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Pricing photography is often one of the greatest hurdles for people looking to break into the profession, bringing beads of sweat to the forehead just thinking about it. It’s especially nerve-wracking when you’re faced with a client demanding to know why they have to pay that much for your services. And chances are if you’ve just adopted the prices you’ve seen some other photographers in your area charge, without taking the time to actually calculate and understand what you charge what you do, then you’re going to be in some hot water to explain your worth.
You need to not only know the worth of the services you are providing, but you need to know how to articulate what you’re worth and why you’re worth it. Photography is an amazing creative outlet and career, but don’t doubt for a second that it’s a business. You’ve got to wear a lot of hats in this industry. Make sure you’re equally versed in the business practices as in the visual principles. When you can negotiate and state your worth with confidence and how you arrived there, you give your client confidence as well. Here are a few things I find critical when I find myself in the position of negotiating my worth.
First and foremost you have to actually know your worth. This is a must do. Not optional. It’s definitely helpful if you can find out what other photographers in your market are charging as a guideline to give you confidence in arriving at your own prices, but you need to arrive at them first for yourself.
The first step to do this is by calculating your Cost of Doing Business (CODB). Your CODB is what it takes at the end of the year for you to actually pay your bills and remain afloat as a business, or the target salary you’d like to reach for the year. Be realistic here too. You’re likely not going to be bringing in record profits (or hardly any at all) your first few years of business.
You can reach your CODB by a few simple calculations. Take all the expenses you need to run a business for the year – website hosting fees, gear purchases, insurance, rent, food, etc. – add where you’d like to try and be salary wise and then divide that figure by the number of jobs you think you’ll book for the year. If you’re looking to get into weddings, that’s how much you’ll need to charge per wedding to reach your goal. Make sure you’re realistic here. Just because you want to shoot 40 weddings doesn’t necessarily mean you will. But if you think your base cost is going to be way too high by just shooting six weddings a year, take into account you need to lower your salary goal or book more weddings to accommodate. The same principles apply to commercial photography when you’re arriving at either your creative fee or day rate. This is your base.
These numbers can flex if you’re doing both weddings and portraits, or especially in commercial photography with editorial and advertising. Just make sure you’re always reaching your CODB target and try to adjust prices on each as best as you think to align with market standards. Don’t forget to adjust for the actual creative and value portion you bring to a shoot – either in creativity, years of experience or just that X factor.
Now that you know what it takes to run your business and what your creative worth is, you need to be able to articulate that with confidence. It can be a big help to write out a “sales pitch” that you then roughly follow during initial client meetings, calls or introductory documents. This is your “why I’m worth it” statement. It’s what you bring to a photo shoot that none of your competitors do. Whether it’s your perspective, stream-lined business practices, costs, top-notch crew you work with or anything else that makes you unique, present this with confidence.
I’d like to introduce one other principle that seems to be disappearing from the market, but I believe is an important way of doing business – under promise, over deliver. I’m not telling you to play down what you bring to the table (especially in such a competitive industry) but don’t puff up or exaggerate what you can do to get clients if you can’t deliver. Word can and will get around. By instead remaining practical and realistic when articulating your product – and then going the extra mile to really deliver – you’ll not only create a happy client, but a brand advocate as well. Good word travels.
You know your worth, you’re prepared to articulate it with confidence, and now it’s time to listen to what your clients are telling you. This is important in adapting your product to your clients’ needs. There is no cookie cutter format that works for everyone and if you’re pushing a service one client doesn’t want or need while neglecting another they do then you’re probably looking at some lost business. If it’s something you can remove without affecting the quality of what you provide, do it. Additionally you may be able to add on some services and charges that different clients request. It’s all a balance.
Be tuned into your clients’ reactions and body language when you’re discussing your product and pricing. Learn to recognize the hidden signals and not just the verbal ones. If you’ve got a couple leaning forward and nodding a lot while you’re talking chances are you’ve hit the right chord with them. If you find them leaning backwards in their chair (a disengaging move) or appearing distracted these are some red flags. Watch for when they happen if they do. You can’t provide solutions to your clients if you’re not listening to them.
While we’d certainly all love clients that understand the hidden costs behind photography, look at a fairly quoted price and sign without question that’s just not a reality. Budgets are tighter, times are still tough and people are looking to save however they can, making them even more critical and conservative of every dollar spent. And how can you blame them for that? We’re all trying to save a dollar how and where we can. No photographer enjoys fielding a tirade of questions from a client who doesn’t think a service should cost what it does or sharply asks “why do you charge more per hour than my lawyer?!” Or why you won’t come down to $500 for their wedding, “because my Uncle Bob has a really nice camera and he’d definitely be willing to do it for that.”
This is where all the above knowledge on why you charge what you do comes in handy and being able to articulate it with confidence. But if you find yourself running into some of the same questions over and over again, either evaluate if you’re really providing value to your clients, or if it’s an educational problem and you can prepare a set of answers to questions that often arise. That way you don’t have to sit and try to come up with an answer under pressure, you already know what the answer is and how best to explain the value you add.
Compromises can create a win-win situation for you and your clients. If you can save them a little costs without damaging your value pricing that makes everyone happy. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do it.
Let’s say for example as a commercial photographer you price out a package of usage rights for your client that costs $20,000. However, you’re $5,000 over their budget and they’re asking you to come down in price. The first thing you shouldn’t do is immediately take the loss of $5,000 and come down to that price without changing anything in your contract. What this says to your client is that you were trying to gouge them before, but you’ll take what they can give. If you arrived at a price that is both fair and competitive you should not be intimidated into charging less. You should have confidence in the price you arrived at.
Instead see if you can work with your client to find what usage/expenses you may be able to bring down to reach a compromise. Do they really need a five year licensing package, or could they live with a three year one instead that would drop the price without sacrificing the value of your worth? Perhaps instead of receiving 10 photos they could narrow it down to 8? Work with them to reach a compromise that maintains your worth while delivering them the product they need.
Sometimes you’re going to run into potential clients that just won’t meet you on equitable ground, and you have to know when to walk away from a project. It’s never fun to have to turn down work. Your mind instantly starts thinking of everything that the money could have helped out with from the job, even if it is much less than the value you’re providing. Don’t give away the farm just because your client is demanding it. Remember, what you do has value and worth! If your client can only afford Uncle Bob at $500 than they’re going to get $500’s worth of Uncle Bob value. Professionalism, experience and talent all come with a cost. After all, you can’t buy a Cadillac for the price of a Kia. Wish that client the best of luck and part on amicable grounds if you can.
Learn and use all of these practices – know your cost of doing business, articulate your worth, be prepared to educate and search for compromises, and know when you have to step away from the table – and you’ll be far better prepared to negotiate your worth.