It’s no secret that Q4, October -December, is historically super busy for most family and portrait photographers. Today, I want to show you how to actually ENJOY and thrive through busy season PLUS how to set your business up for next year if your “busy season” isn’t looking so busy.
The truth is, a lot of photographer go so hard in the fall that they’re completely burned out by the start of the New Year and it can take a lot of energy and momentum to get things rolling again.
So, how is it that some photographers seem to have a super full calendar, are really busy with a lot of sessions, but still have time to spend with their families and do the things they love – even during busy season?
After a decade of busy seasons as a family photographer and definitely NOT thriving through most of them, I want to share with you the 5 ways that you can actually have a super profitable AND peaceful busy season!
Do you also have a fall bucket list like me?
I don’t know about you, but leading into September, I always got (and still get) excited about cooler weather and watching football, making fires in the backyard, going to the pumpkin patch…just all the fun fall activities and planning the ways we would spend time as a family in the cooler weather.
And without fail, every year, I’d book myself so solid in the fall with family session that I rarely got to check off many items from that fall bucket list with my family and I don’t want that for you! So right now, before busy season is in full swing, here are some things I learned to do differently so I didn’t have busy season regret as a photographer!
5 Ways for Photographers to Have a Peaceful Busy Season
1. Create a marketing plan for Q4 (specifically social posts and/or blog)
Marketing is usually the first thing to go out the window when we’re busy serving our clients, right? Obviously, marketing is how you got these clients and filled your calendar in the first place. So when you ignore it what ends up happening is you look up from Lightroom for the first time in 3 months to see a totally empty January-March. So you start scrambling to throw up sales or promotions in order to bring in some clients.
Sounds familiar? I’m raising my hand because I’ve definitely been there more years than I’d like to admit!
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Now is the time to look at your marketing systems and think about how you can get ahead or streamline some of these processes before you get into busy season.
- What are you posting on social media the next few months?
- Can you go ahead and schedule some of that out now to take the pressure off whenever you’re busy with clients? 100 social media captions
- How about your blog?
Start looking at weak areas in your marketing system, so that you can batch some content and get ahead NOW before you’re more likely to be in the weeds with clients.
Pro-Tip: This is a really good time of year to get some behind-the-scenes photos of you shooting sessions or prepping for sessions or editing sessions. Save some of those for the future too so you have content when things might be a little slower in your business. I keep a special folder in my phone titled TRP IG, so I can use clips for stories or IG feed posts.
2. Get Your Customer Service Systems Dialed in
Get inquiry responses set up
Here’s what typically happens during busy season – I would be swamped with sessions and I would get an inquiry for let’s say a baby due in January. I would have a longer inquiry response time, especially for the types of inquiries that I don’t have a set email template for. So if somebody wanted something different or something that I didn’t have, I would store them to my “need-to-respond-to-later” folder. However, since I was not slow enough to sit down and do that, those inquiries will get very slowly responded to. I’m sure you can relate that when we’re busy serving clients, those inquiries can easily go to the wayside.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
So really look at what are your inquiry systems, do you have email templates set up and ready to go, so responding can be as easy as a click of a button no matter how busy you may or may not be!
Get your galleries delivered on-time or sooner than promised
This is such an important piece of the customer service experience and honestly, whether or not that client would want to refer you. They are VERY anxiously waiting for the photos. They know that you’re busy and they’re going to be kind to you, but the truth of the matter is if you told them to expect their photos in 14 days, you better believe they counted the days in their calendars to know exactly when to expect their gallery from you.
And if you’re an hour, a day, or a week late, that really affects their likeliness to refer you to their friends.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Check your systems: do you have your presets, editing system, gallery system all set up to go so whenever you’re busy, you know that you can deliver galleries preferably early, but definitely by the deadline?
Sometimes I find my customer experience lacking when I’m busy, especially when it comes to prepping my clients for sessions. Family photographers (because typically that’s who is really busy in the fall), when you’re thinking about your client experience, what kind of problems, what kind of obstacles does your client have leading up to the session? Are they worried about how their kids are going to behave? Are they worried about what to wear for their session? Are they worried about trying to come up with a location? And how can you think about those things ahead of time right now to prepare them when they book with you?
Just imagine the kind of customer experience that when you book a photographer and they have a list of location with examples that they can send you, they have a Pinterest board of outfit ideas that’s really updated and the family can easily purchase these outfits in Amazon or Target.
Whenever you’re able to really hold your client’s hand in the beginning, that’s what creates a really quality customer service experience and that’s the kind of thing that’s going to get these clients referring to you.
It can be really difficult to do that and field these questions and answer all of this stuff when you’re super swamped with clients, which is why now is the perfect time to dial in all of these tiny, small things that make a huge difference in your client’s overall experience with you.
Honestly, not doing these things usually happens because you don’t have a solid system in place: you don’t have email templates, you don’t have someone editing photos for you or a really streamlined editing process, you haven’t even told your clients when to expect their photos or you don’t know what obstacles they face before they book with you, so you don’t know how to overcome them.
PRO TIP: So I would encourage you to take a little bit of time, based on what I’ve shared so far, and just brain dump what you need to improve before you get really busy.
And maybe looking forward to the fall, you actually don’t have a really busy fall coming up. Maybe you’re new to business or maybe you’ve stepped away from family photography and you’re really only photographing birth or newborns, I still encourage you to take this time to get these systems in place, so that when you do get busy, it’s not so overwhelming and you’ve already got everything handled like you need to have.
3. Set a maximum number of fall sessions that you will accept
This might mean that you have to tell people “no,” which I know can be really challenging (it was for me). But looking back at previous falls when I had my fall family bucket list of things that I wanted to do, the reason that didn’t happen sometimes is because I would get a last minute previous client asking if I could photograph their session or last minute inquiries that I would say “yes” to.
I let boundary that I had put on myself to only accept a limited number of clients go out the window because I didn’t want to tell these clients, “No.”
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
So right now before you get into busy season, look at your calendar and make a plan. When can you accept family sessions and when is it off limits that’s family time. I also just want to say here, it is okay if you do not photograph sessions on the weekends. For me personally, I stopped taking Sunday sessions many, many years ago, but even Saturday sessions, 3-4 years ago, I took off from my calendar completely. And you know what? People figured out a way to make it happen.
That was a boundary for me that I was not willing to compromise on Saturday and Sundays were for my family and for me to have some downtime and I wasn’t willing to photograph sessions on the weekend.
It’s okay to tell your clients, “No, I don’t take sessions on Tuesdays because that’s when my son has T-ball games.” You get to decide that as a business owner.
PRO TIP: Right now, be proactive, look at your calendar and decide when you’re going to take sessions and when you’re not going to take sessions and stick to those dates.
4. Send a follow up offer after you deliver their gallery or after they place their order
This is a big opportunity that I think a lot of photographers miss out on because we are in survival mode. We’re just trying to churn out these sessions and get them done and make our clients happy, and we’re losing out on this opportunity to make revenue in the future.
So what does this look like?
People are in the mood to spend money in this time of year – October, November, December. So it’s a great opportunity after you deliver your client’s images to say:
- “Hey, I’m offering some sort of special promotion or discount to my fall family clients for a spring family session. Here’s kind of loosely what that would look like and you get a discount when you book before the end of the year.” What an opportunity for them to go ahead while they’re excited about their photos and get another session on the calendar.
- If there’s somebody who has a baby, and for some reason isn’t on your baby plan, what if you could then offer them a baby plan?
- What if you could offer them a video upgrade?
- What if it was even as simple as asking for a referral for a family sessions like, “Hey, do you know any other families who would love an experience like this?”
Those are just some ideas of a way to follow up with these clients after their session is complete in the fall to increase your profit, not only with them, but potentially with their friends and family members who might be interested in hiring you.
5. Market promotions like mini sessions or Black Friday Sale sooner than later
Be honest: have you ever seen another photographer promote their fall mini sessions or their Black Friday Sales and you thought, “Oh no, I need to do. I need to put up a Black Friday Sale. I need to put up my mini sessions.”
I, again, am totally raising my hand here. So this is your friendly reminder to be ahead of the game.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Start marketing your mini sessions, your promotions, your Black Friday Sales earlier than you think you need to, so that it doesn’t sneak up on you.
At a bare minimum, set a reminder for yourself in your phone to know when Black Friday is coming up so you can think of what to do for it.
PS. We have a whole episode on how to offer a Black Friday Sale. If you’re not wanting to be a discount photographer, you can check that episode out here.
MAP OUT YOUR PLANS
September is the month that I make my Q4 plan. Every single quarter, I have a very strategic and specific plan on what kind of content I’m creating for free that quarter, what kind of promotions I’m running that quarter, and looking back at what went well and what didn’t go so well in the previous quarter.
So September is a great time to look forward to Q4 and make your promotion plan: look at each month, even print out the entire calendar for October, November, December, and start marking in:
- When do you want to have fall mini sessions?
- When will you do your Black Friday Sale or Small Business Saturday?
- What type of promotions or offers that you’re going to run?
- Are you thinking about doing a giveaway where you’re going to collaborate with some other vendors who serve your same ideal client?
- Mark out your content plan
Just take a second to map your plans out and it’s going to give you such a clear piece of mind, so you won’t be scrambling whenever you see another photographer’s Black Friday Sale or mini sessions post.
When I’m planning out on promotion like this, I like to think about not only when is the promotion going to be live, but when and how am I going to start promoting it? If you’re a student inside of Marketing School for Photographers, you have access to a course called Your Best Year Ever. It’s a 12-month promotional calendar that gives you the exact steps to launch all kinds of paid and free promotions. So please make sure and check that out.
If you’re thinking about running some kind of paid offer in quarter four, I hope that this episode has helped sort of give you a fresh feeling on how busy season can actually look for you with a little bit of preparation. Maybe feeling like, “Hey, I could actually thrive during busy season. I don’t have to be stressed out and bogged down if I do a little preparation ahead of time,” because busy seasons always have their unique set of challenges. But with a well-executed marketing plan and some advanced preparation, you can make sure that your business actually does thrive.
During this time, if you’re not already, come hang out in our free Facebook group that’s for baby and birth photographers. I’m there almost every single day so that we can continue this conversation and support you as you prep for the busy season.
And my friend, remember if you have a passion, it is not. Because not everyone loves the thing that you love. So whatever your passion is, I hope that you will get out there and make it happen. Have a great week.