There are a million posts on this, I am going to put my hands up here and say that this is NOT a new debate for Photographers. I guess I wanted to talk about it here because it is something that I have had experience with and something I have worked very hard to try to stop happening so regularly to me. I am referring to Weddings for the purposes of this post because so many issues arise with clients in this field. I certainly experience less issues with fashion or commercial clients.
I think we have all had the client who enquires about our services, even in some cases going so far as to be about to make a booking, only to back out at the last minute. Why? Well, Uncle Bob/Cousin Pete has a camera, they have offered to shoot the for free and you are too expensive.
Hold up, hold up hold up. Of course, ANYTHING FREE is going to make the service with a pricetag look TOO EXPENSIVE, that is just BASIC MATHS. But why did this happen, and how can you handle it?
1. I hate to break it to you, these enquiries don’t necessarily stop. In the age of the fauxtographer there will ALWAYS be competent amateurs underpricing you, working for free and winging it. Supported by a full time job, these guys value experience over anything else, and that is fine. When you don’t have a business reputation to uphold, I guess it makes it easy to just wing it. These guys are not going to go away, nor are the people who hire them (more on those guys later!). We must not let it dishearten us, we simply need to be more efficient in our correspondence with the client. I have wasted DAYS of email back and forth on clients that used someone else, now I have worked out a system which ensures in two simple emails that a) My client is a good fit for me and b) They know my value and pricing structure before we even discuss details. If by email three, they are starting to question my value, I have an indication of the way the wind is blowing.
2. Educate, educate, educate. So, hopefully you have placed a realistic VALUE on your work based on X,Y and Z, you have probably made a few losses along the way and realised that editing some photoshoots can, if you add it all up pay less than £2.50 per hour. Oops. Time to rethink. If you have ever found yourself in this situation and wished you had quoted more then imagine how a client would see things. Remember, a client only sees us for the time of the shoot, but add onto that the other time spent on the job; emailing, editing, curating shots, travel, invoicing, insurance, PLUS the nine + hours you spend actually shooting whatever it is you are shooting! You have to at least be making minimum wage here. In basic terms, every aspect of the work you put into a job needs to be apparent in the finished product and overall client experience. Photographer A might charge £1,500 for a basic package of beautiful photos but Photographer B might ALSO charge £1,500 for his package of beautiful photos. The pictures might be equally good but the VALUE of the Photographer is in the timely communication, how they are to work with, how easy they make the process and how smoothly they handle the transaction. Ask yourself if you are truly communicating your value to the client. If they visit your website, do they know from the off that they are in good hands? A comprehensive portfolio is obviously a part of this, but do not overlook the personal elements which make you stand out. I have learnt to stop educating people about the risks of an “Uncle Bob” Photographer and started to educate them about the benefits of a Professional one.
3. Don’t worry about everyone else. I know a Photographer who just does Weddings. Her packages started at £1000+ and she always gives the impression of doing OK. Last month I saw her advertising Weddings on Facebook.. for £400. My immediate reaction? As a consumer part of me was like “Oh that’s affordable” followed by “Maybe she just needs the experience” the Photographer in me was bashing her head against a wall. People like this make it okay for certain types of customers to expect this rate, I thought. And yeah, in some ways they have. There are different schools of thought when it comes to advertising based on price. I’ve seen it work brilliantly for Photographers who operate small portrait studios and for larger Wedding businesses which maybe have several Photographers, for example. But is it such a good idea when you are trying to carve a path as a solo creative? For me personally, I feel like this is not the way to go. Here is why.
a) You are targeting people who are cost motivated but advertising such a low price might attract people who feel like even £400 is a huge spend. And YES £400 IS a lot of money. If you have sat down and done the sums then you must be aware you are making a huge loss and the danger of this is that you may be attracting people who think £400 is your top price… and that you can afford to be beaten down on cost. If you must advertise on cost alone, then be really specific about the VALUE of that package. For example- you might want to outline how much coverage this involves and how many photos the couple hope to receive.
b) Do you want to be a budget Photographer your whole life? If you do Photography for extra pocket money alongside a well paying job then there is nothing wrong with that. You will probably continue to shoot £400 weddings for many years. However, if you ever have notions of making this your full time profession, I would urge you strongly to look at how your price yourself in the market and your salary expectation. To earn a wage of just 20,000 before tax you would need to shoot 50 weddings a year at £400. That is at least 4 Weddings a month (give or take a couple more in the summer months). So don’t even think about taking a holiday or a weekend off.
c) When things go wrong. I’ve never had to claim on insurance for anything but again, it is a consideration SO MANY Photographers neglect. But there is only so much warning you can give a client. I’ve had a bride meet me for 2 consultations before pulling out of a booking, only to call me in tears after her honeymoon asking me to “work my magic” on the less than great shots her friends girlfriend took on the day. The Photographer in question had shot everything with on camera flash (!!!) on an auto setting with the picture size set to the smallest jpeg because they only had an 8gb card and thought it would save room. I beat myself up about it before calling her to let her know that I couldn’t really do much to help. This client had already cost me almost ten hours of “work time” from enquiry through to cancellation. Of COURSE I felt terrible for her, but I am selling my skills here. Had we been on the same page, had she seen VALUE in my service, maybe things would have been different.
It works both ways of course, not all clients dump a Photographer, sometimes you have to “be booked” on that date if the demands are beyond what you can meet. I would say that a bonus of targeting clients in the mid to higher price range does go some way to attracting clients more suited to your business. Of course, there might always be someone more suitable, with better work who clicks with the client. These are the things we cannot control and we must learn not to take them personally, you are far better off having a great relationship with a potential client from the get go, rather than try to forge one along the way.
The rate of a client churning is even higher the less you charge. Why do I think this? Well, I read a really good comment on a similar blog post where a Photographer complained of being beaten down on price. The comment went along the lines of “The client was never going to hire you, they just wanted to see if they could get you for a cheaper price” This is SO true! When a client has a £400 upper limit expectation then their perception of a quality service is bound to differ from the customer who absolutely understands from every stage of the process the value of your services at whatever cost you place on it. I will never forget a friend talking about a restaurant we both loved, he said “it’s only expensive if you don’t think its worth is” and that is PRECISELY how I feel about Photography services.