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Tag "Pricing"

New York PhotographerA huge thank you to New York Photographer Michelle Kawka for this guest blog post:

Often times, I will get a price request for my photography services via email. Generally, the inquiry looks something like this:

I need a photographer for X photo or video project or event and it is on X day and time. Are you available? How much do you charge? Please email me back with your price.

To which my email response is generally along the lines of:

Thank you very much for contacting me regarding your photo and/or video needs. How did you hear about me ?

Before I give you a price, it is best if we have a brief phone conversation so that I might ask you a few questions and better understand your needs.

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Detroit People PhotographersYou receive a phone call from a prospective client asking you to “bid” on an upcoming photography project she has. It’s an opportunity to forge a new relationship with a new client and you really want the job. Here are a couple of guidelines that have served me well, resulting in me being selected as the successful “bidder”:

1. Never, ever, give a “ballpark figure” for the project; you’ll surely overlook something if you provide an estimate on the spot. It’s just impossible to quickly throw together a figure while under the pressure of “I want an estimate now.” Instead, gather information by asking open-ended questions and let your caller know you’ll get back to her quickly with the estimate.

2. Always ask your counterpart in the negotiation what her budget for the project is. In most cases, they’ll tell you they haven’t set one. That’s fine, just gather more information – perhaps share some insight about how you would handle the project and offer some suggestions to help her out. Then a bit further along in the conversation, share the following: “I have to say Mary, your project is exactly the type of shoot we do all the time and I’d love to work with you on it. Tell me, where do I need to be on this project?”

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I was speaking with New York Portrait Photographer Michelle Kawka recently and she shared a recent experience with regard to knowing how to price a recent wedding job she photographed.

During her initial consultation with the couple, Michelle sensed that price would be an issue for the couple. She decided a good approach would be to discount her usual price for “photography and an album” a bit, and trust her ability to sell the couple additional albums, prints, and other tangibles when the couple came to her studio to review the photographs. (Just a side note, Michelle is a Sandler Training “graduate” and exudes confidence in just about everything she does.)

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Frog in hot waterThey say that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. It’s a metaphor that speaks to the inability of people to react to significant changes that occur gradually.

Of course change in photography has been going on since it was invented, but I can remember when the “water first started to warm” for me. It was when I was handed a Kodak NC2000 in the early 1990′s to photograph a Presidential debate in Lansing, Michigan for the Associated Press. It was the start of digital photography for me. (Rob Galbraith has an excellent essay on the NC2000 here.)

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Most emerging photographers consider themselves generalists if for no other reason than that they want to work and any paying job coming their way sounds like a good one. But if this is where you’re at in your career, you’ll need to at some point do two things: first, become more of a specialist and second, be willing to let go of those early, low-paying clients. In this essay I’ll talk about the low-paying clients.

Let’s imagine the owner of the muffler shop on the corner of Main Street calls you to shoot some pictures of his shop for an ad he is running in the local weekly newspaper. We’ll call him Joe. He’s only willing to pay a small fee and you’ve done all you can to show him your value, why you’re better than everyone else, and most important, you’re convinced you’ve negotiated as far as you can with him on price. You do the shoot, he’s very satisfied, and he wants you to do more work. The fact remains though, he’s a low budget client.

I’m convinced there are two ways to make more money in any service business, including photography: work more or get better clients. I’ve taken the road of working to get better clients. More sophisticated clients understand copyright, understand licensing, and are in general much easier to work with. They are used to working with professionals in every aspect of their business.

Joe on the other hand sells a muffler and his customer owns it. Forever. The very concept of copyright is possibly foreign to him. He thinks since he’s paid you to take the photograph, he owns it. Licensing? That’s at the Department of Motor Vehicles!

As you begin to gain better clients, don’t be afraid to let go of Joe… ask me how I know. What happened to me will happen to you, guaranteed. You’ll have a day booked with low-paying Joe, and that great client you’ve been after for some time now, calls you asking you to shoot that very same day.

Don’t let Joe hold you back. At some point it’s no longer worth it to work for him. Instead, use that time working on your website, your physical portfolio, your other marketing efforts, tweaking your LinkedIn profile, or making a few phone calls or sending samples to prospective clients.

To move forward, you need to let go of whatever it is that’s holding you back. Even if it’s a client. The one exception, at least for me, is the low-paying client who is a rich referral source. To this day, I have one client who, even though I’ve not raised my rates for over ten years, consistently gives me quality referrals. She knows to keep my ten-year-old pricing “our little secret” and in fact pre-sells me as “one of the more expensive photographers in town, but definitely the best!”

I’ll be presenting my sales and networking program “No More Grumbling – Get Out There” in Dallas tonight, September 22nd, and in New Orleans on Tuesday, September 27th.

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DiscountA question was asked on one of the photographer forums I read regularly:

“I recently convinced a magazine client to commission assignment photography as opposed to buying rights managed. Thus far, we have come to an understanding of fees for the assignment but they have come back asking for the rights to run the story in two other publications that they operate. These are major international publications — UK, China, Asia Pacific markets. I would very much like to keep this client and to increase my relationship with them. What would be the best approach to negotiating for the additional rights? Any insights are much appreciated.”

All sorts of suggestions were being tossed into the conversation, most of them suggesting offering a discount in the form of a percentage of the original fee, for example 25-percent of the original fee.

Creative/marketing consultant and attorney Leslie Burns, offered this excellent advice:

“First, think about it… if the original publication would be seen by (hypothetically) 10,000 people and is worth $X license fee (that is, ONLY the license fee, and not your creative fee for making the image), then a second publication which reaches 10,000 people would also be worth $X license fee. Same reach/effect = same value. Then, because they are being good clients and/or wanting multiple licenses, you can cut them a deal. Give am a discount for multiple licenses. This could be whatever you want it to be — hypothetically, you could say ‘one additional pub with 10,000 circulation = 15% discount; two additional pubs, each with 10,000 circulation = 25% discount per pub.’ Really, it’s what you can negotiate. But a low number like 25% of the original fee for such significant additional use is de-valuing your work. Always look to the actual value of the work as if it were an entirely new license first, then decide if you want to discount that fee as a bulk license or good client kind of benefit.”

I think Leslie makes a good point. I consider a 20-percent discount from any of my favorite places to shop a great deal. Think in terms of discount from the original fee instead of a percentage of the original fee. A subtle semantics change, but an important one.

Have a look at Leslie’s blog, Burns Auto Parts Super Premium Blog. She also has a brand new iPhone app: “Burns Auto Parts Consultants To Go” which is pretty slick. (She’s not in the auto parts business, honest!)

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Denver Photographer Don CudneyIt’s time for another guest post and we’re fortunate to have an excellent article by Denver Photographer Don Cudney. In it Don shares his thoughts about how experience effects pricing. Don is a member of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP). That’s him there on the left shooting HDSLR video on a chilly night.

When it comes to bidding on a job your level of experience should mean nothing if you are just as capable of pulling off a shoot as your competitors. Seriously. Has a client ever asked you to bid less because of your lack of experience? If they did they’re cheap and not a good fit for your business.

I recently took two fellow photographers to lunch. One has been shooting for over twenty years, the other just under two years.  Days before our lunch both photographers were called and bid on the same large assignment.

The inexperienced photographer thought, “Alright, I should bid less because I have less experience.” The experienced photographer thought, “I should bid less because the other guy is going to bid less because of his lack of overhead.”

Now here’s the irony: only the photographers were having this dilemma. The client had no idea how long either of them had been in business — he was simply looking to hire a photographer, one or the other.

Remember, only you know of your inexperience — the client called you. Remember when you make your bid that they did not call me or someone else, they called you! I’ve spent 20+ years bidding against photographers with a lot more talent and experience than I had in some cases.

Photo ©2011 Bryce Boyer

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