Selling Photography Prints! Trevor Christensen and Laura Hendricks Dive Deep
Hi, my name is Trevor Christensen. I’m a photographer based in Provo. My background is in photojournalism, these days I specialize in portraiture and events, with a little fine art on the side. If you’ve seen my work it might be from the time I had a project go viral or photography I’ve done for Alison Faulkner.
Life as a full-time freelance photographer leaves me constantly asking myself how I’m going to make enough to pay the bills. The bulk of my income has traditionally been portrait photography and events, but recently I’ve branched out to consulting, teaching and last season I tried my hand at my first real print sale.
I teamed up with my friend and photography print sale veteran Laura Hendricks to share with you about how to set up a print sale, how to market the sale, failures we experienced, and how to make that sweet sweet cash money.
Run a successful print sale.
Reasons I’d Never Sold (Much) Work Previously
- I’m not a marketing dude. I’ve sold prints here and there, but I’ve never been able to figure out how to really drive sales.
- Unique photography subject matter. Most of my photography is portraiture and documentary. I had no idea what kind of market existed for that work. I’ve always assumed that people choose something less personal, like landscape photography, over portraits of strangers.
- Fear. Selling work feels vulnerable! I was really scared about how I would feel if I put in the effort to run a print sale and no one bought any of my work.
Print Sale Setup:
Enter Laura. A few months ago Laura had her own print sale after she saw other artists sell their work in batches and only a few times a year. Selling in limited runs just a few times a year creates scarcity.
Running infrequent sales sends the message: ‘If you ever want anything from me, you only have limited chances. You can’t just write me whenever and I’ll sell you something.’ This is smart because it encourages potential customers to actually convert, since they can’t always have what they want.
Previously Laura has hosted an online print store that took print orders 24/7, but that always-available store was not as productive as she wanted it to be.
“[Selling prints has] always been extra money here and there, but it’s never really felt worth it. It would just feel like extra work. It never really felt like I was printing several at a time or shipping several at a time, so I really liked the idea of holding a few [print sales] a year. And when people would write me say ‘Hey my next print sale will be at this time.’”
Offer a limited number of products for a limited time and he scarcity will encourage customers to buy.
So after she explained the value of scarcity I did some quick math. To break even I had to sell about $300 worth of work. My initial costs were prints to photograph, kraft mailers, poly bags & stamps to use on the mailers.
In terms of physical print size, we both kept our offerings simple. I sold prints that were 8 x 12 and Laura sold prints that were 16 x 20 (and a handful of 30 x 40 prints). Limiting options allowed us to streamline ordering & fulfillment processes. (I also have a hunch that limited options helped decrease customer decision paralysis.)
Laura sold her 16 x 20 prints for $100 each. I tried a much lower price point, selling my work at $25 a print.
How we marketed work varied. I had a surprise sale and Laura had been preparing her fans for a few months before she ever sold any work.
My flash sale marketing broke down into 3 different categories: email list, Instagram & Facebook.
When I launched the sale, my email list was only 140 people, which is small by almost every standard. I also hadn’t sent an email to that list in years, so I had no idea how much marketing power I had there.
To get the attention of my email subscribers, I gave them a one day heads up about the sale and a code for free shipping.
Thanks to viral attention I got a few years ago, my Instagram following is about 10K. I don’t have huge engagement anymore, but my raw numbers aren’t bad. To announce my sale, I made a video and linked it to my online store. After that video posted, my Instagram strategy was just about consistency. I posted about the sale twice a day and made sure that I always had content about my sale in my Instagram story for the three days that the sale lasted.
I never came up with much of a solid plan for Facebook beyond posting photos of prints that were for sale and hoping that the posts would be compelling enough to drive traffic to my store.
On the last day of my sale I hadn’t quite hit my sales goal, so I decided to go live on Facebook & Instagram live to talk about the work I was selling. I’m not much of a live video guy, but currently Facebook’s algorithm rewards live video, so I knew it could be worth it. The live video lasted a little under 20 minutes and garnered a handful of comments. Facebook tells me that 469 people tuned in, but they have a history of inflating numbers (and to count as a watch, a user only has to tune in for 3 seconds). So I consider those numbers to be dubious.
Snapshots of Laura’s work below:
Unlike my surprise flash sale, Laura spent months building buzz for her sale. She mostly marketed through Instagram but after attending the Braid workshop on email marketing, she started a building her email list.
Laura consistently posted work on Instagram, consistently tagged accounts, sent DMs to people who asked for work submission, and emailed blogs & accounts that featured photography work.
“I never mentioned any print sales in those emails because I was just looking to be featured and then hoped followers from there would come over and see that I was doing a print sale. That was really effective because I would get new followers who would come over and would ask if I sold prints.’”
Laura also made sure that her newsletter was something people wanted to read. As a subscriber I can attest to this fact. It was fun, funny and wasn’t too self important-which is something I appreciate from any artist.
“I made it kind of fun. I made up this invitation for a print party. I wanted the subject [lines] to get people to open it.”
A the time Laura had around fifty email list subscribers, ten of whom ended up buying prints.
Laura almost exclusively sold work from her series, Not That It Needs It, which built up consistency and set expectations for potential customers.
The work I offered was much less consistent. My professional career is littered with photojournalism, freelance gigs, personal projects and random photos I’ve made. When deciding what work I’d be selling, I chose to list a little bit of everything to see what stuck. I suspected that only the landscapes would sell.
I’m happy to announce that this hunch was wrong. Two pieces sold out and only three photos out of the full 22 prints I listed were never purchased.
To keep things simple I only offered one size of print. This made fulfilling orders much easier, since all the prints went into the same sized sleeves and same sized mailers.
I stuck to simple packaging that I’d planned out beforehand: A simple kraft mailer custom stamped with my logo on the front. Inside, the print was packaged in a poly mailer.
Because Laura’s prints were 16×20, she rolled her unframed prints and shipped them in a standard triangle box she bought from Uline. Her framed prints were only local purchases, so she hand delivered them.
About 20% of my total sales came from my email list. This response surprised me because I have almost one hundred times more followers on Instagram than subscribers to my email list.
Most of my traffic came from mobile devices, so it was very important to make sure shopping cart software was mobile friendly. I did not do that. I spent almost all my time optimizing my site for desktop. Next time I’ll be much better about making sure my sales process is optimized for every screen.
Sales like this are marathons, not sprints. I learned that selling work is more effective when I consistently remind people that they can buy work, rather than blast out an opening announcement and never speak again.
Things I’ll Do Differently Next Time:
- Sale Lead Time. My next sale won’t be a flash sale. I would anticipate a lot more work if I wasn’t springing the sale on customers last minute.
- Consistency is Queen. I spent about 5 hours making an announcement about the sale on my Instagram stories feed. I don’t think helped convert much. A few days into my sale, I realized that consistently posting reminders was much more beneficial to me than a one time flashy announcement.
- Sell the Work. Laura and I both agree that we’re going to spend more time staging and photographing our work in homes & offices. It didn’t occur to me until I was in the middle of the sale that potential customers might benefit a lot from seeing exactly how the work could fit into their different life situations.
- Framed Work. I’m looking forward to offering framed prints. I didn’t frame this time around because I wanted to make the fulfillment process as easy as possible. Now that I’ve got an idea of what kind of work and effort a print sale requires, I feel comfortable leveling up my deliverables.
- Pricing. My theory was that $25 was a good price point for an impulse purchase, which was a good fit for the flash sale that I ran. Now that I’ve somewhat validated that idea, I’m curious to see what other price points would work for an audience that’s been prepped a little more ahead of time.
So, How Did Things Go???
I wanted to gross about $800-1000 from my print sale. In the end, my final gross was $950, which resulted in about $650 profit. 26 different people from 4 countries bought 36 prints.
For an unannounced sale that lasted three days, I’m really happy with my results. I’m even more excited to apply what I learned from this sale for the next one.
Laura is the real headline.
She set a goal of making $3500 during her sale. On the first day that Laura announced her sale, she made $1600. She grossed $4800 in prints and was able to keep around $4200 of that.
Arm flexing emoji. Heart eye emoji. Money with wings emoji.
For me, the biggest takeaway is that I might have a viable side business selling work a few times a year. I’m really excited to try to take this to the next level.
If you’ve got any questions don’t hesitate to contact us, we’re both very chill & nice people.