How to Lead a Portrait Sales Session without Pulling Your Hair Out

Portrait sales used to scare me as a beginning photographer. I had no idea what I was doing and I couldn’t believe people were willing to pay for my photos!

Though I directed the meetings and should have been in charge, clients sensed my insecurity and seized control. They began to dictate the tone and told me how they thought things should be done. I found myself being criticized for the packages I offered, the prices I charged, and just about everything else.

Fortunately, other photographers taught me to handle these situations and things got much better. Today, I am in control and client interactions go more smoothly and can even be fun!

I learned difficult lessons along the way and would like to share them with fellow photographers. My hope is that you’ll gain the confidence to lead your clients and increase portrait sales.

Before the Portrait Sales Session

A few minutes of preparation will put you and client on the same page and make your time together in the sales room a great experience.

Guide the Client

For most people, hiring a professional photographer is a new experience. Part of your role is guiding them through the process and letting them know what to expect. The client will appreciate your help and the organization you provide.

Make sure they are aware they will be participating in an “ordering session.” Let them know they will be reviewing photosmaking selections, and placing an order that day.

You may wish to put this in writing as part of their informational packet. Here’s the text I used on an appointment card:

“This time has been set aside at our studio exclusively for you. You will have the opportunity to view your portrait session, make final selections, and place your order. Please make sure that everyone involved in the decision-making process is in attendance. We want you to be relaxed and enjoy yourself as you choose your favorite images. We look forward to showing you your session.”

How to Lead a Portrait Sales Session without Pulling Your Hair OutHow to Lead a Portrait Sales Session without Pulling Your Hair Out

Give Homework

Encourage clients to think about their order by giving them a printed checklist before they go to the portrait sales session. This will help them remember friends and family to include their order, thus increasing your bottom line. Items on this list may include:

  • Mom’s work
  • Dad’s work
  • Grandparents
  • Aunts & Uncles
  • Siblings
  • Boyfriend/Girlfriend
  • Friends
  • Others

Additionally, I include space for measurements of locations in the home for a large wall portrait. I use the backside to include points the client should take into consideration, which we’ll get to in a bit.

How to Lead a Portrait Sales Session without Pulling Your Hair OutHow to Lead a Portrait Sales Session without Pulling Your Hair Out

Some people may expect to take home a proof book and make their decisions later. Explain to them how your studio does digital proofing using the latest technology. Let them know they’re getting a much better option than the “old fashioned proof books.”

Provide a Product Guide

Quite often, clients neglect to request details about portrait sales. They may assume you offer certain packages within what they deem to be a “reasonable” price range. Or, they never put any thought into the matter.

Either way, they come into their ordering session uninformed. When you explain your portrait package options and pricing to an uninformed client, they may accept it without question. This is wonderful! On the other hand, your prices and the rigidity of your package framework may ruffle their feathers. This is not so wonderful and what we want to avoid.

If they don’t request it earlier, hand the client a product guide after their photo shoot. This will give them ample time to review the information and develop a wish list. Your product guide should include package information, pricingproduct photos with descriptions, and any other pertinent information.

How to Lead a Portrait Sales Session without Pulling Your Hair Out

During the Portrait Sales Session

This is where all the work you put in earlier pays off. Your client arrives in the portrait sales room informed and ready to select images. They understand your guidelines and hopefully they’re impressed by your professional image and organization.

In an ideal world, people would order every one of their favorite images and have unlimited budgets. But since that’s not the case, they have some tough decisions to make. It’s under this stress that many people feel overwhelmed and need you to guide them.

Take Charge

People seek and respond to leadership. They also respond to a lack of leadership and will assert themselves to get what they want. As the business owner, you have the opportunity to lead and set the tone of a meeting. If you don’t, the client will, and this makes for a chaotic portrait sales session.

I’m not giving you permission to be a jerk. That’s business suicide. But I am giving you permission to define the rules of how clients order their photos, how much they pay, and which products you make available.

Show Confidence

If you don’t have confidence yet, that’s ok. Do as the saying suggests and “Fake it ’til you make it.” No matter how you feel, put out an attitude of confidence and professionalism. As people respond to what they perceive as confidence, you will gain experience and faith in yourself.

The client chose your photography business for a reason.  In his or her eyes, you’re an expert. Why not go along and act like an expert?

Limit Images Shown

People like choices, but too many options creates indecision and doubt. Showing too many images will stress out your client and prolong the ordering session. Give them options, but limit those options and keep the client focused.

Be Ready for Excuses

Some people dislike commitment and it shows up while in your portrait sales room. As you encounter objections, note them and craft responses. The next time you run into them, you’ll be ready!

Here are some common objections I’ve heard:

“I need to check with my husband.”
“I need to go home and think about it. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“I can’t afford that. Can I order more photos later?”
“My ex wants photos too, but I don’t know what he/she wants.”
“I don’t need product ‘x’ or ‘y’. Can you change that package?”
“Can I just get my images on a CD?”

Set Portrait Sales Boundaries

These tips are among the most valuable I’ve learned. Setting these simple policies ahead of time will allow you to be firm yet professional. Plus, you won’t have to search for answers during an ordering appointment.

  • Limit the portrait sales time to between 60 and 90 minutes. This promotes decision making.
  • Charge $50 (or more) for additional ordering appointments. Most people feel this would be a waste of money and will make a decision that day rather than paying to return later.
  • All unordered images will be deleted. If clients believe you keep all their images indefinitely, they’re more comfortable not ordering them in the sales room.

Stand Behind Your Pricing

Never, ever apologize or defend your pricing. Nothing makes a business owner look more helpless than backpedaling or struggling to justify what he or she charges.

Would you ever go into the Apple Store and start complaining to the manager about the price of an iPad? Of course not. In the same way, your photography studio is a business and has a right to charge whatever you deem appropriate. The client has the right to walk away or choose another studio.

Show Me the Money

Collect 50% or more of the order total before they leave. You can offer small bonus products as incentive for paying in full. Either way, money on the table brings people back later to complete their payment and pick up their images.

Relax and Smile

When your focus is guiding portrait sales, it’s easy to come across as too serious. Yes, you’re in charge. But that doesn’t mean you can’t laugh, crack jokes, and enjoy the experience. Be firm, but be fun as well.

After the Portrait Sales Session

Great job in getting this far with your sale! Now let’s wrap up the portrait order.

All Sales are Final

Have clients sign a form acknowledging that they are placing a custom order and “All sales are final.” This prevents people from calling you the next day and slashing their order after thinking about it further or consulting their spouse. Trust me. They will try if you don’t have this in place.

Exceed Expectations

Go above and beyond what they’re expecting. Do exceptional retouching work in Photoshop. Package their order beautifully. Post one of their favorite images to Facebook–with your logo on it, of course.

Do everything you can to show professionalism and impress the client. Make them forget the premium price they spent with you and focus on the quality of service and products. In the end, they should believe they made a wise investment.

It’s Worth It

Even if you find portrait sales intimidating at first, with preparation and practice, you can do it well. As you improve, clients will thank you for helping them through the process. And when they hold their beautiful photos and smile from ear to ear, the work it took to get them there will all be worth it.