5 Ways to Stay Busy During the Slow Season

It happens every January without fail since the beginning of time (or so it seems)… the slow season. With the holidays over, people are coming home from vacation, starting back to work, the kids go back to school, credit card bills start arriving for all those last-minute gifts, and an extra three pounds show up on the bathroom scale. People feel lethargic, broke, stressed, chubby, and scheduling a photo session is the last thing on their mind. So what does that mean for us, as photographers?

Since our livelihood depends on keeping a full schedule, this time of year has the potential to deal a heavy blow to both our bottom line and our morale. Instead of giving into the discouragement, try implementing one of these five tips for staying busy during the slow season.

photography business productivity, slow season

1. PROMOTIONS

Since session fees should be collected in advance to finalize the date, the slow season is a great time to come up with some exciting and effective promotions and marketing campaigns. By encouraging clients to book early to reserve their spot, you are able to collect an excess of session fees that will help give a financial buffer during the slow season. Just make sure that you budget accordingly as you don’t want to end up robbing Peter to pay Paul. A good way of doing this is to only take half of the profit that you normally would, leaving the rest in the business for future months. This allows you to cover unexpected expenses later on while still giving you the extra boost while you need it.

Use a Marketing Calendar, like the one offered by Willette Designs to help you come up with unique ideas for promotions. I use the product personally in my business and it has been extremely helpful in creating effective campaigns and gives ideas for holidays and celebrations from a fresh perspective. (The calendar dates are for last year, but the advice and principles are still amazing!)

2. SOCIAL MEDIA

Since you don’t have a constant stream of sessions to post, you’ll need to come up with “filler” for your blog and media feeds. One favorite idea is to do a “Best of” contest for the previous year. I’ve seen this done as a popularity contest, a voting contest, a random drawing, you name it. In any case, a Best of 2012 contest would allow you to advertise to past clients and reach their circle of friends, which means extending your audience and hopefully bringing in new sessions.

You really need to try to post at least every other day in your media feeds, if not more, in order to keep the excitement level high.

Here are some ideas for Facebook:

  • Post screenshots of artistic editing on past images, showing how you can create fine art pieces for their homes.
  • Use a tool like The Photographer’s Wall Display Guides to educate your clients on how to display their pictures. This could prompt some to investing in canvases or boutique frames for the pictures they already purchased. Insta-sale!
  • Host a cutest kid contest where every entry gets entered into a drawing for a special product or session package.
  • Share pictures from your own recent vacation or holiday celebration to help reenforce the emotional connection you have with your audience.
  • Do “A Day In the Life Of…” special posting where you use Instagram or post direct pictures from morning til night. Clients love getting a peek into the life of their photographer!

Here are some ideas for the Blog:

  • Do a session walk-through that gives a potential clients an idea of what to expect when booking with you.
  • Do a behind the scenes video of a session or interview past clients to generate excitement for booking.
  • Post slideshows of past sessions to increase your audience using their circle of friends.
  • Feature a location or venue that you use for sessions. This would tie in nicely with Tip #3.
  • Post a What to Wear spread for the upcoming season. Bonus points if you include the link in emails when planning an upcoming session.

3. LOCAL VENDORS

Remember that this often is the slow season for local vendors and businesses, too! See about partnering with local vendors and businesses for a First Friday Art Show, commercial shoot, mini sessions, or charity event. Whatever you decide, make sure that it is highly publicized and market it online. The more people see you involved in your community, the more credibility you achieve.

You do have to be careful when partnering with vendors as you can easily end up spending too much money out of pocket. Here are a few low-budget ways to see a high return when partnering:

  • When doing a First Friday Art Show, use artwork that you already have in your studio. Concentrate on creating stunning displays instead of worrying about the number of images.
  • Partner with a local prop designer to do a commercial shoot in return for new props. This could be anythign from clothing, to accessories, to furniture, etc.
  • Feature a local venue on your blog as one of your top recommendations to new brides or for baby showers or birthday parties. In return, the venue will promote you to their customer base.
  • Invite a local expert, such as a wedding consultant, lactationist, or jewelry maker to your studio for a free or low-cost workshop. In exchange, barter your services for providing headshots or pictures of their storefront or office.
  • Join with other local businesses and put together a charity drive to raise special awareness for a cause or issue. You could gather support for producing a charity calendar or similar product, which would get your name out among a higher clientele, as they are usually the highest demographic to participate in local charities.

4. EVALUATE, ORGANIZE, & IMPROVE

The beginning of the new year is the perfect opportunity to evaluate where your business currently is and identify areas that can be improved upon. Remember the saying “Good is simply not good enough?” Just because you are not failing in an area doesn’t mean that it can’t be improved. We can always be better than we are.

Part of the evaluation process includes giving yourself a pat on the back for a job well done! Even as you recognize the areas that need upgrading, make sure that you also point out your accomplishments and achievements. Go ahead, brag a little, even. As part of your Best of 2012 Series or Showcase, include any magazines that you have been published in, workshops that you have held or attended, websites/blogs you have been featured on, or vendors that you have partnered with. Like with Tip #3, this will add credibility and notoriety to your business and increase your chances for turning fans into clients.

Organize your photos and make sure that all your sessions are properly archived. Use this opportunity to streamline your workflow process, which will allow you to work more effectively as the sessions pick up. Straighten and organize your office or studio and add some fresh new decor and artwork. Kudos for posting pictures of your inspiring space.

When deciding which areas to improve, make sure you balance the cost vs. benefit. Since things are most likely already financially tight, try to think of ways you can improve your existing products, props, and services using existing items or without costing extra out of pocket. If wanting to upgrade your baby or children’s prop stash, consider going through and cleaning out your less favorite items or those that have been used in more than 5-10 sessions. Now, if it is a highly requested prop or background, then hang onto it! Otherwise, you can safely hold a “Prop Destash” sale on a forum, community page, or even your own Facebook page if you have a large following of fellow photographers. You can even team with a group of photographers to maximize your advertising and marketing efforts. Use the proceeds to either purchase new props or reinvest into your business with new templates or snagging that Keurig coffeemaker you’ve been eyeing. If freshening your product samples, know that most Pro Labs allow you to purchase studio samples starting mid-January.

5. NEW PRODUCTS

Introducing a new line of products or fresh designs for your existing offerings is a great way to achieve add-on sales to sessions that have already taken place. The key here is to price the individual products low enough that they do not require a large investment on the part of the client. After all, who really has an extra $2,000 lying around after the holidays? The goal is achieve an add-on purchase that is about 20% of your average order. A purchase of that amount is small enough to be appealing to your past clients but large enough to quickly add up.

Some good products to introduce:

  • 2013 Calendars. Feature your client’s session images. You can sell multiple of these to the same client because of course they’ll have to order some for the grandparents!
  • Brag Books/Mini Accordion Albums. Work great for birthday and anniversary gifts. You can market as helping your client plan for the new year.
  • Photo Purses. A wonderful product for moms who want something fresh and unique to add to their accessories.
  • Smartphone and iPad Covers. Some of your clients will have just received these items as gifts, so now is the perfect time to offer a way for them to customize and beautiful that iPhone!

So there you have it! Five ways to stay busy during the slow season. Do you have advice or tips on what has worked for you? Join the conversation below and share!

January 16, 2013 - 10:50 pm

Melissa Morgan Glidden - I have always been curious about the iPhone and iPad covers, but you’re right! If you’re going to try and push them, the weeks right after the holidays are probably the best time for it!

January 16, 2013 - 11:37 pm

Megan Peter - Exactly, Melissa Morgan Glidden! When polling people, I found that the majority purchased or were given their tablets and smartphones in the six weeks spanning from Black Friday to just after Christmas. So this is the perfect time to go back and make some $$$ off of those past sessions. And if you don’t want to have to deal with ordering the covers, you could just offer digital images that come pre-sized and perfectly designed for the covers already so all your clients have to do is hit upload and pay!