup pay for the stuff you want to be using.
I call this Make it work, then make it better. Baby-step your way into the In-Person Sales tools you really want by letting your first IPS clients pay for those tools.
Handling Client Objections
Ok, so we’ve hit a few of the major objections you might have to switching to In-Person Sales, let’s talk about how to handle the objections you might hear from your clients.
- Set. Expectations. Then reinforce them. Then reinforce them again. Then do it again. And again. And you get the point.
- Forget about yourself. Stop thinking of IPS as a Sales Process. Stop it. It’s not. It’s a Service Process. Frame everything in terms of how your process is better for your client.
- Related to that last point, you yourself have to realize, and believe, that IPS really is better for your client. (Spoiler alert: It is.)
- Be unapologetically and unequivocally, the expert. “People come to me because I know what I’m doing. My clients expect me to help them choose their products and guide them through the process of choosing the right image for the right space, at the right size, on the right product because this is what I do, day-in and day-out.”
- Turn their biggest objections into your biggest benefits. Turn “my last photographer didn’t make me do all these extra meetings” into a benefit by saying something like, “I definitely understand why you feel that way. A lot of my potential clients have felt that way, too. But they’ve found that they much prefer my process. They got tired of photographers who put convenience over service, who said, “here are your image files, good luck figuring out what to do with them”. My clients absolutely love their photos but, even more so, they place an enormous amount of value in the service I provide by hand-holding them through the entire process. This process is actually the main reason most of my clients come to me at this point, and I think you’ll understand why after you’ve been through it, as well.”
The Most Important Thing You Need to Know
In-Person Sales, when done properly, is the best way to serve both your clients and your business. When done properly, it’s so much more a service process than it is a sales process.
We’ve never had a single person go through our IPS process and say, “I wish you would have just given me the files.”
Every single client has appreciated the one-on-one attention that they get through In-Person Sales.
Yeah, they spend much more money, but they’re much happier doing it.
So… now what? Here are just a few things I think you should do, other than the action steps we laid out above.
- Go sign up for a free trial of Swift Galleries so you can start setting those expectations we discussed above. It's 30 days and it's 100% free (no contracts, no credit card).
- Download our Rookie's Guide to the Perfect In-Person Sales Meeting. It's a quick hit-list of our exact In-Person Sales process, tools, scripts and best practices. It's also free, so it's kind of a no-brainer.
Whoa. You made it to the end! Leave a comment and let me know: what's been the main fear holding you back from starting In-Person Sales?