When I first started as an architectural photographer, one of the things I really struggled with was pricing. This seems to be a common thread for many creatives as it can be very difficult to objectively self-assess your talent, experience, and therefore, value. Some photographers charge less than minimum wage and others charge an absolute fortune for just an hour’s worth of work.
Knowing how much your work is worth is extremely important. Without knowing what you want to charge or how much you should value your services puts you in a position where you won’t be able to effectively negotiate. I can appreciate that this one individual aspect is tough to figure out and unfortunately I don’t have the answer for you. What I can do is present a couple of questions that may help you find an effective starting point and then we can look at ways to negotiate more effectively with clients.
How much do you want to earn in a year?
I’m generally surprised at how many photographers don’t ask this simple yet extremely useful question. If you haven’t worked this out then stop what you’re doing and for the love of god get this done. Yes, I’m putting you on the spot, figure this out and answer this question with a specific figure. It’s kind of like starting a job without knowing what the salary is. Knowing how much you want to earn lets you work out how often you need to work and how much you need to charge to hit that number. You will obviously need to work out your living costs, tax obligations and so on in order to get a better understanding of how much you need to earn/charge.
What are photographers in your area charging for the same or similar services?
To work this out, I simply rang a few photographers in my area and asked them for a quote for a fake job I made up. This not only helps you gauge what the competition is doing but also what clients in your area may be willing to pay. Yes, it’s a bit of a sneaky method but I’m pretty sure that established photographers are not going to mind; ring them on private if you’re concerned. This also helps you put things into perspective and can help you work out how feasible your answer to question onet is.
Trying to work out what price you should charge requires more thought than just the above two questions but hopefully, this is a step in the right direction. This article isn’t really about what you should charge and that’s why I’m moving on with what I want to discuss.
Confidence Is Key
Confidence in your rates is extremely important if you’re going to negotiate better rates with your clients. This is why you need to make sure you know exactly what you want to charge. When you seem even slightly unsure about what to charge clients then they see that as an opportunity to negotiate! Contrary to the title of this article you actually don’t want to negotiate. You want to be able to tell your client what you price is and have it accepted.
Here are a few things that you should avoid:
Asking Clients What Their Budget is
This is a complete no-no for me and many other photographers I’ve come to know. Why do you need to know what your clients budget is? Are you willing to work for less if they don’t have the budget to pay your costs? Or are you trying to find out how much money is on the table? Either way, it makes you seem less certain about you and your worth and as a result, less professional. Also, think about it, what incentive is there for the client to tell you what their actual budget is? It would be similar to asking someone to reveal their hand in a game of poker; their incentive is to tell you a figure that’s super low so that you have to negotiate up from there. Stop asking this question and just tell clients what your price is. Asking to know a clients budget is also super annoying; if I were the client I’d just move onto someone who isn’t going to overcomplicate things with inexperienced questions. I’ll discuss this final point in more detail below.
Using Uncertain Language
I’m assuming that we all want to seem polite and easy to work with. Due to this many of us are tempted to speak to clients in a super overly polite manner. When they ask for our prices we will use words like “about” and phrases like “I think” or fillers like “just”.
“I think it’s going to cost about X”
When you speak to clients in a manner which seems uncertain then it makes them to want to negotiate. It’s not a defined figure to them, it’s a figure that has some leeway and they want to know how much leeway there is. This isn’t because clients are bad or want to take advantage of you it’s simply because you left them an opening and honestly, you’d do the same if the roles were reversed. The main reason why we behave in this overly polite manner is that we’re afraid of being rejected. I get that it can be tough trying to get your foot in the door but I can assure you that being confident or even just seeming like you’re confident about your price will make your job a tonne easier. Stop trying to be overly polite when it comes to the numbers and just tell clients what your price is in a clear and certain manner.
“The price for this is X”
I really cannot overstate how important it is to use confident and certain language when speaking to clients. It’s not rude to be factual in business.
What If I’m Too Expensive?
There’s no such thing as expensive or cheap, there is only value. Are you good enough value for someone to want to pay what you charge? There are several reasons as to why someone may not accept your price; I’ll cover a few below.
They Can’t Afford You
Move on, find clients who can. Do you think Leica feels hurt every time someone expresses how they can’t afford an M camera? It’s perfectly reasonable for someone to say that they can’t afford your prices. The alternative is that you work for less than what you want to be paid which is almost always a terrible idea.
They Don’t Have The Budget
They Don’t Value Your Work
This comes down to marketing. How are you presenting yourself to your clients and how do they perceive you? marketing is extremely important and how you approach your clients will determine whether or not they value you and your work. If you’re going for high-end clients but seem like a budget photographer then work on your branding. One of the best ways to figure this out is to ask for advice. Speaking to other successful photographers and asking them what they think of how you present yourself is a great way to start. You may have to pay for their time but it’s a worthwhile investment. Value is entirely based on perception and if people think that you’re worth something then they will pay for it if they can afford it.
Here’s the thing, if a client does not accept your price because they think you’re too expensive then that’s fine. They’re not the client for you. Find clients that want to pay you your rates and develop your presence and approach to back-up that price.
Make It Simple
Most high-end clients have enough money to comfortably pay your rates regardless of how expensive you think you are. The thing that these types of clients are after is an easy and simple service. They’re hiring you to do a job and to make theirs easier. If you’re overcomplicating things and dragging things out with negotiations and so on then that means they need to put more effort into the discussions. This is why asking questions like “what’s the budget” is extremely annoying. All they want you to do is tell them a price, do the job and deliver the results. How annoying would it be if you hired a plumber and they asked you what your budget was?
Long emails that try to explain absolutely everything are also big no-no. No client is interested in your back story or what makes you tick. They probably don’t care about your creative process or even what equipment you’re using. Keep things as succinct as possible; try and send all crucial information to clients in the most efficient way that you can. If clients have to read six-paragraph emails just to know how much you charge, they’ll either skip the email or skip you entirely. I get that you want to explain everything to your clients and you want them to know lots of stuff about you when you’re pitching to them but keep it short. It’s kind of like dating, you have to drip feed the crazy. Over explaining in initial emails or emails where you’re pitching to clients really puts them off and makes you seem less confident.
Ultimately it comes down to two things that will have an immense impact on how you “negotiate” with clients. How confident you are (or seem) and how simple or straight forward it is to work with you. Simply by changing how you state your prices to clients can have a huge impact on whether they accept or not. In the last two years, I haven’t had a single client come back to me about my price because I’m not or don’t seem uncertain about what I should charge. When you are clear about your prices it also gives clients the confidence that you’re going to deliver exactly what they need, and that is extremely valuable to them. Finally, make it as easy as possible for your clients to work with you. If you keep contact and replies succinct and timely they will appreciate it and that puts you in a great position with them.