Man, I wish spring baseball season would last all year long! Every sports photographer has had to come to grips with the seasonal rollercoaster of cash flow throughout the year. The down time between sports seasons brings so many questions. How am I going to keep my seasonal staff? How am I going to sustain a constant income for my business and family? Does any of this sound familiar?
This is where we were as a business several years ago. As a volume sports and school studio we have huge peaks and valleys. That is until we realized we can have busy year-round business if we want it. We just have to take that same or similar business model that was born in sports and transpose that into other volume environments. That’s when the light bulb went off. I was a firefighter/paramedic for 22 years.
He had his picture taken all the time for different things while he was on duty. We thought what if we could go into the police and fire departments and start offering head shots and composites. We could take what we learned from our already established volume business and put it to work with public safety.
HOW DO I GET STARTED?
Much like finding new schools and leagues, we found that cold calling is the best way to get your foot in the door, especially if you have a box of donuts! Seriously everybody loves snacks. Once you get the job, you run the photo day exactly like your T & I sports photo shoots. We offer the individual pictures for the fireman/policeman to buy. Along with their individual pictures we also offer a department composite.
HOW MUCH MONEY ARE YOU ACTUALLY MAKING?
I know what you are thinking… So, how much money are you actually making? When are you selling? When are you shooting?
We are selling to fire/police departments all the time. There really is no season. The Sheriff and fire/police chief are always in. The composite photo shoots are usually done in the late fall or early winter. This is the time of year that the least number of first responders are off. As far as income, we have found that departments buy very similar to our youth organizations. The really cool thing is the municipalities buy the large department composites. Along with the composites, we find that they also purchase admin items like image files and stickers for their records. A neat item that has become popular is ball cards. They are used by the DARE and school resource officers to connect with the students. These items drive up the profit.
HOW OFTEN ARE YOU PHOTOGRAPHING THEM?
I am sure you are wondering how often we are going out and doing the composites. That is a great question. Usually these are done on a rotation basis. Some departments are every three years, while we just finished a department that only does them every 10 years!
OK, SO WHAT AM I DOING THOSE OTHER YEARS?
Once you have a relationship with a fire/police department we have found there are lots of opportunities for additional work. Some of the other events we are doing is the annual fireman/policeman ball, pictures with Santa, father/daughter dance and family mini sessions. When you put all of these things together it really fills in some of the gaps between seasons.
Another thing we have done to fill in our gaps is looking at our existing relationships and seeing if there are additional opportunities. A great place to start is your yearbook advisor. Once we talked to them we realized we were leaving a LOT of money on the table. There are tons of activities that go on at the schools that have NOTHING to do with Friday night football games!
Schools are full of clubs and extracurricular organizations that would love professional portraits. Another thing we added to our business is play posters for the drama club. These are a great fundraiser for the program. The school buys the posters at a discounted rate (we are still making a great profit) and sells them to the community. In addition, we have the opportunity to sell those photographs to the parents.
WHAT OTHER OFF-SEASON OPPORTUNITIES ARE THERE?
Another unique group of kids to photograph is the 4-H and FFA groups within your schools. We live in the birthplace of 4-H, Clark County Ohio. Every July hundreds of kids bring their projects to the fair to show and be
judged. We work with our FFA advisors to photograph the children with their animal and projects for thank you cards, sponsor banners, and fundraising letters. This is a really cool opportunity to see the kids show off what they have worked hard on all year.
At the end of the day, it really is all about creating and cultivating relationships with your existing customers. Just like you are involved in many groups, clubs and communities for both your business and your family. Every one of your customers are also involved in a lot of things, things that you can be a part of. As you photograph one event, remember you are also interviewing for the next gig. Don’t confine yourself to just baseball leagues.