If you could choose your most favorite session ever to shoot, what would it be? What is that one type of session that makes you giddy with excitement in the planning and shooting process? Take a moment and dream about that.
Some adore working with innocent, sweet newborns, others playful little ones, and many find joy in capturing candid moment with families. Perhaps it’s a romantic engagement session or the happy tears that come from documenting one of the most important days of a couple’s life together. Although, I love a wide variety of these different options in my business, my favorite sessions of all are those with high school seniors; specifically high school senior girls. I enjoy working with them and creating a session that will capture the essence of who they are at this important time in their lives in a beautiful, timeless, classic way.
I am currently in the midst of my third senior season and am finally at a point where I am thrilled with the flow that I have in this part of my business. As I look back, I can now see some important steps I have taken to get me where I am today and I thought I would share them with those of you who are just starting to find your way in the senior market. The senior market is really hot right now and there is so much information out there to help you in this area that it can make your head spin. I’m not here to tell you how you should do things but I want to share a few tips that helped me get to a point where not only my clients love what I do, but I love what I do.
Figure out your style and purpose
My senior business, or even my business overall, did not start to take off until I figured out who I was as an artist. This was a long agonizing process for me from the process of honing technical skills to finding my artistic voice. Knowing my style helped me figure out who I was as a photographer and helped me narrow down what clients I desired to attract and hire me. I want clients who value art…truly value art. I want clients who love fashion and who are inspired by and treasure things from the past. I want to be an artist for artists and to help those with no artistic inclination fall in love with art.
Fill your blog with shoots that reflect your style
Last year, I started doing creative shoots for myself. Honestly, I did not do it with the intent of drawing people in, I just did it because I wanted to. I needed to re-energize my creativity and so I began to dream and starting planning out shoots for myself. As I was in that creative mode, I began to notice more and more of my clients who were booking were referencing my creative shoots when they were telling me why they booked or discussing the vision for the shoot. Filling my blog with what was artistically in my heart better showed who I was as an artist and the clients that hired me were now hiring me for that.
Take control of your business
My best friend and I always talk about having to wear our “big girl panties” in business. I decided that if I was going to run my business well the time I was spending away from my family needed to be both profitable and creatively satisfying. I knew I needed to change from a “client run” business to a “photographer run” business. There were many detailed steps involved in this which completely turned everything around for me and drastically changed everything (for the good).
Three major things I implemented were in-person styling sessions, partnering with a makeup artist, and in-person ordering sessions. All three of these have allowed me to truly customize each session for each client, turn a photo shoot into an experience, pamper my clients, and at the same time maintain control. After everything is said and done and I hear the words, “That was such an incredible experience. We loved it so much!” I feel like a success. Please understand that by me saying you should take control I do not mean that every step of this process is and “all about me” situation. Clients are hiring us because we are experts at what we do. An expert would not sit by and let someone else run the show. The only way you can truly exhibit your expertise is by using it! I take my skills and combine the best qualities of my client with my knowledge and artistry to create a lasting, treasured memory.
Know who your client is and market accordingly
This might seem like a silly question however in the senior market there are different ways to market which has you focusing on different clients. In a senior rep program the emphasis is more placed on the senior. This program can be highly successful but and many well known photographers do extremely well with this, however I do not believe the senior rep program is a “one size fits all” marketing approach. After I began going through steps to change my business, I instituted the rep program but it wasn’t a good fit for me with my clientele and my business goals. At first I felt like an utter failure because I know the program works SO well for others but I quickly realized that working with a different approach is ‘okay’ and if I wanted to be profitable I needed to change quickly! As a result, I do not count the senior as my main client. What? I promise I am not crazy! My senior is my client in a sense that she is the subject of the session and my job to capture her beautifully, but although it is highly important that she is thrilled with every part of her session, she is not the one I market to.
My main client in senior sessions is the mom. Mom is the one who has the last say, who finalizes the order, who basically gets what she wants. I get the majority of my senior business because moms loved the senior experience with me so much that they pass my name on to all their friends. Ninety percent of my senior session inquiries say, “my friend, ‘so and so’ gave me your name and told me I had to get in touch with you. I love what you did for her daughter and want to book you!”. I work with the girls to make them feel like a stunning model, but I cater my business to the moms. From how I assemble my information, to how I communicate, to who I have working on my team (makeup artist and assistant), I craft an experience that both mom and daughter won’t forget. products that the teens will love but the majority of what I offer is timeless, classic items that the moms all want and must have. Take time to assess who your client is, the direction and style of this part of your business, and it will help you devise a plan to cater to your desired clients.
Carry products that compliment your style
The last step in rounding out your stylized business is paying attention to your end product. Make sure to carry products that reflect your style and your approach. I have a very clean, classic, vintage modern style so I am careful to carry timeless products that will appeal to both mom and daughter while beautifully reflecting my work. At sessions the girls fall in love with an elegant image box while the moms drool over leather selections for custom designed flush mount albums. From basic prints to a stunning canvas, every item I have chosen will mesh well with the style of photograph I create as well as the style of the home it will reside in forever. Currently, we are so blessed as photographers to such a vast number of vendors to choose from who carry a staggering display of incredible products. Be intentional about the products your carry and choose a handful that will reflect your artistry and clientele well.
If you are discouraged creatively with where you are in your business, I encourage you try these simple steps. Working in a field that blends both art and business is so extremely difficult in that we are often creating a war between both sides of our brain! Finding the proper balance of being successful AND being creatively satisfied is a journey we all have to take in order to take our career to the next level.
Constantly strive to learn something new.
Don’t be afraid to fall down.
Know that growth is often painful but the end result is worth it.
Always stay true to who you are as an artist.