How to raise your photography prices... it's harder than you think!
Well here I am almost exactly a year from when I said my goodbye to Simply Actions. What a year it has been. Lots of personal growth, as well as professional growth. I have mentored 15 amazingly talented and beautiful photographers, I have had two very successful courses sold through the Milky Way Retreat (Maternity and Family) all the while servicing over 80 clients throughout the year. 2017 was a real roller coaster!
It is that time of year, when we are feeling maybe just a bit over-worked, under-appreciated and questioning about whether we should raise our pricing for the new year or not. I am not going to preach about how expensive it actually is to run a photography business, instead I am going to ask you these three questions:
At the end of the year do you feel completely under-appreciated and totally burnt out?
Or do you feel like yelling from the rooftops, "I am ONLY ONE PERSON!"?
Do you feel relatively happy with your work and clients, but want to make more money in the new year to build your business, but you are worried about people not wanting to book you any more?
If you answered yes to any of these questions please keep reading. I am here to help :)
PLEASE NOTE: these following five steps I outline are some of the things I work with my students who sign up for my online mentoring - so if you are needing a hand through all this, click here for my holiday pricing!
Before I get right into it, I want to explain why we are taking all these peripheral steps rather than just raising your prices. I explain things best I feel with analogies, and seeing as I have just recently experienced the wonders of manicures, I want to give you a scenario. At the beginning of 2017 I got a Groupon (an online coupon) to go to a nearby spa for a manicure. I went with a friend, and it wasn't what I thought it was, they had us in separate rooms, so we couldn't sit and chat, and although they did shape my nails, they just used regular nail polish and that was that. It was cheap, I wasn't upset about the service, but I wasn't dazzled by it. Then back in May I was going on a trip to Europe so I wanted to look and feel amazing so I went to a salon here in Montreal for another manicure. It was considerably more expensive. But I went in and was offered refreshments immediately. I was seated and then while I was getting my nails shaped etc the owner came over to say hello and ask how I was doing. Then the manicurist used a special gel nail polish that needed to be cured. As someone who is prone to chipping her nail polish before it even fully dries, having pretty nails that lasted a couple of weeks was amazing. I can tell you that if I paid the price I did for the second manicure and received the first manicure service I would have been pretty upset and felt super taken advantage of. The result of both appointments were exactly the same. I went in for pretty nails and received that both times. The only difference was the quality of service. And because the quality of service was so much better the second time I was very willing to pay triple the price. And I plan to go back to the more expensive place, and never go back to the cheaper one.
Now imagine that in the context of your photography business. Your images are probably beautiful. But even if to a trained photographer of many many years in the biz your images have room to grow, it doesn't matter to your client, because your images have their favourite subjects in them, their children, or their family, or their newborn, or their wedding day. So the most important thing your client is paying for is service. This service is actually what you are selling! So to be able to provide the service that will justify you raising your pricing here are my five steps.
Step One: Discover your why.
If you are in the photography business to make easy money, sit down. It's not going to happen. You will burn out before it does. But if you are in the business of photography because you are compelled to for heartfelt reasons you have the strength and stamina to build a beautiful lasting business, as long as your work from your why. Here are some examples:
For me photography is about validating that love, whether it is for you family, child or for yourself. When you have those images up on your wall, and you see them everyday, you are reminded that no matter how tough life can be, you are loved and you love.
For a student of mine it is about finding the beauty in the chaos and mess of real life. Her images are of a lifestyle feel, but not the pristine uncluttered kind, she does not ask her clients to clean up their homes before a session, she zeros in on the connection amongst the daily clutter and it looks beautiful! It gives her clients the understanding that their lives are beautiful exactly how they are.
For another student of mine, photography is about freedom. It is allowing her clients to feel free to be themselves and capturing the beauty of their love completely as they are. Authentically.
So find your why. Once you know your why, you know the true value of what you are doing. (NOTE: if you could only do ONE genre of photography for the rest of your life what that would be; really think about that. I know it is hard to narrow it down sometimes, but think about your why and what genre feeds that the most. It helps to have a very clear message of your why through the photography you do). Remember we are just talking about what you are marketing for, you can still say yes to different genres, but having one genre makes you come off as a specialist, as well as it is a clearer message to your potential clients. Find out what your why is so when your clients ask you about your pricing, you can explain to them the amazing and priceless gift you are giving them with every image. Not all who inquire will see the value in what you are doing, but enough will. Trust me.
Step Two: Discover your Style
This is the toughest one to do. Especially when there are so so so many photographers out there, you wonder if you could ever stand out. How can you find a style that is solely yours and uninfluenced in a social media environment, where there are countless influences scrolling through your feed on the daily. So hard to find that focus I know. Here is my advice in finding your style:
- keep working on your technique, the better you get with the technical side of your photography, the easier it will be for your style to come out and shine. You will be spending less time in photoshop or lightroom trying to fix your in camera mistakes, and more time on playing with your images and seeing what you love.
- your style will blend into your branding. It should match, and compliment. so what I tell my students to do is build a pinterest board. Put everything on it that speaks to their why or is truly visually appealing to them. Add in fonts, colors, clothing, photography and quotes that speak to you when you think about your clients and what you want to deliver to them, try not to think about what you SHOULD be doing, and just let your heart choose, use your WHY. Once you have done that, leave it for a few days. Then when you go back to it, look for commonalities, look for common denominators. This will show you more of what your style is, and will get the juices flowing on how you want to deliver your services to your clients.
Step Three: Website, GET ONE
I have had countless conversations with clients who have said when they decided they wanted a newborn photographer they went right to google. People don't instinctively think to go to Facebook to find a photographer, especially if they are a higher paying client, so if your Facebook page is up to date, but your website is not, then you have a problem. You want to be searchable on google, and you want your website to be beautiful and easy to use and to clearly share your message. If you need a user friendly site to build your website with I STRONGLY recommend Squarespace. It is user friendly and I have converted a couple of students to it and they are MUCH happier for it. Here are a few websites I built for students with Squarespace:
and here is one I consulted on:
If you would like more guidance on building a successful website, or would like me to build you one, please check out my online mentoring :) building you a website is a part of my holiday special pricng! :) Click here.
Step Four: Client Workflow
It is so important to guide your clients through the photography experience, and that might seem like a lot of work, but there are easy automated ways you can do that, so that the experience is seamless for them and not too time consuming for you. Here is the client workflow I use in a nutshell:
-Inquiry email comes in through my 17hats.com leads contact information which is embedded on my contact page on my website. I send them back a personalized version of my template response to the specific type of session they are looking for. This template lists out a general idea of what the session timeline will be from booking to delivery of images. In this email is the link to my welcome guide that has the same information but laid out in more detail as well as it has my full price list.
-They reply wanting to book. I send them my Jotform agreement form/contract which has the means to take a credit card payment for the session fee which I use as a retainer to hold their session date and time. This form allows me to get to know them through a few questions and also lets them know my studio policies.
-About a week before the session I send them a Session Prep Information email with the date, time and location of their session along with any tips I can give them on what to wear and what to bring.
-At the session I have an amazing time with them, we laugh, joke... if its a newborn session, someone gets peed on haha!! But there is no money exchanged at this part of the workflow, I want them to focus on the experience of the session free of monetary concern.
-When their session is retouched and ready I meet with them either via Skype or in person to show them their images, go over the price list again and they make their final purchase for the products. I ensure I deliver them their product within the agreed upon timelines laid out in the agreement form/contract they signed.
This is the workflow that works for me. Others do even more! They will deliver product with beautiful little gifts, some will do an in person pre-consultation, or go to their clients home to help design their wall galleries. Talk to photographers you admire, ask them what they do. Talk about it in supportive Facebook groups. You will be completely inspired. Just make sure you can afford to deliver what you would like to do, and price out the cost of each package delivery and include it in your costs when you are figuring out your pricing.
Step Five: Raising your Pricing - ACK!
Now that you have done all the other steps, you have worked up enough of sweat, passion and belief in yourself that your pricing shouldn't be too hard to raise.... BUT WAIT! What if your clients will not book you! OK, breathe. Your current clients may get sticker shock yes, but I feel it's important to be totally up front with them. Tell them it was time for you to start charging pricing with your business in mind, not with your heart. But the great benefits of it is that now you will have more time to treat them as amazingly as they deserve! In addition you can give them the option to book a session within a desired time frame without having to pay a session fee, or with a special bonus gift of their choice, to help ease the transition - for instance you can say, "If you book before the end of January, for a session anytime between now and June 2018 I will waive your session fee, or provide you with a free framed 11x14 print." Send this information out to all of your past clients via email. Facebook posts are RARELY seen, and if you don't you will be having this conversation over and over throughout the new year.
Please note - not all of your clients will come back to you. Trust me it has happened to me... and it is heart breaking. But the great thing is that it leaves room in your heart for new clients who VALUE what you are delivering. You may find old clients will book when you do mini sessions, which is great!
Another thing to note - You will begin to see more people saying that they are not interested, you are out of their budget, or just plain not responding to your inquiries... it's ok. You don't need as many yes's to your pricing as you used to get. When I went from shoot and burn to running a boutique business, I made the same in one month with my new pricing and three clients, as I did in one month with 26 clients with my old pricing. INSANE!!
Last and MOST important note: MAKE SURE YOU ALWAYS DELIVER YOUR PRICING TO YOUR CLIENT BEFORE THEY BOOK. This is why I give it to them in their inquiry email. You need to be upfront with every client, ALWAYS. When you are clear and upfront, your client knows what to expect and you know that if they try to twist things on you, you have a paper trail showing them that they were informed from the very beginning what the pricing was. Doing it this way protects your client from getting a nasty surprise and you from having to deal with clients who feel a bit duped.
Here is a link to a great article by the Marketog on how to figure out the math around your pricing. It might look intimidating at first, but I believe she has a workbook you can fill out that will do the math for you as well :) https://www.themoderntog.com/photographers-pricing-guide-business-projections-and-calculations/
If you are looking for a little more help with all of this, please check out my Online Mentoring page, it will explain how I go into even more detail with SEO, finding your ideal client, In Person Sales and if you require it, build you a website that is beautiful, reflective of you and entirely professional looking :)