Over the last five years, Isaac Coffy changed his approach and pricing at least three times in order to find the most successful business model for his senior portraits. The following journey led him to boost his average sale from $500 to $1,500, on top of doubling his bookings. In his words, here’s how it happened.
A Shift In Branding
Coffy Creations used to specialize in weddings and high school seniors, something that was purely an emotional decision and not strategic. I really enjoyed photographing weddings for the fast-paced adrenaline rush, and I really enjoyed high school senior portraits for the slow-paced, creative experience.
But branding a business to attract both photo genres is extremely difficult. These are two very different audiences that I was trying to appeal to: 20- to 30-year-old millennials and 16- to 17-year-old teens.
Senior portraits have a quick turnaround, are easier to plan, and make the most profit from in-person sales (in comparison to weddings) so I gave Coffy Creations an overhaul to focus on seniors, putting weddings on the back burner.
Our website, social media and language all shifted to appeal to the teenagers (“You’re so much more than a senior in high school. You’re on the brink of adulthood.”), and if you scroll through our Instagram feed, you won’t see very many weddings for a while. If you’re a junior or senior in high school and you’re looking through our website or social media, you’ll have no doubt in your mind that we truly specialize in senior portraits.
Making "The Experience"
If you truly want to stand out from every other photographer, this is where you can make the biggest change.
I quickly realized at the beginning of my business that it didn’t matter how good I was as a photographer—the typical consumer thought “blurry background, subject in focus” was professional, which I can do with my iPhone.
In order to stand out, we needed to refocus the business on catering to the whole senior portrait experience—from first contact to product delivery, and sometimes beyond that.
The Coffy Creations Experience is the model that we’ve refined through the years and used to build a business that people rave about in our community. It’s not for every area and every business, but it is working phenomenally for us, so let’s dive in.
When someone would reach out to us via social media, phone or email, we used to respond within a day or two. Those that truly understand sales know that is a big no-no. That seemingly small lapse of time adversely affected the amount of people who booked because they had the chance to contact multiple photographers, and our competition would get to them first.
Now, all inquiries are responded to almost immediately. We realized that the quicker we respond, the more personal we come across to clients, who up to this point just filled out an online form for us. When someone reaches out to us, we do our best to get the client on the phone before giving out more info about the sessions over email. This allows us the opportunity to build personal rapport with each lead and sell them on our experience.
In the old business model, we only focused on sales at the in-person sales session after the shoot had already happened. Now, we get the client into the studio two weeks before the shoot so we’re able to educate them on all the products we have available that they may have never thought about purchasing.
This is where the styling consultation comes in. We discuss details, from outfits to locations, which also allows us to get a better view into our clients’ personalities (both the parent and teen) to see what gets them excited.
We allow our clients to choose the type of location they want for photos, but we guide them to make the best decisions. I’ll ask them what style they enjoy (tall grass, trees, brick, downtown scene) and based on that, I make suggestions for great local spots I’ve either shot or I know will photograph nicely.
Based on their reactions to certain products, we’re then going to talk about those products throughout the entire shoot so they don’t forget.
The clients might not yet know what they want to do with the resulting photos, so it’s our job to walk them through the entire process, show them what they can have and get them the products that make sense for them. When they feel the quality of our albums and see the sleekness of our canvases in person, they’re hooked and ready to buy before we’ve even snapped a photo.
I used to study posing books and follow what other photographers were doing, without thinking about how my approach could help clients. This created a barrier between me and my clients, because I was too focused on the pose rather than making them look and feel great. In the sales room, I would hear comments like, “Yeah, that one is okay, but it doesn’t really look like me.” With a few personal changes to the session, I now hear comments like “Wow! I can’t believe that’s me!”
Every session is custom to the senior. From locations to poses, we make sure the senior feels comfortable and not awkward. Nothing seems or looks forced.
We teach our clients how to look great on camera rather than telling them what to do with this hand or that leg. Doing the pose for them helps, and the laughter that comes from the senior seeing a guy like me do a girly pose is priceless. Our clients begin to trust us in all that we do and the creativity opens up. This has been huge for us.
The Reveal Party
Time for the grand finale: the ordering session. Everything we’ve done up to this point has been to drive home value in our work. If we throw these images on a USB or in a gallery, we do our clients a disservice and potentially leave money on the table. Like many beginner photographers, I used to just give away the files on a disc. With access to the digitals, none of my clients had interest in products.
Now, before the Reveal Party, we set expectations with every client and make sure they understand that this is the time when we make decisions. We have an email template that goes out to them before the session and explains that all decision-makers must be present, that 50 percent of the order will be due, among other indicators of what to expect.
This is super important; we don’t want the client walking in without a clue of what’s about to happen. A lack of clarity hurts sales and can make the client feel overwhelmed when it comes to reviewing and purchasing.
After offering them a craft soda or boxed water, we play our clients an Animoto slideshow of their session set to music that fits their personality. This really gets the emotions running. The senior is in shock of how the photos turned out, and the parents are tearing up because their baby is all grown up. With emotions high, we walk them through our sales process.
In my sales software, we go through a round of sorting. As I click through each image, I ask the client whether they absolutely love the photo or feel otherwise. Based on their reactions, I either put the photo in the Yes category if they love it, the Neutral category if they’re indifferent, or the No category if they absolutely don’t like it. Once all the images are sorted, I then show them just the Yes category for product selection.
This process has cut my average ordering session time from two hours to about 45 minutes. The parents don’t feel overwhelmed when they’re selecting products because now they’re looking at 12 images as opposed to 60. It’s a lot easier to imagine products from that standpoint.
For those that specialize in multiple types of photography, consider separating brands completely to drive the best results. I also have other branded businesses—Creations Booth for photo booths and Belle & The Rose for
For those that specialize in multiple types of photography, consider separating brands completely to drive the best results. I also have other branded businesses—Creations Booth for photo booths and Belle & The Rose for boudoir.
NO STUDIO, NO PROBLEM.
Consultations can also be done at a coffee shop if you don’t have a studio, or over FaceTime or Skype if you can’t meet in person.
LISTEN TO THE PROS.
Educate yourself with tips as a jumping off point, such as Roberto Valenzuela’s Picture Perfect Posing—it changed my entire mindset on how to direct my subjects, and then I was able to proceed to posing my way, with confidence.
HELP FROM SOFTWARE.
ProSelect is my personal choice of sales program.
Isaac Coffy is the owner and head photographer at Coffy Creations Photography. His rebranded business currently lives in a new studio space in downtown Ashland, Ohio.