IPS. “In Person Sales.” You know what it is, right? To listen to the chorus of voices in the photography community, IPS is the magic unicorn whose glittery wings will fly you right out of starving artist status and instantly quadruple your average sale. But there’s no denying that offering in person sales is a huge time commitment. A financial commitment, too – you’ll need samples, of course, and fancy devices and software to showcase your galleries. Is it really worth it? Particularly for so many photographers whose bread and butter is digital files?
In a word, yes. But for me, a lifestyle photographer selling all-inclusive digital packages, sales are only a small aspect of why I’m committed to sitting down with each client after their gallery is ready. My LYYP (The Life in Your Years Photography) “ordering sessions” are a bonding experience. We ooh and aah and gush together. They’re the hand-holding my busy and overwhelmed clients need (and appreciate) to get from point A (the digital files) to point B (beautiful heirloom storybook albums and wall hangings). They’re my best marketing tool, as I show them how to share the love. They’re my validation, as my clients cry over slideshows and gasp at that one image I almost deleted, thinking it was too “artsy.” They keep me and my clients connected and on track, and I frequently leave with another date on the books.
There’s no “one-size fits all” business model that will work for every photographer, but when you’re considering whether IPS is “worth it” for your business, here are some things to consider that extend way beyond your average sale.
I talk a lot when I’m shooting a session – well, all the time, really. I do feel that keeping some conversation going is one of the best ways to keep a family feeling relaxed while I’m photographing them. That said, my over-arching mission during my time with any family is to capture those real, unscripted, beautiful moments that are happening between my subjects, and these moments frequently don’t wait for lulls in the conversation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been mid-sentence when I’ve sprung into “oh my goodness look at what’s happening right now” mode, completely side-tracking whatever it is we were talking about and snapping away at the beautiful, shiny moment.
That’s okay, of course – mom and dad have the same goals as I do for our time together. It’s not the best way to get to know a person, though. When we sit down for our ordering session a few weeks after the session, it’s a totally different vibe. Grown-up conversation can happen in a way that’s impossible during sessions. We get to know each other better and develop a better understanding of each other’s hopes from each session. Here, I discover who my true people are, and even sometimes convert clients to my particular way of seeing an image. (“Really? The drool and droopy diaper bother you in this image? These details are exactly why you’ll LOVE this image in 20 years. Trust me on this!“)
My clients are busy. We all are. I know that my clients value periodically slowing down and capturing these precious fleeting moments to remember later, because they’ve hired me to do just that. I also know, though, that they’ve got really limited time and long lists responsibilities and deadlines that – let’s be honest here – are more pressing than deciding which images from their galleries should be hung on the wall and which should be included in their next storybook album. These decisions are HARD, and hard decisions like these that are not life-or-death get pushed to the bottom of the daily to-do list. It’s human nature.
By making the ordering session a part of the LYYP experience, I am providing my clients with a service that solves this problem. They know that we will sit down together for as long as it takes to go through all the images in their gallery, mark favorites, and decide how they will be best enjoyed by their family for generations to come. I listen to their ideas, tour the empty walls in their homes, and plan which groups of images would tell a perfect story in a storybook album spread or wall gallery. They know (because I tell them) that the best time to make these kinds of decisions is right now, while I’m sitting with them, offering my opinions and all the fancy-shmancy viewing/comparing/designing/selling tools I’ve brought with me.
This setup is advantageous to me too, obviously. I’m pretty type-A about my workflow and how I run my business. Because of all that we accomplish at my ordering sessions, I never have to chase a client down to place their order, or to get me their favorites for an album, or to pay an invoice, or even to schedule their next session. It’s all taken care of during the scheduled time. Done and done.
We in the photography world all know that word-of-mouth referrals are the best marketing tool for getting new business. Some clients will naturally and spontaneously shout from the rooftops to their friends, family and social media circles about their wonderful LYYP experience. It simply might not occur to others to do this. Again, IPS to the rescue. All of my digital packages come with cute little personalized mobile apps and I show my client during the ordering session exactly how to use the app to refer me to their friends, (“…because referrals are a photographer’s bread-and-butter, you know!”). I’ve got an awesome referral gift, and I show my client the gift when I’m showing all my other a la carte items, (“… but you can’t purchase these awesome gifts – you can only have one if you send me a referral! Because referrals are hugely important to me and I’ll bet you’ve got lots of like-minded friends, family and co-workers you could send my way!“). The best referral incentives in the world won’t bring any new clients if your current clients don’t think to use them, and I make sure that the gentle suggestion comes up a couple of times during every LYYP ordering session. Sure, we may laugh together about my “subtlety” in delivering the message, but the message is always delivered.
Is there anything more satisfying than having to pass your client a tissue because your work has brought them to tears? Every photographer wants their clients to love their images, and sending clients a download link to enjoy the photos in the privacy of their own living room robs you, I think, of the opportunity to witness (and share) their heartfelt reactions. This one benefit alone would be enough for me to continue my in-person ordering sessions despite the time and financial commitments they require. I have bonded over images with clients who have hired me once or twice a year since their first babies were born. Their enthusiasm over images that I had previously been uncertain about has allowed me the confidence to follow my heart as my business has evolved. My clients’ appreciation of my work has carried me through times when running my photography business has otherwise felt very isolating. This, to me, is worth the time and money.
Oh, and have you heard? IPS is a great way to increase your sales from every session. But you knew that. You just may not have thought about how many magical powers that unicorn had.
Have questions about IPS or how I conduct my LYYP ordering sessions? Feel free to share them in the comments below!