If you’re sick of an empty photography calendar, this blog post is for you!
A few years ago, my world looked pretty different.
(ok, but my babies were SO little - so that's different all by itself!!!)
I was charging only $100 a session and taking on every single client I possibly could find, and giving those clients everything I had.
Some of these clients were amazing and wonderful and we're still great friends…
Plus they were amazing at referring me out to people! I was B.U.S.Y.
And why wouldn’t I be?
Especially once my skills improved (through lots of self-taught trial and error, not fun and took forever!) - and people started to notice my work and I was swarmed with clients!"
Talk about a good deal, right?
But while ignorance was bliss for so many of those clients, I was maxed out.
Traveling to and from sessions, communicating with each client, leaving my family every evening to photograph yet another client...
Not to mention the commitment it took to fulfill the needs of my new (and sometimes demanding) clients. And editing all hours of the night, while taking care of 3 little kids (actually homeschooling at the time, so my hours were short!)
(Funny side story... one summer I photographed so many weddings that my then 3 year old daughter asked... "mommy - why do you marry all the boys?" She literally thought every time "mommy has a wedding" that I was getting married to someone else too. We DIED when she told us - but inside I died a little too because that's how much I was gone!)
Anyway, I was quickly burning the candle at both ends!
I guess I hadn’t mastered how to turn my photography business into a scalable asset and create a smart new business model, so I was being forced to recreate the wheel every time I generated a new client. And I charged them so little because I was so afraid of losing my clients!
Don’t get me wrong, it was fun at the start and sure, I was good at it…
But it didn’t take long before I was drowning in toxic client relationships.
I wasn’t giving them the type of experience I knew they would love - or sending them home with a way to enjoy their images forever.
I had completely lost all my joy and all my passion for photography, for creating art.
So when I finished one October and photographed 30 clients just that month, and made $3000 TOTAL I felt a little like my grumpy little unicorn in this image.
By severely undercharging I was being forced to work 80 hour weeks for a pitiful paycheck.
And my family needed the money I did make, so I was trapped. We'd finally been able to breathe a little in our finances.
And I couldn’t scale and grow my business, because there literally was zero time to fit in more clients.
All because I’d failed to price myself properly, and based my services on being the best deal out there.
Here I was, trying to build a creative brand and capture the love and joy of families…
And was getting stuck trying to fulfill the needs of dozens of needy (often ungrateful) clients who were only choosing to use me because I was cheap.
Sure, there were families I worked with who were amazing and very grateful for the art I provided…
(in the form of DIGITALS only)
Was I serving them the best I could?
I knew I wasn’t having the impact I was created to have.
If I was going to keep doing what I was doing, I either I needed to learn to live without sleep…
Or else something needed to change!
(And if you know how much I love my sleeptime, I’m sure you can guess which option I picked 😉 )
I knew something had to change, but I was torn.
The clients I was photographing wanted me to stay cheap…
They told me that straight out! Over and over.
So I was simply trying to give them what they thought they wanted because I desperately wanted to make a difference in their journey…
And allow everyone the chance to have beautiful pictures of their family.
Sure, I was getting burnt out, but I was helping them wasn’t I?
Didn’t I care about that, more than my own sleep?
Wasn’t that more important?
Defeated, I went to lunch with a fellow business founder – someone I looked up to – to try and figure out what I could do.
I explained to her that I was giving the clients what they wanted. But it still wasn’t working.
No one was really that happy.
And I was seriously burnt out! I was ready to quit.
“Camille, you’re just giving them what they say they want…"
Step back and look at the situation you have created for what it is…
“What do they really truly need?”
That’s when it dawned on me.
Even though I was giving everything for them, I wasn’t going to be able to keep going at this pace much longer.
My work would begin to suffer.…
But what the clients actually wanted was a memory - captured in a single moment.…
And to be reminded daily of the love between them!
So when it came time to give my clients what they wanted... it also had to do with giving them what they needed.
I realized what I had to do:
I had to offer something different. I could give them what they thought they wanted (digitals) but only when they experienced what they really truly wanted...
(pssst.... they wanted someone to not only capture the beautiful memories and connection of their families, but they wanted someone to guide them on the best way to preserve and display those memories)
And I needed a much emptier calendar, right!? 😉
And the way to do that was…
Through a a re-booted, high-end and fully aligned photography studio - run at my own pace (1 client per week so I can give them the attention they deserve) and with the ability to only offer them the finest heirloom art.
It seemed almost too good to be true…
The intention to print their images is always the goal for most clients, I may as well be the one to sell the finished product, right?
But at the same time, I was so used to my way of doing things.
I’d always associated being paid by providing a service, or working a specific number of hours (you know, trading my time for money).
How could I add value to these clients by just providing them an elite experience and heirloom product options?
Would people even want this? Would it work in my area? (oversaturated with cheap photogs and a low income bracket)
While I was still weighing up the options, I reached out to my brother…
He (who was in college for sales at the time) told me I would ruin my business if I stopped offering digitals only. Because you know... clients only care about the digitals in this digital day and age.
Ummm, talk about a confidence boost! ☹️
Even though I was full of doubt, I knew there was too much potential to ignore.
I knew I had a bigger purpose, to serve my clients and my family better than I had been.
I couldn’t keep going on the way I was.
But this could also flop dismally, leaving me totally humiliated.
Was this the answer?
Was this the missing component?
Turning my little side biz into a luxury fine art studio?
And could I really run it from my little rental home in the poor part of town?
With the next spring fast approaching I had to make a decision on what I was going to offer.
So I decided to take the risky route…
Say goodbye to my usual digital-session-where-we-meet-for-the-first-time-at-the-location... I was going all in. Offering my clients the full experience instead.
There was only one slight problem…I didn’t have any idea what high-end actually meant. Or how to sell enough products to make $3k from one session.
I had 1 month to somehow find the best heirloom product samples, and have prices ready my first reveal of the year (which I had no idea just how risky this was since this client hadn't seen any pricing at all before booking!)
So many thoughts were running through my head…
Maybe I should just sell her the digitals for a few hundred bucks?
Maybe this whole thing was a bad idea?
Maybe I should stick to what I know? Don’t fix what’s not broken, right?
But that was the problem… I was broken.
I felt overwhelmed at the thought of carrying on working as much as I had been.
I was so maxed-out and drained, I was useless to my clients.
And more importantly, I was useless to my family.
Despite my efforts to piece together my methods before the sale, I’d wasted too much time making up my mind.
It was time for the reveal and I literally wrote prices down on a piece of paper and hoped for the best!
I’d spent $1000 on a big screen TV to show images on and a couple samples…
And could hear my brother's doubts ringing in my ears.
But I had no choice because at this point, quitting wasn’t an option.
I was going to have to jump into this business model sooner or later, and people were going to have to buy it…
And that was that.
(I can be pretty stubborn, especially when I know I'm right)
As it turns out, I made the right move.
When I introduced the price list at the end of revealing my client's images, she went way overboard on my new offer.
She spent over $5000 on her session!
And that’s when I knew that this was what they really really wanted 😉
And the best part? I could sell it again at the next reveal…
And again after that…
And again after that!
Talk about game-changing right?!
It was so overwhelming to know how valuable this was to my clients.
There was still a bit of doubt.
I don’t know what it was – maybe my brother's voice was still ringing in my ears? But I couldn’t help but doubt myself yet again…
Had I just gotten lucky?
Did more families actually need this?
Was my market big enough?
I didn’t have nearly enough experience to make this much money, did I?!
Surely this was going to be way too scary?
And if I’m being really honest, it certainly wasn’t all sunshine after that live event.
Not until I figured out the right way to do things, which I eventually did…
After I’d come off the high of selling my first physical products, I only had 7 days to figure out how to do it again with the next client.
Arghh!! Daunting to say the least!
I spent 7 endless days pumping out price list after price list…
And ordering/testing so many expensive products and packages that my clients didn’t even need.
But I should have done something else instead – it didn’t have to be this way…
(Get ready because this next fact has been ground-breaking for some of my clients…
And a little controversial for others too!)
I should have just given them access to the digitals at my goal price point (3k) instead. Right from the start of my new alignment.
All I needed to do was figure out a method to get them to always want to spend at least 3k.
Because what I realized as time went on, and I gained more experience with offering a high-end experience, was that my clients would be the best source of insight as I built out the rest of my price and product list.
Knowing what they wanted meant my high-end experience became perfectly aligned with my new market - with so much more value than even I could have dreamed up!
And I totally didn’t need to do away with digitals entirely like so many other photographers said I did!
I was able to tweak my offerings to better suit my clients, based on their questions and feedback…
I could have made life a lot easier if I’d just given them what they wanted from the beginning.
But, I was still able to validate, fill and launch a fully functioning high-end photography studio in a single month…
Plus I was able to draw from my client's real wants, and make it super targeted to a specific high-end market.
Do I get a little (a lot) embarrassed when I look back at my first few tries at selling luxury services to my clients?
But did it show me the best way to package my luxury services and sell them over and over again?
That was nearly four years ago, and that one little pricing method has gone on to generate a few hundred thousand in sales…
Yep – I can’t believe it either!
You might be thinking right now, that creating a high-end alignment for your photography business in your area seems way too hard.
It’ll take way too much time…
It’s going to cost way too much money.
But I’m serious when I say: running a luxury photography brand is so much easier than you think.
You can get clients in weeks or months, not years...
Maybe you’re worried your area would never invest in a luxury experience like this –
I used to think this too…
You might think you’re not good enough…
But actually, the creative/artistic component of a photography business doesn’t have to be overwhelming.
There are so many valuable, easy to use resources out there. Email me if you want to learn about my 1:1 mentoring.
The truth is, running a high-end photography studio on my own terms has totally changed my life and business, but the even better part?
It’s now changed the lives of my clients too. Check out a testimony I received about one of my first ever reveals (yep, one of the cringey ones!):
"Camille was so amazing!!! She made getting our family photos fun. She did such a beautiful job. It made it so hard to pick out a favorite!! She worked so well with our children including our special needs son. I can honestly say, she has taken the best pictures we have ever had of him! Thank you Camille! We look forward to our next session with you.♡ "
I’m so excited for you to get a piece of this magic and start making the same impact on your clients too.
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