IS YOUR PRICE A SECRET?

Though this post was originally published over a year ago, it seems to be just as timely and relevant today.  This is one of the most asked questions I hear when working with photographers: Should I post my pricing on my website?  My answer:

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From a photographer's website I came across recently - under their "pricing" link:

"You're wedding is different than any other I've ever shot, so it would be impossible for me to simply list a bunch of prices without us talking.  I need to know more about you - and your wedding - before I can create a custom quote that fits your needs specifically.  Please contact me today, so we can talk more about your wedding - and how I might be able to serve you."

I’ve noticed, more and more, that a lot of photographers - for whatever reason - are requiring clients to contact them before they will give any kind of pricing information.  And based on what I hear photographers say, it seems that they want clients to engage in what is basically a sales conversation, before they will give detailed information about their pricing.

I think there's a mentality that says "if I am able to talk to someone, I'll be able to convince them of my worth - even if I'm out of their price range."  

Sure, that’s true for maybe one out of every 1,000 inquiries, but it’s not how it usually works in the real world.  In the real world, you are not the only photographer your prospects are considering.  Even if they found you as a result of a referral, most often - they’ll be looking at several photographers. 

As they filter through the choices, they look at whether they like the images, and they look at whether you fit in their budget.  If you make it hard for them to do either of these two things, they’ll move on.  Sure, there are other things that matter before they make a purchase - like whether or not they feel like you’d personally be a good fit - but they’ll never even get to that point if you make it hard for them to get the information they want.

Now, I’m not suggesting you need to put every package, every print size price, every session fee, EVERYTHING right on your site.  I think that generally speaking, MORE information isn’t always helpful.  The key is getting the right information to the right people at the right time.  When someone is browsing for photographers that fit their budget, they don’t need every detail - they just need to know if you fit.

Pricing is one of the issues that photographers - and all small business owners - wrestle with all the time.  It's one of the most important decisions you make, and can impact the health and viability of your business like almost nothing else.  Just as important, is the way you use your pricing - and it's presentation - to reinforce the customer experience.

I think there’s another choice, and it’s the way I’ve chosen to present our pricing.  On my site, I list our starting commission price.  I also give people an idea of the amount of money most of our clients choose to spend.  I help manage their expectations by letting them what we charge, and what people usually spend.  This allows potential clients to quickly decide whether or not our studio fits with their budget.  Does it mean I get a lot less people contacting me?  Sure - and I’m okay with that.  I'm okay with not answering countless emails to couple's that are clearly not our ideal client. 

I send my complete wedding pricing information to EVERY client that inquires.  I let them decide for themselves whether what we're offering is a good fit for them.  I let them know that if they feel like we're a good fit, then I'd love to schedule time to talk.  I don't want to waste their time or mine, so I don't FORCE them to talk to me before I'll give them what they really want - my prices.

I don’t think it does anyone - you OR the client - any good to waste time.  That’s exactly what it does, when you make someone contact you to find out you’re out of their price range. It wastes both of your time.  And it wastes even more, if you make them jump through even more hoops.

So, ask yourself, is your pricing a secret?  If so, why?  If you’re charging what you’re worth, why not at least do yourself - and your potential clients - a favor and let them know upfront what you’re worth.  

IS IT A BUSINESS, OR A HOBBY?

I hear the same story from photographers all the time.  "I got into photography because it was something I loved.  I took photos of everything.  At some point, people started to tell me how much they liked my photos, and started asking me to take photos of them.  Eventually, they started to pay me to take photos, and suddenly - I had a business."  

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When photographers tell me this story, it's almost as if they were walking through life, tripped, and when they got back up, they suddenly had a business.  So often, photographers never intentionally set out to start a business, it just grew out of a passion, and a hobby, and became so much more. 

Whether this photography thing you do is a business or a hobby is totally up to you - but you have to decide.  It can't be both, and if it's a business - it has to make money.  Often, there is a tension between the photographer, who started with a hobby, and the businessperson, who now has to figure out how to take this hobby and turn it into something that makes a profit. 

For many photographers, it's as if there are two completely different people, living in the same body.  There's the photographer/artist, and then the business owner, and they are rarely on the same page.  Figuring out when to think like a photographer, and when to think like a business owner, can be difficult, and can lead to some tough decisions.  If you've decided that this photography thing you do is a business, here are three things you can do to help grow something profitable and sustainable:

1. Think Like a Business Owner First

Photographers think about things like photoshop actions, apertures, cool new gear, blogging, composition, bokeh, natural light, and pretty photos.  Business owners think about acquiring new customers, streamlining their workflow, eliminating inefficiencies, increasing market share, and the bottom line.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't think about the things that photographers think about - but when thinking about your business, be an owner.  When making business decisions, figure out what's best for your business.

2. Business Owners Make Money

Photographers make pretty pictures, business owners make money.  I'm not sure why it's so taboo to admit it, but if you're running a business, it has to make money.   Why? Because you can't pay your mortgage with pretty pictures.  If you're going to give your life to something it should add value to your life.  Sure, you may not get rich being a wedding or portrait photographer, but your business has to make money.  

3. Every Decision Has A Cost

Every time you say yes to something, you have to say no to something else.  Every time you say yes to working with the wrong client, you have to say no to the opportunity to work with the right client.  Every time you say yes to buying a new piece of gear, you have to say no using that money for anything else - like paying your mortgage.  Every time you spend your time on things that don't help you grow your business (editing photos for example), you have to say no to marketing and growing your business.  Be sure to count the cost of every decision, keeping in mind that the financial cost isn't the only cost.  Often the opportunity cost is even bigger.

 Is this photography thing you're doing a business? Or a hobby? 

24 THINGS YOU CAN DO FOR BETTER CLIENT CONSULTATIONS

For many photographers, this is the time of year that you're filling out your calendar - especially if you're a wedding & event photographer.  Have you ever wondered how you can turn all of those client consultations into an opportunity to book more of the right types of clients?

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Here are 24 things you can do to have better client consultations this year:

1. When someone sends you an inquiry from your website, assume that means they want to meet with you.  Respond accordingly.

2. Offer people 3 choices of times to meet, and ask "which of those would work best for you?" 

3. If you don't have a studio to meet a client, instead of buying them coffee, buy them dinner.

4. Always let the client pick the location (if it's not your home or studio). "I'd love to buy you dinner at your favorite restaurant.  Where should we meet?"

5. Leave the sample albums at home. They've already seen your work. They like it.  That's why they're here. They want to like you.

6. Ask questions.  Then listen to the answers.

7. Assume they are there to book you.

8. Stop trying to find ways to save them money.

9. Ask open ended questions (tell me about... what do you think about... what are you excited about... what is your favorite... etc).

10. Have a copy of your agreement (contract) with you at the meeting.

11. Have a way to accept payment (square, paypal, etc) if they want to book at the meeting.

12. You should be talking less than 30% of the time. People like to talk about themselves. They don't like listening to someone else talk about themselves.

13. Never have a client meeting without a client.  Mom or dad aren't your client.  Bride and groom are.

14. Make a list of questions and practice asking them naturally. (more on this tomorrow).

15. When you talk on the phone, smile.  It makes all the difference in the world.

16. Be prepared to answer their quetions: "why are you so expensive?" "why don't you include a disc of images?" the more prepared you are, the more confident you will seem in your business.  Confidence builds trust.

17. Ask closing questions. "It sounds like we have a package that would meet your needs. So that we can hold your date, we simply need a signed agreement, and your booking fee.  Did you want to take care of that with a check or credit card?"

18. Agreement is a much more friendly word than contract.

19. When you want information, ask open-ended questions (how do you feel about... tell me about...).

20. When you want a client to take action, ask multiple choice questions (would you like to take care of that with a check or credit card? I have three dates available for a meeting, which works best for you?)

21. Never assume you are out of someone's budget.  If you are, they will tell you.  Otherwise, act as though they will pay your asking price.

22. Did I mention - it's not your job to save your clients money.

23. Always send a thank you note, whether they book or not.  And always hand write your thank you's

24. If someone doesn't book at the consultation, set an expectation of what comes next. "It sounds like you need a little time to think about your decision.  If it's alright with you, I'll follow up with you later this week to see if you have any more questions."

7 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE YOU START A PHOTOGRAPHY BUSINESS

There are a lot of benefits to running your own business - especially when you get to do something you love like Photography.  You get to be your own boss, set your own schedule, and take the clients you want to work with.  There are many rewards, and we often have this idealized picture in our head of what it will look like.  How often, though, do we really think through what it will take to survive?  Here's 7 things you should know before you start a photography business.

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1. You might be an artist, but this is a business.

 You'll spend most of your time doing things other than taking photos.  If you're not okay with that, don't start a business.  Don't invest your time and energy if you're not willing to make business decisions, and look at the numbers.  I applaud artistic passion, and I am an artist - but when it comes to running my business, I'm a CEO first.  If you'd rather just take photos, keep the day job and take photos - there's nothing dishonorable or wrong with that!

2. If you borrow money, you'll make decisions you wouldn't otherwise make.  

It doesn't take a LOT of money to start a photography business.  It certainly doesn't require the kind of capital it takes to open a restaurant, or coffee shop, or manufacturing plant.  If you start borrowing money, it's likely for things you don't really need.  Now you're not only paying back a loan (or credit card), but you're paying interest - which is money you can't reinvest in the business.  Debt makes you do things you wouldn't do otherwise (trust me, I know this better than most people), and in a business, it can consume your cash-flow - leading you to more bad decisions.

3. You don't need a Canon 50 f/1.2.  

If you're counting on fancy glass to make you a better photographer, you should probably stop charging people, and just go practice.  I'm not saying no one should ever buy it (although I'm a Nikon shooter, so I can't imagine why you're shooting Canon in the first place), but if you're starting your business, and all you can think about is buying gear, than you're probably not making the best long-term decisions.  

4. There's nothing more valuable to your business in the beginning than an accountant.

Seriously - quit thinking about the Canon 50 f/1.2.  It's not going to make you a better photographer.  It's not going to make you more money.  It's not going to help you run a better business.  On the other hand, a good accountant that you can develop a long-term relationship with, can definitely help you make the right decisions about growing your business.  

5. Most workshops are a waste of time.  

Seriously.  I can count on one hand the number of workshops in the industry that I would recommend.  If you want to know what they are, ask me - I'll tell you.  Most of them are a waste of your money, and you can learn just as much by practicing.  If you're paying money to stand in a pack and shoot models, why not just go get a bunch of cute models and do it yourself?  If you're paying money to be in the presence of a "rockstar" keep in mind that they're only a rockstar to you - and that they're "mojo" isn't going to suddenly wear off and make you successful.  Also, as a note - don't take a business workshop from anyone you can't verify their business success.  

That includes mine.

6. You're not going to get rich as a photographer.

 You'll most likely make as much as a teacher - and that's if you focus on running a solid business, take great care of your clients, and manage your expenses well.  You can certainly make more - but the odds are that on average, you're going to work really hard for moderate pay.  There are definitely exceptions, and if you work REALLY hard, AND get really lucky - you can live a pretty comfortable life, but I wouldn't count on it.  The trade off is, you get to be your own boss.

7. Photography is a service industry.  It's about serving clients.

 It's not about you, or your images, or your ego, or your equipment.  It's about providing a REAL value to REAL people who trust you!  You may be fantastically talented, but if you're planning on being a rockstar to anyone but you're clients - you're in this for the wrong reason.

What else would you suggest people know before starting a Photography Business?

 

39 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULDN'T START A PHOTOGRAPHY BUSINESS

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1. People will think that all you do is take pretty photos

2. People will think that you always bring your camera with you, and don't mind taking photos wherever you go.  Including at your niece's birthday party... "since you're going to be there anyway." 

 3. You'll spend most of your time trying to figure out which photos don't suck. 

 4. You'll constantly be wondering whether anyone else thinks any of your photos are any good. 

 5. You'll want to change your website/blog/logo/business card/brochure/etc every time you log into a photography forum and see another photographer's new website/blog/logo/business card/brochure/etc.

 6. Most of the people that contact you will think you're overpriced.  You'll never know how many didn't take you seriously because they thought you were underpriced.

 7. You'll constantly be asked "that includes a disc of all my images right?" 

 8. You'll constantly be asked "can you do that thing where part of the picture is in color and the rest is in black and white?" 

 9. People expect you to be able to make their children smile... on command... every time. 

 10. When people realize you can't make their children smile, they'll get mad at you... as if you punched their kid in the face. 

 11. You'll spend hours at your computer "processing" your images, which is really a euphemism for staring blankly at your screen wondering why anyone actually pays you to take these terrible, terrible photos. 

 12. Usually, everyone else is sleeping, while you're still sitting at your computer at 2:30am. 

 13. Camera companies release new gear all the time, and you'll constantly think you need it in order to make your photos suck less. 

 14. The average photography business lost money in 2011.

 15. You'll have zero job security 

 16. You'll spend about 20% of your time on photography, and the rest banging your head against the wall, trying to figure out how to make money doing this so you can still pay your mortgage.

 17. Most small businesses last less than 5 years. 

 18. The average photographer has $14,520 worth of camera gear... 

 19. that they put on a credit card... 

 20. You'll meet with 50 people to get 15 to say yes to you. 

 21. You'll be required to learn to like coffee. 

 22. There's no pension plan 

 23. There's no health insurance 

 24. You'll wonder why XYZ photographer always gets to shoot at the cool venues. 

 25. You'll also wonder why she gets published all the time. 

 26. What you won't realize is that she sits up at night wondering if her work sucks... just like you do. 

 27. Running a business is really hard. 

 28. You'll often feel very alone, and that no one else in the world understands what your life is really like. 

 29. You'll wake up on Saturday mornings for the rest of your life, wondering if you are supposed to be at someone's wedding. 

 30. You'll attend weddings of family and friends and will spend the whole time watching the photographer, not the wedding. 

 31. Then you'll look at the photos later and wish you'd have paid more attention, since the photos suck. 

 32. You'll have to hire an attorney and an accountant. 

 33. Wedding photographers get sued by their clients. 

 34. They also get audited (3X more often than people who don't own their own business). 

 35. You'll find yourself worried more about what other photographers think, than what your clients think. 

 36. You'll have to carry 50lbs of gear around for 10 hours, often without food or water. 

 37. People will think that you have little elves that work for you that can apparently "photoshop" anything.... even people who didn't actually show up at the wedding... for free.... 

 38. Someone will always show up at a wedding with a nicer camera than you.  

 39. And they'll post their terrible photos on facebook, and the bride and groom will love them, and you'll wonder why you even got out of bed. 

   

 BONUS - Here are three reasons you should: 

 1. Owning a business means creating something that supports the kind of life you want to live.  It means freedom. 

 2. Being creative means you get to give the world something it has never seen before. 

 3. You have the opportunity to help people remember the way they feel at the most important moments of their lives. 

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