Make 2010 your best year yet for portraits with this 10 point plan

Dec 19, 2009 | Business | 23 comments

Here is my 10 point plan for creating a successful portrait business. Get the retail business basics right and reap the rewards in 2010.

1. Identify your genres. Clearly define your genres and treat them separately in all planning, designing and forecasting. It is likely that you will have a different customer base, marketing and supply system for each product line. Here are a few of the more obvious ones for portrait shooters:

  • Boudoir location shoot – Boutique hotel
  • Boudoir studio shoot
  • Lifestyle family location shoot
  • Newborn baby shoot on location
  • Studio young family shoot
  • Specialist interest studio shoot: Music; youth orchestra members, local bands, Dance; ballet, jazz, Eisteddfod competitors, salsa, Strictly Ballroom etc.
  • Makeover studio shoot, 18th, 21st birthday presents.
  • Looking good naked shoots /calendar girls
  • Model portfolio shoot mix of studio and location
  • Fine art nude on location – in association with a boutique hotel perhaps
  • Event: location shoot- Amateur sporting event, show jumping, junior rugby tournament etc.
  • Event: mobile studio shoot, dinner dance, charity ball.

2. Design and develop your products. Keep each genre separate and remember that the devil is in the detail. Don’t try and do everything. If you are starting from scratch or going for a re-brand bring one Genre to market then add the next etc. Get your products spot on before starting the marketing.

A promotion you run with a local orchestra may bring in 30 or so individual clients for low key artily lit studio sessions. The products you offer the young musician will be based on a sale of perhaps 6 to 8 images as opposed to perhaps 40 for a lifestyle shoot. The music shots will best suit displaying in the public areas of the home, framed, or perhaps on canvases. Add-ons might include prints for grandma etc. For a pregnancy shoot, the products are less likely to be displayed in frames in the home except perhaps in bedrooms or other private areas. There may be fewer add on opportunities too. So a small album is a likely top selling product for the pregnancy genre. Whatever you choose to go with, the products offered to each genre must be designed to make the most profit from the images you shoot and be priced to sell in the right quantities.

3. Plan your customer experience. Start with the end in mind and plan your customer experience from their perspective not yours. Start from their first exposure to your brand, leaflets, website, telephone, and email contact points. Having an answer phone switched on during business hours while you are shooting rather than having someone on hand to speak to, and sell your products to prospective clients will punish your conversion rate. Think about the drinks you will serve, the fragrance in the viewing room etc. Details, details, details.

The supply of information about the shoot; what to wear, what to bring, the viewing; how can we pay, how many pictures will we see, can the children come too, all these questions need answers and you will need to decide how to do it. If you don’t want to be constantly on the phone there are better ways. We email PDF’s or standard body text before every contact point to minimise conversation time.

If a potential customer, or ‘prospect’ puts your search term ‘Pregnancy photography Barnes’ into Google, your landing page needs to be just focused on pregnancy photography. The navigation on the page for prices should link to just pregnancy photography prices, not wedding photography prices. Equally the products tab needs to take the potential customer to pictures of your pregnancy albums, not jpegs or a slideshow of the images you shoot. Your website needs pictures of what it is you want your customers to buy. Generating demand for the finished item is part of today’s retail language. All this might sound basic and it is. Here is a simplified web design strategy:

  • Identify your target search terms for each genre.
  • Create ideal landing pages.
  • Search engine optimise your landing pages.
  • Create a clear path through your site that effortlessly takes your customers to the ‘make a booking page’ via the info they need, prices, products etc. This page needs to be just pregnancy booking not wedding or anything else. It needs to have a good call to action and explain why they should book now for a ‘36 weeks’ shoot and that you can do an evening studio session if they prefer etc.

Once you’ve done one Genre, you can start on the next. This way, you will always appear to be the expert in the field rather than a ‘Jack of all trades’. This means you can charge a bit more too. Perhaps as much as 20% more, just because of your perceived specialist status. Once your customer has had their pregnancy shoot you can introduce them to your baby or wedding photography as required.

Good reading: ‘Don’t make me think’ by Steve Krug and ‘Search Engine Optimisation, an hour a day’ by Jennifer Grappone

4. Organise your promotions. Portraiture is just one big promotion. Weddings happen and brides need photographers but the same is not true for portraiture. Use your diary to schedule some of your 2010 promotions. Here are a few ideas for just one of the genres – family portraits on location:

  • February half term – kids among daffodils
  • Easter holidays – hay barn shoots (rent a local barn) plus kids with lambs?
  • Mid summer term – Bluebell family shoots
  • May half term – Flower meadow picnic shoots
  • August holidays – Lifestyle ‘at home’ or holiday cottage shoots
  • October half term – Sunset on the beach shoots
  • November half term – Autumn woodland shoots

5. Set targets for each genre. Take into consideration your production capability. Be realistic and don’t forget to schedule sufficient editing time and viewing slots.

6. Engage in Marketing. Marketing is the process of gathering warm leads. A warm lead is one where the prospect has been exposed to your product and expressed an interest in becoming a customer. They may have entered a prize draw to win a family photo shoot or filled in an online contact form requesting more details of an offer. Typical marketing activities include the following:

  • Targeted leaflet distribution to specialist groups. NCT, Ballet schools, youth orchestras, adventure clubs, sports organisations etc.
  • Exhibitions. lifestyle and living events, school Easter fairs, school summer fetes, county shows, trade stands at supermarkets, shopping malls and in the high street etc.
  • Trade associations and joint competitions with designer clothes shops, interior design shops, etc.
  • Advertising

All these marketing activities are designed to generate warm leads and there are many, many more opportunities to gather leads than the ones I’ve mentioned above.

7. Convert the leads into customers. I asked telemarketing expert Julia Brooks at contacts4business, a marketing agency that specialises in developing sales leads for small owner-managed businesses, to give us some expert advice on how to win and keep a customer. Julia has a proven track record of creating and converting warm leads into great portrait clients for some of my consulting clients.

So what’s the secret? “Start with the right leads. This may seem obvious” says Julia, “but you need to know your target market. We at contacts4business have had most success with photographers who really know what sort of customers they want. Having a firm idea of what interests your prospective customers and knowing where to find them is what marketing is all about, but it’s never as easy as it sounds”.

“Some of our most successful photographers have forged alliances and built relationships with complementary businesses that often result in a “win-win” situation,” says Julia. “For example, if you specialise in portraits of children, you could work with a children’s designer clothes shop to offer a prize draw to win a complimentary photo shoot. Customers that spend over £100 in the shop will be entered into the draw. The winners can be called to book their shoot, but there’s nothing wrong with calling the runners up too, and there could be as many of these as the shop can generate draw entries. Pre-qualified leads like these make for the best return on telemarketing effort”.

Be Quick! “It’s important to follow up on your leads quickly with telemarketing in order to capitalise on interest and get a shoot or a meeting booked into the diary. The more time that goes by between contacts, the ‘colder’ the lead becomes, making it much more difficult to convert into a sale”.

Be persistent! (“this is my weakness” Damien)Don’t be deterred” says Julia, “if you get a few “no thank-yous” when you are calling. Also, since you’ll be contacting many of your prospective customers at home, many of the calls will need to be made in the evening or at weekends. It may take 9 or 10 calls before you get the actual shoot booked!”

Follow up, follow up and follow up! “Stay in touch with all your contacts. If you make a call and find they are not interested now, ask if you can call them in a few months, or even next year. This may seem like a long time away, but building up your sales pipeline is essential. Make sure you use a calendar system that will alert you when it’s time to make these calls”.

Once you have a customer – keep them a customer. “Photography lends itself well to newsletter style communications, so ask your prospective customers whether they will mind receiving a newsletter from you. Email newsletters are very cost effective, and allow you to keep in touch with prospective clients easily, to appear “on their radar” frequently and hopefully to be in the right place at the right time when they need a professional photographer”.

And finally, Ask for referrals. “You don’t need me to tell you that referrals are a fantastic way of generating new business,” Says Julia. “So why not ask your existing customers to refer people to you? You recommend restaurants, films etc to your friends so why wouldn’t you recommend a photographer? However, you need to be proactive in getting referrals. Making an offer for any referrals received is always a good incentive!”

8. Keep at it. Marketing is all about effort and reward. If it takes 100 calls to get 15 bookings and you need 60 bookings you know you need to make 400 calls. So repeat 6 & 7 until the targets that you set out in stage 5 are met.

9. Financial Mastery. Keep separate records for each genre so you can see at a glance which ones are your profit heroes and which ones need attention or dropping. Dropping poor performing product lines may well release extra resources to expand the profitable ones. Here are some of the numbers for you to track:

  • Acquisition cost – This is the cost of getting a new client and includes a share of sample products, leaflets, web design, advertising, telemarketing, stands and shows etc. If your marketing generates 200 customers in 2010 then your acquisition cost is 1/200th of all the above items.
  • Average sales value – total sales divided by the number of customers or jobs.
  • Cost of goods – Albums, frames for the year divided by number of sales.
  • Total fixed expenses – Heat, light, rates, camera and computer depreciation etc.
  • Allocated fixed expenses – a fraction of the fixed expenditure is assigned to each shoot.
  • Number of new customers generated.
  • Number of repeat customers.
  • Profit per shoot.
  • Time taken to produce the profit.
  • Hourly rate of income.

You may find you earn twice as much money per hour photographing babies than you do as a boudoir photographer or it may be the other way round. You’ll never know until you have financial mastery in your business.

10. Efficiency. Do the business efficiently and reap the rewards of your success. Efficiency is vital in order to release your earning potential. Having a high level of production capability is like rocket fuel. If over two weeks you can shoot 30 ballerinas, edit the shots and do the viewings this could easily return £10k profit. If it takes you a month to get the work done, your fixed expenses will double and your profit may be just £8k if you are lucky.

I am available for 1:1 dedicated business consultations to help you get focused on success. Contact Blaise on 01275 853204 or by email in the first instance and she will arrange a complimentary initial phone consultation with me.

If you need help generating or converting leads ring Julia Brooks at contacts4business for a chat on 01763 209326 or email her at

Please feel free to add your comments and suggestions to the benefit of all.


  1. damien

    Thanks Jason. Damien.

  2. Jason Lloyd

    That’s all good material, much of which we have been learning the hard way over the last few months but this really helps put things in perspective. Good advice and thanks for taking the time to share it :o) I particularly connected with the website and SEO advice and I’ll give that book a try. Jason

  3. Claudia

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


    • damien

      Thank you Claudia, If you dig deep in the archives you will find some valuable info and plenty of inspiration. Your first comment is very appreciated. Damien.

  4. Vikki

    Great advise. Thanks!
    I’m a relatively new business and am struggling with my marketing, so this has been really helpful.


  5. Ian Emmett

    Excellent advice – gives a good list to work from, especially for new businesses.



    • damien

      Thanks Ian. Damien

  6. Richard Barley

    Great advice. I would not have built my wedding photography business without the good advice from your excellent wedding photography book. I hope you write a portrait photography book with the same business advice.

    have a great christmas

    Richard Barley

    • damien

      Hi Richard, Thanks for your personal endorsement of my business strategies laid down in my wedding book. I’ve regularly been writing about the requirements of a good portrait business on these pages of the blog and my writings here would form the basis of the book. If I do produce a portrait business book it is likely to be an eBook but that project is still sometime off. Regards, Damien.

  7. Stuart

    Yeah snow flakes are good :) Thanks I feel all festive now!

  8. Coventry Bob

    Hurra the Lovegrove team have come up trumps again – another blockbuster DVD delivered in time for Christmas what joy – and coupled with a Honl light modifier kit and Lastolite Ezybox for the SB900, I’ll be a happy guy through to the New Year.
    See you at SWPP in January.

    • damien

      Hi Bob, Have a great Christmas break. I can’t believe how fast SWPP is coming up on us. Are we prepared? Well no, not quite but we will be. See you there. Damien.

  9. Sheila

    Thankyou so much for the advice, it seems so simple when you read it (ha ha).
    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your family.

    • damien

      Thank you Sheila, Your comments are very welcome. Remember that a great idea is not a thought alone. It is a thought that has been acted upon. Have a great 2010 season. Damien.

  10. Stuart

    Very interesting and enjoyable read, Thanks as always :) Now how about getting this site a little festive? What about giving the ape (top banner) a chrimbo hat or better still replacing it with santa or a snowman? Come on it’s christmas!!! :P Merry christmas as well :)

    • damien

      Hi Stuart, Will this do for now? Next year we will get a bit more dynamic with our graphics. Have a great Christmas, Damien.

  11. CoventryBob

    Hi Damien Seasons greetings to you and all the team. A great blog especially for us on the periphery of professional photography – part time activity but with a high quality product. Keep up the fantastic work.
    I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing you at SWPP and Focus in 2010.
    PS Are the DVD’s on their way yet? I’m looking forward to watching them over Christmas.

    • damien

      Thanks everyone for your kind words. It took two days to put this post together and I’m glad it is appreciated. Yes, Bob all the DVDs have left the building and you will get yours tomorrow (22nd Dec). Damien.

  12. Iain King

    As always Damien. An excellent post and good timing too. The customer experience part is very good advice. I also would recommend the “Search Engine Optimisation – an hour a day” book to anyone looking to understand how to get more hits on their website. This was a book I read earlier this year and even with an IT background, I learned so much.

    Have a great Christmas and a very prosperous New Year.


  13. Philip kay

    Great advice broken down into concise and insightfull chunks. A great way to get you think how you manage your business rather than letting your business run you.

    As always you are very generous Damien

    Merry Christmas


  14. Derek mc Auley

    Fantastic advice and very informative

  15. John Curgenven

    More priceless insight.
    Thanks for your generosity Damien.
    Merry Christmas,

  16. Eric Doggett

    Great list of tasks for the new year! Asking for referrals in exchange for some prints/sessions/etc is on my list for ’10.



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