We started our mini sessions during difficult and uncertain times for us. It had become clear that if we couldn’t figure out the business side of photography, we’d be hanging up our cameras and picking up our old jobs.
We were tired of the starving-artist lifestyle and wanted to build something we could depend on to support our family long-term even during very hard times. After all, we started our business in one of America’s highest poverty-rate cities during the Great Recession. Yet this also is where we turned it into a Bulldog 100 “Fastest-Growing Business” through a weird mini sessions strategy!
If you know anything about traditional “mini sessions,” you may be surprised that we looked there for our answer. The typical mini session model is something like $100 for a 20-minute session with 10 digital files included. Those numbers just don’t scream “stable income generator.” But we felt like this model was broken and we were convinced we could remake it into something sustainable.
We did just that, and now consistently generate an average of $1,000 per mini session client, and we get to travel the country teaching others how to reproduce the same thing in their area. Our quirky approach to minis is the hero of this story: It introduced a luxury client experience to the saturated market of minis and has provided much-needed stability to our business long-term, which is more important now as ever. (Read to the bottom to see how we’ve used our model to thrive in the Covid-19 world.)
Build Something New
We weren’t necessarily starting from scratch, but we knew that if we wanted to build our new model, the first step was to tear down what didn’t belong in the mini sessions we envisioned. We looked intently at every part of the process, from finding leads to final products, and whatever didn’t fit our vision was culled out like a bad photograph. For example:
- Why create artificial limits on how many images we deliver? If our clients have limited options, it also limits their add-on purchases.
- Why not do in-person sales — or even a simpler online alternative? If our major goal is providing lasting, heirloom products for our clients and a sustainable business model for us, guided ordering sessions are the best way.
- Why not enhance the experience? When our clients see their images with their eyes, they simultaneously remember how they felt during their photo shoot in their hearts. If we want them to love their images, and if we want them to book us again for future shoots, they have to first love their experience.
These new-and-improved, maximized mini sessions allow us to create an experience and a product that you can actually scale. As a result, our mini sessions have become even more profitable than the luxury weddings we photograph (and remain safe, uninterrupted, and profitable even while our big event weddings are postponed).
Change The Way Your Clients Think
We may not need to explain to potential clients what a mini session is, but we do make a point to explain what our mini sessions are for.
When someone reaches out about our mini sessions, we make it clear that our endgame is not simply handing out digitals or even filling their empty wall spaces: We want to help every client have a home that reminds them how much they’re loved, a home that fosters connections and relationships. The goal of our mini sessions is to work alongside each client to capture memories and moments that will last a lifetime.
But that also means we have to market to the clients that appreciate this approach, and believe it or not, market in a way that filters out the clients who don’t fit our model.
Change The Way You Think About Clients
We used to think we had to book every lead we got, which meant that when someone raised an objection to our price, our answer was always to compromise, to give in, to make an exception. And that set a terrible expectation for the client that we were basically cheap vendors who would change according to their whims.
Now we think differently: We aren’t simply trying to fill up bookings, but rather book the clients that are right for us — clients who share our values. We’re helping our clients create a visual heritage. And if they value that, then we’re going to be on the same page throughout the whole process.
The practical outcome of a shared-values approach is that you end up with loyal, connected, return clients and long-term relationships. And every business in every industry knows, the most valuable asset to your business is loyal customers because you don’t have to market to them any longer. They’re yours.
How We Market Our Minis
It all begins with a simple marketing email. First, we reach out to our legacy clients, who have worked with us in the past. They get first dibs on booking. If there are still slots available after that, we email to a broader audience and advertise on social media.
But converting clients takes more than passive advertising (letting the world know that you do mini sessions and waiting for them to call you). Instead, we include a call-to-action in every email and ad, which takes potential clients to a custom, mini sessions landing page.
The landing page (a single, purpose-driven, private web site) is clear and to the point. It gives our clients a taste of the experience to come and invites them to request a time slot. When they make a request they are automatically given a 24-hour window to review the session details, sign the contract and secure their booking.
Between the booking and session day, our clients receive two to three pre-session emails. These serve to build anticipation and also offer us a chance to share some important information, such as:
- what to wear – clients love us for this, and their pictures are always better for it
- sample images – which get them excited about their own photos to come
- products for purchase – and ideas for where those products could go on their walls at home
Now you may be thinking, “Writing all those emails, building landing pages, following up with everyone…that sounds like a lot of work!” And you’re right, it does sound like a lot. But thanks to a few of our favorite partners we are able to automate a great deal of the front- and back-end mini session workload. Specifically we use:
- 17hats for managing leads and producing automated emails
- StickyFolios for creating custom mini session landing pages
- ShootProof for hosting our online galleries and selling products
A $12,000 Weekend
The details matter in creating this one-of-a-kind experience. You’ve heard of luxury weddings; we shoot luxury mini sessions. The locations are still simple (from local parks to our own backyard, and we don’t use any props), but we work hard to enhance the client experience wherever we are. This is easy at our studio, but even at a park we can do wonders with a pop-up canopy, some casual seating, a charging station, and a table with cold water and clean towels (and yes, we thought of the kids too — they each get to pick a small treat from a prize bucket at the end).
So the stage is set, and then comes the wild part: We photograph back-to-back 20 minute sessions, spaced out every 30 minutes. You can fit a ton into one day doing this, but we limit ourselves to six per day so we still feel totally energized and not worn out by the end of the day. It’s actually fun and fulfilling! We’ll do six a day, 12 in a weekend, and we know that it will generate upwards of $12,000.
Carry The Experience Through
We knew that for our luxury mini sessions to really work, we had to include high-end, in-person sales like we do with our weddings. We were a little concerned about how people would react, since minis have historically been a “shoot-and-share” experience, but we were confident in our product and also knew we had to make it work if we hoped to still be doing business the following year. So we went for it.
We schedule ordering sessions with each client before they leave from their mini session (usually scheduled about a week later, done in-person at our home or via a strategic online workflow). The very first time we tried in-person sales after a weekend of mini sessions, we earned $8,000 in print sales. And that has proven to be the average success rate for all of our students in our mini sessions course.
We actually enjoy sales now because we shut up and listen. What do our clients want? How can we help them get the right products for their home? They come in and see their pictures for the first time, and we get to enjoy that fulfillment of their immediate reaction. After that, the strategically structured packages we offer sell themselves, so we’re not forcing anyone to do anything. We’re providing solutions to their desires!
What If You Don’t Have A Studio?
When we first began providing guided ordering sessions, we lived in an 1,100-square foot house in a collapsing neighborhood, on the wrong side of the railroad tracks, beside a neighbor who had 18 dogs behind a chain-link fence and a car up on blocks. It was essentially the opposite of a luxury photography studio. We would get a phone call every time people arrived asking, “Am I in the right place? I think I’m lost.”
So we developed a script: We’d answer with, “Oh, yeah! We’re so glad you’re here! I can see you through the window. Come on in.” We didn’t apologize; we just owned it. And once they came through the front door, we controlled the experience from there.
Studio or not, you can create a luxury in-person client experience with some creativity and attention to detail. Here’s a few simple tips:
- offer snacks and beverages
- play on-brand music in the background
- light candles or turn on scented diffusers
- display your products where clients can touch and experience them
And of course, if in-person is simply off-the-table, recent advances in technology allows you to offer personal ordering guidance online (or Virtual IPS). With lots of experimenting, we found your can perfect this process to keep your sales numbers up!
Virtual In-Person Sales That Work
About half of our clients end up with online ordering sessions, but the sales are nearly identical to what we see in-person. The reason for this, we believe, is that we treat the experience as though it were in-person. Two quick tips to that end:
- ‘hand-deliver the gallery’ by scheduling a time to meet via video chat. Don’t just send a gallery link via email; join them online, share their gallery link and walk them through the shopping experience via screen-share
- offer the same two-hour window that you provide for in-person sales sessions. You should only need 15 minutes to walk them through the viewing and ordering process (before letting them fly solo), but a specified ordering time-frame creates an appropriate sense of ordering-urgency in your client
More Than Digitals – Offering Heirloom Artwork That Lasts A Lifetime
Our print and product packages begin at only $245, but each client spends an average of $1,000 on their order. Our most popular products are the timeless items like print enlargements or canvas enlargements, and everything we offer is very attainable. If it’s not our highest sale but our client walks away happy, that’s all we set out to do.
In addition to enlargements, nearly every client ends up adding on a “brag book” – a small, one-image-per-page album that displays 10 to 20 photographs. This usually helps them to reach the spending minimum that allows them to get their digital negatives thrown in as a bonus, which is really valuable. That’s how we end up with those really high averages so that everybody’s leaving happy. And happy clients are our best marketing strategy.
When families buy products and display them in their homes, it’s essentially marketing that’s paid-for by our clients. I can’t tell you how many families we’ve photographed who came to us saying, “I saw this beautiful collage of canvases you made on my friend’s wall.” It’s one of those things that just keeps expanding exponentially.
Now More Than Ever
Here in the midst of global lockdowns, canceled events, and financial uncertainty, we are finding this wonderfully flexible mini session system to be invaluable in an ever-changing market. Here’s how we and our many students are adapting the system to current realities:
- Socially Distant Minis – It’s not as hard as you might think. Photographing from six feet away, posing clients with verbal directions and taking extra precautions to clean and sanitize make for a post-reopening mini session experience that your clients are ready for and your business needs.
- Bolstering Small Businesses – we reached out to local small businesses and pitched a partnership opportunity: as we begin offering these first rounds of post-reopening mini sessions, we are donating the session fees to the small business of the clients’ choice. They love knowing it helps the community!
- Generating Funds for Charity – When clients log on for their online ordering session (knowing how to maximize your Virtual IPS has never been more important!), they know that we are donating a percentage of whatever they purchase to a local charity working to provide medical care during this pandemic (ours is a local medical charity).
- Keeping Ourselves Employed – Of course we will not be making as much money if we give so much away, but we don’t leave our business up to chance. We certainly will be making a good sustainable income, while helping others that are struggling at the same time. And for that, we are grateful.
So what began as a last-ditch effort of two photographers trying to make ends meet has become one of the highlights of our year and the bedrock of our business. It has carried us and our Maximizing Minis students through hard years, unexpected expenses — and now even global pandemics.
Do you want to learn more?
Take A Free Mini Sessions Online Course From The Blumes!
“The webinar is amazing. And the Course is crazy simple and very well laid out. Phillip & Eileen provide so much supplemental material to help create documents, templates, and everything you could possibly need. They explain the why for all their methods and steps and break it down such that you walk out feeling confident in the process. Stick to their plan – it works!” – Mike Glatzer