How to Grow Your Senior Photography Business, Starting Now

Get more insight from Leslie, including shooting tips, ideas, and pricing information from her class, Senior Portraits: Create the Ultimate Experience.
Image: Leslie Kerrigan

As wedding season begins to wind down, some portrait photographers may find themselves staring at a mostly-blank calendar. Which can a relief after a summer of shooting like crazy, or can be a little nervous-making if you’re also, you know, trying to balance your budget. But fall is the best time for studios and independent photographers alike to move from capturing one of life’s biggest moments to another, by growing your senior photography business.

Seniorologie founder Leslie Kerrigan has been working with high school seniors for years, making beautiful photos and great memories with teens in her area. And she says, the secret to growing your senior photo business isn’t really a secret at all — it’s just great service, which focuses on what your customers really  want. The single biggest thing you can do to get clients is make them happy and get them talking.

“Teens really want to do what their friends are doing and therefore want to use the photographer their friends are using. They want to be individual when it comes to their session so I try to plan each session according to the senior but the experience is the same no matter who the client is and that experience is what keeps that great word-of-mouth spreading like wildfire.”

Leslie has a few ways to encourage teens to check out her services, including offering promotional pricing and photo shoots for customers who get their friends involved. This ambassador program, she says, works because it incentivizes what her subjects already want to do.

“Each year I have more and more girls applying,” Leslie says,  “They want to be a part of this group so they can participate in fun photo shoots, events, etc. By giving them an incredible experience, I know they are happy to do the footwork for me and tell all their friends about me.”

But, says Leslie, it’s important to get potential clients talking they way they like to talk — which, often, is on social media platforms. When your customers are teens, you’ve got to meet them on their level.

“Word-of-mouth is hands-down the best, but that seeps into social media since that is how teens communicate. So word-of-mouth marketing through social media is what works best for me. Facebook and Instagram are my favorite tools. They are free, teens are on these social media sites constantly and they see my posts, see when I tag their friends in photos I post and see behind the scenes of me working or me just hanging out. I feel like sharing my personality online through social media really is another step in building that relationship with potential and current clients as well as maintaining a relationship with past clients. I just booked a girl the other day who had heard about me from a senior in the class of 2013! So making sure to keep up that relationship is key to continuing the referrals.”

If you’re really just starting out, though, even finding a few clients to talk up your business can be tough. To capture a brand-new audience, says Leslie, it helps to “work with teams at high schools that you haven’t had a lot of clients from.”

“I really wanted to get into a certain high school a few years ago so I reached out to the cheerleading coach and did a complimentary Facebook profile party where I took photos of the cheerleaders then they advertised using those photos for this Facebook Profile Party. The students who wanted a new profile pic paid $10 and the proceeds went to help that cheerleading team. It was a great way to get in front of a group of teens and get my name out in that high school. I gave everyone who signed up a coupon for their senior session and I am still getting calls from people who were there at that Facebook Profile Party – the freshman have now become seniors!”

Even if you’ve been in the business for a long time, says Leslie, it’s possible to explain your business just by being creative.

“My best advice as far as growing your client base is to try things! I have done things that didn’t work but I keep trying and keep thinking of new and unique ways to get in front of my target market.”

Get more insight from Leslie, including shooting tips, ideas, and pricing information from her class, Senior Portraits: Create the Ultimate Experience.

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Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.