Why do Wedding Photographers Seem Expensive?
“The P Word”
We all know that one of the biggest struggles we have as photographers and business owners alike is with the P word: pricing. Whether you’re a hobbyist who loves taking photos of her friends and kids, a part timer who shoots when she can who tries to stay creative while juggling her other job, or a full time business owning, self promoting, photographing machine, pricing can get the best of us. Am I priced too high? Am I priced too low? What are other people charging? How does my work compare to theirs? That person is charging what for their work? The worst thing we can do is compare ourselves to others.
My parents taught me at a very young age to find something I loved to do and figure out how to make money doing it. This in turn would pave a road to a happy life. After all, that’s what they did. That’s the dream, but it’s obviously not that easy. The industry is flooded with photographers trying to make a dime. It seems like everywhere you look there’s a photographer willing to do it cheaper, faster, and even throw in one-month free rent for the opportunity! That kind of competition can force young artists to believe that competitive pricing is the key to success. That unfortunate fact causes our industry to suffer. The truth is we are creative artists who, just like my parents, want to make an honest living doing what they love to do. Learning how to price yourself appropriately requires that we introduce a new word into our professional vocabulary: value. How much is my time and artistry worth? Would I pay for my services? The answers to these questions are key to determining your price as a working artist.
The first question you should ask yourself: What is my time worth? Working for ourselves doesn’t mean we don’t deserve a set wage. What would your time be worth if you were working for someone else? What about a different job? I think we can all agree that most photographers who start to work professionally have acquired a good amount of experience and equipment to provide a professional experience to their paying clients, not to mention all the education and time invested to reach that level of professionalism. For those reasons alone, shouldn’t we be paid fairly just as everyone else is in the working world? What would be a fair wage if you were to walk into an office job with experience and education under your belt? Finding that number can be difficult at first. But when you do, it’s important to apply that to the actual amount of hours you are spending on each job. This includes, but is not limited to: client correspondence, scouting, time shooting, travel time to and from an event or session, time to edit, upload, more correspondence, sales sessions, ordering, print fulfillment, and delivery of your final product! Even for a 1-hour photo session, that can sure add up!
The second thing to consider is your fixed cost of running your business. What does it cost to run your business during a session or event? And what about overhead? How much does it cost to host your website or blog? How much money did your computer cost? What about editing software, presets, plug-ins, blogging programs, branding costs, templates, etc.? What about gas and wear and tear on your vehicle? And of course the obvious one: purchase and maintenance of camera gear, memory cards, and updated back up hardware. Determining your fixed costs can be extremely difficult, but it’s very important to remember these costs when choosing a price to charge your clients. Factoring in these costs and combining it with the cost of your time is crucial to developing a price point on which you can support yourself and your business.
Thirdly, and maybe most importantly, what is your experience level and client demographic? How long have you been photographing professionally? What education level or expertise do you possess in the field? What kind of clients do you want to attract? What are those clients expecting from a professional photographer and what can they afford? New business owners and seasoned professionals alike have to constantly answer these questions. (Add something more about pricing yourself for what you desire and what you can deliver, if you charge budget prices, you book budget weddings, supply and demand, taking the leap, and marketing to demographics that are in your ideal clientele)
Lastly, although not related to determining your price but more to defending your price, how do you deal with clients who contest your value?
Let’s say you’re in the wedding industry as I am. I get inquiries all the time from brides asking if I offer discounts for Friday weddings or if they pay in cash. The answer to these questions is always (a very polite) no! The bottom line is my time and everything factored into my pricing is worth the same on Friday as it is on Saturday. And cash is never preferable when running a business (there’s no real way to keep a record of cash payments). The important thing to remember is that if people are booking you at your current price, there’s no reason to devalue yourself just because someone is asking you to. If you walked into a department store and brought a piece of merchandise to the counter and asked “Can I have this for $15 instead of $25”, what do you think the sales clerk would say? These items have been priced appropriately factoring in all the production and labor costs associated with making that item. In much the same way, we should be pricing our goods and services appropriately.
There is no set formula for finding your appropriate price point. However, asking yourself these questions is definitely a good start. If you find yourself truly struggling on this subject and feel that some professional advice is needed, feel free to look at classes online at such sites as www.creativelive.com or Sarah Petty’s www.thejoyofmarketing.com. There is so much valuable information out there; by no means am I claiming that these are the definitive rules for every photography business. Your business is unique and will require much attention to begin and even more to run smoothly. It’s not easy for any of us. But the trade off, I believe, is so worth it!
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