So you have your photography business established, portfolio put together, and you're ready to start making money, right? But you're stuck at a critical roadblock which is pricing and packaging your services. Well, don't worry; this is a very common roadblock for most photographers and creative business owners. So I'll share some super helpful pricing tips that I learned throughout my 7 years as a photographer.
*AFFILIATE DISCLAIMER: There may be some affiliate links in this post, where I get small commission from the products if you purchase them. No extra charge to you of course ^_^
1. Value Your Time, Expertise, and Resources
I honestly believe that time is more valuable than money. Money can be made again, but time can not. Don’t give up so much your time for so little value (money/trade) in return. If a client offers a to pay a rate for a service, remember that a good rate is relative to the amount of time, resources, and level of expertise you are giving in return.
For example, I’ve had a prospective client offer to pay me $2400 for a retouching project. While I was attracted to the larger number, I had to pause in considering how much work and time will be spent on the project before accepting. When the client indicated that they were expecting high-quality retouching for more than 1000 images over the span of 2 months, I quickly rejected that request. When I did the math of what was asked of me, I would have been settling for less than minimum wage pay for specialized work. No way!
2. Fast/Rushed Turn Arounds Should Equal Higher Rates
In addition to my first tip about valuing time, I advise to not base your rates solely on time. But why is that? Because you should not be paid less just because you can deliver quality work faster than expected. In fact, your speedy execution and delivery could be a testament to your high skill level. So why should you be paid less for being highly skilled? Remember, since time is so valuable, you should also be paid well for helping save your clients’ time.
3. Don’t forget to factor ALL expenses
When you are developing packages and prices around your services, it is crucial to factor in all expenses involved. Those expenses include overhead/business costs, project specific costs, and personal expenses. Here are some of the things included in each type of expense:
Overhead/Business Expenses - these are the costs of creating and managing your business and brand
- Camera equipment, Computer hardware, HardDrives
- Software: Editing, Accounting, File Management,
- Subscriptions: Web Hosting, Email Marketing, Social Media Marketing
- Business Fees: Startup Fees, Licenses/Permits, Registered Agent
- External Services: Tax Prep, Accounting, Legal, Contracting
- Rentals and Utilities
- Business Debts and Loans
Project + Client Specific Expenses - these are the costs associated with the specific project/client’s needs. This can vary between each client.
- Specific Equipment Rentals
- Location Rental
- Travel Costs (gas, flight expenses, hotel, food)
- Additional Services (makeup artists, stylists, retouchers, designers, etc)
- Risks + Liabilities
- Prints + File Delivery
- Additional services
- Project Timelines (extended sessions, rush deliveries, delays)
Personal Expenses - Don’t forget that you have to survive and thrive. Especially if you are a solo business owner. You need to make sure your business is growing while also eventually growing your income.
- Mortgage + Rent
- Insurance (Health, Dental, Car, Home, etc)
- Health expenses (if you have specific needs for a condition or disability)
- Dependents: children, relatives, pets
- Recreational expenses (travel, vacation, entertainment, hobbies)
- Sick Days
- Savings + Investments
- Debts ( STUDENT LOANS, car notes, credit card, etc)
4. Don’t Forget Taxes
Essentially, this tips goes under the last tip about expenses, but I wanted to emphasize this expense because it's commonly put on the back burner and can bite you in the butt if you’re not careful. (Trust me I know from past mistakes haha).
On top of that, taxes can fall under multiple expense categories depending on your business structure, service/product type, and household/dependency status. You may owe taxes in a variety of places.
* I highly recommend consulting a tax professional, lawyer, and/or accountant for legal tips and advice. One great financial resource for photographers is the LawTog.
5. Eliminate Guilt
Don’t let pushy prospective clients guilt you into lowering your rate. Just make sure you’re clear and upfront with what you’re offering, be sure to deliver and take full accountability if you make mistakes.
Also, don’t let competing photographers with lower rates control how you structure your prices and packages. While its okay to reference others, keep in mind that another business’s structure, needs, and expenses may be different from yours which might be why they can offer lower rates.
6. Know Your Ideal Client
This tip is not only essential to branding and marketing, it is also essential to your pricing. Take the time to figure out your who your ideal client is, what their needs are, and what their income/budgets may look like. This will help you save time and energy when pitching to potential clients and customers.
7. Cheap rates can cost you more!
It’s tempting to start a business with low prices in hopes of attracting new clients and customers easily. This is not always a bad strategy if done correctly. However, mindlessly starting your business with cheap prices can cost you in time, money, and even reputation in the long run.
A common issue with starting with cheap rates is the type of clients you will attract. Cheap clients can be the most demanding and difficult because they are fishing for quantity more than quality. A client who is always looking to get more for less is often hard to please. This can result in you putting more resources into a client’s ego than what you’ll be getting in return. And when you finally draw boundaries with a client you’ve been bending backward for, they may become upset and develop a bad view of your brand which can hurt a business’s reputation. I know it sounds unfair, but it happens a lot. (I’ve been here before). Some people will even try to hurt a business’s reputation out of anger at not being able to afford their services/product, even if they haven’t spent a dime.
8. You can make more money with fewer clients/customers
Many starting business owners and freelancers mistakenly believe more clients equals make more money. However, it can also mean rates are too low, resulting in a taking on an excessive amount of projects to make ends meet. Not only are you losing out on time and resources, you risk under delivering due to burn out or just not having enough time to dedicate to each project. (Especially if you are a solopreneur) Therefore, the quality you produce can be directly affected by the rates and amount of work a business takes on. When you have fewer clients at a time for higher rates, you can offer much higher quality and focused attention to each client’s needs.
9. Offering work files (RAW, PSD, etc) is not mandatory
You don’t owe clients unedited/RAW, PSD, layered files, or any other type of work file unless that is what was originally agreed upon. Most professional photographers and designers only offer flattened final files (JPEG, TIFF, PNG, MP4, etc) during the revision phase and final delivery phase of a project. However, if work files are offered it's not for cheap. When you offer original work files you could be giving away the specific practices and methods that make your brand special. This can result in someone copying you or just no longer needing your services again. Therefore, you deserve to get paid a lot if you choose to offer work file delivery in your packages. On top of that, if you offer work files, make sure you outline specific restrictions and limits to what clients can do with work files in your contract.
10. Establish clear contract terms and fees
To avoid being ripped off, I recommend you don’t begin working or delivering materials until a written agreement has been made. Additionally, it's even better to require a retainer fee or booking fee before beginning a project. That way, you can guarantee you’ll be paid something, just in case a client ghosts you. The retainer or booking fee (typically non-refundable) can be based on a percentage of a project’s flat rate, rentals need to start the project or other things related to the project. Some photographers and creative even require full payment upfront before starting a project.
*Don’t start paying for rentals or other project specific costs before contract and/or retainer.
* Don’t feel guilty for requiring payments upfront. When you reserve time slots for a client’s project you closing other potential opportunities to make money.
11. Avoid Offering Free Tests and Trials
Unless you have factored this into your business’s budget in advance, avoid offering free services or trail services just to lure clients in. This can have the same effect of starting with cheap rates. If a client wants to prove your skill, they can view your portfolio. Offering discounts is a better strategy in my opinion. But if you do offer free tests, trials, or discounts make it clear on the front end, that the offer is a one-time thing. If you are not clear on the front end you risk client loss and reputation damage.
12. Try a price calculator
Even all the tips mentioned, developing rates and packages can still be a tricky process. Online price calculator is great resources that help you factor in potential expenses and needs to deciding your price structure.
Here are some great pricing calculators for photographers: