I hear it all the time, “I’m a new business and am willing to do free sessions in order to build my following and portfolio. I just want to be busy and have clients”.
To those photographers I say … does working for free and being ‘busy’ pay your bills ? Is working for free satisfying to you ? or leaving you feeling frustrated, overworked, and under paid ?
Here is a story about a student that I mentored a few years back. When she was starting out she decided to tap into her daughter’s play group by offering all the moms free sessions of their kids and nearly free prints in order to help her build her portfolio and to expand her client base. Many of the mothers eagerly signed up, feeling like they were getting something great for nothing.
By placing herself into a position of working for someone because she needed to build her portfolio, she gave away her control. She became the one that ‘needed’ something and she therefore devalued her work, her time, and her talent. She placed herself into the situation that made her feel under-appreciated and overworked.
So you’re reading this and thinking, well she has to build her portfolio somehow, what other way is there ? My advice to my student was this.
Go back to the rest of your playgroup mothers and tell them
- you have a few selective modeling spots open for toddler & families
- you are taking applications for the spots and if any of them would like to submit their child’s photo and a short email application you will be happy to get them more information.
- the chosen family will receive their session for $50 (or whatever you feel comfortable with) and they will get 30% off any prints they order, as long as the order is placed within two weeks from the session date.
- you will be making your decision in one week
My student went back to play group and tried the above method with great success. Not only were the families who came to her happy with their sessions, but she found them more appreciative and enthusiastic about purchasing prints in a timely fashion after the session. It seems giving deadlines for discount is a great motivator to getting your clients to place their orders in a timely fashion.
Why was her offer so well received the second time around ?
- because she placed her work, her talent and her time as a priority.
- because she was offering her friends something exclusive while maintaining boundaries and integrity to herself and her business.
- because she created a situation where her friends needed HER service, instead of her being in need of them.
We must be careful with the word NEED when presenting our services to others. We want to present them with opportunities to work with us, we never want to present them with a need we have that they can fill by simply showing up and gracing us with their presence. People in general are turned off by need. So instead empower yourself and your clients with positive promotions that move them to action and create stimulation in your business where you want it.
So while everyone has to start somewhere, remember that building a client base doesn’t have to be a giveaway service on your part. It is possible to build your portfolio while offering a great service and generating an income.
When starting your photography business or when revamping pricing its important to maintain integrity to yourself, time, talent and workflow. Doing so will ensure a strong, healthy business base while giving you reason to smile and enjoy the journey.