Mini sessions are very popular amongst clients, especially during the fall season when families want updated images for their holiday cards. Though from a client’s perspective it can seem like mini sessions are quick and easy, us photographers know that they are anything but. Mini sessions may seem like a tempting way to make money, but unless you do it correctly, you will not be profitable. I’m going to break down how to run profitable mini sessions so you can use this great tool to maximize your business and profits.
Mini Sessions Shouldn’t Be A Bargain.
Let me say this louder for the photographers in the back – mini sessions should not be a bargain! When I’m teaching this to my mentees, I tell them to think of the analogy of Costco versus Whole Foods. Let’s pretend that you are on the hunt for oat milk, and your favorite brand is carried by both these grocery stores. At Costco, you can purchase a bundle of 6 containers for a total of $30, which means that each Oat Milk amounts to $5. At Whole Foods, you find your favorite oat milk in single containers that cost $6.50 each.
If you walk out of Costco, you are spending more, but each unit is actually less.
If you walk out of Whole Foods, you are spending less, but each unit is actually more.
There’s no wrong way, because not everyone needs six containers of oat milk aka a full session for their family. But for those that do or are perhaps on the fence, they might prefer to save money in this way even though they’re paying more up front. Mini sessions are premium products – they should not be the bargain of your business. Clients will be paying less up front versus a full session, but they should receive less, as well.
Offer Stacked Minis Only.
I am going to share a hard truth – if you are offering stand alone minis, you are losing money. That is probably not something that any photographer wants to hear, but it is the absolute truth. First of all, a stand alone mini is almost never a true mini. You might allot the 15-30 minutes or so for the session, but stand alone minis typically bleed over the allotted time. You are therefore culling more images and sometimes editing more, too, since there are more to choose from and you just can’t toss away the good ones, right?
Mini sessions should be be stacked only, offered back-to-back in a single location. This means having clients with consecutive time slots with no more than five minutes between each family. This allows you to just travel to a single location and have all the families in said location to maximize your profitability.
Think about it this way – if you offer stand alone minis, you are taking that spot away from a higher paying client who will book a full session. You are still leaving your home and your family, spending money on gas and your precious time for such a small session that is never as small as it’s supposed to be. Either stack your minis or don’t offer them at all.
Have A Strict Sickness/Reschedule Policy
Another way I see people lose money on mini sessions is not having a strict sickness and/or reschedule policy for clients. I educate my clients that minis are like a concert, where an artist has made the promise to be at a specific venue on a specific date because a group of people have committed to hear them play. If one of those concert goers gets sick and can’t make it, the artist doesn’t reschedule just for them. They are responsible for selling their ticket to someone else, or they will be out the money.
While I’m not as strict as a concert, my policy is similar. Clients need to sell their spots if they’re unable to make it, or they can transfer their payment to a future session. Here’s the catch, though – the session can either be a full session, or it has to be another stacked mini. I do not offer stand alone minis ever, especially for make-ups. This means unfortunately that they are subject to my availability; in fall, this could mean they won’t be able to shoot with me until the spring. The only exception I’ve made is when I allow a family to piggyback in front of a full session at the same location I’m shooting that evening, as long as the location is somewhere that has good enough light in early golden hour. You don’t want to ever shoot at a location that won’t give you a good result, just because you need them to take the earlier time slot. That isn’t good business.
Though it’s important for us as photographers to be flexible when working with families, it is also important for us to respect our own time. Not having a strict sickness policy in place will set yourself up for failure; trust the girl who has learned the hard way.
Always Have A Rain Date.
Speaking of setting yourself up for failure, if you’re running outdoor minis, it is absolutely imperative to have a rain date. When you take client bookings, make sure it is VERY spelled out in your contract and communication that they must be available for both dates or they will forfeit their spot. Think about it; do you really want to reschedule 4+ families and coordinate all of their schedules? It’s so important to have back up. Save yourself the headache.
Price Yourself Profitably.
Mini sessions should come with only a handful of images. I have seen anywhere from 3-10 as an acceptable amount. Anything above that should cost extra and be considered an upgrade. You want to make sure that you are making significantly more per hour than you would for a full hour session, otherwise what is the point of all the extra work? You might as well just stick to full sessions in that case.
My sessions are priced as follows:
$1200/hour for one family
$1500/hour for two 30 minute sessions
$2,000/hour for four 15 minute sessions
Side note: Obviously this isn’t the amount I’m truly making when we break down the cost of doing business, but the purpose of showing you this was so you could see how I’m making more per hour the more families that I have to account for the extra work.
So how the heck do you know how to price your minis? You want to break down your cost of doing business just as you would for an hour session. How much longer does it take you to cull and edit multiple galleries? What about the extra emotions and headspace of speaking with the families and coordinating with them, sending prep, etc? You’ll want to go through your mini session workflow to recalculate your CODB to account for your time.
Stop The Crazy Editing.
This goes hand in hand with not giving away too many images. Stop editing the same amount of images you would for a full session! I don’t care how efficient of a shooter you are. If a family comes to you for a mini and is presented with the same amount of images that they are for a full one hour session, they have no incentive to ever book you longer. My minis come with 10 digital images, and I present 25 max to the client to select from. Do I get oodles more cute photos than that? Absolutely. Is it a giant waste of my time to edit more? Also yes. Do I think one hour clients should have the same amount of images as a mini? Nope. Think of your full hour sessions as your VIP clients. These are the people who are investing the most time and money with you. Don’t you think they’re entitled to more than the minis? How would you feel if you were them?
Market Minis Wisely.
If you spend time building an email list, marketing for minis will be a breeze. I book up 99% of my mini slots straight from my email list, and the rest come from social media. I recently had two clients reschedule to spring sessions. Instead of marketing those spots on social media, I decided to send an email to my list in order to fill the spots – they were booked within the hour.
Where you market your minis will depend largely on your audience. If you’re priced on the lower to middle range because you’re newer, Facebook parenting groups are a great spot to get your name out there. Social media is also great, as is collaborating with other local businesses who have similar audiences so you can share each other’s content.
Remember, minis should be special and should not be something you offer often or year-round unless you want to be known as a budget photographer. There’s nothing wrong with this if you do, but if you are reading this article, I’m guessing it’s because you’re interested in pricing yourself profitably. Therefore, you likely want to break out of the budget range!
What do you think, fellow photographers? Are these tips for how to run profitable mini sessions helpful for you?