Youth sports photography is a vertical market in the volume photography industry with the potential to earn hundreds or thousands of dollars per hour. As a volume photographer, you probably photograph many sports leagues in your area. You have established strong relationships, delivered exceptional photos, and built a growing business. Now you are ready to take the next step and expand your business even more.
Becoming a league photographer can be pretty competitive, and in most cases, you must submit a bid to the association’s board to be considered. The committee will then weigh all the proposals and make their selection. To be chosen, your submission will need to be bulletproof.
In order to win the league’s business, what should your bid contain and what does the bidding process look like? Here are a few things you need to know.
Understand Your Clients and Their Needs
To wow your potential clients, you first need to know them. The internet and social media are great tools to locate and get to know the leagues in your area.
Once you identify the leagues, dive into their web and social channels to learn as much as possible about their size, leadership, and requirements for photography services. Pay special attention to the board members and learn as much as possible about them. You may uncover a mutual friend or interest that can help you establish a natural connection.
This potential connection and understanding of their league can make it easier to ask about any special considerations or expectations the league may have, including group discounts, specific photo packages, scheduling constraints, or fundraising. If you can’t find a connection, there is nothing wrong with cold-calling board members to learn more about their league and offer your exceptional services. It’s important to mention that many board members are un-paid volunteers and often work additional full-time jobs. Because of this, reaching out to them outside of normal office hours often yields your highest success rate. But remember to stay considerate of their time.
Solve Their Problems
Speaking with members of the league’s board is also an excellent opportunity to uncover challenges they may have faced with photographers in previous years. Maybe they were unhappy with the quality of the images, the logistics of picture day, or the overall selection of products families could purchase.
Social media is an excellent source of information too. Search out social media groups and hashtags associated with the league and review their activity around picture time to see if there are any recurring complaints or issues that parents experience.
If the parents find order forms inconvenient, show the organization how your solution is paper-free and contactless. If you use QR codes to connect customers to the gallery, show how seamless the process is for them to view and order right from their phones. Maybe you find that they didn’t like the backdrop last year’s photographer used. If you use knockouts and digital background options, demonstrate how photo buyers can mix and match poses and backgrounds when purchasing from your gallery.
Once you understand the pain points from past years, you can tailor your offering to address those challenges specifically. A photographer that pays special attention to improving and simplifying picture day for parents and league leaders is much more likely to receive strong consideration from the key decision makers.
Offer a Comprehensive Package
Each parent will view picture day with different expectations. While some just want digital downloads for easy sharing, others may seek a wide array of customizable gifts to delight family members throughout the year. Additionally, the youth sports league will likely have a minimum package, possibly even a list of packages you must make available, along with a fundraising expectation. It is crucial to fulfill as many of their wants and desires as you can reasonably accommodate.
Here are some things you may want to consider in your bid:
Multiple Shots: You can cater to the needs and preferences of family members by providing options like individual player portraits, action poses, team photos, black and white versions, silly poses, buddy shots, and more.
Photo Flexibility: Some parents may prefer digital downloads, while others may prefer physical prints. Ensure your proposal highlights you and your lab’s flexibility to satisfy all parents with a wide range of print sizes, specialty products, and gift options.
Customization: If you use a gallery software like PhotoDay that enables you to offer customization options like multiple backgrounds, personalized text, custom themes, retouching, and more, be sure to explain these options in your proposal.
Personalization: Team branding, logos, custom graphics, and personalizations like league names and years are always popular additions! Ensure the league knows your studio can provide the upgrades parents and athletes want.
Package Discounts: Offering a variety of packages are a great way to present bundled savings to customers while incentivizing them to purchase multiple products. Packages are ideal for families with multiple children in the league. Creating instant savings opportunities for families often results in them buying even more.
Online Ordering and Delivery: The process of ordering and delivering photos must be convenient and user-friendly. Make sure your proposal demonstrates your sales automations and addresses how you alleviate traditional league picture ordering and delivery hassles. Since 88% of all shoppers are purchasing from a mobile device, it’s imperative that your ordering site is mobile-friendly. Thankfully, PhotoDay makes this easy with our fast, secure, and premium mobile-first shopping environment.
Fundraising: Picture day commissions and fundraising are a vital source of revenue for youth sports leagues that are constantly faced with rising equipment and maintenance costs. Expect to return some of your proceeds to the association to cover operating expenses. Working closely with the league’s fundraising representatives is crucial to ensure your expectations are aligned. You want to support the league while maintaining a sufficient profit margin. For more education on negotiating mutually beneficial commissions and fundraising, check out our PhotoDay Academy course The Foolproof Guide to Contracts & Commissions.
Identify Opportunities to Stand Out
Winning a bid against a youth sports league’s existing photographer can be challenging. League boards will avoid change if they expect it to be difficult or time-consuming. Even if they are not 100% satisfied with their current partner, you will have to work extra hard to demonstrate how your experience, skills, and professionalism as a studio owner will make picture day and ordering simpler than ever before. This is where your research becomes valuable!
These are some areas where you can demonstrate how you are substantially more equipped to handle their business:
Photo Quality: The photo is the most important thing. Review the images the league has posted on social media and show how you can improve on them. If you have more updated equipment, modern editing styles, or more applicable experience, ensure the league knows about it. If you need some motivation or inspiration to level up your image quality, look no further than Jay Boatwright of smaX Photography. Jay has been a true pioneer in changing the consumer expectations of quality youth sports photography (check out PhotoDay’s interview and VoyageATL’s interview with him to learn more). He continues to educate photographers across the country on the latest in gear, posing, and lighting techniques twice a year through his workshop, Boatwright Bootcamp.
Fundraising Support: If your studio has a history of successful fundraising for leagues, share it! Ensure the decision makers know you understand how vital photo revenue is and demonstrate what you have done for other associations. Having tangible numbers and/or examples like replacing nets on soccer goals helps board members see real costs and revenues.
Marketing: Show how your marketing automation tools will remind parents that picture day is coming, encourage pre-sales, and continue sending reminders once the gallery is published. Clearly demonstrate how simple your ordering process is and the built-in upselling tools that will increase sales and drive revenue back to the league.
Variety of Photo Products: Providing a diverse range of photo products allows buyers to choose their favorite options. Show off the high quality items you can fulfill with your lab, like team graphics, magnets, trading cards, keychains, statuettes, banners, and more!
Additional Services and Benefits: Offering retouching, composites, custom themes, and backgrounds to your customers is a powerful way to demonstrate how much you care about getting the perfect photograph to an athlete’s family.
Excellent Customer Service: Reiterate your understanding that both the league’s board and the athletes’ parents are your customers. Thoroughly explain how your communication style will simplify picture day from the preparation phase until the last order is placed, and demonstrate the steps your studio will take to ensure everyone is happy with the entire picture process.
Avoid Competing on Price
Don’t charge less. Offer more.
Partnering with a youth sports league can be very valuable to your business, but only if you keep your profit targets in mind when providing your bid. You are demonstrating your expertise and capability to the leadership of the league. They should understand that experience and quality costs a certain price.
Unless you find that last year’s photographer was charging extremely high rates, it is best to differentiate yourself as a better photography company, not a less-expensive one. Rather than competing on price, you should compete on value.
You know you are bringing more to the table and will satisfy more parents than previous photographers. Ensure your proposal demonstrates that you do not intend to cut into your bottom line in the process.
Social Proof: Showcase Your Expertise
Winning these sports photography jobs involves leveraging your portfolio, referrals, testimonials, and networking opportunities. The power of your pitch and getting it in front of the right people will ultimately determine your success.
Here are some essential things to know to put your best foot forward:
Building a Portfolio
As a photographer, your portfolio is your resume. It showcases your skills, creativity, and ability to capture compelling images. To demonstrate your talent for capturing youth sports photography, your portfolio should show the following elements:
Variety of Shots: Demonstrate your versatility with various posing, including individual portraits, team photos, and strong examples of any other kinds of photography you offer.
Quality and Composition: Make sure your chosen images demonstrate your professional skills and knowledge of your craft. They should all be properly exposed, edited, well composed, and in focus.
High-Volume Capacity: The people reviewing your portfolio must be comfortable that you can handle a job at their league’s scale. When displaying photos, provide a synopsis of the league's size, the job's duration, and how your workflows added efficiency to picture day.
Creative Techniques: If you offer impressive post-processing and/or on-location techniques, share some before-and-after examples. This could look like creative composites, the use of powder or smoke, dramatic lighting, etc. Demonstrate your skills and build excitement for the finished product.
Ensure your portfolio covers the entirety of your offering. Make it flashy! Incorporating dramatic composites—whether your own creations or using templates from sites like 3rd Creative, Shirk Photography, and Ashe Design—will command the attention of the decision-makers.
There are numerous tools available that can help you step up your game and stand out from the competition with impactful photos. Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom will help expedite your post-processing and enable you to publish final images faster. Using AI editing, retouching, and background removal tools, like remove.bg, Pure Photos, Skylab, and PhotoDay also help you get the job done faster so you can deliver images while athletes are still playing ball and before the season ends!
Take full advantage of your best opportunity to show the board members tasked with choosing a photographer (who probably have family members in the league) that you do so much more than just take pictures. You create art that evokes memories.
The Power of a Referral
Referrals build trust and credibility. While it's effective for you to claim that you can perform a job successfully, it holds far greater weight when someone you've previously collaborated with vouches for you.
The best way to get referrals is to ask for them. Reach out to clients and customers you have worked with and ask them to document things like your professionalism and overall quality of services. Once you have referrals, use them! They are as valuable on your website and social channels as in your portfolio.
If you need help getting referrals, consider implementing a referral program that rewards past clients and customers for providing their feedback. Discounts, special offers, or additional products can all help you get the testimonials you need to establish your reputation further.
Timing matters; ask for the review once the job is completed. The fresher the experience, the better the review will be, and the higher chance you have to receive one.
Building a solid network is crucial for expanding your client base and establishing connections within the industry. Knowing the right people can significantly impact whether or not you win a youth league bid.
If you’re not sure how to start networking to grow your business, here are a few strategies:
Attend Sports Events and Conferences: Local events, tournaments, and conferences related to youth sports are great places to introduce yourself to league administrators, coaches, and parents.
Collaborate With Local Organizations: Offering smaller-scale services to local sports organizations, schools, or community centers can help you establish valuable connections and gain exposure to a broader audience.
Engage on Social Media: Connect with local leagues, coaches, and parents to share your work and insights that establish yourself as an expert in the field. You can easily find active discussions and hashtags with just a little research.
Professional Associations and Groups: Seek out and meet with organizations focusing on general and sports photography. You will get to know like-minded individuals, learn new skills in webinars and workshops, and stay updated on the industry's latest trends and best practices.
Consistency, professionalism, and a robust online presence are key to showcasing your expertise as a volume photographer. Keeping your portfolio updated, gathering positive testimonials, and proactive networking will ensure you are aware of and ready for any opportunity that comes your way.
Closing deals with youth sports leagues can be very lucrative. The bidding process may be fierce, but don’t let that hold you back. Now you have all the skills and strategies you need to build a stellar portfolio, find opportunities, and deliver a winning pitch. Get out there and take your volume photography business to the next level.