007. Why Model Calls Don’t Work For a Photography Business and What to Do Instead
A boudoir model call is a marketing strategy that started several years ago, and it’s REALLY popular in the boudoir world. I’ve seen other types of photography niches adopt versions of it as well. While I understand the reasoning behind it, I personally think there are much better, and more genuine ways, to grow your business than this strategy.
My experience with boudoir model calls
The first, last, and only time I ever tried this model call strategy was when I had literally just signed the lease on my studio in St. Louis. I wanted to fill my portfolio with real women and make some real money.
This boudoir model call strategy was all over my Facebook ads, other Facebook groups, and I was constantly hearing the word “model call.” So, obviously, I felt like this was the ONLY strategy that was going to work.
I announced that I was running a model call, had a few applicants, and scheduled their sessions. Only two sessions actually show up. Both sessions had a great experience, and “purchased” an album on a payment plan. Six years later, guess how much has been paid towards their albums?
I chalked it up to a GREAT learning experience. I now know:
- What kind of marketing strategy I will never run again. I felt so gross using these boudoir model calls.
- How to take payment plans. You know, so I actually GET PAID now.
- How to run my ordering sessions. I made a few mistakes that I was able to adjust for real clients later on.
Let’s talk about exactly how a model call works.
I’m going to explain this as a boudoir model call since it was originally designed as a way for boudoir photographers specifically to grow their business. It’s “a way to grow your portfolio or change it up”, but in reality it’s just a way to get clients interested in your services.
Honestly, I would call it a photography flash sale or even a “quick cash grab” because that’s what it is. It’s a dollar amount off of the photo session total disguised as a model call to make clients feel special.
The idea is to get the potential client in the studio, have them fall in love with their images and the experience, and become emotionally attached to their images so they end up purchasing more than what they expected.
These women apply to become a model, and most photographers accept all models. Most models understand that the images will be used for advertising purposes, so they know they have to sign the release, but there’s always a catch.
How the model calls are run may vary.
Everyone runs their model calls differently, but there is always something for free. The way I was taught was it was the session fee, hair and makeup, and maybe a print credit.
There’s no obligation to purchase, but we all know that for $100 in most photography studios, you will get barely more than one image. If they want more than what was initially offered, then they have to purchase.
Even though it’s a good way for women to experience what you offer without committing to more, it’s also a way to trick women into purchasing more.
…And that’s when I got that icky sleazy feeling.
It feels deceptive.
You’re advertising this cool thing for women to do. They feel special because they get to be a model. In reality, it’s just a want to get warm bodies in front of your camera, and hopefully make some quick money.
What ends up happening is, if you weren’t absolutely clear on this agreement, you get a studio full of upset clients.
Humans, in general, only hear what they want to hear and read parts of contracts, so they will likely be more than surprised when they find out they’re going to have to pay for their gorgeous images.
A boudoir model call is also a recipe for no shows.
A boudoir model call is a recipe for no shows. When someone has no skin in the game, no money on the line, they are far more likely to no show.
And who wants to hold a session for someone who may or may not show up?
In 2022, I’ve been experiencing very unreliable clients. Even if they pay their session fee, some STILL won’t show!
A few of my coaching clients have experienced the same thing, which is why I have created a breakout session in my 2022 cohort of the TLC Boudoir Photographers Mastermind specifically creating step-by-step strategies to prevent this from happening again.
This program is only open two times a year, typically in January/February and July/August.
I don’t want a client list of deal seekers.
I’m here for long term sustainability, and a client list of deal seekers is not going to lead to the sustainable freedom I’m always talking about.
What it will lead to is headaches, problem clients, and burnout really quickly due to the amount of sessions you have to photograph in order to meet your salary goals.
I’ve had several clients actually try model calls, and what I’ve seen is how their sales averages, which is what they make PER client… is actually far lower than what it is with non-model call clients. This means their time would be better spent working on finding more of these non-model call clients with strategies that actually work.
Let’s talk about these anti boudoir model call strategies.
Finally, we get to talk about the strategy part of the podcast!
1. Skip the FB ads and still book clients.
I actually created a PDF download of this strategy called, 5 steps to skip Facebook ads & still book your ideal clients. Get it here!
2. Annual Sales strategy
I’ve been running annual sales in my boudoir photography business since Memorial Day 2017. I run 2 per year – one Black Friday and one Memorial Day weekend. I chose those days specifically because they are 6 months apart, and so I can fill my slow months of the year quickly.
Annual sales are very different from a boudoir model call or even flash sales. You know what a model call is by now, but what is a flash sale? To me, it’s a quick cash injection in your business which you run when business is slow.
The way I view annual sales is that they’re just a strategy to nudge your already warm audience into booking a session. With my annual sale strategy, 80% of my bookings come from my email list specifically with a few stragglers coming from social media. We will go through this email marketing strategy in more detail in #3.
If you want the nitty gritty of how the sales are run with step-by-step instructions, well this is a breakout session in my upcoming TLC Boudoir Photographers Mastermind.
3. Email marketing
Email marketing is great for nurturing leads into clients. What you’re doing is just giving them ALL the information they need to follow through and book a session.
It’s not sales-y or sleazy. In fact, if you follow my strategy, you only mention sales 1-2 times per year at most. The rest of the time, you are simply emailing them with helpful tips that they truly need to know in order to actually book a session with you.
You can talk about things like:
- Session prep
- Past clients
- Where to get a spray tan
- Where to shop
- What if they’re ont heir period during the session?
This strategy is covered in my TLC Photography Marketing Course. I make it simple and easy to understand. I even give you the literal template I still use to write my own blogs BEFORE I ever post them.
4. Mini sessions as a marketing strategy
I love working with other businesses to develop relationships and grow my business.
When I first moved to St. Louis in 2016, I started working with a fitness studio specializing in pole dancing. They’re awesome, by the way, and have expanded all throughout the city. If you’re in St. Louis, they are called Pink Lemon.
Why I really love working with fitness studios, in regards to these mini sessions, is that their clients are already in the habit of purchasing and joining their group programs, so the mini session signups are a no brainer for them.
What I did was have this fitness studio advertise and book the mini sessions for me. Then, we split the session fee for each person who signs up.
And you’re probably wondering, what’s in it for me and how am I making money here if I’m giving half of the money away for the work I’m doing?
Well for one, you’re doing NONE of the marketing. The fitness studio is. They’re booking their own clientele, and yes, it’s a fun thing for their members and gives them a goal to work towards so they really show up for their workout classes. But also, they ARE doing part of the work and letting you use their audience. They deserve payment as well.
Plus, you’re gonna make money on the backend.
What’s better, six years later, I still book sessions from working with Pink Lemon YEARS ago! That’s the definition of long term sustainability.
These mini sessions can be used as marketing tools, and you don’t even have to do the work to book them. You just need to show up and give these mini sessions a shortened, but amazing experience, in front of your camera.
5. My TLC Bridal fair Strategy
My number one priority when I’m at a bridal fair, or any type of vendor show, is collecting emails. As I’ve said, I know if I can get qualified leads on my email list, then I can turn them into clients.
My very favorite thing about booking a bridal show in particular, though, is that the show will typically give you the email list from every bride who signed up for the show.
Even though I definitely want to collect emails the day of the bridal fair, I’m more than happy to bank on the email list AFTER the show. That’s when I KNOW, without a doubt, I will book sessions.
That being said, for now, my biggest recommendation is to automate as much as you can.
- QR codes. Use them for giveaway sign up AND as a way to book a session AT the show so you don’t have to have paper signup forms.
- Bring a friend. These are very long days. Bring a friend to help you through it and pay him or her well.
- Be on brand. Your booth needs to be on brand and catch the attention of your ideal client
- Host a giveaway. Make sure it’s something that will make you money later. Do NOT give away an entire session AND an album.
Be sure to tune into episode 009 for more details about what to do and what not to do at a bridal fair. I’m also telling you how exactly I booked 17 sessions at a bridal fair… and what I will do differently next time.
Be true to YOU.
I want to encourage you all to think beyond a boudoir model call when you’re thinking about marketing strategy and booking photography clients. Model calls are not sustainable strategies for growing a healthy photography business.
Take these strategies and implement what you feel aligns with your business and how you want to work personally. If you don’t want to work with brides, don’t book a bridal show. If you don’t work with clients who are interested in fitness, don’t booking mini sessions with a fitness studio.
Be true to you and your business.
I want you to know we can all fall victim to things that may not work for us, and we all work differently. Some may love the hustle of social media while some of us would rather only hop on if it feels good for us at the time.
I never want you to feel like I’m saying that everything I’m talking about is absolutely what you have to do. It’s actually the opposite. I’m giving you strategies and tips, but I ONLY want you to implement what feels good and makes you happy.
Remember your business can be whatever you want it to be. You don’t need to be a replica of me. In fact, and I’m sure Tome would agree, one of me is enough for the world.
Are you a boudoir photographer ready to hit your first six-figures?
I’ve created a guide that helps you spot-check your boudoir business and hit your big business goals in the next twelve months. This is the literal strategy I used in my business to make sure I was on the right track! And it’s super digestible in PDF form.
Five Targets To Spot-Check In Your Boudoir Business This Year
Tracy Lynn is a boudoir photogapher for brides-to-be in the St. Louis area, and a mentor + coach for photographers looking to level up their businesses with better systems and processes.