How to Host Profitable Mini-Sessions

What are mini-sessions?

Mini-sessions are bite-sized photo shoots that offer a sample of what you do in your regular sessions. They are usually themed and every person who steps in front of your camera that day will receive the same shoot and will be offered a limited selection of printing options based on the event. It is not just a shorter versions of your normal shoot with the same benefits and offerings. It is its own product. You will do the same 10-20 shots of everyone, rinse and repeat. If things happen organically, awesome. Just make sure you are going to deliver 20 solid photos of each client. 

Why do mini-sessions

Mini sessions are a great way to bring on new clients and to make quick cash from your past clients. The important thing to remember is that mini sessions can be very profitable when done right, but they're too often used a desperate attempt to book clients when things are slow, and they never work out in those cases. Trust me, I've been there. Take the time to do it right and you'll find success.

Planning mini-sessions

Start by choosing your theme. The holiday calendar is usually a good place to start. It just has to be approachable. Doing something really niche like cosplay or super heroes can be fun, but it might be harder to find enough people to participate. Choose something that is easily relatable for your clients. Here are some good options.

  • sports/athletic photos
  • Christmas
  • Summer time
  • Back to school
  • Halloween

You can't offer the same things as your regular sessions, otherwise people will just wait for the next mini-session day and never book your regular sessions. You don't want to cannibalize your regular sales. Keeping your offerings concise will also help speed up your workflow on the day of the shoot and help you sell more. Choose a simple package to start:

  • 16x24 print
  • (2) 5x7 prints
  • 3 digital images (same as the ones printed)

Then offer a few add-ons:

  • Sheet of wallets
  • 8x10 prints
  • Holiday cards
  • more digital images

Again, don't offer your entire menu. If you normally sell metal prints, float wraps, photo prints, and canvas, choose one for the large print offering. Then the small prints are done on photo paper. Digital images are low-res with your watermark in the corner. They can not get full-res photos. 

Pricing your mini-sessions

This is the same process as setting up your regular price list, just scaled down to one day instead of one year. So let's start with the end. How much do you want to make from 1 day of mini-sessions? Don't forget to include the time it takes to plan, execute, and follow up. Let's say it's going to be an 8 hour day of shooting, and 8 more hours for everything else. 16 hours total. Let's set a goal of $2000 profit.

Now we add in our costs. If you shoot 16 sessions and your package costs you $35 each, add $560 to your total. $560 + $2000 = $2560.

If you have an assistant there with you all day at $15/hr, add $120. Now we're at $2680. 

Now we divide our total by the number of sessions we can shoot. $2680 / 16 = $167.50. 

There is your cost per signup. I would round that up to $175 or $199. 

These numbers will depend on your goals, how much you pay your assistant, and your print costs.

Marketing your mini-sessions

The easiest way to fill your mini-sessions is to email your list and invite all of your past clients to come join you for this special kind of session. If you are getting started and you don't have a list of past clients to invite, this can be a great opportunity to find new clients to get on your mailing list and to book you for a regular session later. Here are some of the ways I have found to successfully find clients for mini-sessions. I also want to mention that you should not rely on one particular marketing tactic to fill up your sessions. Put yourself out there in several places.

Team up with other businesses - Find other businesses who cater to the same market and ask them to work with you. You can put up a flyer in their store, or ask them to post on social media, or send out an email to their list. Make sure this is not the first time you're reaching out to them. You should already have a relationship with these businesses. If not, and they have the right size retail space, ask the owner if you can host the sessions in their store and they can offer a discount on purchases for everyone who comes in for a mini-session. This gets clients in their door and encourages sales, while you get to photograph more people. Make sure they benefit in some way. Make it worth their while.

Facebook/Instagram ads - Targeting the right people and sending the right message could help you fill up your weekend without having to leave the house. It's finicky though and could also yield zero results for you. Be careful with your wording. Most people don't know what mini-sessions are. You can say mini portrait sessions, or call it the coolest picture day ever. Use phrases that non-photogs will understand. If you're not sure, ask around on your personal Facebook page. 

Post on your social media accounts - You have an audience on your Facebook/Instagram/Twitter... and this is a great time to reach out to them. Again, be careful with your wording. Do not use industry phrases non-photogs don't know. If you're on Instagram or Twitter, use local hashtags so other local people can see your posts. Don't use hashtags for other photogs. And don't be afraid to post about it every day for a week or so. Don't be super spammy with it. But remind people what's going on. It might seem like a lot to you, but most of your followers aren't going to see all of your posts. And in the case of Facebook, if you are not boosting your posts, only 2%-4% of your page's fans will see the posts. 

Make it a fundraiser - If you donate a % of sales toward a charitable cause, they are likely to support you and share the event with their own list and their own social followers. This is a great way to get in front of people who have disposable income. 

No matter where you advertise, make sure you are talking about the benefits of the experience. How busy moms can get photos of their kids more easily. How they can get their holiday cards taken care of without any extra work. How they have the coolest family photos on the block and make their friends jealous... Don't just list how many minutes you'll be shooting and how many prints they get. 

Shooting the mini-sessions

Having a tight schedule will make your day flow so much more easily. Giving each client a 20 minute shoot plus a 10 minute buffer will prevent most issues. Just be sure to really drive home how important it is to be on time. And having your assistant there with you to help check people in as they arrive and get them prepared while you're shooting is a must. Then after you shoot, they go back to your assistant who uploads the images and does a mini sales sessions with them and you just keep shooting. Rehearse this workflow so you are both on the same page. 

Make sure to plan for a break in the middle of the day. You'll need to eat. Have water and snacks handy in case you need something between before or after the break. 

If someone shows up late, it cuts into their shoot time. You can't push back everyone else in the day because of them. 

Bring plenty of batteries and memory cards. Bring more than you'll need.

Your laptop won't last 8 hours if you're doing the sessions outdoors away from power. I suggest picking up a power supply. The same kind that Paul C. Buff sells to power Alien Bees will keep your computer going. You can make them yourself too by going to a battery store or other electronics store. The inverters run off motorcycle batteries and you can get the entire setup for about $150. Just be sure to test it out ahead of time so you know how long it will last. A backup battery for that will run you another $70. I've powered my lights all day on one of those. They're great.

How to sell more

Doing your sales session right there will help you sell more. People will see the photos, have great energy from the shoot, and be happy to pick out more. You also need to have samples ready to show them. You won't sell it if you don't show it. Having your assistant be able to walk them through the selection process and help them make a buying decision will also make a huge difference. If you just take the images and upload them to an online gallery for the clients to view later, they will not likely make any additional purchases. Life gets in the way and they just won't make a decision. 

Having fewer items will also speed things up and make the decision easier for them. They will feel overwhelmed if you have 12 items for them to choose from. Add on 2-3 small things (accordion albums, gift prints, more digitals) and 1 larger print. Remember, this is not just a quicker version of your normal shoot. This is a taste of what you normally offer. Less time, fewer images, fewer printing options.

Be prepared to take credit card payments right there. It's easy to sign up for Square. You can also check with the bank who does your business banking and they might also have options for you. Make it really easy for the clients to give you money.

Follow-up after the shoot

Take the next day to do all of your edits and your ordering. Email, or better yet, call everyone who signed up and thank them and let them know that you've already ordered their prints and you'll reach out as soon as you have them. They will appreciate the followup.

I do not mail prints to my clients nor do I drop ship. It gets expensive and it's very time-consuming if you have to go to the post office to mail packages to all of your clients. And regarding the drop shipping, I want to make sure everything looks good before my client sees it. All you have to do is tell your clients in the beginning that they can come pick up the prints when they arrive and they'll be ok with that. If they insist that you deliver the prints and are being difficult about it, they are probably not a good fit for you. I've turned away clients before who didn't want to do in-person sales. It's totally ok. I'd rather avoid the headache later on. And if they're pushy about things now, it's not going to get any better. That extra time and expense is not worth it for mini-sessions. Regular clients are different, but not for minis. 

Then after they have come to pick up their prints, send out handwritten thank you cards. Do not email them. Send them a real card. This will go a long way. You can even have your assistant write them for you and sign them from both of you. Also ask everyone who signed up if you can add them to your email list to let them know about future promotions and events. Don't just add them. People hate that. 

There you go! Now get out there and make some money 🙂

About the Author Mike Lloyd

Mike is the Tim Burton of photography. He tells powerful, imaginative stories with cinematic photography. He specializes in dramatic, film-noir style boudoir and epic cinematic portraits. He's also the creative force behind Photogs Unite! which focuses on learning from professionals outside the photography industry to learn marketing, sales, branding, and everything else you need to know to build a thriving photography business. And burritos are the key to his happiness.

follow me on:

Leave a Comment: