The Business Of Children’s Portraits

Judy Host ( only started her business 12 years ago but today you can find her working either in the home of a celebrity creating her award-winning portraits or in Africa documenting conditions in Rwanda and Uganda. By the time you read this, she may be in Ghana and Kenya or traveling to Cape Town, South Africa. Photography is actually Host's second career (she worked in the banking business for 20 years) and when she turned to her passion, it turned out to be working with families and children.

Host is also very dedicated to helping children and in September 2005 helped launch the website "Project to End Poverty." With her heart-appealing portraits of the children at risk (you can find the link on her website) Host intends to make a difference--not just in the lives of her clients but in the world. The "Project to End Poverty" will fully launch in 2006 with a line of products with profits directed back into job opportunities and poverty relief--especially for children. She got involved when founder Lawrence Koh saw an ad Host had placed in CA Image four years earlier.

All Photos © 2005, Judy Host, All Rights Reserved.

Despite her busy schedule, Host continues to teach. She is also a member of Professional Photographers of America, from whom she holds a Masters and Craftsman degree. She addressed the Professional Photographers of California/Western States Convention in 2005, and will travel to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, in 2006 to present to the Professional Photographers of Canada.

Starting out in her own neighborhood, Host advanced in her new career very quickly. Because so many of the photographers I meet in my own workshops have the same beginnings as Host's business, I was curious to ask her about her business and marketing approach that have made her a success today.

Shutterbug: What is your current marketing plan to bring in children's portrait assignments? You seem to use a lot of networking and referrals. What about direct mail?

Judy Host: I started mailing for my Baby Program portrait session package about nine years ago. I mail out 50-70 cards a month. I only mail out one time to a customer and it is more invitation than hard sell. The card is a beautiful watercolor of a baby and introduces the program. They can check out my website prior to calling. I prefer to talk price on the phone, before meeting with them. That way, when they come to my studio, they are ready to book a session. The rate of return is over 1 percent. Only one new client is needed to cover the cost of the mailing, including the cards, but it also gives me a chance to build a long-term relationship with that client (SB note: and these relationships build repeat business). I've designed my business this way because I prefer to do less for more.

SB: Where do you recommend photographers shop for targeted mailing lists such as the one you use for your Baby Program? Also, do you design and produce your own mailers?

JH: I designed and wrote my own marketing program--the card is produced by Jonathan Penney in New York. We wrote the inside copy explaining my Baby Program (a series of three sittings) and it is mailed out when the baby is about 3 months old. It truly is designed as an invitation and is hand addressed with a live stamp. I buy from an outside list based on zip codes and birth dates; I use List Service Inc., a compiled list service.

SB: What other marketing tools are important to build your business?

JH: My website is changed usually every two years. I get wonderful feedback on it, so I know I'm moving in the right direction. The balance of my business is strictly referral. I joined a small business networking group several years ago. It keeps me in touch with what is happening in my community and has been a wonderful source of referrals. A lot of my work is showcased in the local businesses and my name has become recognizable. I also donate my work to the local school charity auctions and this has become another great source of referrals.