As a photographer, I absolutely love the creative side of what I do.
But without a business “hat” to put on every now and then, my career as a photographer would be nothing more than a hobby. I have learned over the past nine years as a professional photographer that creative business skills are just as important as creative photography skills. That’s why I love the business of photography. I even have an educational website that is all about the business of being creative, and I invite you to check it out over at www.SproutingPhotographer.com.
Sales, pricing and products all fall under the “business” side of the equation. These discussions and decisions are a necessary evil for running a successful photography business, and it’s something that we don’t have to be afraid of. I think that if we re-frame the idea of “sales” and “pricing” to be client-centric, then we can learn to have an appreciation for it. The idea of selling products is simple – we want our clients to have beautiful finished pieces to display in their home. As “salespeople” we are simply presenting the options so that our clients can choose what they want to have.
The topic of digital files vs. physical products is a hotly debated one in our industry, and I am not going to get into that specific discussion here, but instead I am going to explain why I feel that as an industry, we need to make an effort to provide beautiful finished pieces that our clients can proudly display in their home. Specifically, I’d like to explore the psychology of offering products as a professional photographer and why I feel it’s important.
Why do so many photographers not offer physical products? Here are a few reasons that I have discovered in speaking with photographers across North America:
- Lack of time – photographers don’t have the time to sell, design, or produce finished pieces.
- Lack of knowledge/skill – photographers feel that selling, designing or producing finished pieces is complicated.
- Clients don’t ask for it – photographers don’t have their clients or prospective clients asking for anything other than digital files so they figure that products aren’t in demand.
I will spend some time at the end of this article discussing solutions to these excuses, but for now, let me give you six reasons why I feel selling products is so important to us as professional photographers:
1. Products differentiate professional photographers from amateurs.
Anyone can make an image look good at 600 pixels wide on a website. It takes a completely different set of skills to make an image look great at 30 inches wide on the wall or in a 10×15 inch album. Offering quality products that are well-finished and properly presented differentiates us as professional photographers from those who aren’t as serious or skilled.
2. Products increase our perceived value as professional photographers.
Everyone takes photos. We all walk around with cameras in our pockets, and so photography itself has become a bit of a commodity. We have to differentiate what we do not only in the skill that goes into how we make an image but also in how it ends up being enjoyed by our clients. To have our images living “digitally” beside our clients’ vacation photos and 1st birthday party “snaps” is a disservice. That sends the message that our images “blend” into their digital story along with their iPhone shots and selfies. We know that isn’t the case. Our images stand on their own. Our images are better. We can back up those claims by having professionally presented and finished products that stand on their own. This gives more value to our imagery and it differentiates the work that we do for clients versus the work that they do themselves.
3. Products justify higher fees.
Digital files don’t hold much value. If you were to put a USB key with 150 retouched images on it beside a 10×15 inch album designed with the same 150 retouched images and asked the average client which was worth more money, they would undoubtedly say that the album was more expensive, and they’re right. A beautifully finished product justifies higher fees when we can sell them effectively (which is an entirely separate discussion).
4. Products allow us to deliver a better customer experience.
There is great value in being a “full service studio” for our clients, where we walk them through the entire process from consultation, session and sales appointment all the way to presenting their finished artwork. We go from being a “button pusher” photographer to being a consultant, advisor, designer and expert. People pay more for this, and this provides a much better experience for our clients. This ultimately means that they’ll be more satisfied, better serviced and will, therefore, more likely come back to us in the future as well as refer us.
5. Products help us make more money.
To put it simply, when we sell products, we have the opportunity to make more money and, therefore, operate a more profitable and fulfilling long-term consistent business. Physical product sales mean that we have higher quality finished pieces out in the marketplace, happier clients, and higher income coming in on a consistent basis. Products are the key to a sustainable photography business.
6. Bonus reason: products support our industry.
We have so many great suppliers at our fingertips – WHCC, Millers, Finao and VisionArt just to name a few examples. There are literally dozens upon dozens of professional labs, book binders, album suppliers, framers and more that make themselves available to us as professional photographers. Aside from providing us with great finished products, they also support workshops, conventions (like WPPI) and provide educational opportunities themselves. What happens to all these great suppliers if we all stop selling physical products? Labs won’t be able to stay open if we don’t support them. This would ultimately buckle our industry from the inside out. Selling products supports the very industry that we’re in, and it is CRUCIAL.
Dispelling the myths
I want to circle back to the beginning of this article, where I discussed the three main reasons that photographers don’t offer products to their clients – lack of time, lack of knowledge and the fact that their clients don’t ask for products. If your excuse is one of the first two, then there is a simple solution – you just need to find the right tools. Selling, designing, preparing and presenting products doesn’t have to be complicated and there are many amazing tools available to us as professional photographers that make this part of our job easy. Heck … sometimes it’s even too easy! The software that Fundy offers is revolutionary, and while I don’t want to make this a commercial for his products (I wasn’t even asked to mention them), but all I have to say is check them out and see how easy it is to get into selling, designing, preparing and presenting products with these great tools.
If your excuse for not offering products is the last one – the fact that your clients don’t ask for products – then I would argue that it’s because you aren’t getting them excited enough about products from the get-go. You have to make products a part of the discussion from the first phone call. This small shift will undoubtedly turn your clients expectations around.
If you’re interested in reading more about the business of photography, I would love it if you would check out my educational website for photographers, www.SproutingPhotographer.com, where we focus on the business of being creative.