Posted: Jul 01 2013
by: Carrie Swails

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How to Start Selling Prints

When it was suggested to me that I write a blog post on getting into print sales it didn't dawn on me that maybe there are some newer photographers who don't even know where to go to begin setting up this process for their business. I forgot what it was like to want to sell prints, but not even know what the options were, until you guys reminded me. So here's a basic step-by-step, how-to guide on starting with prints.

1. Make the Decision

First of all, you have to decide if selling prints is the right choice for your business model. Adding print sales can add a lot of profit and extra opportunity for you to deliver great customer service.

2. Decide What You Want to Sell

I think it's best to decide what you want to sell and make a list prior to visiting all the options at the photo lab. Sometimes all their extras can get you overwhelmed and you forget about what your clients may be interested in and start getting distracted with all the cool fun little things you can sell. You don't want to offer too many products. Offering too much will overwhelm your client into not being able to choose what to purchase. Offering too little might be limiting and they may choose to print elsewhere. It's so important to find the right balance. I used to sell more options, but I found there were so many things clients didn't want or need.  There were also certain items that just didn't fit my business model that I stopped selling as I got more in touch with finding my ideal clients and what they really wanted. Traditional albums, birth announcements, graduation announcements, and save the dates used to be big sellers for me, but are something I'm no longer interested in offering.

Here's the list of the items that I currently sell. These are the print and canvas sizes that seem to sell the most with my clients and they're the ones I've stuck to. However, if a client had a special request for a certain size I wouldn't hesitate to price it out for them, but these are the items I list on my price sheet.

Print Sizes: 4x6, 5x7, 8x12, 11x14, and 16x20
Canvas Sizes: 10x10, 12x12, 16x20, 20x30
Other Products: HHBoogie memory boxes

3. Understand Professional Labs

One of the things I didn't "get" early on in my business was the big difference in quality between a professional print lab and a Walmart print lab. Even professional labs have differences in quality and customer service. If you're going to be offering prints for sale to your clients make sure you're offering them something they can't get on their own. Service from a professional print lab is usually only open to professional photographers and your account with a professional lab has to be approved before you can start putting in orders with them. Offering professional print services is something clients can't always get on their own.

4. Find the Best Professional Print Lab For You

Professional labs have varying degrees of quality. I've ordered from many of the big name ones in the industry. Many print labs have options where you can order sample prints to see how they look and if they are a lab you'd like to use. A lot of you guys ask me for recommendations on the best print labs in the industry. While there are many good ones, here are a few things I can speak on about my experience with some labs. WHCC (White House Custom Color) and ProDPI are my two go-to labs for print services. I offer print services through PASS (http://pass.us) and the lab they use is WHCC. Outside of what PASS offers I print regular prints through ProDPI. They have been rated as one of the best in the industry, I also love that they are local to Denver and I'm supporting my local economy by using them.

For canvases I use CGPro Prints. Again, this company is local to Colorado and I love supporting my local economy. 

I've had some not-so-wonderful experiences with the customer service from Simply Color Lab and ProLab Express that I won't go into. I've also found that no matter how much I calibrate my monitor the colors from Mpix's professional lab and non professional lab are always bluish and don't match what my photos look like.

5. Price the Products You Are Going to Sell

The next part of working with prints is the controversial one...pricing your products. There tend to be lots of different ways that people price products. There's the shoot and share method where a photographer prices higher up front, includes the digital files in that price and prices products low. There are also other methods where people price low upfront, but require an investment in products. People also price high on both ends. Really there's all kinds of different ways to decide where you want to price. The important thing is that none of these pricing models are wrong, they are just different. There are amazing examples of success with each of these business models and you just need to figure out which one will work best for you. I'm a "shoot and share" business model. I price higher up front, include digital files and then sell my prints for prices that can compete with my clients printing at a cheap lab like Walmart. It works for me, but other methods have also worked in the past and other methods also work for many successful photographers.

My best advice to you is to price according to what you would look for as a consumer. My best sales have always been easiest to make when I really believe in what I'm selling at the price I'm selling it for. It's easier for you to market a product and price when you would buy it yourself at that price. Again, every consumer is looking for different things when they purchase products and services. Defining what type of consumer you are will help you define what sort of business model best aligns to your personality.

6. Find a Selling Platform

Once you've researched your favorite labs, figured out how much you want to charge for the products you want to sell - the last big step is making it happen. You need to find and set up a system for what you're selling.

Your decision should come down to whether you want to spend the time fulfilling orders yourself or whether you would prefer a more automated process. Each has its benefits and downfalls. Fulfilling yourself can be more time-consuming and time is money, but it can help you ensure quality products and order accuracy. Using an automated system to fill orders can save you tons of time, but if you have an order mishap it can be more difficult to figure out later.

So, here are some options for you and some products I've used and tried. You can take what you will and try it out yourself.

Smugmug - this is an online gallery and ordering system. They allow you to set prices, chose products and give you different labs you can have orders go through. You can have their system be fully automated to handle orders for you.

Shootproof - this is another online gallery system where you can show your photos to your clients and they can order. You can set prices, use their labs and have everything be automated or you can set prices and self fulfill orders too.

Zenfolio/Bludomain - I put these two websites together because they are similar services. You can get a website with an entire online gallery and built in car system with either of these websites. You can set prices and self fulfill orders.

PASS - pass is an online gallery system that is geared toward digital downloads as a product. Although they do offer print sales they are on a limited basis with sizes, set pricing and a set lab. The print prices option is entirely automated.

In case anyone is interested, PASS is my online gallery system of choice. I've used Smugmug and Bludomain in the past and neither were a good fit for my business model. ;)

7. Make Your Clients Aware

Your final step to starting your print pricing journey is making your clients aware of your new product sales. I find the best time to introduce products to clients is at your initial consultation. It gives them ideas of what they can purchase and helps them save up for those items to purchase later.

Include a print/product price sheet in your welcome materials too!

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