Intro by Skip Cohen
This is the second time over the last few years I've wanted to share this post out of the SCU archives on pricing. Why? Because nobody addresses the challenge as good as my buddy Scott Bourne. In this post, he's hitting on far more than just the usual things to consider when you're pricing your work as a wedding and portrait photographer.
Plus, it's tax season, and in less than a month you're all going to hopefully meet with your accountant. Sadly most of you won't know whether you even made money in 2018 until after that meeting. Then you'll swear to do a better job in 2019, but within thirty days be back to your old habits.
Remember, you've got to pay attention to ALL of your costs. There are so many of you who forget to consider all the different things you've done to set up your business and then keep it going! There's also a podcast about pricing I just did with a lot of help from Chamira Young on ProPhotographerJourney.com that just aired last week.
The sad thing about pricing is that so many of you think it's rocket science. Well, it's NOT, but it does take the same dedication as NASA landing an astronaut on the moon. You didn't become a photographer to be a philanthropist, but to build a business.
Here's my point - We're in the last month of what many of you view as the slow season. Before business starts to ramp up, review your pricing! There's nothing that will undermine your success more than lousy pricing! You're working hard to build your skill set and your brand, but a photography business without revenue to support your continued passion for the craft is just a hobby!
By Scott Bourne
Pricing photography is the second hardest thing you will ever do as a professional photographer. (Finding the right clients is the first hardest.) It’s very easy to make mistakes when pricing and once they’re made, it’s hard to recover from them. So start out right.
One disclaimer: Not every pricing method works for every photographer. Much depends on the current state of the market and the genre (i.e., wedding, commercial, fine art, food, etc.) I’ll try to stick to some universal ideas in this post.
Start at the Beginning
You can’t effectively price your work until you understand what it is you’re selling.
You are not selling square inches of paper for the cost of printing them. For some reason, the first element that seems to enter some photographers’ minds when making a pricing decision is the size of the print. This “brick wall” has cost many photographers money. The most important thing to keep in mind is the value of your work, not the size of the print. You build this value by evaluating ALL the factors that go into making a salable image.
So what are you selling? How about your creativity and unique ability to capture something others do not see? Anyone can buy a camera, but can they capture the image exactly the way you do? How about the time you have invested in training for the moment when you captured the image? That time needs to be taken into consideration. Your mechanic, doctor, accountant, and lawyer all get paid for the time they spend doing the work. Shouldn’t you be paid too? You also have to consider the level of your present technical ability. The casual amateur should not be able to get the most out of the same equipment as an experienced professional.
And, speaking of equipment, you must also take into consideration the value of your gear. So, as you are deciding how to price your work, make sure you take into account and charge for your logistical skills, experience, time and your ability to translate your client’s desires into a visual statement. Know what you’re selling before you try to sell it. This will help you avoid many mistakes later.
In order to price something well, you must know the economics. Here are some key things to keep in mind:
B) Profit margin
C) The market you are serving
Calculating your overhead requires that you consider all the costs associated with being a professional photographer. These includes:
A) Equipment depreciation
E) Legal fees
F) Accounting fees
G) Payroll fees
O) Office supplies
Q) Professional dues
Calculating your profit may be a bit easier. You consider your cost of doing business by allowing for a percentage of your overhead to be applied to the cost of each job. From there, mark up your price to include a standard profit margin. This can be based on any number you want but a good starting point is to double the cost of your product (100 percent profit margin).
Selling or Licensing Images
Now you also need to adjust this figure based on the market type you are serving. Is the image being used in a small or large market? Will thousands of people see it or just a few? What is the perceived value to the client? How does the client plan to use your image? Who is your competition and what choices does your client have besides you for this type of image? Are there 50 photographers in the mix or only two or three? Consider these factors to calculate your fee.
When you sell or license an image, it is likely you will have to negotiate the price with a savvy photo buyer. Knowing how to negotiate can save you time, money and help you close profitable deals. Remember that negotiating is just problem solving. Both parties have something they need to accomplish and the negotiation makes it happen.
You must not take ANY of the issues that arise during a negotiation personally. The buyer is supposed to try to get the best deal that he or she can. That’s their job. Your job is the same.
The essential steps in the negotiating process are: establish rapport, gather information, do research, ask questions, and let the buyer do most of the talking. In any negotiation, the person who listens most is likely to gain more. In any negotiation, it’s always very important that you do more listening than talking. Otherwise, you will miss important clues, both physical and verbal, that will help you resolve the deal.
Before quoting a price, you must try to educate the client and build the value of the image you are selling. Make sure that the client understands the effort, time and expense you invested to make this image. If the image is truly one-of-a-kind or was made at personal risk, those factors translate directly into the value of what you have for sale.
Try to encourage the client to place an opening bid. If the buyer is the first one to name a price, I believe you will be rewarded with a higher fee. A good way to open the negotiation process is to ask a question like, “What’s the most you would be willing to pay to use my image or purchase my print?” If you are forced to begin the negotiation process by offering a figure, an alternative is to begin with a number that is twice your standard price plus 10 percent. Once this figure is given, you can work down from there.
But remember that if you give a number first, you run the risk of quoting a price that is much lower than the buyer was willing to pay, and you’ll never know what figure they were willing to pay. So, let your clients do the talking. Then, you should listen, take notes, and preferably wait for them to tell you what they can afford.
If the client has pricing objections, be sure to return to the rapport building and value enhancement stages outlined above. Usually, a price objection really means that there is another piece of information you have not uncovered. It is likely that there is something else you have not offered that the client really wants or needs. This is why it’s crucial to listen more than you talk and ask plenty of questions to uncover hidden needs.
Once you have taken all the necessary steps, be sure to ask for the order. A surprising number of photographic sales don’t happen simply because the seller has forgotten to ask for the sale.
(NOTE: Negotiating with magazines is not possible unless you are a famous photographer with images that are in great demand. When you approach magazines, understand that you will only get paid their standard rates.)
Check out "Why?" one of the most popular features on the SCU Blog. It's a very simple concept - one image, one artist and one short sound bite. Each artist shares what makes the image one of their most favorite. We're over 100 artists featured since the project started. Click on the link above and you can scroll through all of the episodes to date.