As a photography business coach, I am a big fan of self professed millionaire photographer Bradford Rowley.
A lot of his advice a totally agree with ( but in some cases I don’t agree with his thoughts.)
Here is a recent article of his on attitudes and behaviours that are sabotaging your photography sales.
An article by Millionaire Photographer Bradford Rowley.
“A great salesperson can help your clients understand the value and treasure of beautiful photography. A great salesperson can also cause your bottom line to explode. Unfortunately, many sales people (and especially photographers who sell their own work) have attitudes and behaviors that limit them from reaching their potential and actually end up massively sabotaging profits.
I have sold over 20 million dollars in portraiture. My studio finishes our portraits like original art, and we charge for our portraits like original art ( you can see our prices at http://bradfordportraits.com/pricing.html ). I have had a lot of sales people in my 27 year history. From my experience, here is a list of attitudes or behaviors that are most likely to sabotage your potential to earn a massive amount of money from your craft:
- I’m in it for the Art, Not the Money – If so, you don’t have a business you have a hobby. One of the biggest lies out there is that you have to choose between the love of the art, or be a sell-out for the money. Hey, you can still be a great artist who commands top dollar for your work.
SOLUTION – It’s time to look at your own inaction and insecurities. Many times it is easier to just say you are in it for the love of the art when in reality it could be a cover-up to mask the fact that you are not taking actions to become a legitimate business or you have an insecurity about charging respectable prices for your work. `
- People Would NEVER Pay that Amount of Money for Portraits– If you believe that, you’re right. I had a very skilled salesperson, but she had the mental block of believing people wouldn’t spend over $5000. for portraits. As a result, most her orders were between the $2000.-$5000. range. In a year’s period, she had only sold two 30” x 40” portraits (by contrast, we usually sell one a week). If you suffer from this same syndrome, it will damage your sales more than you can possibly imagine.
I remember a time when the jump from a 16 x 20 to a 20 x 24 in my price list was just $150. When I rose it to $300. more, that same salesperson said people wouldn’t pay that much difference. Today there is a $2000. difference between the sizes, and yet I have about the exact same percentages of people who purchase the 20 x 24 as I did when the difference was just $150.
SOLUTION – Go visit high-end art galleries, and notice what they charge for their work. I have lived most of my adult life in Laguna Beach, CA where the artist Wyland has several galleries. I would walk inside those galleries and see printed reproduced lithographs sell for thousands of dollars and some original work sell for $100,000. plus. Visiting such galleries can have a huge effect on your psyche as to what people are willing to spend on art. Visit websites that showcase high-end art. Here is an article that might be a good place to start:
Subscribe to the Robb Report (an excellent magazine to have on your coffee tables by the way) to see what people pay for a variety of things. Conditioning your mind to what people pay everyday on the high end of the market will help you believe that people will also be willing to spend significant money for your work.
- I Could NEVER Afford to Pay That!– There is an old saying that says, “We don’t see the world as it is but rather as we are”. There is another saying that says, “tell me the average amount of money that your five closest friends make, and I’ll tell you what you make.”
Solution: By all means, don’t give up your close friends, but do look for opportunities to broaden your circle of acquaintances to include people who have obtained a higher level of success than you. They will help stretch your mind to what is possible, and help adjust your mental thermostat to think beyond your own situation. In my circle of friends and acquaintances are people who run major international banks, owned professional sports teams and started major airlines. Besides being humble and wonderful human beings, their success has inspired me to think beyond my own limitations of what I can expect of myself and others.
Remember, just because you can’t afford something doesn’t mean your clients cannot.
- Worrying About Your Client’s Finances– Have you ever worried about the financial impact a large portrait order would have on your clients’ finances, especially if they are poor and struggling? Have you ever seen a client sacrifice a long awaited family vacation to have one of your portraits? Have you ever seen a child be willing to give up a summer camp so their parents could get a wall portrait at the proper size? I have. It pulls at your heart. Situations like this would affect me greatly. But I think it was Dan Kennedy that said, “If we don’t get their money someone else will”. And if people are going to give up money, can you think of anything better to spend it on than a portrait which will be a representation of the love and value they have for their family?
Solution: Let clients make the decision on their finances,not you. It is good and noble to have a big heart and to be compassionate for others. But ultimately, clients are responsible for what they spend money on and what could be more amazing than a beautiful wall portrait.
- Believing People Don’t Pay as Much for Photography Anymore – Are you buying into the doom and gloom that much of the industry is spouting…..People just won’t pay that much for professional photography anymore because their neighbor has a camera and will take family portraits of them at the park for free or next to nothing.
Solution: Stop complaining about how cheap photographers are ruining the industry, and start looking for ways to elevate your work and differentiate yourself. If you are offering the same thing as the soccer mom with a camera down the street then be afraid, very afraid. If not, then you have to be an expert at educating clients on what makes you different.
- A Lack of Enthusiasm – Brian Tracy said that a SALE is the transfer of enthusiasm from one person to another. NOTHING will affect your ability to sale more than the level of your PASSION, ENERGY and ENTHUSIASM.
Last week my wife and I had the opportunity to observe first hand the sales strategies of Erica Feidner. Erica was on the cover of Inc. magazine as one of the 10 greatest sales people of all time. Another website lists her as the second best sales person in history behind Dale Carnegie. Erica has sold over 41 million dollars in Steinway Pianos…more than any other person in the world. Knowing this, I began to observe her techniques. Overwhelmingly. her number one trait was massive passion and enthusiasm. Her energy was contagious and somehow you could spend a small fortune with her, and still be smiling and giving her hugs at the end.
Solution: To be successful, you have to leave every stress behind and have 100% focus and energy on your clients. Watch masters like Tony Robbins and others. Learn the level of energy they bring. Dress the part, act the part. and HAVE PASSION and excitement. Don’t be low energy. Sit up straight, stand up straight, and exude confidence.
- Not Having a Sense of Certainty– Do you know how much money you will make this year? How about on the next day you do sales? Most sales people don’t.
Solution: Sit down right now and pull out a sheet of paper and a pen. What do you want to earn this year? This week? WRITE it down! Put it in sight. Look at it often. Develop an attitude of certainty that you can achieve it. Instead of feeling uncomfortable about earning too much money, feel uncomfortable about not achieving your goal. Make achieving your goal a MUST!
- Having a WRONG Sense of Certainty– Some weeks ago I asked my salesperson in New York how much she thought she was going to sell for the weekend. I thought her potential for the 3 days (Thursday, Friday, Saturday) was $100,000., but she replied $70,000. I told her I thought we had a great line-up of clients, and offered her a bonus if she could achieve $100k. Instead, she achieved $69,800., just $200. off from what she thought she was going to get. In fact she achieved within .2% of her goal. I don’t believe that was an accident. We usually achieve exactly what we expect of ourselves even if the goal is too low.
Solution: Get yourself out of your comfort zone by making a goal just a little bit higher. Again, write it down and gain a sense of certainty that it will happen.
- Lacking Confidence – Are you embarrassed to ask your clients for the sale? Do you announce your prices with hesitation. If so, you may lack the confidence you need to achieve great sales.
Solution: Same as Item #1. On occasion, I will tell my clients that we are probably the most expensive portrait studio in the country. One client said, I love how you say you are so expensive and do it with total confidence….It makes me feel confident about doing business with you.
- Giving Too Many Choices– The more choices you give clients, the lower your sale will be. That’s a proven fact many times over. Books such as Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill teaches this principle as well as the attached link is a great read on the subject with case studies: http://unbounce.com/conversion-rate-optimization/psychology-of-choice-conversion-rates/ If you think offering more portrait finishes, many frame styles, many choices of locations or studio work is the way to make more money, you are betting against science.
Solution: Narrow the options your studio offers. I have taken all my portraits with the same look and background for over 25 years now. I don’t offer multiple finishes. I don’t offer many frame choices.
I like In-N-Out Burger. They are wildly successful and yet offer only four items on their menu other than drinks. Shake Shack will never beat In-N-Out Burger. They offer too many items such as hot dogs etc. At In-N-Out. you know you are only going to get one thing…An amazing hamburger. And, Grocery Stores that offer 40,000 products will never outsell Costco that offers only 4000 products.
- Believing You Must Have a Pre-Portrait Consultation– Everyone I know who makes around 100k a year in the industry has pre-portrait consultations. Everyone I know who makes a million dollars or more a year in the industry does not. The idea that you must have a pre-portrait consultation is so proliferated among those who teach in our industry. A pre-portrait consultation is usually needed when you are offering too many choices (see above), or you believe that a portrait size should be determined by a specific area in a client’s home (see a previous article I wrote on this subject: http://milliondollarphotographer.com/how-i-sell-differently-than.html ).
Solution: When a client books an appointment with us, we spend quality time on the telephone with them, we send them out all the information they need via email and snail mail. We include a “Dress Code” as well (that’s for a future article) because our studio is very specific in the style we offer. I believe that many of my clients, especially men, appreciate that we are succinct and don’t require a long and laborious process, including multiple get-togethers in creating a beautiful portrait for their family. Even if you have higher orders when you have consultations, that doesn’t mean you have a higher P/T ratio (another subject for another article). It’s okay to have consultations if you want, but orchestrated correctly it is not necessary.
- Not Understanding How Profits Multiply at Certain Prices– Sometimes us creative types can be bad at math, and that can really hurt us financially. Let’s say that we sell a product for $500., and our cost is $250. But what if you raised your prices from $500. to $750. By so doing, you only increased your prices by one third, but your actual margin increased by one hundred percent! In other words, under this scenario and profit model, if I lost 1/3 of my clients due to the 33% higher price, I would still make 25% more money than under the old price and work a lot less.
Solution: Take a look at your prices, but more importantly your margins. Have a crystal clear understanding of your exact costs. Religiously watch The Profit on CNBC as the show illustrates this principle over and over to small business owners who lack an understanding of how to increase margins.
- Failure to Dollarize– How much does it cost your client to own a 24 x 30” portrait over a 5 year period? If you can’t answer that question rapidly, you need to learn to be able to.
Solution: When a client is thinking about purchasing a size that cost say $5000., and they are vacillating, I like to ask the question of how long they think they will keep the portrait. Of course, the answer is simple: Forever! …But then I say, “well, imagine if you kept the portrait for just five years, the cost actually ends up being less than two dollars and seventy five cents a day.” Remember, people buy for emotional reasons, but they need logic to help justify and give permission to themselves to make the large purchase. Dollarizing is a great way to help clients see the long term value of their purchase, and break it down logically.
- People Won’t Spend the Same in My Area as They do in New York or Los Angeles– If you believe that, then be prepared to live the self fulfilling prophecy that your mind is perpetuating.
Solution – Understand the cost of living in New York and Los Angeles is way higher than middle America. People who live there often have to spend all their money on basic living expenses and have very little left over. I have operated my studio in California for more than 25 years. I did a study of all the zip codes in our area and which produced the highest averages. Newport Beach, which is generally considered a very upscale area around our studio finished middle of the pack, while other much more modest areas had higher averages. People in areas that aren’t as pricey often have more disposable income to spend and sometimes they value portraits more. I tend to do very well with middle america clientele…For example, my average order in Missouri is higher than my average order in New York.
- Not Offering a Payment Plan– Do you offer your clients the opportunity to pay over time? If not, you could be leaving serious money on the table.
Solution: Early in my career, I was inspired by the successful companies that would offer easy-pay payment plans to purchase high end products, so I started doing the same. At my high point with payment plans, I was charging $60,000.00 at the first of each month. Offering a payment plan is simple. Allow your client to pay for a portrait over 12 months or other predetermined time period by having them give you permission to charge their credit card once a month. Collect a second credit card as a back up. Really want to increase your average order? Have your clients agree to a payment plan where you collect all the credit card information but don’t charge the first payment until 30 or 60 days. Will some people default…? Yes, it can happen, but it is rare, especially if you collect two credit cards. In business if you want to make a lot of money, you have to take risks sometimes and make things as easy as possible for a large order to be placed. The monthly cashflow will also balance out your high and low months.
- My Studio is Not Nice Enough– Every now and then I see pictures of other studios that just make my studio seem so insignificant by comparison. Maybe you feel the same way.
Years ago in California, one of the most respected photographers in the area had a grand piano in the middle of their several thousand square foot studio which was also filled with antiques and the most lovely decor. At the same time, I had a one room studio that was 300 square feet, and had enough room for just 5 sample portraits in the back side of an older shopping center. When clients had to change, I stepped outside the studio and waited in the parking lot until they were done. It was all I could afford at the time.
Solution: As embarrassing as my situation was, I learned a valuable lesson. I still succeeded at sales. It taught me that I didn’t need the fancy studio to make big money. Today, one of my studios is on world famous Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, and my neighbors are Gucci, Louis Vuitton etc. It’s nice to think how far I have come from that tiny one room studio in the back of a an obscure shopping center, yet I know that in the end, it is our work, presentation, marketing, passion and enthusiasm that ultimately makes us successful, not necessarily the location and grandeur of our studio.
- I Don’t Have Expensive Equipment– I bought my first camera in a department store in Tijuana, Mexico 28 years ago, and I used it through my first million in photography sales. When I finally switched to digital, I bought the Hasselblad HD3 system and lenses that cost me about $50,000. per studio. As a back-up camera, I bought the Sony a900 with some Zeiss lenses that was just a tiny fraction of the cost. On one occasion while in Palm Beach, I used my back up camera, and in my opinion, the cheap Sony took better images than the Hasselblad. I had bought into the whole name thing, along with megapixel count etc.
Solution: Just weeks later I sold my Hasselblad on eBay to a guy in China, and started using my Sony. In my Palm Beach Studio, I have a 48” x 72” portrait that is stunning and was taken with the Sony. I don’t need my camera to impress clients, and neither do you. The samples of your work should do that, not the brand and price of your equipment.
P.S. Did I mention that in my Palm Beach Studio, I photograph with just one simple light?
- Not Reading Books or Listening to Programs on How to Sell– How can you possibly become a master of something you do not invest time to study? As I have mentioned throughout this article, I have several friends that make well over one million dollars a year in photography. All of them, including myself, are avid readers on the subject of sales. Still, it amazes me how many sales people don’t read anything to increase their talents and abilities.
Solution: Commit to reading at least one book or listen to one program a month on sales.
- Not Showing Proofs by Projection – I am assuming that almost everyone shows proofs via projection. If there is still someone out there who doesn’t, I have just one question?…Are you CRAZY?!?! There is no more powerful tool than letting clients see their potential portraits in the actual sizes for making the selection. I show sizes starting at our 72” size and work down from there until the customer is comfortable with a particular size. If you are not showing proofs by projection, you are losing out massively.
Solution: Buy a projector today! Get software such as ProSelect, and start projecting immediately. Your investment will be paid for almost immediately!
- Believing People Who DON’T Believe in You– Back when I had just a one room studio in the back of an obscure shopping center, my photo lab rep. came to visit me with his boss. I shared some ideas I had for marketing my studio. I clearly remember how the boss of my rep discounted my ideas, and said in the future he’d share with me the things that really worked. As my photo lab rep and his boss walked out of my studio, there was a laugh, and the person told my lab rep, “He’ll be out of business within a year.” It was an ugly feeling to hear this. Have you ever had a similar experience? It can be deflating and cause you to doubt yourself.
Solution: Let people’s doubts become your motivation to succeed. Nothing is quite so sweet as the revenge of success in the face of those who doubt you. I am grateful for people who believed in me such as Don Burrell. When I was a very small studio, he believed in me and I never forgot it. I have gone on to be one of his largest customers. Surround yourself with people who encourage you and believe in you, and try to stay away from those who are negative about the future of the industry
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About the Author:
Bradford Rowley is perhaps the most expensive portrait photographer in the United States with an impressive list of prominent clientele. He operates studios in New York, California and on world famous Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. He has taught photographers in more than 26 countries. He currently resides in Connecticut with his wife and youngest child.
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