4 Tips to Planning Successful Mini Photo Sessions
When Erin asked me to write a little about mini sessions I was so flattered and excited. I really enjoy mini sessions and for me they are a great way to acquire and keep existing clients while being profitable for the photographer. In my four years in business I have learned some different lessons on what works and doesn’t (for me, atleast) and I’m excited to pass some of those tips on to you!
I broke down some different questions I often see or topics that I wish I knew more about when I was figuring out how to make minis work for me.
- When to have mini sessions?
The most popular time to do mini sessions is predictably around a Holiday, which is when I alway scheduled minis my first two years in business. Most parents want to have pictures of their children done to remember first holidays and favorite occasions. There’s not too much out there cuter than a little girl in her first Christmas dress or a little boy in his first Easter best. This can make your minis very easy to sell while also making it very difficult. If you live in an area highly saturated by photographers, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” quickly becomes a race for booking minis. Have this in mind and be prepared to consistently evolve in your business and don’t get frustrated if you do not get the response you were hoping for immediately.
I would also recommend exploring the idea of “off season” minis. I try once or twice a year to offer mini sessions that are not based around a Holiday. Let’s face it- the Holidays can lead to stress and sometimes client’s don’t want to add to their chaos and other times they simply just don’t have time. I also personally think a huge benefit to off season mini sessions are larger sales, especially if you sell prints with your minis. While Holiday themed minis are adorable- not many client’s want a 16×20 Christmas canvas hanging on their wall year round. An adorable smile of their cuties from a “field of flowers” mini, on the other hand…
One of the biggest challenges I have faced in regards to mini sessions is pricing. I have agonized over past mini offerings, trying to find the perfect formula of the last few years. While I don’t have a magic answer for you- I do have a list of the most important (in my opinion, at least) factors to consider when setting your pricing.
-location: rental fee, entrance fee, gas/travel costs
-advertising: facebook ads, flyers, digital advertising templates
-props: anything you may need to buy for the session
-your time: time to design the minis, email clients, travel, shoot, edit and deliver final images
-babysitter/childcare: to watch your kiddos (if applicable) while you design the minis, email clients, travel, shoot, edit and deliver final images
While these costs vary from photographer to photographer, examining these costs are extremely important to ensure profitability. If you start out offering minis at too low of a price point, you will build a clientele who expect that certain price point. Later on as you raise your prices, you will find yourself trying to build up a new customer base who fit in line with your new prices. Remember- the goal of mini sessions (and being in business, in general) is to make a profit! Don’t set yourself up for failure by charging too little. Also keep in mind, you want to transform these mini clients into clients who will book a full session.
Think simple!!! In the past, my minis had 4-5 package choices. Way too complicated! Your first decision needs to be if you are going to offer print, digital or both. Lately, I have found that all digitals minis sell better for me, but I know that is partially because most other photographers in my city have gone completely digital. It also works better with my workflow and allows me to deliver better quality, faster, to my clients. I am able to edit and send out file downloads in the middle of the night if I need to. With three kids, and only two of them in preschool twice a week, this works best for me right now. If you want to sell prints, and you live in a digital saturated town, don’t let that discourage you. If gorgeous prints are what you value- sell them! The beauty of YOUR business is YOU are in control.
If you do sell prints, be sure you offer enough of a package variety without including too much. I found when I was selling print packages with minis, I was running into two problems. First, everyone wanted to switch out the sizes. I would often try to stick with something simple like an 8×10 with two 5×7- but inevitably someone wouldn’t need an 8×10, or would rather wallets than 5×7 and wanted to swap for something different. Not only is this difficult, it takes a lot of email time if you have quite a few mini clients. I found myself making errors in orders and/or taking way too much time in ROES. I also tried offering a certain number of “gift prints” (prints 10×10 and smaller) which was a little less complicated with ordering but was also confusing for clients. My advice- if you offer a print package, stick with it and do not allow switching of sizes.
If you were thinking that digital was less complicated to sort out than print, you may be disappointed. You have a similar issues- in that if you offer a set “x” amount of images and allow the clients to choose from the gallery, clients often want a couple more images or have a hard time choosing. If you anticipate having a gallery of 10 images, and the package includes 5, be prepared with prices for 1 additional file and the whole gallery. This can be a great way to upsell on your mini sessions. When factoring the prices for additional files, I typically divide number of files by my session fee. So, if the mini was $100 and included 4 images with a gallery of 10, I would sell additional files at $25/each or the full gallery for an additional $80. This can increase your profits substationaly! This is hit or miss, though, because in minis a lot of the images tend to be similar so sometimes clients don’t feel the need to purchase them all. Think of it as a bonus when they do buy them all!
I often offer small discounts for returning clients or Facebook friends/Instagram followers. It’s a small way to show you value their repeat business without being to taxing on you.
The main thing I learned with pricing is just to be confident and stick behind what your packages/pricing rates are.
- Client Guidance
A big mistake I made in the past has been not informing or guiding my clients. To be successful we need to constantly remember that our clients need our help in planning their sessions. The more information we give clients to prepare, the less likely they will come back to you with complaints on the session (for aesthetic reasons, at least). A photography session is stressful and can feel overwhelming. Parents worry if their children will behave, and often that stress is what can sabotage the session. The more information and reassurance we give them, the better prepared they feel when they arrive. In minis especially, it’s important that they are relaxed at the session, even if it’s a kids only session. Children pick up on their parents stress- so if Mom was worried and scrambling to find outfits all morning and can’t even smile herself, there’s little chance that you will have cooperative kids. Help them arrive to the session feeling calm by giving them as much info as possible before hand. Send outfit suggestions with pictures and suggested stores. Give them as much info as you can about color schemes you will be using with backdrops and tips like avoiding wearing orange to a fall session highlighting the foliage.
In my email prior to the session, I ask the parent’s to send me some helpful info on their kids. Names and ages are important, but I also like to know their favorite toys, recent vacations, favorite movies.. anything that will make their eyes sparkle and peak their interest. Since minis are so short, I need to build a fast relationship with the kids. Having some intel on them prior to their arrival let’s them warm up to me sooner. I jot this info next to my schedule for the day and take a peek at it right before they arrive. Really easy, and really effective!
I also remind clients to wear clothes that fit them and they are comfortable in. If Mom is trying to squeeze in her favorite pair of jeans that are two sizes too small, she is going to look uncomfortable in the images. I also advise that they don’t put their children in something they know they will hate. I once had an 18 month old’s mom try for the entire session to keep a headband on. Mom said herself that the baby wasn’t a fan of headbands or bows, but Mom pressed on. As you can imagine, baby wasn’t happy, and the only usable shots with the bow in them were after the baby ripped the bow off and smiled. This was a total mistake on my part, as I should’ve included in my previous emails to the client not to dress their child in something the anticipate an issue with. The same problem could have gone for shoes, a bow tie or a frilly dress- if they know the child will be distracted it’s best to not wear it. If Mom has picked out the perfect outfit including a gorgeous hairbow, she’s not going to be happy if at the session I tell her it’s best not to wear it. The above scenario was a lose-lose for me, because by keeping the bow on the images didn’t come out as well as they could have, and if I told Mom to leave it out she would feel the outfit was incomplete when she looked at the images.
Keep in mind, as my Dad always tells me, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”, meaning we can give our clients all of the advice in the world to best equip them for their session, but if they don’t listen you just need to roll with it. A part of our jobs as photographers is adapting, so you need to work with what you’ve got to deliver the best product possible.
A few extra notes-
- When booking, encourage clients to keep their child’s nap/eating schedule in mind. Some parents try to drive around prior to the session to get their child to nap and wake up happy, and this rarely works!
- CHARGE A RETAINER! This is so important. Take this from me, who was burned when I didn’t require a retainer in order to hold a spot. You need to make sure your client is as invested in the session as you are.
- I used to book minis via email and announce the available times on Facebook. This wasn’t reliable and ended up frustrating clients who didn’t get back to me quick enough to book a slot, or frustrated me when I didn’t receive retainers. I now do all bookings through my website, so the client chooses their time through a drop down menu. This way no time is booked until the put a retainer in. (You can see how I have this set up by visiting the “book your session” tab on my website. http://www.ashleypesata.com).
- Don’t overdue the props! My least successful mini sessions I feel were in part due to either over-propping or cheap-propping. Make sure what you include is of quality and won’t make the images appear over busy or crowded.
- Be patient! Sometimes I find myself frustrated that my mini’s didn’t sell out in minutes. Remember that if you are advertising through facebook, you may have to post a few times before the majority of clients will even see it.
- Participant Limit: Limit the session to a certain number of people. A mini session is not the time for a 22 person extended family reunion. Also, be careful when combining sessions with cousins/friends. If it’s children from two different families, it’s best to do two separate sessions.
- Schedule time for editing! When I put minis on calendar, I also block off the following Monday and Tuesday or however long I anticipate needing (and schedule a sitter accordingly) to edit the minis. The faster the turn around with the sneak peaks and final galleries the happier the clients! 🙂
- Don’t be offended if client’s “mini-hop”. In my first couple of years I would get very hurt if I saw a client chose another mini session over mine. I now realize that there are so many factors or reasons a client may hop around, including set ups (or price)! However, I now feel secure in my mini process and quality and feel confident that even if a client ventures out to another photographer, they will be back again.
- HAVE FUN! 🙂