I’m Jennine Coosaia, a baby, child and family photographer in the San Francisco East Bay Area. I’m a little bit of a unicorn in the mom-tographer world in the fact that I went to a brick-and-mortar photography school and went the traditional photo-assisting route. I’ve been in business for nearly a decade and have recently been reflecting on some of the things I wish someone would have told me when I was at the very beginning stages of my business.
1. Don’t be the newest “cheap” photographer in town.
The overabundance of new and cheap photographers does seem to have slowed down a bit, but this approach to entering the photography market is still one of the most popular I see. The ‘cheap’ photographer typically charges $0-200 for a photo session, has no shortage of excitement or enthusiasm, and quickly posts photos of all of her friends and family who are willing to jump in front of her camera. She is crazy about her new camera and is determined to let everyone know it. How on earth could that be a bad thing?
The biggest problem is that charging so little places you as a hobbyist – and not a business person that is going to be taken seriously. Often, your subjects will act like they are doing you a favor by ‘letting you’ take their photo. What’s more, not only will you burn out, but you won’t even make enough money to buy professional level gear.
Think about it… If you want to buy a standard professional level camera body and one professional grade lens, you will easily spend $2,700. At $200/session, it would take nearly 14 sessions just to pay for the camera! This doesn’t include editing software, digital delivery software, printing or ANYTHING else that you need to have even the most basic photography business.
Initially, 14 sessions might not seem like a lot, but put it into the context of your own family. If someone asked you to spend 14 evenings away from your own children, what price would you put on that time?
For me, time away from my family became the biggest motivator to keep me focused on building a profitable and sustainable business.
2. Start small, stay focused.
One of the benefits of being a mom-tographer is that you are naturally starting in a niche market. Niche marketing, or narrowing in on just one slice of the overall market is key to being found online and in being seen as an expert in your niche. These are two very important factors that lead to someone eventually hiring you.
We might feel like we are covering all of our bases if we shoot and post everything we see, but essentially, we are watering down our ‘expert’ status when we are too broad in our focus. In a sea of choices, people hire those who appear to be specialists and experts rather than generalists.
3. Don’t be afraid to change your prices.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that you change your prices during the same client interaction. That would be a ‘bait and switch’ and lose major trust points with your clients.
However, as you are figuring out an overall pricing strategy that works for you, you are going to have to tweak your price list to get to a place where you are maximizing your profit, yet leaving your clients feeling that they received something of value in exchange for their money.
Because each person’s technical level, customer service skills, and local market are different, the only way to really figure this out is with a bit of experimentation.
Once I had a more elaborate pricing menu with products that I had tested personally, I made a decision to NEVER create a printed price list or downloadable pricing pdf that went out to clients. Why? I knew that I was still making minor tweaks and I never wanted to be in the position where someone would hand me an old price list and ask me to honor it.
How did I do that? I uploaded a jpeg of my price list to a hidden page on my website and sent the link.
If I needed to update the pricing, I would simply replace the pdf which would automatically update the link.
During my client reveals, I would show them the same price list that they had originally seen printed on high quality paper and presented in a folio similar to a restaurant menu.
4. Aim high.
As my technical skills improved, more people were interested in hiring me, but I was less interested in working for a few hundred dollars a session. While I wavered on my price list for quite awhile, I eventually committed to a price list which would typically equate to a sale anywhere between $1200-1800 for a baby or family portrait session.
I was excited to find that people were willing to pay that amount, and as my business grew, I began to realize that if I was willing to take on clients who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) pay my prices, I risked upsetting my high paying clients if they found out.
My solution was to commit to a price list but to offer a generous and ‘standard’ 30% off for friends. With the discount, I was still typically making between $600-1100 per session.
My fear of upsetting my good clients was a great motivator to keep my prices up and focus on marketing. I looked for ways I could add value, rather than dropping my prices or running specials.
5. Don’t be afraid of sales.
Do you know why everyone hates sales? It’s because we associate sales with being ‘sold to.’ Contrast that feeling of being ‘sold to’ with the feeling of buying something you absolutely love. It can be thrilling and even euphoric.
If you strive to give someone that type of experience, you can alleviate yourself of any guilty feelings you might have about selling.
If you feel like your photography isn’t going to move someone emotionally or will cause them to question your technical skills, you SHOULD have a hard time with sales. You might even want to question why you are charging people for your photography in the first place.
However, if you have moving imagery, a tried and tested product line, and are able to provide superior customer service, you should feel very comfortable helping your clients to make purchases that both of you will feel good about.
6. If you give something, get something.
There will be times when you want to photograph something or someone, regardless of what you are going to get paid. There may even be times when you truly feel like your client can’t afford something, and you may feel moved to give them a deeper discount or even something at no charge.
However, these are perfect opportunities to get video testimonials, positive reviews, social media shout outs, or other non-monetary things that can help your business significantly. Don’t be afraid to ask. These small things can help your business grow exponentially.
Family Photographer in San Francisco
Written by Jennine Coosaia of Sky 9 Studio. Jennine is a professional photographer specializing in maternity, newborn, baby and toddler, and family photography in San Francisco’s East Bay. Sky 9 Studio offers in-house photo printing, albums and gallery walls. See more of Jennine’s work at https://sky9studio.com or on Instagram.
Edited by: Stacey Adams of SMA Photography in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Stacey is one of my amazing blog editors and she worked with Jennine to put this piece together. She is a talented family and newborn photographer and filmmaker. Stacey teaches “The Business of Family Films” for photographers wanting to add video to their existing business. Registration is open now through August 30th, 2019 for the September 3rd – October 1st run of the workshop. You can see some of Stacey’s recent family films and follow along with her on Instagram.