Don't Settle. Know Your Price

On a daily basis, I'm surrounded by a group of young, talented creative individuals. Some individuals are artist others are graphics designers, a few DJ's, poets and of course photographers. Their creative purposes differ, but the business strategy of these services are similar in so many ways.

I think typically people who are truly passionate about their creative service forget to focus on the SERVICE aspect. At the end of the day, you are still providing a service and need to negotiate the matter as if you're aware of that. Since I'm a photographer I'll be using that as an example for the remainder of this post, but remember creativity is creativity, and these guidelines can be implemented in your business regardless of your profession.

So I'm going to assume the majority of people who visit my site are beginners, and by a beginner, I mean someone who is skilled enough to take pictures confidently and expect a payout. You have no idea where to begin, but you know you want to do this as a full-time gig. The first step is to play close attention to your overhead. How much do you need to bring in on the year? How many shoots do you feel comfortable shooting on a yearly basis? These are important things to figure out. With this method, you know your minimum worth, and it allows your to build a starter package for your clients.

In this example, you're a portrait photographer, and you can live off $40K a year, this is assuming you only have yourself to feed, anyone else and you two will likely be living off ramen.

In that year, you do a 144 portrait session (being optimistic of course). In order to meet your overhead, your lowest package would need to be around $278. Now to some that seems expensive. Beginner and experienced photographers typically have trouble presenting this dollar amount to a customer... It's even harder when you are young, you can't fathom someone in your age bracket spending $278 on pictures, especially when they're other photographers who are charging less than that... $75 or $50 for full day shoots.

So how do you stand out in a crowd of hungry photographers? Develop your own style, remember 9/10 clients contact you. What does this mean? They liked your style, your editing, your composition or the overall look of your photos. This is before they knew your price, they have a vision, and they think you can bring it to life. Always remember that it will increase your confidence, but can also be used as a tool to negotiate later.

But first you have to get to the negotiating stage, typically the client will contact you by either social media, text or email, let them briefly explain what their agenda is and then you decide rather or not the job is for you. If the job is for you then you should have a response-locked and loaded, of course, you want to edit this on a per basis, but generally the text should be conveying the same message to each client. Here's an example below.

Hi! Thank you so much for being interested in my wedding photography packages. I would love to meet with you so I can show you our work in person and so you can get to know me to see if I would be a good fit as your photographer. While I do have set wedding collections, I am happy to adjust them or create a custom package to make sure you get the perfect package for your wedding. In order to create the best possible package for you.
— Kellianne Jordan

This is called a consultation. Now in that response, you may want to also leave some extended contact information, or even suggest a local spot to meet up with the client, but that's totally up to you. The consultation is one of the most important parts of your business, it's the selling point. This meeting is not about the pictures, they've seen your pictures. This is where you put your camera aside and have the client buy into you! Sounds aggressive, but that's totally fine, again you have to remember that you aren't just a photographer, you're a small business now, these demands must be met.

So going into this meeting we know our bottom price point is $278, so where firm there. You normally would want to make your lowest package shitty, simply because you don't necessarily want to be working for the minimum at all times. We want to aim for that middle package, now I can't tell you what that will consist of, but for the most part, we want to make sure it meets all the clients needs, anything in the larger package, may be a nice addition, but not truly necessary to complete the job.

- Charlotte Robinson

We're going to say this package is $375, all digital, 3 locations for 2 hours.  $187.50 an hour... better than your day job right? And those numbers sound insane, but it's so much more to that to the business... You have a number of things to factor in, the time you spent at the consultation, the commute to arrive at each location, the time at the location, the commute back home, the editing process, and most importantly, the amount of money you invested in the equipment... They all factor into the pricing. This all could easily take 8-10 hours, that lowers your hourly wage considerably. 

Now just because you know all this information doesn't mean it needs to be passed along to the client, you have to be confident in your session, reassure them that you are the man (or women) for the job and that you think this package best suits their needs. If they agree, do a down payment and set up a date and location for the shoot to take place, explain to them that this consultation fee is non-refundable, and will be going towards the price of their overall package. Shake hands and leave... That simple.

What If The Price Is Too High?

The first thing you want to do is ask them what their budget was for this project, this will allow you to understand where they are at not only financially but how important the project is to them. If its marginally lower than your package price then it's okay to accept the offer, especially if you and the client's vision are on the same level. Remember this is all about relationships and opportunity, so if this idea will benefit you in say future business then a small loss is definitely worth long term revenue. If it's somewhere towards your lower package then perhaps offer them that, let them know what they will be missing out on. Maybe limit the number of locations, or make it 90-minute session instead. If it's a low ball offer then say no, not only is it insulting but it shows what that client values not only you but themselves at. It's perfectly okay to walk away, every shoot you do is a collaboration in a way. It's a reflection of your brand and it's your brand that you're selling... If a client is focused on a price point, then he isn't interested in your brand, he's interested in your price, and that's someone you don't want to do business with. You want someone who is interested in YOU! Regardless of your price. It's why designers, photographers, and musicians can charge what they want, because we are invested in them, not their price point. So if you have to walk away.... do so. It will only make you look more desirable in the end.