Episode 170 – I Did a Session LIVE for My Students at Summer Camp: Here’s What Happened

Session LIVE for My Students at Summer Camp


Photography Business Institute
Photography Business Institute

Last week I did something really fun and it stretched me, my team, and my students.

I want to share a little bit of the behind the scenes of that experience with you.

As a bonus for joining our top program, we had a two-day selling and social media summer camp in Nashville, Tennessee.

I wasn’t sure how it would go, but it surpassed all of my expectations and I had to do something I’ve never done before.

I’m going to share what went well and maybe what could have gone better.

I think sometimes as business owners, we make our businesses way more complicated than they need to be.

Are you guilty?

I’ve spent the last 20 years creating education to teach photographers how to run a profitable business.

But one part that I have never done for my students is let them watch how I do the entire process from start to finish with an actual client.

My students have asked for it for years, and so I thought that this year we should do it.

I wanted to do it in a fun city where we could do that on day one and then on day two, my students would practice implementing things they’ve learned regarding social media.

So even if they weren’t into social media, they were practicing cues of talking to people and making friends and bonding with their community.

But what I want to talk about today was day one of summer camp.

I want to share the details about how I completed a session, built the presentation and then I gave the sales presentation to my client.

All in one day with 80-90 photographers watching me live.

So I’m going to get detailed and I’m going to share what went well and also what didn’t go quite according to plan.

You’re never going to go 100% according to plan and that’s okay.

This really showed my students that even after being in business for 25 years, no matter what my plan was, it’s never going to go exactly according to plan.

When I’m teaching, I love to create tools for my students so that when something unexpected happens, they don’t freak out.

One of the tools that I created is called “on my toes and back on my feet”. 

When you’re out there serving your clients, you’re hustling and you’re on your toes.

When you’re on your toes, you’re out there doing the work and you’re not stuck in paralysis by analysis, so you can give yourself permission to make decisions in the moment when you’re on your toes.

You can’t always say, “Oh, let me pause this session and we’ll continue it tomorrow.”

Or we need to stop this whole entire presentation and finish it later.

It doesn’t work that way.

So sometimes you have to take what you know, the information that you have, and you make a decision.

And you know what?

It’s going to be okay.

Because when you get back on your feet, you can look at what you can learn from the decisions you made.

What should I have done?

What could I do differently next time?

And if I mess something up, how can I fix it?

Sometimes there’s nothing better you could have done in the moment and even if there was something better, you learned a valuable lesson.

We have to learn some lessons the harder way.

And the key is having a safe place to land, which is what I wanted my students to see.

When they’re in this community we can fix anything later.

It is a safe place to land.

We held this event at what is now a church.

There’s a stage up front and all of the stairs are facing the stage.

I was having this session with a ton of people watching in a foreign place.

It wasn’t my studio, we brought in lighting, two backgrounds and a floor because we didn’t know what to expect when we got there.

It was a little out of my comfort zone because I’ve done location things before but it has been a while because it’s not my favorite and I have this gorgeous studio that people can come to me.

So typically now if I do location, I simply photograph outdoors or I’ll photograph in people’s homes.

The week before the session, we had a Zoom consultation with the client.

I don’t like to do this far out from the session because quite frankly, I get clients confused and forget details.

This client was out of town and he happened to be in a different city than his wife when we did the Zoom call.

We were working with his schedule and it ended up being in a way where we couldn’t have both of the parents on at the same time.

This is not ideal because we always want both decision makers, but the time was set, the event was scheduled and we had to do the best we could.

What’s interesting is in my photography business, I typically work with the wife, but in this case it was the husband who became the client.

I knew he would love the artwork, and we had the consultation and it was fantastic.

Back on my toes or back on my feet, I would’ve preferred to have both of them there for the Zoom consultation, but I was able to get both of them back at the in-person consultation at their home prior to the session.

And so sometimes we have to do it on the spot.

The Zoom call was great and I learned about the boys.

I want to get as much information about everyone in the family on that consultation so we can create this session together.

And one of the things I loved about this dad is that he is a very hands-on dad, crazy about his boys.

It was fun to go through the ages and the names and what they’re into.

The oldest boy who is nine is the quieter one, and he said, “Oh my gosh, he’s super easy. He will be no problem.”

During this consultation is when I figure out the best way to get this session done and how I can serve the client in the best way.

And when we were talking, the dad let me know that the middle boy had some special needs and he wasn’t verbal, but that you could understand what he wanted.

I typically don’t want to meet the kids before because one of my favorite things is when they first come into my studio, they’re a little bit shy and apprehensive.

The first three to five minutes of the session can be magic because they come in and they’re a little bit pensive.

But in this case, knowing that we had a special needs little boy to work with, I wanted to meet him and I wanted to really create a relationship with him and gain his trust.

And it ended up working out beautifully and I just fell in love with all of these boys.

But I only got to meet two of them at that consultation.

But for me, it became more important to make sure that we were able to do an in-person consultation at their home.

I wanted to meet the wife and the boys and really start to build that relationship and see if there was anything I could learn about any of them that would help me serve them better the next day at the session.

The day before I was with the client and all my students for this session, I went to the client’s house to have that consultation, and it was great.

I was able to see their spaces, meet the kids, and gain their trust.

They were ages five, six, and nine so I didn’t worry about it winding them up too early.

I wanted them to have a great experience and also knowing that we had the extra pressure of 80-90 people all staring at them.

We got to pick out all of their outfits and it was so great

What could have been better at the consultation was on me.

We were coming from out of town, so when we got there we unloaded everything at the event site, and then we went to the client’s home.

But one of the bags that was supposed to go to the client’s home got unloaded at the event site.

So I had to do the consultation without my materials, which I’ve done before.

And it’s not my preference, but again, I’m a professional and I knew it would be fine.

One of the things I didn’t have with me was an album or book to show the dad.

After we finished the session the next day I said to the dad, “Hey, we got so many of these great images. Have you ever thought about a book or an album? And how do you feel about that?”

And he said, “We never have looked at our wedding album. I’m not a book album person. I really want these for my walls.”

And this saved so much time because then we were getting ready to build the presentation because this was all happening in one day.

There’s a big difference between how we create the presentation if people are interested in a book and an album versus wall portraits.

So when he said that he was interested more in the wall portraits and not the book and album, I knew that we needed to get the presentation tighter.

We only had a couple hours between the time they left and the time they were coming back so it was really great that I was able to do that before the presentation.

So again, we don’t have to be perfect.

We just have to realize that sometimes we miss a step.

Ideally, I would’ve had that book and album there, but I didn’t and it worked out just fine.

The other thing that happened at the consultation was that I had my three interns measuring the house.

I asked them to go and photograph their walls.

But I didn’t give them enough direction on exactly how to do it for the software so that we could show the client their artwork to scale.

Normally it would be just Andrea and I and she would do it exactly the way we need it.

But because we were recording it for teaching purposes, there was a lot of extra chaos.

Then the next day, day one of our event, the clients came in and we created the session.

Before they came in, I spoke to my students about the consultation and what my plan was for the family.

I was going to start with the hardest one first, which is the whole family.

Then I was going to photograph the three boys together, and then I was going to do each parent with each boy and then the boys alone.

Well, what happened was because the two little boys have more energy and the older one’s quieter, the parents had really well prepped the two younger boys for what was happening, but didn’t really tell the older boy much of what was happening because they didn’t think they needed to.

When they walked in the door and he saw the lights set up and all the people he kind of just paused and didn’t want to go on the stage.

It was unexpected.

In my mind, I know that if we don’t get a good portrait of the family all together we have nothing and won’t get an order.

The parents were amazing, but what parents want to do is they want their kids to come in and do the thing.

I saw the dad start to walk over and tell the son that he needed to come take pictures but I have been through this before.

I just expect that kids are going to either not want to do it or be scared, be shy or just be having a bad day.

My philosophy of what I do is I just ignore them and move on to something else.

I just take the spotlight off of them because they just need a minute to figure out what’s going on and get themselves together.

I realized quickly that we needed to start with something else.

The middle boy just came right in and he hopped up on the stool.

He was all smiles so we did each parent with the middle child, and then we did each parent with the youngest.

And what was cute is I noticed out of the corner of my eye, the oldest boy had come into the room and was sitting on the steps to the stage.

Exactly what we wanted.

I kind of engaged and we had a little joke or something that happened, and I realized he looked back up at me and we made a connection.

So I decided to give it a shot and see if we can’t bring the family up.

Because I knew if I brought him up alone with the parents, it probably was too much attention on him.

So we set the family up and I put him away from the audience on a chair.

I started taking some images, not even sure that they were going to turn out because I knew that I hadn’t connected with this last person in the family yet.

And then I started joking with dad and I knew dad had a great personality, and I could do that with him.

And all of a sudden, the emphasis wasn’t on the kids, and they were giggling about dad’s stinky feet and different things.

And boom, I got the family image.

Then we put the three boys together, and they were three in a row.

But it just was kind of awkward having them in a row in stools.

I put them in a situation where they can engage with each other, and then I make tweaks.

I don’t start by putting them exactly where I want them.

I realized that they were all three sitting there being very good, but very awkward.

So I handed Andrea the camera, which I do occasionally, and I told her to just start photographing.

And I walked over and I started tickling them and poking.

And I always ask first, “Hey, do you mind if I move your foot over a little bit?”

And I get them comfortable, and then I kind of just start teasing them a little, and I start getting them in a way that looks more comfortable.

We got that, and then I got the parents with the last boy, and we got individuals on that background.

Then one of the kids was done but we were still going to do more portraits on the second background.

We brought our really cool treasure chest because I knew when they saw it that it would buy me some time.

I will save it until the end.

When I bring out this gorgeous, bright colored, hand carved treasure chest on wheels, I can get an extra minute, a couple images or whatever it is I need.

We waited until somebody was feeling done and then I told the boys I had surprises for them and I needed them to change shirts and do one more thing first.

Boom, all three of them went and changed shirts while we were able to flip the lights to the other backgrounds.

We showed them the treasure chest, and they refocused so we could get those last portraits.

Another thing I wouldn’t do in the future is we had snacks for the photographers outside of the door.

And my interns were in charge of that.

We didn’t give them specifics on what to buy and one thing they got was bags of Doritos.

At the studio, we buy things like Smarties, if we need to give the kids any type of food or treat, because Smarties melt in their mouth and don’t leave a residue.

And the Doritos got all over the kids hands and faces.

Thankful the parents hopped right in and wiped them up, and they went right back to being amazing.

I wanted to share it because hopefully it can save you from that in the future.

So we got through the session, and I told my students after the family left that I got every image that I wanted.

We did some Q&A and people were asking about the fact that I got out of order of my plan.

I told them it was a plan, but your plan is always subject to change.

People saw that you can have a plan and do it out of order, and it’s not going to be perfect.

While everyone ate lunch, Andrea created the presentation for when the family was coming back that day for the ordering appointment.

When I had my interns photograph the client’s home, I didn’t specifically tell them, get the walls from edge to edge, so you couldn’t see the images to the scale of the room.

All of my students got to see me pivot a little bit in the presentation because it was a little clunky from the scale of the images taken.

So again, we were on our toes, we were making those decisions real time.

Back on our feet, we maybe wouldn’t have done that. 

Once we realized that the room images were not in the photograph the way that we needed them to do it, we probably should have abandoned it, taken a breath, and just done it the way we easily could have without showing the room view, because people don’t need to know exactly where they go.

It’s just that they had specific rooms that had huge walls, and I knew that we could show them really big, and they would love them really big.

The client came back and we had taken down the whole stage.

My goal for an ordering session is to always keep it under an hour.

When you go over an hour, you are putting your order in jeopardy.

I think we were at about an hour and 10 minutes, but I knew we were getting there because we had made it really tight.

They just over-ordered.

They just wanted everything and we had to cut back when they saw the total, which is not uncommon.

It was a very large total.

We started talking through what we could cut and what they ended up loving was the bright colored background portraits.

The biggest thing was they got to what they wanted.

They paid a deposit and it was super fun.

Everybody loved it and we had so many takeaways.

At the end of the day, this is what you do too.

You can hold your client’s hand to help them pick what they want on their walls and not be pushy or salesy.

Keep working on learning and just serving the next person.

Download the Episode Transcript Here

Episode 170 - I Did a Session LIVE for My Students at Summer Camp: Here’s What Happened
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