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Selling the Future – Today

We face a big problem with what we sell.

When we market our photography, we tell people we’re capturing memories – but memories they’ll want to have later.  We’re essentially selling the future.  We’re telling them, “trust us, these are going to be important to you in a few years.”  “Trust us, your wedding photos will be priceless to you and your grandchildren.”  These things are all true, and resonate with many people – as evidenced by the “Letter on my Doorstep” post that ran through the photography community like wildfire.

But selling the future is tough.

First, people are absolutely terrible at predicting how they will feel about things in the future. 

We purchase things (a fancy TV, a BMW) thinking they will make us happy the whole time we own them, but the positive emotion dims faster than we think.  With very few exceptions, we inevitably get used to the items, and they start to not matter as much as the next purchase.  We tend to over-estimate the emotional impact of big things (thinking it would be absolutely horrible if we broke a leg, when we end up adapting and being okay with it), and seriously under-estimate the impact of little, consistent things (like how much we might value seeing images of loved ones every day).

We face some of the same issues as the life insurance industry – no one wants to pay for the future or for what “might” happen.  And when selling our services, we don’t want to be all doom-and-gloom – photos are happy things!  But the thought “your grandkids are going to want to see these images in 50 years” is not exactly the most rousing call to action the sales world has ever seen.

I’ve been mulling over this problem for awhile.  But yesterday, one brilliant solution popped up in my mini-feed.  Psychology for Photographers reader Carolyn Ann Ryan posted an incredible blog post that contained a letter a client had sent her one year after her session.  The client reflected on the canvas images she had purchased, and how they showed the continuity of her kids personalities and quirks, and the meaning the images had acquired with time.  It was a beautiful letter that gave me chills (isn’t this exactly what we want for people?), and I thought how lucky Carolyn was to have a client who took the time to write to her.  Not only to reaffirm the importance of her work, but also to show other people “the future” and the meaning photos will hold.

But then I realized – why couldn’t we all create a blog post like Carolyn’s?

Why can’t we email a few clients we served a year ago, and ask them to reflect on what their portraits have done for them in that year?

I’ve had several businesses email me and ask if I’d be willing to share with their other clients how I felt about their services, and I was more than happy to do so.  Life is busy, and we rarely take the time to tell people what they mean to us.  But when asked, we’re usually more than happy to help someone out who has provided us with a service we loved!

So, we may have a hard time selling the future, but the past is right at our fingertips.  To help prospective clients see what their photos might mean to them in a couple of years, why not write to a few former clients and ask how they’re doing now?  It will give you a chance to keep in touch with those former clients (who knows, they may be ready to book another session!), and also positively show prospective clients why it’s worth their time to have photos taken today.  Create a “where they are now” blog post, saying you emailed a few people to ask how they’ve been doing and how they’ve used their images, and share what they had to say.

A unique twist on ‘testimonials’ that can go a long way to helping people realize the value of photography – both now and in the future.



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  1. Allison on March 8, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    That is freaking brilliant. Kudos to Carolyn for having such a great client, and thanks for such a great idea!

    • Jenika on March 8, 2012 at 9:17 pm

      Amen! (By the way – LOVE your latest blog post title – that’s an eye-catcher, and funny too!)

  2. Becky on March 8, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    Want to hear something kind of creepy? I was JUST upstairs rocking my almost 2-year-old-son to sleep thinking about this very same topic. In my mind I was reminiscing about some of my favorite past pictures of him (like when he still had those big chubby baby cheeks that just hung off his face), and was almost overcome by emotion, thanking my lucky stars I at least had pictures to hold onto, as those cheeks are quickly fading. And then I came downstairs, quickly checked FB (yeah…procrastinating 😉 and saw this post. I absolutely love it. Every word is so so true. Thank you so much for putting into words what I was thinking. You have a gift, Jenika, not only with photography, but with your writing as well. Thank you for sharing that with the world. 🙂 It has been so inspiring as I start out on my own business adventure this year.

    And I agree with the above – kudos to Carolyn. What an awesome, awesome letter!

    • Jenika on March 8, 2012 at 9:15 pm

      Awww, I love thinking of you rocking the little guy to sleep. How very sweet. Thanks for sharing – I’m so glad you have those photos too, and that he’ll have them when he grows up! Thanks for your kind words Becky, I love hearing from you. Always glad to help in any way I can!

  3. Jocelyn on March 9, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    Oh, that is such a brilliantly simple idea. I am sending out those client emails THIS weekend!

    • Jenika on March 9, 2012 at 4:12 pm

      Way to be on top of it….let me know how it goes!! 🙂

  4. Alisha Norman on March 9, 2012 at 11:03 pm

    I really think you read my mind! I just finished a huge “Why You Need Prints” project and photographed it today. I spent hours going through my grandparents pictures and created a really neat project to write it around. I hope the post goes over well and we start getting more print orders.

    • Jenika on March 9, 2012 at 11:12 pm

      That sounds AWESOME Alisha!! Would you please come back and share the link with me? I’d love to see it!!

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