Business owners must deal with seasonal aspects of their businesses. For instance, coffee shops need to find a way to attract clients in the middle of summer, so they offer iced coffee drinks and smoothies. Ice cream shops have the opposite problem, as they need to drum up business in the middle of winter, when the last thing people want is something cold.What can they do to get in business? Offer hot food! I don’t know about you, but I’m more likely to have some ice cream after a nice hot cup of soup.
No matter where you live, the portrait and wedding photography industry is also cyclical. There are high points of the year where people want to take their family’s photos or have their wedding and low points, just like coffee and ice cream shops. Business won’t be booming like it is during your busiest times. Your goal is to bring in enough business to pay your bills and expenses to get you through the slow times.
Here in cold and snowy Minnesota, we pretty much hibernate after the New Year through the end of March. No one chooses to do much of anything during those months… unless they have to.
This includes scheduling their family’s photos. The fall here is really pretty with the leaves changing, so everyone schedules their photos in the fall, right before the holidays. Unless you have a milestone session or want a winter wedding, there isn’t much reason to book a photo session.
All of this translates to an empty inbox for photographers and little to no inquiries during your slowest months. It is enough to elicit panic about the viability of your business and make you want to lower your prices immediately! It happens to me each and every year, so I’m used to it by now. 🙂
First of all, don’t panic. Your off-season is not a good indicator for how your business is doing overall.
Second, don’t just sit there and feel sorry for yourself. Do something about it! Either, make the most of your extra free time by working on aspects of your business you can’t focus on during the busy season or go out there and get more photography clients.
What can you do to prepare yourself for this slow down, as well as get more clients when you are in the midst of it?
Ways to attract clients during the off-season:
Offer discounts or freebies
Attract photography clients to book you by offering 50% off your session fee or giving them a special gift for a session booked during your slow season. Or, maybe offer a special print/digital package that is only available during your off-season.
Hold special themed mini-sessions
What gets clients to book a session like a fun, unique, Valentine’s Day photo shoot? If there is snow where you live or another seasonal weather event during your slow season, find a creative way to integrate it into a session.
Run a contest
Compile all of your sessions from last year and have people vote on their favorite one. This can be a way to not only engage all of your past clients, but also bring your name to the front of their minds AND get your name to their family and friends.
Network, network, network
Take this time to network and connect with other photographers or other professionals in your industry. Visit your client’s usual spots they frequent, whether it is a school, church, or clothing/toys store.
Get creative with social media
Continue to post updates and photos, even though business is slow. It is a way to remind your clients that you are still there. 🙂 If you haven’t already signed up, Pinterest is another great social media outlet to interact and engage your clients.
This is also a great time to catch up your blog. But don’t post all of the entries at once. Space them out every few days to make the most of them.
Connect with your past clients
Take a look at your calendar to see who booked your services a year ago. Get in contact with them to see if they plan on coming back in for an updated family photo. Even offer them a special gift or discount if they book during the same month they booked a year ago if it was for a special occasion. This technique works especially well for children whose birthdays fall during the off-season, and parents need to get updated milestone photos.
Ways to prepare for the upcoming off-season:
Know it is coming
I know this doesn’t do you any good if you are already in the middle of your off-season, however take notes now to prepare for next year. What techniques worked and what didn’t? Do you have any ideas for creative-themed mini-sessions?
Also, starting a savings plan to do during the year is a way to help you get through the slow season. That way it takes the pressure off from the decline in business.
Run specials before
For my photography business, I run a deal on Black Friday weekend for sessions scheduled between January and June of the following year. My busiest months are August, September, and October, so I want to attract my clients to book before I book up and get really busy.
Start a mailing list
Don’t be caught trying to reach your clients through Facebook and other social media outlets during a time where you need to attract more bookings. When you send them an email from your business about a special, contest, or discount, it goes directly into their inbox.
In short, you want to give your clients a reason to book you, even when there isn’t a natural motivation to book you.
There is not a natural push for people to book a session or wedding during the slower season. Most people prefer to wait until the weather is nicer (relatively speaking depending on where you live) before investing money in their family’s photos or their wedding day.
Just like the ice cream and coffee shops, you need to give your clients a reason to book you, since not many people will want to eat ice cream in the winter and drink coffee in the summer. 🙂
If all else fails, enjoy the nice break!
Whenever I feel down about the lack of inquiries and reduction in business, I think about how much I would love to trade-off when I am at my busiest in September and October. I end up embracing the nice break to prepare for the upcoming busy season.
You can also use this extra time to take care of any business clean up that needs to happen. Update your website and portfolio. Assess your pricing for any changes that you need to make for the next year. Implement any new products or services. The list can go on and on!
Basically, do what you can to attract photography clients in the off-season, but if it doesn’t work, make the most of your free time while it lasts!
What do you do during your off-season?
I listed some suggested above, however I’m sure there are other creative ideas out there. Do you even bother trying to drum up business or just save up beforehand and ride it out? How do you use your free time? Comment your thoughts below!