A few months ago, I had an idea for a mini-session to hold in February. It would involve little girls coming to my studio and dressing up in their favorite dress up costumes and accessories. My daughter and her friends love it, so I figured other girls her age (and their parents) would love a quick session in their costumes.
I did a photo shoot with my daughter and her friends, and ended up getting some great photos to use in promotional materials. Since the photos turned out fantastic, I was really optimistic the sessions would book up quickly. I even tried to create some anticipation and buzz by posting the photos ahead of time vs. posting the ad for the sessions at the same time.
When the time came to open it up to bookings, there was nothing. Crickets. Nada. It was the first time I had a mini-session completely flop. I’ve had a couple of slower mini-sessions, but I’ve always had at least a couple of bookings to make it a worth my time.
Now, I’ve been in business for nearly 9 years, so I’ve had my share of disappointments. While this did come as a surprise, I didn’t let it get me down. Instead, I sought out some insight and advice from one of my photography groups that I’m part of. I discovered a few reasons why these didn’t sell well:
- There were a number of other photographers out there who did these “princess” mini-sessions, and boy did they do them well. Expensive costumes, props, and backdrops were all part of the deal.
- For what I was offering, my prices were too high. I didn’t realize that mini-session prices during the off-season had taken a sharp downward turn.
- I wasn’t clear in my advertising about props being included, which again attributed to people thinking they weren’t getting a lot for the price of the session.
If you were to summarize the 3 bullet points above, it came down to one simple mistake: I didn’t research and understand my target market.
In all honesty, my market is not those who would book a fancy princess mini-session. I could have made it more special by including more backdrops, special props, or having someone come in to make up the girls, however my style is to be minimal and simple. Kids are great on their own, without all the distracting fluff. Not that there’s anything wrong with the “fluff!” It’s just not me, as a photographer or as a person.
My clients are those same people, and they continue to come to me for that very reason. I capture their children in their true forms. Maybe these sessions were doomed to fail from the beginning, as they aren’t tailored to my client base.
In the end, I tweaked a couple of things in the ad (price, added more digital images, etc.), and ended up booking a couple of sessions. Those few are better than none, however it is far from the ideal number I was hoping for. While I was bummed, I’m not going to let it discourage me from trying new mini-sessions in the future. And, it did teach me a few things about my business, my market, and my clients.
Throughout this process, I was reminded of big businesses who nearly made disastrous mistakes that almost lead to their downfall. Netflix drastically raised their prices on their clients and tried to launch a failed side business, Qwikster. Apple’s Maps app on iPhone were unreliable and not trustworthy. Coca-Cola tried to bring up sales by coming up with a brand new Coke recipe, calling it “New Coke.” Every successful company (and failed company, for that matter), have made critical mistakes throughout the life of the business. It’s what they did after those mistakes that defines their strength.
So, what should you do when you’ve made a critical business mistake?
Identify the Problem
Before you make any progress, you must first identify and analyze how and why the failure happened for your business. What exactly went wrong and what is the problem? Was it something that was out of your control? Was it completely your doing? Break it down and figure out what exactly the issue was, and then you can move forward to figuring out what more could be done to either correct the mistake or learn from it for the future.
Ask for Advice
If you are unsure of what you can do to avoid this mistake from happening in the future or if you can somehow correct it and save your business decision, ask someone trusted and knowledgeable for advice. I had an idea of why these mini-sessions were not booking, but I wanted to get the opinion of several other photographer ladies in my area to see what they had to say.
If you are not already part of a photography group, whether on Facebook or on an online forum, you should definitely look into joining one soon. Make sure that the group fits your business specialties, as well as the rules for providing constructive criticism to others in the group. Just do your due diligence before signing in with some random group. 🙂
Reflect on Your Mistake
When I posted my frustrations about my mini-sessions in my photography group, I received some great feedback and learned more than I thought I would about my business and my market.
For instance, I did not realize there were several other photographers in my area who did very fancy princess mini-sessions with expensive dresses and props. Those photographers charged more than I did for my sessions, but they would book up every time. It really made me reflect on my business and the promotion I ran, and who my target audience truly was.
Like I mentioned above, I did not understand my target audience. My mini-session were priced too high for what I was offering to my market. It was a tough pill to swallow, but I at least knew what I could have done differently. And, thank goodness, it wasn’t too late for me to do something about it.
At this point, I had time to revise my promotion to try and get more bookings. So, I decided to pull all of my old ads, and post new ones. While it did mean that I had to show I was reducing my prices due to a lack of bookings, it was worth trying to salvage something I had put a lot of time and energy into.
While writing this post, I’m reminded of when I used to play piano competitively and at recitals as a kid. My teacher would always say, “No matter what you do, don’t stop playing, even if you make a mistake.” It’s not the mistake that people will remember; it’s what you do after the mistake. Are you going to stop, hang your head, and feel sorry for yourself? Or, will you shake off that missed note and continue with the song.
Learn and grow your photography business with every mistake and failure, otherwise, your business will fold at the first sign of trouble.