Are you a Senior photographer? If so, then keep reading, because I’ve got one of the best here with me today to cover your questions on how to create a senior spokesmodel team. Hope Taylor is not only my current business coach and mastermind leader, but a wedding and senior photographer located in Charleston. One business fact that I can’t leave out is that she started her business just 17 years old. I know you’re gonna walk away with some golden nuggets!
Brooke: Hey, Hope thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us. Before we get going, I think it’s important that we paint the picture of how you evolved to where you are now. How did you become a senior photographer at 17 years old?
Hope: I began my business when I took a photo journalism class as a Sophomore in high school. I was only 16 when I took that class, which required me to get a DSLR camera. We got a used one on eBay for like 200 bucks. I took this class I loved photography, but it really wasn’t something that like lit me up.
When I was a sophomore, I worked at a local retail store making minimum wage and I was exhausted. I had always loved the idea of entrepreneurship and business. I really excelled at the photojournalism class the year before. The thought process was this: I enjoy photography and love business, so I need to get my camera back off the shelf. I pulled it out and started doing pictures for friends for fun. Then, it just snowballed and I started getting paid. I think the first time someone paid me was a senior client whose mom just gave me $50. I went from making $7 an hour to $50 in an hour. It eventually escalated to me quitting that part time job.
My senior year, I actually applied to seven universities. I was initially planning to go out of state for an art degree, but as my business continued to grow, I decided to commit to the university that was closest to home. This meant I could go home to shoot on the weekends and continue my business. I got about two weeks away from moving into college and decided to revoke my admission and go full time instead. I’ve been full time for eight years now, which is crazy. Since I started my business as Junior, the natural thing for me to do was to photograph my peers Senior portraits, so that’s what my business was built on. It’s the thing that I love the most out of everything I do.
Brooke: I love it! I think the most shocking was that you revoked your admission and went full time in your business. We all have this dream where we want to do that. What were signals that you could do it? Was it belief in yourself? Did you invest in education? Was somebody telling you to go for it? I want to know a little bit about what made you take the leap.
Hope: Basically, as a compromise with my parents, I decided I would stay home and do community college at the same time as my business. I did one semester of community college and I drowned. With a full course load in addition to, what was now truly, a full time business workload, I was having mental breakdowns all the time. I was maintaining good grades in my classes, but I was just so unhappy.
My dad and I sat down after that semester and tried to negotiate again. I told him that I had never done my business without school as my focus and I wanted to see what it would look like if I just had one semester off to focus on my business. I wanted to see if I could truly make a full time salary. Eventually, I got permission to take that one semester off.
I have never worked harder in my life. Basically I was proving to myself that I could totally make this a full time career. I was making enough money to have a full time income and truly had a nine to five work schedule. I wasn’t just sitting around doing nothing with my life like what my dad may have envisioned.
The two biggest indicators were that I was making enough money consistently and that I had bookings coming in consistently. I had a full schedule and wasn’t slacking. My schedule was truly the same number of hours as somebody would be with a full time career. I worked so hard during that semester off that I was able to go full time and never go back to school. Now my dad is like the most supportive man on the planet. That’s kind of how that unfolded.
Brooke: Perfect! How has your business evolved from when you first started dabbling into Senior photography with your peers to what it looks like to work with you now? I would love for you to paint that picture for us.
Hope: When I was first starting out, I was shooting pretty much every day and working for a very low price. O would charge anywhere from $150 to $200 per session, which included the digital files. I truly believe that I was making myself appear to be in demand. 60% of the time I did shoots for free and then 40% of the time I charged a very low price. I just worked my butt off to refine what the process looked like.
A year after I decided to go full time, I got a studio space in the downtown area where I lived. I had this very sought after Senior experience in my area. It was called The Senior Styling Studio and I partnered with local boutiques who provided clothing and accessories for my seniors to wear at their sessions. My clients got to come the day of their shoot and ‘shop’ for their outfits.
Then, they were able to wear the clothes for free during the shoot, and I got to send those pictures to the boutiques. I had this amazing client experience for my Seniors for a $600 to $700 investment per person. I loved it! Then, when I relocated to Charleston, I slowed down the photography side of my business, so I’m shooting four to five seniors a month, during busy season, for about $800 to $900 per session. It no longer includes the styling experience, because that was very specific to my studio and where I lived before.
Brooke: I already heard that you basically set your client experience apart. You mentioned your client experience time and time again. I think that’s what you have to do in order to stand out. I want to know, how can senior photographers, who really want to go all in with their seniors, start making their business stand out using a spokesmodel team? What is it? How do we get one? What’s the purpose? I want all the nitty gritty.
Hope: When I was photographing seniors to the degree that I was before, it was the heartbeat of my business. I wanted to set myself apart by implementing a spokesmodel program to make myself appear to be crazy in demand.
It really all goes back to client experience. I wanted my clients to have something more than just their images to be excited about. I wanted to build a community of people who would rave about their experience with me and market me online. Client experience is the number one thing that grew my photography business.
My very first team was six girls and had one girl from each of the local high schools. Essentially a spokesmodel team is a group of high schoolers that represent your business for their Senior year. They have incentives that they get for being on the team including things like free shoots, group events and free images. Then, I require them to share on social media, refer their friends to me, show up to events, and prep for their shoots. There’s so much that goes into this process. Essentially, I had the girls apply to be a part of the program to make it feel like a very exclusive, exciting program.
Brooke: Oh my gosh, sign me up. That sounds amazing! Is there a fee to be on your spokesmodel team?
Hope: I am so glad you asked, because this is the biggest thing I did wrong in the beginning. At the end of my first year of having a spokesmodel team, I felt resentful, because I put so much time and energy into the team and got very little return monetarily. I’m very much a businesswoman and entrepreneur and so I always want to make sure that I’m making smart investments in my time.
I just felt really frustrated because I poured everything into this first spokesmodel team, but I didn’t charge a fee up front and ended up feeling resentful, and frustrated and not enjoying the process. One of the biggest changes I made, that I think everybody should do, is adding a fee to be on the team. The fee is the equivalent to the cost of one full senior session with me, so they’re essentially paying for one senior session, but getting 10 times more than that through spokesmodel program. I am essentially paid for their senior pictures, so that’s how I rationalize the amount of time I pour into these girls.
Brooke: Okay, I love it. At what point do we start recruiting for future seniors? If somebody has a heart for teenagers and wants to dabble in Senior photography, how do they start today? What does their plan need to be?
Hope: This is a great question. I wanted to recruit these girls before everybody in their mom was recruiting their girls, so I started the process during the winter of their junior year. If I was recruiting girls, for class of 2022, I would be starting to recruit them in December of 2020 and they would become seniors in the spring of 2021. And then they would graduate summer 2022. They will have spent almost a year and a half in total on my team. So I like to launch applications during December or January of their junior year.
Then, we have our meet and greet event March or April of their junior year. Then, we start working together over the summer, so they’re going into their senior year with digital images to share. They’re already marketing about me before they even go into their Senior year. There’s some strategy behind that. I recommend launching applications as early as you can, but it doesn’t have to be as early as me. I would say at the latest opening applications in March or April of their junior year is ideal. The goal is to do the first shoot with the team before their Senior year, so they have marketing materials before they dive into their actual senior year.
Brooke: Okay, so so good! What does marketing for this look like? I am going to bet you don’t throw this up one time and then have 100 applications in the next five days. So, what does marketing look like for you?
Hope: I primarily market on social media. I don’t do any type of email marketing or any paid advertising for my spokesmodel program. Instagram has always been my biggest platform. For my spokesmodel team, I’m focusing on Instagram and Facebook. I talked about it on social media until I feel like I was so annoying. I talk about it nonstop. It’s on my stories, in my feed, on Facebook and on YouTube. I literally talk about it anywhere and everywhere the entire time the spokesmodel applications are open.
The biggest thing I hope everybody walks away with from this is if you are doing something in your business that you’re excited about, do not stop talking about it because you feel annoying. Talk about it, because you’re proud of it and want people to see it. In reality, if you talk about it 20 times, there’s probably only going to be two people that see it all 20 times. Everybody else is just going to see it once or twice.
Brooke: Senior photographers, I hope you’ve taken notes. There’s so much more Hope can teach you about spokesmodel teams and your business in general, I promise! Hope, where can they follow along with you get connected? then also give us verbally the link for them to grab the spokes spokes model application for free?
Hope: Instagrams the best place to follow me @hopetaylorphotography. I also have a Hope Taylor YouTube channel where I post weekly videos for senior photographers and entrepreneurs. That’s a great place to go too!
Brooke: Hope, this has been so much fun! Thank you for joining me.
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