Also quickly becoming a requirement for studios in the 21st century is the ability for clients to proof and purchase their photos online. Free services such as Facebook and Flickr can provide some utility, but they lack the tools of the professional e-proofing providers who specialize in services for professional photographers.
What to Look For:
A good e-proofing provider will help to streamline your workflow and minimize the amount of time you need to spend on administrative tasks, allowing you to concentrate on shooting and working with your clients. E-proofing providers often go beyond online proofing to also provide: a basic profile that can act as a website for your business, marketing automation, customer relationship management tools, and online ordering for friends and families. If you use your e-proofing provider effectively, you should see both increased profits and more free time even accounting for the costs of the services.
E-proofing services often seem expensive at first, but it's important to factor in the increased sales to clients that such convenience will encourage, as well as the new sales to friends and family that may not have occurred with more manual ordering processes. Often, even a single extra sale can cover the costs of e-proofing for an event.
All e-proofing providers will charge a percentage commission on online sales, usually ranging between 9% and 15%. Nearly all providers, especially those with commissions under 15% will pair that fee with either an overall monthly fee or upload and storage fees for individual sessions. Be sure to take the time to compare the actual costs; monthly fees can seem like a good deal at first, but the cost per session can be higher than more piecework structures and can represent a sizable risk for new businesses with few certain bookings. View this spreadsheet to compare costs.
These costs are highly variable, and dependent upon the success of an event and the number of sales funneled through the online interface, making it difficult to provide actual predictions. However, as of the time of this writing, e-proofing costs for an average session, including commission on sales, should run approximately $6-$8 for a portrait session or $50-$60 for a wedding; more for highly successful events. A good e-proofing solution should increase sales by more than enough to account for those costs, while providing a valuable service to your clients.
Costs include not just hosting your galleries online and providing a way for visitors to purchase photos, but also cover credit card processing fees, a secure certificate for online ordering, order submission to the lab, order tracking, and often a variety of other online tools designed to help run your business.
How to Use the Service
As your website is the center of your online presence, the event page provided by your e-proofing provider should be the center of your shoot's online presence. Traditionally, a photography shoot, whether for a family portrait or a wedding, centered on just the client. However, e-proofing gives you the ability to build an entire short-lived community including all of the event participants. Use this to drive both sales and future bookings.
Most providers provide a way for visitors to store favorites and leave comments on photos. Not only does this provide valuable feedback to you as the photographer, but conversations can drive interest and excitement, prime components of impulse sales. Encourage online interaction when speaking to guests.
Clients can act as a conduit for this sort of marketing if your e-proofing provider allows them to keep a blog for the event. This is especially valuable for weddings where the bride and groom just love to talk about their plans. By integrating their blog with your sales gateway, you establish it as the event's official online presence in the guest's minds.
Make sure you use your e-proofing provider to its fullest by printing business cards for each event. Give a small number to clients at portrait sessions that they can hand out to friends and family. At weddings, reception halls will often allow the photographer in early to shoot establishing shots. Ask the reception coordinator, as well as the couple, and both will often be more than happy to allow you to place cards at each place setting, or in a stack near the guestbook. As your costs for e-proofing are often the same regardless of how many guests login, maximize profits by sending as many as possible.
Remember that this is your business, and e-proofing providers, like other B2B services, are there to support you. There is no single set way to use e-proofing, and you should work it into your process flow in the way that is most comfortable for you. Some photographers never meet with a client again after the shoot, handling all of their affairs online. Others prefer to hold the online event until after the review session, maintaining their current real life interactions and using the e-proofing as a backup for prints that were forgotten in the first pass.
Research e-proofing providers thoroughly, and don't be afraid to try a few different providers out with a few events each. Many will be happy to give you a free trial.