Interested in starting up or improving your own Senior Model Program?
Our friend and pro photographer Jenn Lewis wrote this amazing article that breaks down how she plans, grows, and implements her ridiculously successful senior model program.
This article was originally published in September of 2016, but we felt like it was time to bring it back! All of the information in here is excellent and still holds true – we hope you can take away a strategy that works for you in building your senior portrait business in the new year.
Let’s chat senior model programs. This is a subject that I get questions about often, and I’ll share with you what I’ve learned so far. I’m not an expert, and different things work for different people, but at least you can learn from my mistakes. :) You want to have a plan in place before you start taking applicants, so you’ll need to decide what the expectations are on both sides of this agreement.
Have you tried a senior model program before? Or does just the thought of it give you anxiety? We’ll break it down into easy steps.
Let’s go over the who, what, when, why, and how. We’ll start with the “Why?” because if you don’t know why, you may not see a need to read til the end. So...
Why should you have a senior model program?
Most photographers see a senior model program as a way to reach high school students. A lot of us are well beyond high school age, and it gets a little harder to connect with them. You may not have a senior business yet at all, and you want to reach those clients. Or maybe you photograph a few seniors each year, but you want to build your senior business, possibly even specialize. (This was my personal motivation for beginning my senior model program. I am also a wedding photographer, and I wanted some of my weekends back!). Or maybe you have a strong senior business, but sometimes you just want to try something new and different, and you’d love to have models to experiment with new techniques. These are great reasons to start a program!
They need to be active on social media. They need to be friendly and outgoing. They need to be involved in activities… whether that’s the football team or the debate team… you want to have models to represent all the students you’d like to photograph. Some photographers limit the number of students to represent each school. Some only take students from certain schools in their area.
These are things you’ll want to decide before you start. I have the seniors fill out an application, including their social media info, so I can make sure that they’re someone I’d like to have representing me and my business. We’ll talk more about the application in a bit.
There should be benefits to both you and the senior. My senior models pay a fee to be in the program… $195 covers their full Senior Experience Session including hair and makeup. People don’t usually value what they receive for free. This program fee pre-qualifies your models. They also receive print credit to use at their ordering session, a custom app so they can show off their favorite photos to their friends (this replaces rep cards – they never hand those out, they’re always on their phones!), as well as fun team shoots and activities throughout the year with extra social media photos from those. And of course, since they’re representing my business with the goal of bringing me new clients, they have the opportunity to earn cash with each referral.
Some photographers offer senior models the opportunity to earn products, and while I’ve tried that in the past, it didn’t work for me. I’m sure that wasn’t the only thing wrong with my old program, but I’ve found that generally, since the parents are paying for the prints and products anyway, the seniors don’t care if it saves them money. Cold hard cash is always a motivator. :)
Also, the senior they refer will get a print credit for their own shoot when they mention the model’s name upon booking. (Of course, you need to make sure you’re charging enough to sustain a business, especially if part of that business is paying for referrals. But hey, pricing is a whole different article.) I specifically tell my seniors that I don’t want them “selling” to their friends. Most of them would be terrible salespeople anyway. All I want from them is to come have fun at the shoots and events, and they will naturally talk about it. Teenagers don’t want to be sold to. But they do like to have fun!
I have my seniors credit me on any reposts on their social media accounts, and they’re great about doing that! I mentioned earlier about doing team shoots and events throughout the year. There are a few reasons to do this… it gives us a fun way to get to know each other and create relationships (and this business is ALL about relationships!), get some fun individual and group shots to post on social media and create some buzz, and it gives me a chance to do something for them that they’ll definitely tell their friends about! Not only do we have team shoots, but last year I threw them a Halloween party and a Christmas party. It only cost me some pizza, snacks, and time. I had them invite friends, we had some music going, a photobooth set up (of course!), and everyone had a great time. I was in a lot of their snapchats those nights. :) This year’s team is super excited for the parties!
Most of us begin advertising for applicants in late winter when the kids in our next group are still juniors. However, I get the buzz going well before that. I also photograph tweens (10-15 years old), so I have quite a social media following from the tweens I’ve photographed and a lot of their friends. I already know who a few of my senior models will be through the class of 2019. My current senior model team will help me choose the model team for next year also. I respect and trust their opinions!
So you know who you want to find, when you want to find them, and what to do when you get them… but HOW do you find them? Social media. Specifically Instagram (well, currently as of this writing. They’re teenagers. It could change tomorrow.) You should begin with any juniors you already know… maybe you have a sister or a cousin or a friend’s kid who might be interested in helping you get the word out about your awesome new model program.
You only need one connection on IG to help you get started. Then you begin stalking them. #kiddingnotkidding. Where you find one junior on Instagram, you will find hundreds (seriously, check the comments and likes on their photos). If you follow them, they will typically follow back. (I don’t follow teenagers with private accounts unless they follow me first.) Then you need to get their attention. To do this, POST AWESOME STUFF. I shoot and post things that will stand out from the competition. If you have senior images from the past, post your best. If you haven’t photographed seniors before, post the best and closest thing you have. (They will relate to engagement photos more than toddlers.) Once you have gained a following and gotten their attention and “likes”, begin posting about your exclusive new senior model team that you’re accepting applications for. Let them know a few of the benefits, then link the application.
I love my Photobiz website for this! Among a ton of other awesome features, they have built-in forms (yay!) with a very organized way of keeping all of your submissions, contact info, and “conversations” easy to find and use. My application asks a lot of “getting to know you” type questions. I also ask for their IG username so I can check out their posts. You can tell a lot about a teenager by their social media posts. You may find that there are some kids you don’t want representing you or your business. You can leave your application open for a pre-determined set amount of time, or you can leave it open until you feel like you’ve received enough applicants. I do have the program cost as well as the benefits listed on the application so that it pre-qualifies my applicants.
When I’ve closed the application, I set up informational meetings for the kids to attend with a parent. I go over all the information with them, answer questions, show them product samples, and have agreements for them to sign if they decide to join the team.
It’s at this meeting that their parents see the product menu for the first time also. I do have “average spent” amounts on my website, but this is the time they’ll see detailed pricing. I don’t require a minimum order from my seniors or senior model team. If I do my job correctly, I don’t need to enforce a minimum. I do “lose” some kids because of pricing, but I’m okay with that. Not everyone is my client. You’ll want to accept more than you expect to have on the team, as it’s unlikely that everyone you accept will commit.
I absolutely adore the kids on my senior model team. They’re smart, they’re funny, and they’re sweet. Teenagers get a bad wrap, but I have always had super fun seniors, and I’m so thankful for that. I know I’ll miss them when they head off to college next year, but all of my past seniors know that even when they go off to school, at some point during the year, I’ll usually show up on a Saturday and take them all to lunch. After all, it’s all about relationships.