School Photographers: Keep Your Schools Happy

Today’s blog entry has been submitted by Lois Alberts.  Lois and her husband Gregg have been in business for 15 years in Spring, TX.  Their studio, G. Michael Photography, specializes in families, seniors, children and school photography.  Before opening their studio, Lois worked in outside sales in the medical and insurance field for many years.  The marketing and sales skills she learned in this previous career have been instrumental in her success in building the G. Michael Photography brand.  You can contact Lois by email at

I Booked A New School!  What Can I Do To Retain Them Longterm?

If you are a small independent school photographer attempting to grow your school portrait business, you should keep in mind that it is just as important to retain a school once you book them as it is to book new business.  You must remember also that each and every school you work with is being constantly marketed by numerous photography providers whose goal it is to get that schools business away from you.  You, therefore, must stay vigilant about keeping your schools!

When we first started building our school portrait business, we thought that all we needed to do to keep working with a particular school year after year was to deliver a good photo product at a good value.  We mistakenly thought the hard part was just getting the decision maker to finally make the decision to go with us as their school photographer.  We soon learned how wrong we were after losing a couple of new school clients after only one year of working with them even though we delivered high quality school portraits and met all deadlines.  When this happened, we asked ourselves a very important question, “What can we do to keep a school once we have booked them?”  The strategies that we came up with as we brainstormed on this topic have payed off for us significantly over the past 8 years.  Every school we have booked since implementing our new retention philosophy is still a client today.

What’s our secret?  Basically, when we book a new school, our philosophy becomes “What can we do to become an indispensable member of this schools’ community?”

Below is a list of some of the strategies that we use to make our studio “indispensable” to our client schools.

1. MAKE THEM HAPPY – Deliver a Good Photo Product and Meet All Deadlines

It goes without saying that the first thing you will be judged on is the quality of your photo product and the consistency with which you meet your deadlines.  So in regards to this, you must be on the ball.  Deliver a portrait product parents will be pleased with, meet all deadlines for delivering finished portrait packages and all service items.

Another item that falls into the category of “Make Them Happy”, is making sure that everything relating to photo day, retake day, package delivery, and parent complaints is well coordinated and efficient.  To do this, I have become, more or less, an event planner.  I meet with each of my client schools several weeks or even a month or more prior to photo day to reconfirm all details.  Which room will we set up in, what time can we begin setup, what is photo start time, how will students be brought to us, what should the office staff do with photo orders turned in the day after photo day, etc, etc etc.  Once packages are delivered, they know if a parent has a complaint or concern to have them call me direct.  If a parent has alerted the office staff or a teacher of a problem with their portrait or package, I make sure to also notify that individual immediately after I resolve the issue with the parent.  My schools really seem to appreciate this.

2. BECOME POPULAR ALL OVER CAMPUS – Get to know as many key people at the school as possible

It is a mistake to focus all your time and attention only on the person that finally made the decision or recommendation to go with your studio.  Certainly, this main contact person is very important to retaining a school so you must keep them happy.  But, we feel you should also make efforts to get to know as many people at the school as possible.  We actively build relationships with at least the following people:  the Principal and Assistant Principal, the School Secretary, everyone in the front office, the senior class faculty advisor, etc.   Seek these people out anytime you are on campus and make sure that they know who you are and what you do for their school.  Whenever I visit with one of these key people, I try to let them know how appreciative we are to have the opportunity to work with their students, staff and parents.  I remind them all the time that it is our goal to not just be the “school photographer” but that we want to be an indispensable part of the school community.  By cultivating these relationships, you are more likely to be seen as an asset to the school rather than just a provider of a service.   Once you are seen in this light by many people at a school, it is a lot harder for one person to make the decision to switch to another photographer because you have “allies” throughout the school.

3. GO THAT EXTRA MILE – Offer value added services to the school

Sure, your real goal is to do the work at the school that you get paid for – yearbook photos, senior portraits, sports photos, etc.  But doing some gratis work may have big payoffs in long-term retention of a school.  At each of our schools, we look for some need that they have that we can satisfy.  At one school, we go in twice a year and teach some photography or Photoshop basics to the yearbook staff.  The Yearbook Advisor tells us where her staff is having problems, and we put together a one hour class presentation to address these areas of concern.  Sometimes this might be how to get better sports shots in the bad lighting conditions of the school gym or how to color correct images in Photoshop once they are taken.  At another school, we photograph their annual fundraising gala at no charge and give them all the photos on CD.  Another one of our client schools wants an annual all school photo of their entire student body but they do not have risers that will allow us to get all 400 kids and staff members into the photo.  Instead, I make arrangements each year with the local volunteer fire department to bring out one of their ladder trucks to assist us with doing an aerial all-school photo.  The kids look forward to this day each year as they love having the firemen and the firetruck visit their school.  Plus, they think it is really cool to see the photographer up in the cherry picker taking their photo.  But the biggest benefit, as far as I am concerned, is that the Principal is aware of the fact that I went above and beyond to make this photo possible at his school.

4. KEEP OTHER PHOTOGRAPHERS OUT! – Do everything you can to keep other photographers from getting their foot in the door at “your school”!

As mentioned above, schools are marketed by a never ending contingent of school photographers whose goal it is to get the school photography business away from you.  You must keep this in mind and do what you can to limit a potential competitors access.  At several of our small private high schools, photography sales at their homecoming and prom dances has dropped significantly over the past 5 years or so.  At times, it seems silly to even take the time to photograph these events since the number of packages sold hardly seems worth the effort.  But we will, of course, keep offering this service to our client schools because we understand that if we decide not to do it, there is most certainly another photographer  waiting in the wings for this opportunity to start a relationship with “our school”.   Once he photographs the prom and does a good job, who knows what other business within that school he might be able to access.  We prefer not to give any of our competition this chance.

Keeping your schools should be a top priortity for your studio.  Implementing some or all of the strategies listed above should go along way in helping you reach that goal.

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