Episode 219 –  Pet Photographer Claire Sold $4,000 of Photos & Made More Than Her Monthly Income From Any Job She’s Ever Had. Here’s What She Did.

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Photography Business Institute
Photography Business Institute

Sarah Petty: Maybe you’ve had the thought in the back of your mind when you see photographers getting huge orders, that they’re just exceptional and that could never happen for you. That’s exactly the thought pet photographer, Claire Shelley, had. Today, I’m talking with her about the decision to stop fumbling around with a hybrid model, an overpriced online gallery and how she got an exceptional order herself from a woman and her dog.

Claire, I’m so glad you’re here. Tell us about your life and your family.

Claire Shelley: I currently live in Lawrence, Kansas. It’s a college town near Kansas City. It’s just myself and my husband. We have five animals and animals are just what I do. I have a degree in zoology and I went to art school as well, so it’s just all I’ve ever wanted to do. I work at a dog boarding kennel across the street from me to help them out. People in this town love dogs and bring them everywhere.

Sarah Petty: What did your business look like? How long have you been in business?

Claire Shelley: Not very long at all. I started doing photography when I lost my job this past January when I was living in Oregon. I was working as a dog trainer, but I also took pictures for my boss on my cell phone. Then winter comes around and things are tough. She couldn’t afford to pay me anymore so I talked with my partner and decided to start my own photography business.

Knowing nothing about business and photography other than cell phone photography, I just started doing it. I got my first DSLR in January and it was about 15 years old. I was able to work with the woman who had to let me go and she helped me find most of my clients before I joined Boutique Breakthrough. This is when I was doing my hybrid model.

It sounded great in theory, but not practical. She would find the clients for me, send me their info then I would take pictures of the dogs while their trainers were with them and then send the digital gallery to the clients. I never saw my clients once. I only spoke to them over email, so I wasn’t setting myself up to sell anything.I did sell a few prints through that model, but it was a pain. I was not making anything at all. I think in the entire first six months of my business, I maybe made $700 total. I was working and editing pictures constantly.

Sarah Petty: Were you getting any feedback from your clients? Did you know if they even liked your images?

Claire Shelley: No, I didn’t. That was the most disappointing part.

Sarah Petty: What made you feel like you needed to do Boutique Breakthrough?

Claire Shelley: I was getting ready to move to Lawrence, Kansas and I was already feeling the stress of editing constantly. And on top of that, I was trying to figure out a way to make it better so I didn’t have to work as much and I didn’t want to get another job. I wanted to be able to still help with the bills and all of that and I was drowning out there on my own.

There’s so much information out there and I was getting advice from friends and family that have their own businesses that have nothing to do with photography.  I finally reached out to a local photographer that happened to be a former student of yours that took Boutique Breakthrough. Once I started looking into it, I knew it checked all the boxes I was looking for.

Sarah Petty: Amazing. What was some of the advice your family and all the people gave you?

Claire Shelley: My brother told me that I needed to do everything online. People are not going to want to meet in person in this day and age. I had another person that said I need to focus all of my energy on social media.

Sarah Petty: Is your goal to only do pets as a boutique photographer?

Claire Shelley: Yes.

Sarah Petty: I’m so proud of you for taking the leap when you were moving to a brand new city, because so many people would use that as an excuse.

Claire Shelley: I really saw it as perfect timing because it was going to help me get started on the right foot. I didn’t have to build up this clientele under the wrong business model and then transition them all over. I could just start out the right way and I considered it like a relaunch.

Sarah Petty: Were you scared by boutique pricing and the system?

Claire Shelley: Yeah, I was terrified of all of it. But I have always had the philosophy that growth is good, but growth is uncomfortable. So if you’re feeling uncomfortable, you’re probably doing the right thing.

Sarah Petty: I love that. How did you get your first Julie, $1k or more client order?

Claire Shelley: A piece of advice I got from you was to wear a name tag everywhere. I had been out and about that day and I was wearing my name tag. I went home and noticed there were some dogs out. I live out in the country, so usually when you see out and about, it’s a country dog. But then I saw a girl who was a neighbor I had not met yet looking for some dogs. So I met up with her and we rescued these dogs and returned them to their owners. And during that whole process, my name tag fell off in her driveway.

She found my name tag that had my business name on it and she looked me up and gave me a call. When she looked me up she saw my work and told me that she was interested in doing a session for her dog.

Sarah Petty: So you went through the seven Bs with her and explained pricing and your digital file policy. How did that go?

Claire Shelley: I was really nervous because this was one of my first few phone calls. I did it exactly the way you told me to and I still have yet to face any objections. She did not have any problems. She said it was exactly what she was looking for.

Sarah Petty: What did she order?

Claire Shelley: She ended up ordering a series of three with her and her dog, framed and matted, a series of four of her and her dog, framed and matted, and an album.

Sarah Petty: Wow. What was that total?

Claire Shelley: Her total was $3,901 before tax.

Sarah Petty: That is amazing. After she did that, how did you feel and what were you saying to yourself?

Claire Shelley: When I first read the total, I was so nervous. We worked out a plan with her that worked for her budget. I got a text before I even got to my car after the appointment of her just saying, “I just wanted to tell you again how excited I am. I’m so happy we did this. It has been so nice working with you. Thank you so much.” She thanked me for spending all of that money.

Sarah Petty: That is so amazing. How do you feel about yourself and your worth?

Claire Shelley: So much better. It’s really good validation that I’m doing the right thing. I’m doing well and this is the direction I want to keep going.

Sarah Petty: Doesn’t that feel so great to know that you have a system now that will serve you forever?

Claire Shelley: With this one client, I made more from them than I’ve ever made working a full-time job in a month. This is more than my monthly income has ever been.

Sarah Petty: I am so proud of you. I can’t wait to see all of the amazing things that will happen for you.


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