I don’t think anything in the photography business causes more problems, more debate, and more stress for the photographer than pricing!
For most people, setting prices seems like making stabs in the dark in the hopes of hitting the right spot, which will rarely happen under those circumstances.
I’m not here to tell you what to charge for your photography—that depends on factors specific to you and your photographic work, and where you’ve chosen to position your business in the marketplace.
But, and I know this might be a hard thing for many to take in at first, the prices you charge really have nothing to do with how long you’ve been in business. As long as you can create a quality product and provide a positive experience for your clients in a reasonable time, you should charge appropriate fees that support your business.
That said, I can give you 6 broad tips that I believe every photographer should take into consideration about pricing…
#1: Know Your Costs Of Doing Business
Before you can even think about what to charge for a session or a print, you need to know what it costs to produce it.
Otherwise, how will you actually know if you’re making a healthy profit on what you’re selling?
In many cases, I see photographers charging what they think is a good price, but they actually end up losing money because of costs they failed to take into consideration before creating their price list.
Costs fall into two main categories:
- Fixed costs (studio rent, utilities, equipment, annual fees etc.)
- Variable costs (the costs of making sale, such as lab fees, your time spent etc.)
As an exercise, write down ALL the running costs of your business—include EVERYTHING you spend to keep the business running over the course of a year. You might be amazed at how many you end up with.
You should also factor in things like:
- Tax estimates
- Accounting and legal fees
- Memberships to professional organizations
- Your own salary (you’re not working for nothing, right?)
Next, look at what you have to spend in order to make sales (your cost of doing business, or CODB).
If you sell prints, for example, what are your lab costs? Don’t forget to include your time at a reasonable rate for the capture, editing and post-processing, not to mention the estimated times for consultations and sales meetings.
Once you have these numbers at hand, you can then figure out how many sessions or assignments you plan to do in a year, what you expect as an average sale, and then work backwards to figure out what the individual prices should be for sessions and prints etc.
The important thing here is to TRUST the numbers!
It might help to sit down with your accountant or someone not emotionally attached to your business because it’s almost inevitable that you’re going to feel like rebelling against some of the prices you generate through fear and uncertainty.
#2: Focus On Your Prices, Not Your Competitors
When starting out, and with no points of reference to guide them, many photographers naturally look around at their competitors’ prices.
Nothing wrong with that—it’s always useful to know what’s happening in the local market.
However, it’s a big mistake to take other photographers’ prices and use them as a basis for your own price list, especially as the temptation will be to come in a bit lower.
This is a problem for many reasons but, first and foremost, you probably have no idea how the other photographer came up with those prices to begin with or even what their operating costs are. For all you know, they may have done exactly the same thing as you, and copied someone else’s prices!
Every photographer is unique—there’s only one you, for example, so why base your prices on someone else?
Besides, watching the competition too much means you’re wasting time and not watching where your own business is going!
#3: Realize You Are Not Your Client
Without anything else to base decisions on, it’s tempting to think about your own reaction to your pricing and then project those feelings onto your intended clients.
But you are not your client!
If you haven’t heard this before, it simply means that adopting a more objective mindset about your prices can help quiet the nagging voice in your head that tries to say, “I couldn’t afford those prices, so how can I expect anyone else to be able to?”
I’ve seen more than a few photographers succumb to this fierce demon, eventually being forced to close their business after “winning” the race to the bottom.
When I was a struggling photographer, this was one of the hardest challenges to overcome, but I stuck with it, and eventually was able to separate my own fears about money at the time from the imagined perceptions of my prospects.
There’s also another source of pressure in this area—in the form of your family and friends—especially if they’re not business people themselves.
Being somewhat emotionally biased anyway, and feeling like they’re helping, they might repeat the very same notions you hear in your own head about others not being able to afford you, or the risk of scaring clients away with prices that are too high.
It’s hard—really hard—but you must stick to your resolve and resist the temptation to give in to such negativity, and remember to trust the numbers.
#4: Be In Control Of When Prospects Learn Your Prices
I usually get a bunch of hate-mail for even mentioning this, but I believe in it so much and have seen such dramatic results from implementing it, that I can’t do anything but stand by it.
We’ve already touched on some of the sensitive points about pricing and the mental undercurrents going on at the subconscious level that try to sabotage our efforts.
Showing prices openly online feeds directly into that self-sabotage by appealing to the flawed logic that “I myself won’t do business with anyone unless I can see their prices” or “people will just think that they can’t afford me if they have to ask how much” etc.
Now before you get mad at me, think about this for a moment.
It’s not necessarily the actual act of having prices available to view online that’s the problem.
It’s that there’s usually no controls in place to determine when the prospect is first exposed to your prices.
After all, on a website, people can browse whatever they like, and in any order they please.
And that’s the issue, right there.
Because most prospects only have one question in their mind (they simply don’t know what else to ask!), if they see any hint of pricing information then they head straight for it, bypassing all the value-driven copy and marketing you carefully created to establish real value.
Once they see those numbers, it’s game over if it’s still too early in the process.
The online price list has the effect of short-circuiting the rest of your marketing and turning the whole process into a numbers game for the prospect.
Worse still, they most likely have your competitors’ prices to compare yours with, so it becomes a “shopping around for the best price” exercise instead of “let’s find the photographer who is right for me”.
For more on this topic, read this article on the best time to reveal prices complete with a video from the experts at Marketing Experiments.
#5: Think “Incentives” Instead Of “Discounts”
Every photographer loves a discount—until their clients ask for one.
True words indeed.
It’s hard to know how to respond to the question “can I get a discount?”, especially if your prices are already near the bottom of the range where you can still make a profit.
But what are you supposed to do if you want to keep the client?
One thing I’ve learned is that once word gets out that people can get a discount on your photography, everyone wants one, often refusing to do business with you at all unless there’s a sale on of some kind.
Discounting, in my opinion, is one of the worst mistakes a photographer can make as it devalues what they do and creates a commodity-based mindset among potential clients.
I think it pays to treat the word “discount” as if it were a swear-word!
What can you do instead?
Try incentive-based pricing for a change.
This basically involves having various price tiers where the client can get a free valuable product or service once they invest more than a specified amount.
For example, spend $975 or more on wall portraits and receive a free printed album of your favorite images from the session.
Some photographers have really mastered the concept of incentives, and I’ve seen them increase their average sales dramatically and almost overnight as a result.
#6: Stop Tinkering With Your Price List
A sure sign that things aren’t going well is constant fiddling with the price list in a vain attempt to try to hit the magical “sweet spot” that will suddenly get people to buy.
The sweet spot might exist, but you won’t hit it through random tinkering.
As already mentioned, prices that make business sense can only be arrived at through a scientific process that takes everything about the business into consideration.
Spending hours at the computer trying to cook up prices that make YOU feel happy can only lead to more stress and confusion, often because of the mistake of seeing yourself as your own client and looking at your price list through the emotional filter of your own insecurities about money.
Obviously, your price list must change periodically, but please approach it as we discussed above—by making sure the prices you charge support the growth and development of a healthy business.