Leonardo Volturo – The Path to a Successful Business
How many things are standing in the way of your having a successful business? For my wife and me, it came down to five key points. A couple of them are a little intimidating. For us, and I know a lot of you, one of them is straight-up scary.
I’ve spoken to many of you who are terrified to do what we did: raise prices, invest in new, higher-end products, move to in-person sales and kill those dirty digital negatives. Maybe some of you have family telling you that you can’t charge that much or that you have to give everyone the digital negatives. Like many of you, we made mistakes we didn’t have to make based on bad advice and fear. So take a deep breath, and let’s talk about what we changed, what those changes did for our business and where we are today.
Think about your appearance. Perception is reality. What are your potential clients seeing when they reach your website? What does your logo say about you? Think about some popular luxury brands. Are they timeless, classic, edgy, simple, extremely detailed? Does the logo match the company and its products? Is it cohesive? Now look at your logo. Is it professionally designed? Does it communicate your message?
Finding a great designer is key. We knew what we wanted to communicate to our clients with our logo, website and branding of our products and marketing materials. Our goal was to quickly begin to position ourselves as a luxury brand. That meant investing in a custom logo from the start, followed by a custom WordPress site that would rank well with Google. For many of us, our website is the first point of contact potential clients will have with our businesses. If your logo doesn’t stand out, the message that’s broadcast is unpolished. The name of your business is equally important. We went with my name to both establish myself as the face of the business and to promote a connection with Italian luxury. What does your business name say about you?
So you’ve got your logo, website and business name. It’s all cohesive and attractive, and communicates who you are. Now what about the images you are showing? Are they consistent with who you are, what you do and the type of clients you hope to attract?
We create big, dramatic images, and want clients who appreciate and can afford that kind of art in their homes. So that’s what we show on our website. There are no ring shots in our portfolio, flower girls coming down the aisle or anything else that might distract from that message. We reserve those images for blog posts. We want the first thing our clients see to be images with impact. The last thing you want to do is confuse potential clients with images that mix styles and elements that don’t work well together. You want to appear focused and specialized, not all over the map.
Having a consistent connection between your branding, website and imagery is essential. This will probably be one of your biggest marketing expenses, but it’s also one of the most important investments you can make. Remember, there are no second chances for a first impression.
Next up, let’s talk about in-person sales, or IPS. Are you doing it? Do you know what it is? Instead of simply handing over image files from sessions, we bring our clients into the studio for in-person sales meetings. This gives us an opportunity to present our clients with their images for the first time in a controlled environment without distractions like ringing phones, screaming kids, must-see TV shows, etc. Equally important, we’re also in control of the viewing experience, assuring the highest-quality presentation. During meetings, clients are able to place orders for prints, wall portraits, albums and other products at discounted bundled pricing that expires at the end of the meeting.
Starting out, we weren’t offering in-person sales, and were actually including prints in our wedding collections. Our engagement sessions were à la carte versus being included in wedding collections. When clients did add on an engagement session, they were simply given the digital negatives and that was as far it went. We were leaving thousands of dollars on the table. When we decided to switch to IPS, we added engagement sessions to all of our wedding collections, with the understanding that engagement sessions included only our time.
By bringing clients into our studio to view their images for the first time rather than just handing over a CD, we accomplished three important things:
- We gained the advantage of an emotionally charged and captive audience, with home-court advantage and no distractions.
- We created an experience in which clients got a high level of personable customer service, enabling us to guide sales of prints, wall portraits, albums and other products.
- We were able to lay the groundwork and set expectations for the sales process that clients came to expect.
With engagements, we quickly jumped from zero dollars to our current average of over $1K per engagement sale. Post-wedding in-person sales may be a little more difficult, with clients already receiving digital negatives and an album, but that’s where prints, wall portraits, social media options and album upgrades come in. By having high-quality products that stand out from the crowd, you’re halfway there. This is why even after the wedding, we are still averaging over $1K in post-sales.
I know what you’re thinking: I don’t have an office, studio or other place to do IPS. You don’t need a huge space, a 70-inch TV and theater seating. All you need is a comfortable, inviting space where you can show clients their images and walk them through your offerings. Once you do this, you will start making those sales. This can easily be done in your home or a virtual office. Just find a place, and the dollars will find you. Don’t leave thousands in revenue on the table.
If you want to command higher prices, and also excel at IPS and position yourself as a high-end brand, then, like other high-end brands, you need to offer superior-quality products and service. This requires a substantial investment of time and money; you’ll need to do your research. The biggest priority for us was finding a line of albums that would stand out from what everyone else in our market was offering. While everyone was busy using “the other guys,” we did our homework and found significantly higher-quality albums available in impressive sizes and with plenty of options. This allows our clients numerous ways to customize their albums, provides another level of distinction for our business and helps our bottom line with additional revenue.
Our wedding business philosophy is based around the eventual production and sale of an album. It’s not only the best way to tell our clients’ stories, but it also represents a significant portion of our studio income. This being the case, our albums needed to be the best. Trade shows are a great resource when you’re trying to decide which products are the best fit for your studio. I highly recommend attending at least one conference a year to keep up with new products and trends.
Albums are only one piece of the puzzle; equally important for us are print sales. We decided to go beyond the typical wall portraits and canvases, and invested in large acrylic and metal prints. We display these prominently in our sales meeting room. Remember, you only sell what you show. Providing clients with high-end products and options that aren’t available elsewhere has pushed our clients into our higher-dollar-value/higher-profit-margin packages. Acrylics and metals are the most common options our clients purchase for their wall art.
These are just a couple of the products we offer that help us stand out from the crowd. There are a whole host of options out there worth investigating. The time and money are well spent. It’s one of the best ways to differentiate yourself in your market.
Digital negatives are a hot-button issue for wedding photographers and clients, with strong opinions on both sides of the “include them, don’t include them” argument. For a while, we offered them in our base package as well as our mid- and top-tier offerings. Guess what happened? The lion’s share of our bookings was our base package. Shocker. We went back and forth constantly trying to decide whether to continue including digital negatives in our base package or get rid of them entirely. We feared that if we didn’t offer them, no one would book us and we’d lose all our business.
Eventually, the number of base packages we were booking was having an impact on our bottom line, which motivated us to make the switch and stop offering digital negatives with our base package. Kind of a no-brainer: If you don’t want the majority of clients signing for your base package, then it needs to be significantly less attractive than your other offerings. Bye-bye, digital negatives. Removing the digital negatives had exactly the opposite effect we were expecting. Nobody seemed to care. If clients wanted files, they chose a collection that included them. For those price-sensitive clients booking our base collection (only two so far), in-person engagement and wedding post-sales meetings offered an opportunity for additional purchases, including digital negatives.
Here’s the thing. If someone doesn’t book with us because digital negatives aren’t included in the base collection, all they care about is digital negatives. More than likely, they’ll be a minimally spending client. That’s not the client we’re after.
To give you some hard numbers, let’s look at the first meeting we had after removing digital negatives from our base collection, in 2013. A couple booked our middle collection on the spot, and then went on to purchase our top engagement and top wedding post-session collections. You decide: fluke or smart business? Since that meeting, only two clients have gone with our base wedding package. Through IPS, the first client purchased a post-wedding collection and upgraded the album, and the second purchased our top post-wedding collection and added the digital negatives as well.
Raising Your Prices
I know this is going to be an intimidating step for many of you. The biggest concern is losing business as a result. Don’t freak out. You’re not going to lose business. What will more realistically cause you to lose business is operating at unsustainably low price points. Your old clients probably won’t be able to afford you, and that’s OK, because you’re going to seek out new clients. You can’t make all these changes and simply expect new, more affluent clients to just show up. After making all these positive changes, you need to get in front of clients who are in line with your new business model.
Raising prices was the final step in our process, and it happened only once all the other components were in place. Testing collections and pricing in our market, and then increasing our booking rate accordingly, gave us the confidence we needed to raise prices. Our goal was to find a price point that worked in our market and worked for us, and that gave us a solid footing for the future.
Tying It All Together
To sum it all up, here’s how we did it:
- We got our branding and public image in line with our goals.
- We switched to in-person sales, bringing together the right products and a comfortable, well-appointed meeting environment that encouraged sales and boosted profits.
- We removed digital negatives from our base package and raised prices, while adding value to all our collections.
Together, these changes have enabled us to go from an average of $3K to $8K per wedding.
All these changes take work and money—and maybe a leap of faith, for some—but it’s well worth the effort. Take it step by step, and don’t feel like you have to tackle every change at once. Work slowly and deliberately, do your research and test as you go. I’m betting you’re going to be very pleased with the results.