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Photography Mini-Sessions: The Key to Success

Intro by Skip Cohen

Nicole Begley’s core business is pet photography and almost exclusively dogs, but her advice on every post she shares has an application to virtually all specialties.

With Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, proms and graduation all coming up, this post from her archives about mini-sessions is the perfect recipe to help many of you get the most out of your portrait sessions. And, her tips are so on point, reminding you of the importance of your time, money and making your sessions unique.

Together with Nicole and Marathon, we’re out to help you make 2018 the best year yet. Twice a week we’re sharing some terrific content with each post hitting another aspect of your business and marketing.

You see a photographer offering mini-sessions every 5 minutes on social media.  It seems that people are flocking to them, but even if they sell out will they be profitable at the end of the day?  Maybe you’ve tried to jump on the mini-session bandwagon but ended the day exhausted and with little extra money in your business account.  I often see photographers making critical mistakes in their mini-session offerings, such as showing too many images and spending just as much administration time with each session.

Wouldn’t you rather….

  • Create an event that attracts new clients to your business?
  • Have more time to ENJOY your life and spend less time staring at a computer screen?
  • Partner with a charity and raise money for a mission close to your heart?
  • Make $3-5K or much more in a single day?

You can!   I held my first Food for Fido event in 2012.  It started as a small event in a local park.  I had no idea what I was doing or how to run an event that was profitable and protected my time.  I made approximately $1,500 for the day but for the number of hours that I put into the event from start to finish, I’m not sure if I even made minimum wage.  It was in my third year, in 2014, that I really learned how to run a profitable event.  I grossed almost $5,000 in one day.  In 2015, I streamlined my workflow to create an event that practically ran itself.  I can now spend only minutes on each client’s administrative work!  I have learned so many lessons in the four years that I have hosted this event and I can’t wait to share them all with you.

There are 3 pillars to running successful mini-sessions; protect your time, pricing for profit, and keeping your session unique.

Protect your time: This is the one true level playing field.  No one, not the president, Oprah, or even the Pope has more the 24 hours in a day or 168 hours in a week.  Successful mini-sessions are not possible without being cognizant of your time.

We must create a mini-session event in which the administrative work runs itself. Mini-sessions can’t be successful if you spend 30 hours of your life keeping track of contract signatures and session fee invoices.  I know, I used to do that!

Your goal in creating mini-sessions is to limit the amount of time that you spend on the event as much as possible.  Once clients decide that they want to participate in your event, make it easy for them!  Create a solution that allows them to enter their information, sign the contract, and pay all in one click of their mouse.  Utilize websites such as Zapier to automate as much as possible!

The time spent on post-processing and ordering must also be minimized as much as possible.  This can be done by shooting in the studio with consistent lighting.  If you are holding the event outside, I highly recommend outsourcing your basic editing and color correction.

Mind the Money: There are also 3 money goals that we must always keep in mind; helping our charity partner, providing an outstanding service and product to our client, and making a profit for our business.

I donate the entire session fee to my charitable partner. This can add up quickly for them and keeps them motivated to help spread the word about the event.

When creating special collections for your event it is important to keep a strict eye on your Cost of Goods Sold.  PPA recommends that all products remain at 25% COGS or LESS.  I highly recommend that your smaller collections and single products for this event have an extremely low COGS, ideally around 15-20% at the most.  This allows you to maximize profits on those lower collections, which are often the most popular in these situations.

Selling your work at an event requires careful consideration.  If you have access to a studio or sales space, inviting the clients back for a short sales session OR holding a short sales session immediately after the session is ideal.  I firmly believe that in-person ordering leads to higher sales….every single time.

Don’t worry if you can’t hold in-person sales though as there are a variety of strategies to ensure a more profitable day!  One of them is to have samples available during your sessions and create an incentive for the client to pre-purchase a product or collection.  

Keep it unique: Anytime that you offer mini-sessions, it’s important to differentiate them from your regular sessions.  After all, if they are the same then why would anyone ever do a full session with you?  In order to differentiate these sessions from my regular studio sessions, they are for the pet only.  I also offer special products that are only available through this event.  Before I offered studio sessions regularly, this was the only time that clients could have their dog photographed on seamless paper.

Ideas to differentiate your session:

  • Specific location
  • Specific style – off-camera lighting, seamless paper, a unique set, special props or clothing
  • Limiting subjects – pets only, pet and people only, etc…
  • Offer a special product that is only available through this event