This has been quite the week. Highs. Lows. Rushing around and then sitting around, waiting. And I am just speaking about my work-life. I have had some great and not-so-great interactions with potential clients and I have had some awesome conversations with current clients. It’s really easy when running your own business to get caught up in it. To be flying around by the seat of your pants. Just doing things for no rhyme or reason, just getting things done. Running without really knowing the destination just knowing that you have to do it. This may sound silly but when you run your own business, you sometimes forget that you are the boss. You are in charge. You make the rules. I mean, this is why most of us are self-employed, right? It’s amazing to me how often I have forgotten this: I am the boss. My business, my rules. This week I had an interaction with potential clients that allowed me to actually slow down my manic pace and say to myself, “Wait. Think about how you are going to react. Let go of emotions. You are in charge.”
The Price Game
Everyone is on a budget these days. Everyone is looking to save money wherever and whenever they can. I understand that. I am as well. Look on any photography forum these days and there are photographers complaining about clients who are complaining about their pricing. Everyone wants a deal. They want ten hours of photography for $1,000 and they don’t understand why you cannot do that because their cousin’s girlfriend’s twenty year old sister will do it for that rate. I will not get into why charging $1,000 to shoot that wedding means you will be making a living much lower than the standard of living because it has already been blogged about enough. But what I will say is: you should be charging a rate that allows you to live the life that you want to live by working an appropriate number of hours per week.
What I wonder is how those people who are looking for such a phenomenal deal, operate in regular purchasing life. Do they go to the grocery store and say “Nope, this milk should be $1.99, not the listed price of $3.99. This is what I want to pay for it.” Do they go to the car dealership and instead of the listed price of $19,995 for that new car, they tell the salesperson that they want it for $9,995? What would happen if their boss came to them and said “This week, I want you to do the same amount of work as last week, but I am going to pay you $500 less.” I guarantee that this person would not be happy with that exchange.
So why is it that potential clients continuously come to us self-employed photographers (or graphic designers or web developer or…) and expect a deal? They see our listed rates but they are not satisfied with that. They want to pay less for the same amount of work. Why do they do it? Because they see us as desperately needing work? Because they know that if we do not say yes, there is some other photographer out there low enough who will accept their offer? Probably.
I set my rates because I know the value of my work. I know that I have 11+ years of photographing professionally so that when something goes wrong at a client’s wedding, I react before it even happens. I know that this is something that I have that the client’s cousin’s girlfriend’s twenty year old sister does not. I have experience. I also know that I can take some pretty sweet portraits that my clients will love and I know that I will capture those candid moments that will bring tears to my eyes. I have that confidence in my work because I have been doing it for so long and because of all these things, I know that what I charge to my client equals what I deliver. So when a client is asking for a deal, they are not seeing your true value. They are simply seeing your work as a number on their wedding budget spreadsheet. My friend Rebecca once told me that it is difficult change the way people see the cost of things. If someone sees the value of a loaf of bread at $3.99, they will likely never spend $8.99 on that artisanal loaf simply because they believe that bread is not worth that much money. If a client comes back to you saying they love your work but that you are simply out of your budget, you need to 1) be respectful of that and 2) show them the value of your work and why you cost $xxxxx.
I love love love my clients. I like to get in tight with my wedding clients and I like to know everything about them as a couple. I like to hear about their vision for their big day and I love the challenge of then capturing it exactly as they experience it. Occasionally I get clients who come to me who tell me that they love my work but they simply cannot afford me. I totally get it. I tell them that I, too, am planning my own wedding right now and, man alive, are they ever expensive. I tell them I understand the need to stick within a budget and then I tell them just why I cost what I do. (By the way, I would consider myself mid-range in the price point of wedding photography for Toronto. By no means am I even close to being the most expensive and I like it that way.) I ask them what their budget is and what they expect to get from that number. Often times, the brides don’t write back. Those are the ones that were never really serious. They did not care that they were contacting me, they just need any photographer to take pictures at their wedding. The ones who reply back are the ones who actually do want me and knowing that, I can work with them.
I know that I have written in the past about how you should never work for free and I know that some other professionals are adamant about never giving discounts. For me, I am okay with giving a small discount as long as I think that the discount is valued and that the clients are serious in having no one else capturing their big day but me.
I recently got a new client inquiry for a wedding that is taking place next year. I replied with my rates and they replied saying I was over their budget by quite a bit. I did as above, asked them what they wanted to spend and what they expected from that. Their wedding is taking place at a venue that is local to me and one that I haven’t photographed at in about eight years so I was pretty excited about the possibility of working with these two. I offered them a small discount. She wrote back saying that it was still well over their budget and “is there anything that you can do?” My initial, emotional, response was, “Are you kidding me? We have spoken on the phone, we have bonded, you love my work and want me to be the one to capture your wedding. I have offered you a discount and you are still asking for more?! Rude!” So I took a deep breath, did some thinking and wrote a proper reply. In it I explained my value, I explained that I had already offered a discount and then I said this line, “If you want a further discount, I am wondering what you can offer me in exchange for my loss of income?” Boom. I admit that saying that was a little ballsy but it was the truth. I’m planning my own wedding, I have living and business expenses. If I am going to lose out on money, I need to get something from it.
She responded within an hour, she thanked me for the previous offer of a discount and apologised if she had offended me in basically asking for more. She then told me that the two of them has discussed it and that they were going to rejig their budget to allow more room for photography because they realise how important it is. Boom. Nailed it.
As a self-employed person, you are in charge. You make your rules about how you run your business and what you charge your clients. It’s all you, baby. This is something that we need to constantly remind ourselves. Stand by what you have set out. People will respect it and if they don’t, they were never your client. While I love my job and cannot imagine doing anything else, I also need to be realistic in the amount of income I need to continue living this awesome life.