Business + Marketing

To Upsell Photography Products, Start by Helping Your Clients

August 12, 2021

By Caroline Tran

© Caroline Tran

When Caroline Tran asked her engaged couples last year what they needed in that moment, having postponed their weddings, she walked away with an interesting insight: more elaborate engagement shoots. With that, she realized she could upsell full-scale production shoots for engagement sessions. It wasn't about pushing products on her clients; it was about solving a problem.

Sleazy. That’s the first word that used to come to mind when I thought about trying to upsell photography products. I hated the idea of being that stereotypical car salesman that would make you pay more than you needed to for things that you didn’t even need. I avoided upselling for many years in my photo business. I would just include the high-resolution jpegs in their packages, justifying to myself that I made enough money from the session fees and didn’t need to upsell photography. I made decent money this way for many years, but the year I shifted my mindset from “What can I sell?” to “How can I help my clients?” my revenue tripled

[Read: Caroline Tran’s Posing Pick Up Points for Family Portrait Photography—Free Webinar]

The mistake I made early on—and I see many business owners make this same mistake—is starting with the products. There’s a tendency to look for products we want to offer and then find people to sell it to. Instead, start with who you’re trying to help and serve. Ask yourself, “What do my people need, and how can I help them?” For me, that’s the key to upselling photography.

When you help them identify their problems and offer genuine solutions that will improve their lives, that is how you upsell photography—and it won’t even feel like an upsell. It is a win-win situation; you feel great for helping them, and they are appreciative that you improved their lives.

So how did “helping” my clients triple my revenue? It comes down to this universal truth: There are only three ways to make more money. 

  1. Raise prices. You sell the same products to the same clients but at a higher rate.
  2. Get more clients. You sell the same products at the same price to more people.
  3. Upsell what you offer. You sell to the same set of clients at the same base price but you get each of them to spend more with you.

Here, I will be focusing on the third method to upsell photography.

When the pandemic shut us down here in Los Angeles, I quickly asked myself, What do engaged couples need right now? How can I serve them? After speaking to several couples who had to postpone their wedding, what I heard from them is that they still wanted to celebrate in a special way. Without a wedding to pay for, they now wanted to go bigger with their engagement sessions. 

[Read: What’s Inside My Camera Bag—Lifestyle Photographer Caroline Tran’s Engagement Shoot Fundamentals]

I realized that their problem in that moment was that they were unable to celebrate this very special time in their lives in the only way they previously knew how—with a wedding.

With that, I started offering more elaborate engagement sessions, from excursions to full editorial production shoots. This transformed my standard one-hour engagement session to 4- to 6-hour productions.

upsell photography with full production engagement shoot session by caroline tran

This was a fun engagement session where, after listening to their story and dreams, I helped them create a full editorial production, complete with hair and makeup, wardrobe and prop styling. Yes, everything you see here was intentional. I played up the concept of “Home is Where You Are,” documenting their engagement period during a pandemic while celebrating the simple everyday things, like brushing your teeth, shaving and making pancakes together.

Here’s the video I created for them:

Another product I started to offer, after realizing there was a need amongst my clients, was mini sessions, which generate $30,000/weekend.

[Read: 3 Natural Light Photography Techniques From Home]

I realized my former wedding clients and family clients needed a family portrait for holiday cards, but they didn’t necessarily want to book a one-hour shoot. The trick to offering mini sessions was not to cannibalize my regular sessions, so I developed a method to market and sell mini sessions in a way that kept clients coming back year after year, but not at the expense of selling regular portrait sessions. Most of my mini sessions clients also booked full family sessions as well.

upsell photography by offering mini sessions tips by caroline tran

Whether it’s mini sessions or full productions, they all started with the client’s needs. I see myself as their problem-solver: How can I make their lives better? I pull together the team that’s required to deliver a top-notch experience and leave my clients with lasting memories of working together.

As you embark on your journey to upsell photography products, here are the steps you can take:

  1. Stop trying to upsell photography products you like (to clients who may not even be interested) and start listening to what your (ideal) clients need. 
  2. Once you’ve identified their problem, ask yourself if you’re able to help them. Do you have a solution for them? 
  3. Does the task required to help them bring you joy? If not, then don’t do it. Just because I know how to change a spare tire doesn’t mean I want to do it for you (no offense). Note: There’s a balance between passion and money. If I needed money to feed my kids, sure, I’ll change your spare tire. Expect that line to fluctuate throughout the seasons and years.
  4. Once you know what needs to be done, the next step is to find a way to efficiently do it so that it’s profitable. Are their vendors you can get help from? 
  5. Lastly, create a system where you can rinse and repeat this product over and over again for future clients.

Caroline Tran is a Los Angeles-based, internationally published photographer and educator who has been helping other photographers work smarter, not harder. She offers online small-group coaching and mentorships. Want to learn more? Join Caroline for the next free live virtual event to discuss ways to improve your art and business in further detail. RSVP here.