Recruiting seniors, What Not To Do.
In hindsight, there’s always a list a mile long of things we wish we would of thought of, considered, look into when starting! "If we had only thought about this, maybe we would be here?" Do you ever feel like that?
Early on, we knew we wanted to photograph seniors, but we weren’t always sure how to reach them. It had been 10+ years since one of us had been in high school and we didn’t really know any high school age kids, well we did, but we weren’t particularly close to them and didn’t exactly know how to connect with or draw them in.
I, Tash, had just come out of working in a non profit position that helped at risk youth get their GEDs and job training skills, but those young adults were NOT our demographic and senior photos were the furthest thing from their mind. The past work I had done was not going to lead to our ideal clientele.
Over time, we found our way, our niche and our strategy and it has worked for us, but not without making a few mistakes along the way.
Below, I want to share the Top 5 mistakes we made when we first started marketing to seniors.
Mistake #1: Failing to understand our demographics.
When we started marketing to seniors, we had no sense of the high school senior of 2010. Everything we did to attract seniors was based on our own experience as high school seniors, 10-12 years earlier. We had no sense of why seniors were getting senior pictures, or even the reason why seniors in our area would not only get pictures, but also value the senior portrait experience. Its impossible to market to a client if you aren’t completely sure if they are buying what you are selling – and if they do, what kind of experience they are willing to invest in. I think as entrepreneurs we feel because we see a solution to a problem that others should to, but some folks may not even be aware that there is a problem in the first place. The same goes for senior portrait experience. In our community, there was a lack of urban focused and inspired senior portrait work – we saw that and felt we were the solution, but if our seniors didn’t see it, there was no one to care about the solution to the problem.
An example: early on, when we were developing our street team program, we accepted boys. In theory that sounded great, until we realized that 1 in 10 high school boys wanted to have their senior pictures taken. We filled our senior model program with half boys who neither valued nor even cared to participate in the experience. This was both wasted energy, which cost us money and didn’t generate any leads for the future of our business.
Mistake #2: Relying on social media to be the strategy.
Social media is an incredible tool. At the time, when we were actively pursing seniors, only Facebook and Myspace existed. Today there is Twitter, Snap Chat, Periscope, Pinterest and Instagram – all with enough strategy and muscle behind them can be used to draw attention to even the most elusive seniors. Over the years, we put all of our eggs into the Facebook basket, until two seasons ago we started to realize that we were losing reach and that the majority of our seniors either didn’t have FB or hardly ever ventured on. We thought this was just a Facebook issue, but the truth is, this is a social media issue. Every senior has their top three social media platforms that they love – a combination of a mix of all of them- TRUST ME, I have asked and every time I ask I always get a mix of Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram or Instagram, Snap Chat, Facebook or Facebook, Twitter and Snap Chat. Depending on the season and the senior, you get different responses and takes on what is most popular.
What I wish I had done differently is established forms of contact separate from social media – annual events, monthly newsletters catered to young people, contests and giveaways, community service activities where young people are consistently in attendance, opportunities to touch in face to face. Social media is a wonderful tool, but I find our greatest impact comes from face time, it is where young people get a chance to interact with us and our brand and really make a connection to who we are and our experience in a real way.
Mistake #3: Failing to consider the parents (who have the money)
Let’s just keep in 100. In very rare cases are our seniors actually footing the bill for senior pictures. So as much effort as we put into marketing to and appealing cool to the senior, we need to also be considering the parent/ grandparent who might be paying for the service. Our first couple of years was about appearing “cool” to the senior and really drawing them in, but we failed to really make a connection to what this experience felt like for the parents who were paying for and trusting us to provide an experience. It was only after we became parents ourselves, and we took on more of a mentorship role with our street team girls that we really came to value the photographer/parent relationship, which is almost more important then the photographer/senior relationship, because that parent is the one that is actually keeping you in business. They are also the mouthpiece that is going to sing your praises and spread your brand to their friends who are also looking for quality experience.
Mistake #4: Collateral – doing things the way others did
We learned early on that just because so and so does it this way, doesn’t mean that it is what is good for our business. We can get so caught up in watching other photographers carry out their business/ programs a certain way and try to copy and paste that strategy to our own business, never considering their goals, their demographic or even their vision for their business, which could be completely different from yours.
Every product, every piece of gear, every action, every ________ insert the magical unicorn that might change your business, isn’t going to change YOUR business and it is so important that you really grow comfortable with understanding your goals, your mission and your people.
Example: Rep cards. Rep cards seem so simple and matter of fact and necessary. It’s a no brainer that you would order rep cards for your business because you have reps and that’s what you do, duh right?? Well, even thought we felt it didn’t fit our business model and was a waste of money, we felt the same way and spent HUNDREDS of dollars wasting time on rep cards that were never handed out, never returned back to us and found their way in the garbage can most days.
What did work for us?? T-shirts. A cool. Hip, fashion forward t-shirt that generated conversation every time one of our reps wore it. Something they were proud to wear, something that connected back to our brand! Needless to say, we do not do rep cards and we make sure every single #intsenior has our brand to wear in a tangible way, whether through t-shirt, back pack, temporary tattoo, bracelet or a framed picture of our logo! That makes more sense for our brand.
Mistake #5: Giving them everything up front instead of the alternative
Whether a client or a senior model- not trusting our product and giving it away for virtually free without considering the cost or our worth.
With our senior models, in the beginning, we would give everything up front – the shoot, the prints, the digital files in hopes that it would motivate them to perform for us.
For our clients, we had a session fee, and it included everything and the kitchen sink and ALL the food in the refrigerator. Running our business this way cost us not only time and money, but our own confidence in the work we produced and the money we could make.
Once we got smart and realized we could charge more, do in person sales and offer less but still provide an incredible experience – we moved to that and haven’t looked back!
This all might seem simple to you, but it was such a mystery to us when we were getting started.
We lacked knowledge of our client based and what was really going to make a difference in hooking them and engaging them with our business so that we could start to take senior pictures!
Over time, by applying what we learned above, we started to see results and we hope that you do too!
If you have any questions or comments about this blog, please feel free to leave them in the comments and we will be sure to reply back.
If you need additional resources to work with your high school seniors, please head over to the shop starting July 15th, 2016 ( We are launching a shop ya'll) and check out our many educational guides that will be available for sale!