Deal Sites: Are They Worth It For Photographers?

As some of you may be aware, I'm "that" photographer.  The one who you see running promotions on deal sites occasionally.  You know them, you love them...we all love saving money.  Well, I've been approached so many times with the same questions about these deal sites, their pros and cons, how they work exactly, but more importantly, how they could possibly work for photographers.  EEEEEK!!!

Are Deal Sites like Groupon and LivingSocial for Photographers| WhirlieGirl Photography

As some photographers do...I put this post on the back burner for quite a long time, meaning to get back to it over and over again.  I have been seeing this topic pop up more and more lately, so this sparked a fire in me to finally finish this post and add some of the most frequently asked questions that I get on this topic, as well as some of the most frequently tossed the hopes of education ALL of you, both photographers AND clients on just how these deal sites work - and how they don't.

So, this is a pretty huge topic and I'm almost unsure where to begin!!  So, I'll explain why I began running promotions on these sites...let's call them DealSite 1 and DealSite 2,  in the first place.  I began my business in 2011 (thank you Business Degree) with the desire to become the first and hopefully only boudoir specific photography studio in Southwest Florida...mission accomplished!  For the first few months, I did what most photographers with a new business do - we shoot friends and family a lot, to help us build our portfolios.  I built a pretty kick-ass website (thank you Graphic Design Degree)  Needless to say, word started getting around about me, I did events, I marketed the hell out of myself (thank you Marketing Degree), I pretty much got the ball rolling on what was turning out to be something pretty awesome.  Six months after I opened my doors, enough buzz had generated about me that I needed to move my business out of my home and into a real, live office and small studio space.  I had a part time day job working for a local photography studio, so I wasn't worried too much about paying the overhead if things didn't blow up like I had planned on them.

My client base was steady, but slow.  I craved more.  I wanted more exposure, I wanted more clients, I wanted more experience, I wanted MORE!

My first attempt at contacting DealSite 1 for a feature was pretty much right at the beginning of opening my business - but...I had yet to hear back from anyone in months.  I tried again, still....nothing....for months.  That said to me... not the best customer service out there.  But, I digress.  I tried option #2, DealSite2.  They did get in touch with me, (prior to my having an office so the nice lady met me at Chili's), and she seemed fairly interested, but said they didn't have another spot for a photographer until around the holidays (almost a year from our meeting!!!), so I waited till then, called her....emailed her....nothing.  No response.

I snagged my chance at reaching someone when I found that the studio I worked for during the day had run their own promotion through DealSite 1 and I decided that I would contact the sales rep directly...and THAT'S how I was finally able to even get to speak to anyone from DealSite 1.  That is when I was able to sit down and figure out what I wanted to do - as a still new business at the time, really itching to get my name out there.  I had no delusions of grandeur that this DealSite Deal would make me a ton of money, because, well, I'm pretty tech savvy and I'm familiar with the way it works.  But, making money wasn't my goal.  Marketing myself was.  So, I set up my first feature deal which was scheduled to make it's first appearance on April 21, 2012.  Crazy that was almost 3 years ago!

By the way, here's the awesome photo I used 3 years ago for my very first boudoir feature....check out that SMOKIN HOT LOGO.... LMAOOO.  I digress.....

Old WhirlieGirl Groupon Image

So, how did that feature deal do?  Amazing.  Way more than I could have possibly expected.  I ran a $75 Boudoir package with some prints, some champagne and chocolates and maybe 2 digital files (I can't totally remember).  In a matter of less than a week, 71 people purchased my deal.  I was floored....and I was hooked.  Not because of how many people bought, but because of how many people actually SAW me...saw my work....and liked me enough to give me a shot....this was awesome, because that's what I truly wanted. forward to today.  Do I still run promotions on deal sites?  Occasionally, but only during slow times.  I actually did just run another boudoir deal, but before that, I hadn't run one since February, 2013.  I also run separate family deals (which I ran last September).  Why do I run them so scarcely now?  Not because of the money, not because of the harrassment I have received from anonymous people hoping to sway me (more on that later), but because the exposure JUST ISN'T THERE ANYMORE.  Here's probably THE biggest con of the pros and cons about these deal sites.  They completely changed the way they run their business - and it's their prerogative to do so, of course.  But, it has very, very little impact for me any longer, and I keep them down to a minimum now.

So, now that I got that tremendous bit of backstory out of the way.  Let me go over all of the Q&A for you all and hopefully, I can answer many, many questions for you!

Q: How can you possibly make any money off of these deals?

A: I don't.  Not from the deal sites directly anyway...but I knew this going into it.  What most people (both new deal site merchants and customers) don't realize, is that in addition to having you offer a deal of at least 75% off your product or service, deal sites like DealSite 1 and DealSite 2 keep 50% of what the customer pays for that deal as payment, but they also keep back a little more to cover refunds, credit card fees and possibly taxes (I should look in to that because I don't want to be paying double taxes when I file!).  Note...they do this now, but didn't do it back in the beginning.  So, for example , my very first promotion earned me 71 purchases.  At $75 each, that's $5325, but, I only received $2662.50 of that.

But hey, $2600 bucks is a nice deposit in your bank account right?  Yeah, but the problem is, it doesn't go into your bank account all at once.  Not anymore anyway.  Back when I did my first and even my second deal, DealSite 1 was run much...much differently.  Different not only in the way that they showcased their featured deals, but also how they paid their merchants.  Back then, you were given three payments.  1/3 of your total was paid to you within 7 days of your deal's end.  1/3 paid 30 days later and the final 1/3 paid 30 days after that.  So you're basically all set after 2 months.  Cool.  I can deal with that.  Is that the way it is now?  That's a big, fat NOPE.  Now, you get 80% of your total sales almost 2 weeks after your deal begins running (I say begins, because the deal never actually stops running anymore until you tell them to stop it), then, they break it down over a few monthly payments over the next year.  Yes....a year.  Here's an image for a family deal that I ran last September and the breakdown of payments.  It's much different than receiving 3 payments of $750 over two months huh?

Payment Frequency Breakdown for Deal Site Features.jpg

The problem with this is that the money that we DO get from these clients needs to be put toward our costs in providing these services for our clients, but, we're not being paid in full for almost a year after providing those services!  This isn't too bad when you have clients who purchase extra, but, for those who do's all out of your pocket, and these DealSites do not understand least, I don't think they do.

Q: How can you run these deals??  Don't you know you're teaching the public to devalue professional photography and expect low prices for hard work?

A: I'm certainly not.  See...several times while running a few of these deals, I was lucky enough to receive an email from a brave person who used a fictitious name, fictitious email address and fictitious number accusing me of this very thing which I had no way to respond to her ...what she didn't realize though, is that her IP address was NOT fictitious...anywhoo....

Like I said earlier...I utiilize these deal sites from time to time for an amazingly awesome marketing boost.  Bringing awareness of my name to the masses.  It had worked amazing for me in the past, so why not continue.  My offers have become more calculated so that I was not overworking myself and giving away the farm so to speak.  They were designed to bring people in my door...and it did exactly that.  What most people fail to realize about the people who browse the deal sites is that not ALL of them are deal-hunters and savings-hoarders.  Not every person that goes on to those sites is looking for the cheapest way possible to enjoy themselves.  Some people have told me they go on there simply to see what kinds of businesses are around them and to get an idea of something to do for the night, or maybe it was a spur of the moment decision to purchase the deal because "they always wanted to do it but never really had any reason to get it started".  Well, this gave them that reason.

Additionally, while my deals may run for $75 or $99 dollars, once the clients step foot inside our beautiful brick and mortar studio, they can immediately tell that this is not a Sear's or Walmart type of franchise experience.  We sit down for their consult just the same as we do with a client who found us directly on Google and go through all the same steps, including showing them our collections and our high end products - which begin at $1500.  So, right off the bat, before we have done any work for the clients, they are made aware that quality, professional photography from a skilled, experienced and legally registered/licensed photographer is not inexpensive at all.

Were there people who decided that we were too pricey for them?  Of course.  Were there people who decided they couldn't afford more than what the deal site offered them?  Yes, and that's fine.  In the marketing world, that's called a loss leader.  You're going to get some people who don't want to step further into the store to purchase more, but, it was worth it in the long run to get more people to come in.  About 86% of our deal site clients upgraded to one of our collections and our average sale is approximately $2500.  So....don't knock it unless you've tried it.

WhirlieGirl In Your Face

Q: What do you mean they don't run their business the same anymore?

A: try and keep it short...  Deal Site A used to have a "Featured Deal" that would be the ONLY featured deal for that day in the city it was run in.  Fantastic.  It used to be a big ad, and all the other deals would be in links along the right hand side of the screen...ensuring that ANYONE who went to that deal site on that day to that city, would ABSOLUTELY see the featured company. changed.  They started adding little hearts to deals to try to get people to "like" certain deal types...the "Featured Deal" would share a feature with several other businesses and who would show up when you visited the site would be random, all based on reloading the page.  The little hearts played their parts also...if someone had never clicked a little heart on any type of photography deal...they'd rarely, if ever, see any photography features.  I watched my deals go from selling 100 in a few 30 in a few months because of this change.

Then, most recently, the same deal site decided that all of their deals would be thumbnails of the same size on the page, and the "featured deal" would have a little ribbon on it.  Nothing made it stand out, they'd also put up 3 or 4 other deals from competing businesses with it.  Oh...and another thing...they have an algorithm that can tell what you click on...and if you do NOT purchase it, the next time you go to the deal page, the ones you've already viewed get put to the bottom of the list, because you know, you must not want it if you didn't purchase it right away.

These sorts of changes have driven me away from deal sites almost 100%.  They don't focus anymore on the feature and really making it all about the small business that's trying to do what they can to grow.  Instead, they seem to focus on jamming in as many deals as they can so they can sit back and collect their 50% our voucher price.


So, are deal sites worth it for photographers?  I don't believe they're a good source of marketing any longer because your post gets lost in a sea of posts, nothing makes you stand out any longer, the focus is not on your feature, they will run your feature among 4 or 5 other competitor deals and you have lost the "oooh"s and "aaah"s you used to get before these sites got greedy.

But, by all means, give it a shot!  I recommend everyone try it at least once so that you can experience the sites for yourself!

WhirlieGirl Photography XOXO