This Is Not Another Boring Article About IPS with Rachael Boer and Dorie Howell
I am walking up three flights of stairs to my client’s apartment, armed with a single canvas and a stack of 5×7 proofs. It’s my first in-person sale ever. My hands are shaking; I can barely steady them to open the door. Immediately, I ask for the bathroom and nearly throw up from nerves. I have done scary things before, but nothing like this. What if they hate the images? What if they give me a hard time about my prices? We sit at their dining room table. As soon as I pull out the proofs, Mom starts crying—loudly. She has never seen photos like this of her child, and she is overcome. They order six large canvases. I can hardly believe it. As I leave, I’m wondering how they will even find room to hang so many portraits in such a tiny apartment.
Today, I have learned to trust myself and believe in what I’m selling.
The newborn session went great. Mom is sitting on my couch now, ordering her album. Suddenly, she says she wants all the digital files, but she wants them for free. I just smile. I state the price again. She leaves without the files. Later, when she comes to pick up her album, she has her husband on the phone. He has instructed her to stop at the bank and pick up a wad of cash on her way to my house. She pulls out the cash with a flourish and waves it under my nose. “Now can I have the digital files?” The amount is still far less than my asking price. I smile, hand her the album, and send her on her way.
Today, I have learned to stand my ground and be kind, but firm.
“Can we sit at the kitchen table?” I ask my clients. “Oh sure,” they say. “It’s brighter in there, so we’ll be able to see the pictures better.” But that’s not the reason I’m asking. Their couch is covered in both dog and cat hair, at least half an inch thick. Within minutes, I begin to wheeze. I try to start the sales appointment, but my throat gets tighter and tighter, and now I’m coughing—a dry, high-pitched sound. “I need to go … I’ll call you to reschedule. I’m so sorry!” I race out of the house, gasping for air, and head toward the nearest urgent care. Later, we reschedule the IPS at my studio, and they spend $7,000. Worth it.
Today, I have learned to add a few questions to my client questionnaire and carry an inhaler.
The session is perfect. It is one of the hottest days of the year, but this two-year-old doesn’t mind. She grins and dances and laughs in the sunshine, and her family looks on with proud, delighted smiles. I capture some of my favorite images of my career. At the ordering session, they bring me chocolate cake and purchase three canvases for their home, along with a large leather album. Every member of the family gives me a hug as they leave.
Today, I have learned how amazing this job can be when everything goes right.
I find the lightswitch, dim the lights, and start the slideshow. Mom and Dad are seated on their living room sofa, and as soon as the music begins, they scoot closer together and hold hands. The first image appears. Instantly, Mom bursts into tears. “Can you pause it?” she yells. I’m startled. She runs down the hall to the nursery and emerges with her sleeping baby boy. “I’m sorry, just looking at that first picture made me fall in love with him all over again, and I just had to hold him.” She snuggles up again on the couch, her sleeping newborn on her chest. “OK, you can start it again.” I smile and pass her a box of tissues.
Today, I have learned not to underestimate how meaningful our work is.
She hires me without her husband’s knowledge. I meet with her several times, explaining pricing very clearly. She seems comfortable with it and assures me it won’t be a problem. I have no idea that her husband is about to be blindsided. They arrive at my studio for their sale, and he becomes physically agitated when he discovers how much my services cost. He jabs his finger in my direction and asks how I sleep at night knowing I’m ripping people off. I walk to the door, open it, and tell him to leave before I call the police due to his threatening behavior. I’m shaken, and it takes a while to gain my confidence back and stop hearing his voice ringing in my ears.
Today, I have learned that not all experiences will be good ones, but I don’t have to allow myself to be bullied.
She hires me without her husband’s knowledge. He is overseas, deployed, and desperately missing his wife and six-month-old baby, whom he barely got to know before he had to leave. Together, she and I dream up a session that lets their baby show off how she can sit up on her own—he hasn’t seen her do that yet. I help her order an album that she will send to him while he is deployed. She is so excited to surprise him. Months later, I see them at the grocery store, a happy family of three, and he immediately asks if he can give me a hug. He looks me in the eye and says, “Thank you for helping my wife give me the best gift I’ve ever received. That album is the only thing that got me through that deployment.”
Today, I have learned that the artwork we create can literally change people’s lives.
The young couple is shy, almost painfully so. During their maternity and newborn sessions, they almost don’t speak at all, and when they do, it’s nearly a whisper. They dress simply. They love their baby but don’t seem overly excited as I photograph him. I wonder if they are unhappy with my work. Later, I mentally prepare for a modest sale, but they blow me away. Four 30×40 metal prints. Seven canvases. My deluxe album. All the digital files from both sessions. Numerous gift items for their family. They quietly pay me and quietly go home to their small apartment, after placing one of my largest orders ever.
Today, I have learned not to make assumptions about what a client can or will spend.
IN PERSON SALES CAN BE HARD
If you choose not to do in-person sales, your life will be easier in a lot of ways.
There’s no risk of an allergic reaction from sending a digital gallery. Your hands won’t shake. Your client won’t tell you to your face. You won’t risk rejection.
But you also won’t get to hear that mom gasp when she first gets a glimpse of her daughter’s portraits. You won’t get to see Dad get choked up and hug his daughter closer as he watches the slideshow. You won’t get to experience the joy of providing each family with beautiful, tangible art that will outlive them and stay in their family for generations.
In-person sales can be hard. They can be overwhelming when you first start. They can make you sweat. They can make you shake. They can make you long for the easy days of pressing “send” on a digital gallery.
But they can also open you up to this beautiful, personal, human experience. The unpredictability makes every day an adventure as you get to form a connection with each family in a unique way. Life is short. Don’t settle for the predictable digital experience of pressing “Send” and hoping to receive a “Thank you!” email and then … nothing. Pour your heart and soul into every client experience, creating a deep and lasting relationship through the tangible art you leave in their hands and the journey you’ve walked through together.
You’ll be rewarded with sales that surpass your wildest dreams, as people invest their hard-earned money in you and the experience you create for them. You’ll double, triple or quadruple your earnings by providing a service that they desperately want and need, as you go the extra mile to serve them.
Of course, it’s not always smooth sailing. There’s an element of risk here. Sometimes, you’ll pass the tissues and cry with a mom who is seeing the beauty of her family in a new way. Sometimes, you’ll sabotage yourself, say the wrong thing and bomb a sale. Sometimes, you’ll witness uncomfortable family squabbles. And sometimes, everything will go perfectly, and you’ll feel like you’re walking on air.
IPS is a roller coaster. It’s unpredictable. It’s messy. It’s beautiful. And it’s the most rewarding thing you’ll experience as a photographer—not worth missing for the world.