From my experience, these things will help you be successful with a Groupon:
* I think you have to be a general portrait photographer to make this work – if you only want to do weddings or commercial then the groupon won’t work. Also, if your deliverables require heavy photoshop work then I’d really think twice about this. You are going to get a lot of customers which will require a lot of work with not much money up front.
* You have to be open minded – this is actually pretty important. I told myself before the ad launched that I would be willing to say “yes” to what ever showed up (as long as they had clothes on). And I got all sorts of requests that were beyond my child and family photography experience. Pets, professional head shots, engagements, parties and its only been a few months. Personally I love the challenge and the experience, but I could see this being a real problem for a photographer with a specific market or looking to go into a specific market. I never lied to customers when they asked about my experience. If hadn’t previously done what they were asking for, I told them so. And I said that if they liked my family and children portraits then chances are they would like my results. So far that approach has worked well.
* Have to be full time - No way to rely only on weekends to shoot that many sessions. You can give your self more time by extending the expiration date. I went with a 7 month time-line because I wanted to work hard for that amount of time and build clients for the fall and holiday season.
* Keep the offer simple – the more you offer the more customers you will get. Common groupons include an hour photo session plus 3 hi-res files, 1-2 8x10s, or CD of files (hi 0r low res). I went with a CD of low res/72 dpi files. Easy to process and I can actually email them rather then sending a CD. Does require explaining what 72 dpi means in terms of printing but I thought it was a good middle grown. Plus it was simple – rather than going back and forth about what image the customer wants, I can email all 20-30 that I deliver. I sold 150 groupons. Photographers with a bigger portfolio or that offered more received 400-900 clients. Definitely figure out what you can and can’t deliver on before signing up.
* When the groupon runs, have a very visible “Groupon q&a” on your site. Answer in advance as many questions as you can think of. You can look at the comment sections of other photo related groupons to see the type of questions people ask. Also – make sure you say “Once you get your Groupon – contact me even if you don’t have a date in mind.” A good number of groupon are never redeemed and while you get paid if the groupon is redeemed or not, unused groupons do you no good. You won’t get their email address from Groupon so having them contact you is in your best interest.
* Need to get your back-office processes in place – this is crucial. That means looking at your contact management system, your contracts, your website, your image processing, your image delivery, and your sales process. The actual shooting will be the easiest part. Managing it all takes something. The question you should ask yourself is can your current system manage 100′s of calls and clients? My answer was a great big no in November. I went with ShootQ.com for my office management because it allowed me to manage contracts electronically and help me implement best practices in my post shoot work flow. For my gallery and printing, I went with Smugmug.com and Bay Photo – both are strong services with great customer service. At this point its fair to say that I would have gone crazy and lost many clients if I didn’t have these systems in place. There are other services of course but definitely make sure those systems are easy to use and can manage hundreds of shoots and relationships. The hair on your head will depend on you taking this seriously.
* Shoot location – I don’t have a studio and do all my portrait sessions on location. San Francisco is small enough that I can get most everywhere in the city limits within 30 minutes. Again with simplicity in mind, I said I’ll meet customers anywhere in the city and charge an extra $50 for travel out side of the city. Other groupon photogs either shoot in a studio or limit locations to 5-10 specific places. What ever you choose, just make sure it works for you.
* Sales process – you need something beyond sending people a link to an online gallery. Doing that will neither help your sales nor really serve the clients. They after all responded to the groupon and weren’t necessarily looking for a photographer when they woke up that morning. Having a follow-up session helps build a better relationship between you and the clients. You can answer questions about the photos and the various print mediums. For most of my clients, I meet with with at their home a week or two after the shoot. I either show the photos on a laptop, their computer or if they have one, a flat screen TV. I also bring sample prints that show different sizes and print types – from a 4×6 glossy to a 24×36 canvas. Again more work, but people really appreciate the extra effort. Of course, if I had a studio I would do this process there.
* Figure out ways to stay sane – you will be working a ton and burnout will be a very real possibility. You want to figure out ways to keep you energy up and health intact. I joined a bootcamp and get up each morning at 6 to have somebody tell me to run up hills. You also want to keep pushing your creativity. Shooting this much will give you an opportunity like no other to improve your photography but you can easily fall into a rut and get massively frustrated. This is a great time to take a class or join a photography club. I really had problems with this after 6-8 weeks of shoots 6-10 sessions a week. Recently I set aside Wednesday afternoons for practice sessions and that has made a huge difference. I’m also active with the San Francisco Smug Mug user group and am organizing critique groups. You need something like to keep the creative juices flowing.
Wow – this ended up being longer than expected. But I think that is one of the big benefits of using Groupon – it is an incredible learning experience. Nothing like a tidal wave of on-the-job training.