Episode 142 – What’s Different Between the Boutique Portrait Experience Vs the Digital File Photography Experience?

Different Between the Boutique Portrait Experience Vs the Digital File Photography Experience


Photography Business Institute
Photography Business Institute

If you’re offering your clients wall portraits, you may think you’re boutique… But there’s a lot more to being a boutique photographer than that!

Recently, I had a photographer attend one of my free classes, and she was super frustrated.

She was selling her clients high res digital files, but she had incorporated pieces of the boutique model into what she was doing as well – so she was also giving them the option to order wall portraits.

Spoiler alert, most of her clients didn’t order, because they had the digitals.

Photographers using this “hybrid” model are trying to serve their digital clients hard so that they can charge more, but it’s still a digital file model.

It’s not enough to give them the life they want!

You can’t be boutique-ish.

You can’t have a full-time income working part-time hours if you don’t fully commit to being boutique.

So today I’m going to break down the 12 differences between the boutique portrait experience and the digital file photography experience so you can serve your clients at the highest level.

#1: Your Relationship with Your Client

I started my photography business using film, so I would give clients 36 prints (we called them proofs).

They were hand-printed, and I charged $75.

By the time I bought the film and did the processing and the hand printing, it cost me $65.

That means if they didn’t order, I wasn’t making any money.

I would meet my clients at the park and drop off their prints with an order form hoping they would order.

It was a hope-based strategy… that didn’t work.

Now, as a boutique photographer, I have strong, lifelong relationships with so many people!!

I have clients who have come back to me 25+ years later!

It makes me feel amazing that I can be a part of people’s lives like that.

With the digital file model, you hardly have a relationship with your clients – but with the boutique model, you develop lifelong relationships.

#2: Client Experience

The digital file model is very transactional.

They’re giving you money, getting their photos on a little image disk or online gallery, and moving on.

No, no, no! That’s like a drive-through… you want to be a table with a view.

As a boutique photographer, we invest a lot of time with people, and they invest a lot of time with us – which is amazing.

I always say that the more time your clients invest with you, the more money they will invest in your products because they have more value.

#3: Time Investments

Digital file photographers spend HOURS and HOURS scouting locations, gathering props, retouching, editing, more retouching, more editing… And all the client does is show up.

The time investments are mismatched.

With the boutique model, your clients are investing about as much time as you are into the experience!

You start with a phone call where you bond.

Then you have a meeting before the session to plan it (and show them all of your cool products so that they are ready to order).

Finally, you have the session and the ordering appointment.

So they have six to eight hours invested and you have six to eight hours invested!

#5: Customer Service 

Digital file photographers don’t need to provide a lot of customer service, do they?

Because they’re giving clients the raw files and sending them off to figure it out on their own.

It’s on the client to figure out how to color correct, manage exposure, and find a lab that can print quality artwork…There’s no one to hold their hand.

But when you’re a boutique photographer, you walk clients through the entire process.

Plus, you have margins so you can fix anything for your clients!!

We had one client who met me at the framers, put the frame in her van, drove off, and the frame shattered.

So we reframed it for her! That’s what we do for our clients because we can have superior, excellent customer service!! It’s what bonds people to us and makes them go, “Oh my gosh, I’m never leaving this person.”

#6: Products

Digital file photographers are like grocery stores – they sell the raw ingredients for people to go home and cook their own meals.

Boutique portrait photographers are like sit-down restaurants.

You offer gorgeous, heirloom products like books, albums, and wall portraits! 

#7: Marketing

Ah, one of my favorite topics!! When I was a senior in college, I got the chance to intern at an advertising agency in Memphis, where I worked on the regional McDonald’s account.

I had to do a price competitor analysis of all of the fast food restaurants, and I quickly learned that it’s a very price-sensitive market.

I saw the same thing after I graduated and worked at another agency…

Our client was a pizza chain, and if they raised their pizza price by a quarter, sales went down. A quarter!! 

Lower-priced products (like fast food or mini sessions) attract price-sensitive buyers.

But higher-end products (like a sit-down restaurant or boutique portrait experience) attract clients who want to invest in something they care about.

No one notices if the price of steak at Ruth’s Chris went up 50 cents, do they?

So as a boutique photographer, marketing looks like relationships, referrals, educating people, getting involved in your community, and networking.

#8: Your Sales Process

For digital file model photographers, the sales process is often a mailbox.

I had a student tell me that she drove to her client’s houses at night, stuck their CD or DVD in their mailbox, and left.

She had so much fear that she didn’t even want to see the client.

But for me, as a boutique photographer, that’s the best part!!

I love when they’re gushing and crying because of the images that I created!

With the boutique model, our sales strategy is: Serve hard and sell easy.

It’s not a pushy or salesy process.

We do things BEFORE the session that help clients place their order AFTER the session.

#9: Growth Potential

The sky is the limit when you are a boutique photographer, because you can keep getting orders that are bigger and bigger and bigger!!

So you can grow from $100,000 to $200,000 to $300,000.

But when you’re a digital file photographer, there’s very little growth potential because, if you’re selling your digital files for $200 per session per client, you’re going to run out of time.

There is a maximum you can make.

#10: Clients 

When you are a digital file photographer, and your marketing strategy includes discounting or trying to be the lowest priced photographer, you attract freeple cheaple people (the hardest clients to serve).

When you’re a boutique photographer, you attract premium clients!!

These are clients who want to invest in an experience and they are willing to pay the price of that experience.

I’m telling you, people who are not price sensitive are my favorite clients in the world!

#11: Competitors

When you’re serving the lower (cheaper) end of the market, how many competitors do you have?

How many competitors are there to McDonald’s?

There’s Hardee’s, Arby’s, and Wendy’s…

Now, think about a sit-down restaurant with a beautiful view at the table, knowledgeable servers, and every amenity you could want.

How many of THOSE are there in your city?

We only have two or three here.

The same thing goes for photographers.

When you’re a digital file photographer, you have so many competitors!!

But when you’re boutique, you have just a few.

#12: Value

Everything comes back to this, photographer friend… Different people value different things.

As a digital file photographer, you’ll get people who value low prices and want some images to put on social media or in their scrapbooks.

But as a boutique photographer, you’ll get clients who value heirloom artwork that features the people they love.

Are there people in your town who choose to shop at Walmart?

Sure. But there are also people who choose to shop at a custom bike shop or boutique clothing store instead.

People everywhere are willing to invest in things that they love and see value in.

I live in the middle of a cornfield!!

Right-fit clients are everywhere… and they expect to PAY for the things they value.

As you can now see, there are a lot of things that make a boutique photographer different, beyond the products you offer or the prices you charge.

If your photography business isn’t going the way you want it to, even though you feel like you’re serving at such a high level, go through this checklist and grade yourself!

Because there are likely a few tweaks you need to make to become fully boutique.

If you need my help through the transition, DM me (@Sarah.Petty) and I’ll put you in touch with one of my strategy coaches who will share how we can help you.

Let’s empty your head trash and do things differently this year because we know the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results!

Come on, guys, this is your time. This is your year. Let’s do this.

Download the Episode Transcript Here

Episode 142 – What’s Different Between the Boutique Portrait Experience Vs the Digital File Photography Experience?
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