Don't Be Lazy! Pricing Your Photography
Welcome to Richard’s first post in our new blog series, “Don’t Be Lazy!” Consider these articles your dose of tough love when it comes to your career… you may have the artistry down, but if you don’t understand the fundamentals of running a business, and you don’t work your butt off to put it all into practice, you won’t be a professional photographer for long.
So, let’s talk about your pricing. How are you deciding what to charge your clients? Too many times, Richard has heard photographers answer “I just used the same pricing as so-and-so”, or “I dunno, I just made it up…”
Stop right there.
You’re a business. The goal of any business, on the most basic level, is to sell a product or service and make a profit. Are you actually taking money home at the end of the day? Can you prove it on paper with actual numbers? And most importantly, are you setting up your business not only for short-term profitability, but for longevity?
C’mon, DON’T BE LAZY!!! With a little time and digging, you can calculate the pricing model and rates that are profitable for your photography business.
Know Your Expenses
You’ve got to spend money to make money! The first step to turning a profit is actually knowing your operating costs. We’re talking everything you buy to keep your business going. You’ll have both yearly expenses and per-job expenses, so do a little mathing and add ‘em up! Consider these:
- Gear (both new purchases and maintenance of existing items)
- Insurance for your gear
- Film and/or memory cards
- Transportation to and from jobs
- Office/studio space
- Office tools (computers, editing software, workflow assistance apps, internet)
- Website hosting
- Gallery hosting
- Deliverables (DVDs, USBs, prints, albums, proof boxes, framed prints, etc)
- Payroll for second shooters and others on your staff
- Any work you are outsourcing (graphic design, accounting, retouching, etc)
- Education/advancement (workshops, seminars, tradeshows, etc)
Did we mention you also need to consider your time? Time is money, and every minute that you spend doing something that isn’t shooting is a minute that could be used to book/shoot another paying gig. Every client meeting, the hours of culling and post production, the time spent building your clients’ online galleries, and when you create/order deliverables like albums and photo prints... you should know your hourly rate for this time!
But in order to decide what your final pricing will be, there’s something else to consider. You don’t just have to cover your business expenses, you need to make sure you are meeting the minimum profit margin needed to pay for your personal expenses, too! Things like:
- Transportation (insurance, gas, etc)
- Health Insurance
- Home/renters insurance
- Student loans and other debt
- Entertainment (but you don’t need much for that right now since you are grinding it out to build a successful business, right? RIGHT?!?)
Don’t put down the calculator just yet! Make sure to account for all the taxes you’ll be paying on that income. Also, any financial adviser will tell you that at least 20% of what you take home should go into your savings.
Fine art wedding photographer and videographer Joel Serrato has many years of experience in the biz both building his own pricing and advising other photographers on the subject.
“Make sure you are aware of costs before you do jobs for discounted prices, too,” Joel explains. Knowing your raw costs gives you an idea of how much wiggle room you have with your pricing for shoots that warrant a discounted rate. “If you discount, make sure you are getting something good out of the deal for promotional purposes!”
Pick Your Pricing Model
There are different pricing structures that you can use—packages, a la carte services, etc. We’ve even seen a categorized approach where clients first pick the number of hours they want for their shoot, then the deliverables they want, and then the add-ons (like intense retouching or a discounted engagement shoot or additional 'special' deliverables like oversized prints).
Whichever you choose (and we do recommend you test different models to see what helps you book more and profit more), make sure that you are meeting the financial benchmark set by your expenses, even if every client you have chooses the lowest-cost option.
“Packages work great because you can create a stencil of sorts for your client to get a general idea of what they want,” Joel advises. “After all, it’s all negotiable at the end of the day. Most of my clients end up getting a custom package. Let them know you will tailor their final package to their needs, don’t let the job go!”
Amplify Your Value
Okay, so now you know how much you should be making. Maybe you’re not charging that much—go update your pricing NOW! Or maybe you are charging that much—proud of you, buddy, now let’s take it up a notch. Either way, your next question will be “Can I really get away with charging more for my services?”
Most people don’t think the creative side and the financial side of photography are very intertwined. But when it comes to pricing, how much you can charge is directly correlated with both the quality and perceived value of your work. So hone your craft and produce incredible work! Clients will pay more for a unique style, high-end imagery, and a professional & personalized experience from start to finish. (A ginormous neon sign that says 'BRANDING' should be blinking in your head right now...)
The concept of branding touches everything in your business, right down to the appearance of your pricelist. According to Joel, “The most common mistake photographers make when constructing their pricing is actually creating and designing a pricelist themselves. Hand it off to a creative who will make it beautiful and professional, forming a seamless consistency with your brand.”
Someone doesn’t want to pay your prices? Don’t cave! It’s okay to tell a potential client that you are so much more than a shutter clicker. What you do takes time and skill, and the photos you take will be all your client has left of those moments after they’re gone. Consider how valuable that is.
Your pricing can’t stay the same forever, either. When should you raise your prices? The answer will be unique to everyone. Joel says, “If you are filling up your calendar fast and without hassles, then that might be an indicator that you should raise your rates a bit. Charge what you feel your work is worth—there are no rules!”
When in doubt… get an accountant!
We can’t stress this enough.
“But Richard,” you say, “you just told me I wasn’t making enough money, and now you want me to spend it by hiring an accountant?” Okay, sassy-pants, hold up. Remember what we said about the value of your time? When you’re paying an accountant to do all this number crunching for you, you have more time to work on paying jobs! Which will cover your accountant and then some.
Explain your personal and business finances in depth (don't be shy) with your accountant, they're there to help! Don't be afraid to shop around for someone who is attentive and thorough.
Psst… Film and hybrid photographers: want to dig deeper into your current state as a business owner, with personalized consultations and a unique color profile to distinguish your style and brand? You might be ready for a Color PAC!