Know what you’re worth, and I don’t mean in a self-esteem / confidence way, but rather in a business sense. I recently had a personal experience where there was a disconnect between a client (now a former client I suppose) and myself about pricing for my photography services. This recent experience made me realize that I wasn’t listening to my own advice about knowing what I’m worth and charging for it.
I met this client years ago when I was just starting off in photography. I had wanted to start things off right with a business contract. However the client insisted a contract wasn’t necessary – BIG mistake, especially if you are doing portrait photography for a group. So, without a contract, I blindly agreed to shoot the event which included head-shots. Well, because I was naive and didn’t have much experience I just took the job. Well the first year was a success, and consequentially I went out to photograph the same job for the past 3 years or so. However I was getting a bit low balled, I knew it, the client knew it, but I didn’t speak up. Or if the client didn’t know it, it was my fault for not letting them be aware of the price. I should have charged 3 or 4 times the amount that was given, but I continued, because I thought I was doing this client a favor, and I wanted to do a good job.
It’s A Business
What I should have done was nailed down a contract with the client and nailed down an agreed upon price. I had done contract work before for product photography clients, and those sometimes resulted in negotiation, but I was satisfied with the agreed upon price. Those jobs were great, I provided what the client needed and I received what I thought the work was worth. Don’t ever be afraid of charging what you think is necessary for you to get the job done. The best way to do this in a contract is to see what others are charging within the market. If you’re just starting off, you may want to start on the low end, if you have more experience then charge more, but I wouldn’t veer off from the average too much. People are typically savvy about photography and will price shop and unless you are really confident and have a track record to prove it, you don’t really want to be the most expensive one around. In fact, the best thing you can do is seek out your competition and see what they are charging and even bring that information to your client.
Don’t Take It Personal
If your client doesn’t want to agree with the contract, then walk away. If you think the client does not want to pay what you are charging, they are more than free to go somewhere else. If you let every Tom, Dick, and Sally try to unreasonably low ball you, you’ll receive a reputation about the cheapest service around and you’ll start resenting doing your work. Be confident in what you can do, and also be confident in what you can’t do. Be open and honest with the client, you’re both trying to accomplish something together. If the client doesn’t want to pay, then walk away. If they get upset, don’t take it personally. Imagine how they’ll treat you when something goes sideways or if they don’t end up liking your work. It’s just bad news.
So take it from me, don’t make this mistake. It just ends up messy and people get upset and angry – it’s typically a lose-lose situation. I recently had a music school reach out to me to do portrait sessions for their students. We went back and forth and finally when I provided them the pricing – which I thought was very reasonable, they balked at the contract. Well I politely parted ways, and I noticed months later – they still didn’t over portraits for their students… I guess they realized the division between the real value of what they wanted, and what they were willing to pay. There was definitely a disconnect there and sometimes, just educating the client is the right thing to do.
Anyways, bottom line is – Know what you’re worth, and when you know what you’re worth, don’t compromise, ever.