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The Loss Leader in Photography

July 31, 2015 in Business Tips, How to start a photography business, photography education, Photography Entrepreneurship, Photography Marketing Tips, Photography Tips, Photography Workflow by admin

Today I want to talk to you about using a loss leader in your photography business.

The portrait industry didn’t start out using loss leaders, but once corporate, multi location studios began popping up everywhere, the loss leader became the name of the game for portrait photography. I imagine most of you already know what a loss leader is, but for those of you who don’t, this is how it works. You run an ad. It’s a very attractive ad, because it offers a ridiculous number of portraits for a very small price. The photography ad draws in lots of business! You take lots of pictures. You even sell some. It works, right?

Well, let’s look a little deeper. It’s called a loss leader because is leads your customers into the studio… but at a loss. A loss, you say? Yes… you see, you can’t possibly stay in business offering portraits for less than they cost you to produce them. So, why would anybody do that? The supposed logic behind this strategy is that you will attract lots of buyers, and you will, but the only way for you to keep from losing your shirt in the process is for people to buy more than the deal. If they don’t, you will spend more money than you make, and that’s a terribly bad losing strategy for any business. You might as well be sitting on your butt watching tv rather than taking pictures at a loss. So why did the photography industry build it’s entire marketing model on this strategy? It sounds terrible, doesn’t it? The reason is that it works… at least it did for a long time. And, not only for photographers. The big box stores still use this strategy all the time. They advertise a few items at a big discount, knowing they will lose money, just to get you into the store. Why? Because, when you take the time to get your kids dressed and into the car, to drive all the way to Walmart in 100 degree heat (in Austin anyway), you sure as heck aren’t going to leave the store with just that one little item on sale. So yay for Walmart. It still works for them, and probably will continue to do so.

But the loss leader doesn’t work for photographers. It worked for the big chains at one point, but even they can’t use it much anymore. Why? I believe there are several reasons.

1. Digital has made it possible for people to scan their photographs and make more themselves. When Olan Mills gave you one 8×10, they expected you would buy more for friends and family… and you did. But, when your client can essentially steal your images from you, they have no incentive to buy more. Even some people who would never consider taking a piece of candy from a grocery store without paying, won’t think twice about copying and distributing your images without permission or compensation to you. That’s not a judgement about the morality of our clients… it’s just a fact about the way most of our society has come to view digital images.

2. One of the main reasons why the loss leader works for big chains is that they are BIG. They can spread out the risk. If 100 people buy their deal, and only 50 of them buy additional items, they are probably still going to come out ahead. But if you, as a photographer, only do 10 sessions each week, and half of them only take the deal, well, how can I say it… You’re Screwed!

3. Your work is custom. It takes a lot of time, energy, skill and creatively to produce a portrait. When Walmart’s client doesn’t buy an additional item, they might lose a dollar or two. But when you give something away for free, or, God forbid, at a loss, you lose $100’s or $1000’s of dollars. Why? Because you are one person, spending a lot of dedicated hours on that one client’s portraits, and you are not making any money. You also have an opportunity cost, because you cannot photograph another client or work on a paying client’s images during that time period. Walmart can spread out that labor, but even if you have an employee or two, your risk is extremely high.

4. Probably worst of all the loss leader is … well… deceptive. People are getting more and more marketing savvy. They can smell a rat. And they already know that the loss leader is a rat. They know you will want them to buy something else. Heck, they know you “need” them to buy something else. Even if they have no idea how much you really should be charging for your work, they know it’s more than what you are advertising. This sets up an adversarial position between you and your client, a psychological tug of war, and a very messy situation for both of you in the ordering appointment. Even if you get away with it and they do buy, you probably won’t get this client back in the future, and they sure won’t recommend you to their friends, because they won’t want done to their friend what you did to them. Ick!

So, is there ever a time to use a loss leader? Sure! I just used it a couple of months ago… and very successfully. But my goal wasn’t to make money or even produce a profit at all. My goal was to get images for my marketing, and FAST! So, what did I do? I gave it all away. I ran a Facebook ad for a FREE newborn session with 5 high res digital files. WHAT, you say? Kate!?!?!? How could you do that? I told you, I needed marketing images, and fast. I had just returned from an amazing class with Julia Kelleher at Texas School on newborn photography, where I learned a TON of new tricks for photographing newborns. And, I wanted to completely update all of my marketing and pricing with beautiful new images that reflected my heightened skill level. I also needed a test run for my workflow. How long was it going to take me to do a session with all these new props and wraps and such? How would I track everything with all the new steps I was putting in place? Would I need an assistant? I had lots of questions that needed answers, and photographing a gazillion babies in a short amount of time was going to answer a lot of questions and provide me with exactly what I needed. So I did it. I photographed 22 babies in  about a month and a half. I processed every image myself, presented every image myself, charged, tracked, culled, backed up, and posted to Facebook every image… myself. And I got exactly what I needed from that campaign. Did I make a lot of money? No! I had a lot of people take their 5 free images and go. But I also had a bunch who bought additional photographs, because I did a really, really good job for them. So, I said it was a loss leader, but as you can see, it really wasn’t. Because I was compensated in many important ways. And, I wasn’t being deceptive. I really meant it when I told them they were not required to buy anything and I wouldn’t be upset if they didn’t. Because I meant it. I knew I was getting something as valuable, if not more valuable, than the money. I set up a complete newborn studio system that creates repeatable, consistently beautiful images, that thrill my clients in less than two months, and I couldn’t have done that without using my Facebook “loss leader” ad. Will I ever do it again? Probably not. Everything I needed from that ad I got photographing those 22 gorgeous babies. And, my work got MUCH better because of it. So, now I’m worth more.

The loss leader does permanent damage to your brand. If you train your clients to expect a deal, they will expect a deal, every time. Be straight with people about why you charge what you charge, and don’t discount it. Can you run a special every now and then. Sure. But I would run specials that add value, rather than take away money. Then it is more like you are giving gifts. And most clients would rather receive a gift than a “gotcha” any day.


by admin

Marketing for Photographers

July 24, 2015 in Photography Marketing Tips, Photography Tips, Uncategorized by admin

What fishing on my vacation taught me about marketing for photographers.

I had the pleasure of spending a week and a half in Pennsylvania this month for my family reunion. My aunt and uncle live on a beautiful little lake out in the boonies, and I just love visiting them there! One of my favorite things to do is go fishing. It reminds me of fishing off my grandmother’s pier when I was a kid, and it’s a rare chance for me to relax and reconnect with nature for a while. This trip was no exception. Even though the entire family would be expected, my boys and I had almost a week before the rest of the family got there, and fishing was the first thing on our minds as we drove down the steep driveway to my aunt and uncles house.

But there was something different about fishing for me this time, and I don’t mean the fact that it took me three nights of basically no action before I landed my first large mouth bass. This time, while I was out there on the lake thinking about life and my photography business my mind wandered to marketing. I knew that I was going to return to Austin soon, and that my first priority would be marketing. So, I figured I had better put a little thought into it while I was waiting for the fish to bite. Both of my boys had abandoned me due to the slim pick-ins, so I was out there on the lake all by myself. The first real fish that we caught was a 15 inch bass that my 5 year old pulled in, to everyone’s amazement (before he decided he was “bored” and went back up to the house). The funny thing about this catch was that little Max caught it with a fake worm. Now, if you know much about fishing, you know that bass aren’t typically what you catch with worms. Sunnies is what you catch with worms. As a matter of fact, you can pull in sunnies one right after the other with live worms. Worms are what I learned to fish with as a kid. Practically all I ever caught from my grandmas lake was sunnies… because of the bait I was using. Later, when I was in high school, my grandmother got us some live minnows to fish with, and I caught my first bass. Wow! Was that ever exciting! I didn’t use minnows very often, but I had a lot more fun when I did, because the fish were so much bigger and better to eat. The other thing though about using minnows was that I caught less fish. Bass simply don’t bite as often as sunfish… or at least they didn’t where I fished. My grandmother’s lake was stocked with sunnies, and they seemed to be everywhere. The bass were few and far between.

So what does any of this have to do with marketing? Great question! A lot actually. Marketing is a lot like fishing. When you think about it, fishing for fish requires bait… so does marketing. If you don’t have the right bait, you might not get any bites at all. If you use worms, you will get lots of little fish, and if you use minnows or lures, you will catch a few bass. So how does the bait apply to marketing for photographers? Well, what kind of bait are you using to catch your clients? Are you using worms? What is the marketing equivalent of worms? I would say Groupon is a good example of a worm. You will attract lots of little fish with Groupon. But will you catch the kind of clients that you want? Will you attract clients that can afford you? Maybe what you want to do is to attract bass. You know, big fish that are good eating. It takes courage to fish with lures and minnows instead of worms. Worms will get you fast results… like Groupon will, so they seem great. But, when you take into consideration the amount of time, effort and energy you put into each of your clients, do you really want to do all that, just to end up with a big bag full of sunnies? Lures and minnows will bring you long-term clients that are right for you and your photography business. It scary to fish for the big fish. Why? Because to do so, you have to take your focus off of the sunfish (the clients that want cheap photos) and spend all of your efforts on catching the bass. This can be hard to do when you aren’t seeing instant results. Instant results are fun! They are encouraging. And having three nights of no success can make you want to pull in a few sunnies, just to keep your spirits up. I know it was frustrating for me, going three nights without a single bass.  And, I actually did break down and fish for sunnies for a while. But pulling in sunfish, one after the other, gets pretty boring. Not only did I know they weren’t big enough to eat, but the whole time I was fishing for them I was neglecting the bass. So I went back to my lure.

So back to the story… Max caught the first bass, on a fake worm. What’s that? What did you say, Kate? I thought you said worms were for sunfish. Well… that’s normally true, and technically, since the worm was fake, it would actually be considered a lure. But I digress. The reason I brought up the fake worm was to teach you something else about marketing. You see, Max caught that big bass on a fake worm, and it was the first time we had thrown that lure in. None of the lures I typically catch bass on in that lake were working, but low and behold, Max lands a bass. So what do you think I did? Your darn too-tin! I strung a fake worm onto my line and tossed it out. We caught five more bass on that lure over the next two days… each one bigger than the last. And we had fish for dinner two nights in a row, which was a huge treat for my boys, my mom and my aunts and uncles (and, of course, me). Why did we finally have some luck? Because we were flexible. We started with our standard lures, then moved to minnows, then worms (just so we could catch SOMETHING), then to the fake worm. Marketing is like that too sometimes. Especially in today’s fast-paced world. You never know what bait is going to pull them in. Start off with the tried and true marketing efforts. But, you’ve got to be willing to try new things, if those aren’t working. I remember direct mail used to be HUGE in photography. But I haven’t been able to get a direct mail campaign to work for three years now. Groupon… that will work… and it will work fast! Especially if you give everything away. But running a Groupon deal can kill your photography business. Think about it, do you ever shop at Bed Bath and Beyond? If you do, you know that it’s crazy to pay full price for anything there. All you need to do is wait for them to mail you a coupon. You don’t want to get that reputation for your photography business.

The final thing I learned while out there fishing on the lake, is that I can learn to be more patient with my marketing. I can trust that the fish will come (the clients), if I use the right bait, and keep putting it out there. And I don’t have to hate marketing either, as I always have. Because I LOVE fishing… and marketing is a lot like fishing. 🙂

by admin

Time Management – Delegate

March 2, 2015 in Business Tips, Goal Setting, Photography Entrepreneurship, Photography Marketing Tips, Photography Workflow, Time Management by admin

Time Management – Delegate

Building on our time management techniques from the past three posts, today I want to talk about Rory Vaden’s “Procrastinate on Purpose” step of Delegate. Once you have asked yourself… “can I eliminate this?”, and “can I automate this?”, if your task has not been handled yet, you move to the next stage – delegate. This is when you ask the question… “can I delegate this”? Now, I have to admit, delegate is the hardest step of time management for me. It always has been. For years, decades even, I have struggled with delegating things. Why? Because I did not have, what Rory Vaden calls, the permission of imperfect. I have always felt that, for the tasks that I needed to get done on a daily basis, that I could do it either faster, better or both, than having someone else do the task. I know that sounds ridiculously arrogant, but it was also true. After all, for most of these tasks, I was doing things inside my own business, things that related to systems that I myself had developed. I knew these tasks inside and out. I could practically do them in my sleep. Delegating them seemed like a ludicrous option. Even Rory says I was “right”… which is probably the only reason I was willing to listen to his explanation of why I needed to delegate anyway (LOL).

Rory says that it takes up to 2.5 hours to teach someone how to do a task that takes 5 minutes. YIKES! 2.5 HOURS! No wonder I was thinking I couldn’t afford to delegate anything. That’s a lot of time management! However, I was missing a key ingredient to this thought process. And that was this… once I have taught that person how to do the task, not only can I focus on something else, but they actually get better and better and better at doing the task. This speeds up the efficiency of the task, and ensures that my clients are being handled much more effectively than they were when I myself was doing everything. With someone else handling the time management of these tasks that are less significant to my making an impact on the world, now I can focus on those things that are significant. If you don’t remember from my earlier post, significance is how long something matters. Significant things are things that will matter years down the line. Me answering my phone right now, is not significant years from now. However, me developing a training program for my team to answer the phone effectively and efficiently, will matter years from now. Once I have delegated incoming phone calls to my team, and trained them to do it well, I can move on to the next item on my list that will be significant to my life or my business.

Here is Rory Vaden’s focus funnel again. Notice how each of our first three steps have handled a lot of tasks already. Just you wait until we get to the next stage. You are going to LOVE IT!



What can you delegate inside your business? If you are a photographer, unless you get some sort of fulfillment and enjoyment from retouching your own work… DELEGATE IT! Retouching is time-consuming… and boring. It is tedious! And, it is extremely cheap to delegate! If you don’t already have a source for this, I recommend . They are inexpensive, professional, and fast! If you are not happy with what they did on your images, you can have them re-done for FREE. I get most of my images back before 24 hours are up. And… you can try them for FREE. Click HERE if you want to try them out.

There are probably many tasks like this in your business that you can delegate. You can delegate using a virtual assistant. You can delegate SEO, social media, email marketing.

Leave your answer to the question… “What can I delegate in my business?” in the comments below. And, I’ll see you here next time for the last two steps of the focus funnel. 🙂

by admin

Photography web site tip – It’s not about traffic it’s about conversions

June 30, 2014 in Business Tips, How to start a photography business, photography education, Photography Entrepreneurship, Photography Marketing Tips by admin

Is your photography website converting? Do you even know what that means? In many businesses that have web sites, a conversion is simply a sale on the site. Traffic comes in, and the conversion percentage is the number of those people who actually buy a product on the site. But when you are a photographer, a conversion is not so impersonal. Your photography web site needs to effectively convince your visitor to contact you… hopefully by phone, because this is your best chance to book their photography session. And traffic does you no good at all if nobody is doing that. A lot of photographers have really pretty web sites that are completely ineffective. Their photographs are nice, but there are components missing that keep visitors from picking up the phone.
Does your photography web site convert? And, are the people that call you the target market you are going after? If not… you may need to re-vamp your photography web site a bit.
Tell me what your biggest challenge is with creating an effective web site. What questions do you have about your photography web site. Then… on Friday I will announce the winner of a one on one web site analysis for the best comment and/or question.

by admin

Positioning your photography business- Avoid becoming a commodity

June 4, 2014 in Business Tips, How to start a photography business, Photography Marketing Tips by admin

Positioning your photography business can be a challenge, especially in the competitive environment of professional photography today. With so many photographers to choose from, potential customers can get overwhelmed and can end up choosing a photographer on price alone. This is not a win for the photographer or for the client. But potential clients may not know anything else to ask about except for the price, so you need to have a strategy for positioning yourself and your business in a way that keeps them from viewing your business as a commodity. One great way to do that is to position yourself as an expert. If you are positioned in your market and your community as the photography expert, then people who are looking for a photographer will have another reason to choose you… one that isn’t tied to price. Because you can’t compete on price these days. There are too many photographers out there that are willing to give their photography away for next to nothing… or even nothing at all. And you can’t run a profitable photography business that way. So get out there and speak, join photography organizations and earn degrees through PPA. Give your potential clients a taste of who you are and what you can do for them, and avoid doing the things that will place you into the price only or commodity category.

by admin

Photography Business Tips – Consider the source when searching out photography education

May 9, 2014 in Business Tips, How to start a photography business, photography education, Photography Entrepreneurship, Photography Marketing Tips, Photography Tips by admin

Your photography business is unique. It’s not going to be exactly like anyone else’s. Even if you purchase a franchise, there is always going to be one hugely unique factor, and that’s YOU. I am constantly advocating education, and photography education, even for long-term pros, is a must. But it is also easy to become overwhelmed and confused when attending seminars and classes on photography. And that is because everybody’s business is different. Every photographer has a different brand, and different philosophies for running their photography business. So there is seemingly a lot of conflicting information out there.

What is really important is that you seek out the education that will be most relevant to your type of photography and your brand. The best tips you are going to get are those that you get from folks doing work similar to yours, with similar photography clients and a similar philosophy. In the past, we took classes from folks who photographed schools and events, because that was the type of photography we focused on. But now that we have a portrait studio, we need to learn from a different type of photographer. It’s not that either of our teachers was better than the other… they were just more relevant to us at the time.
Focus is so key, when running a photography business, so do what you can to focus your marketing to your ideal client, and your education to your ideal business model.

by admin

Photography Business Tips – Just do the next right thing… that supports your brand

May 5, 2014 in Business Tips, How to start a photography business, Photography Marketing Tips by admin

I just returned from a fabulous week at the Texas School of Professional Photography, one of the best learning experiences for professional photographers in the country… maybe even the world!

Today’s photography business tip is for all those photographers out there that attend conferences and classes from time to time. Imaging USA, SWPPA, The Summer Roundup, TPPA and The Texas School of Professional Photography are all on our list each year for attendance. We love attending photography seminars and conferences, but it can be hard sometimes to be away from our photography business for a week at at time. Things pile up… AND… there are always so many great ideas to implement when we get home that sometimes it can be quite overwhelming. Today’s photography business tip is to take it one step at a time. Focus on doing the next right thing for your business. Go through your notes from whatever class or conference that you attended and boil things down to the very most important things. Then consider your own brand. Does this tip that you learned match your brand. After all… what good is it to take all the time, energy and money necessary to implement a business strategy or tactic if it doesn’t fit with your brand.
After you have decided which things match your brand… pick the best one… and start with that. After you have the one in place, you can move the number two thing to implement.
Photography classes and conferences can be a HUGE wealth of information, but don’t let the overwhelm overload your plate. Even if you only implement ONE thing from what you learned… if it’s the RIGHT THING, then it could change your photography business forever!

by admin

How to succeed in your photography business – Photography & Business Tips – Free Education

March 27, 2014 in Business Tips, How to start a photography business, Photography Entrepreneurship, Photography Marketing Tips, Photography Tips by admin

To really succeed in photography, as a photographer, you need to become both competent and confident in your abilities as a photographer as well as a photography business owner. There are a lot of great places for photography education and business education on the internet, and PPA, the Professional Photographers Association of America has just added a new benefit for members. They now have a photography education area on their web site with tons of great information. The site can be found at There is also another site where you can get great free education. Creative Live puts on free live webcasts all the time that are Fabulous! To get access to their courses, go to

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How to succeed in the photography business – Photography Tips – Set Your Studio Policies

March 26, 2014 in Business Tips, Photography Entrepreneurship, Photography Marketing Tips by admin

Today’s photography tip is to set your studio policies. You not only need studio policies for your photography business, you also need to go over them with your clients and have them sign them. These studio policies are there to protect you and your clients. The more information your photography clients have up front, the more comfortable they are going to be, and the smoother the entire process is going to go.

If you need help with studio policies, you can contact PPA, or ask for help on PPA’s forum… The Loop.

by admin

How to start a photography business – Photography tips & Photography Business Tips – What makes you unique?

March 19, 2014 in Business Tips, How to start a photography business, Photography Entrepreneurship, Photography Marketing Tips by admin

It’s really important to your business and your marketing plan that you know what it is about you and your photography that is unique in the marketplace. Do you have a particular photography style? Do you know how to make your photographs look better and different from the millions of photos that are taken everyday with cell phones by your clients? To compete in the market and to stand out from what your clients can create on their own is really the only way that you are going to be able to earn a good living as a professional photographer.