Three Pricing Pitfalls Photographers Should Avoid

Pricing your work is tricky. Whether you’re a commercial photographer, portrait shooter, or selling prints of your artwork, your career depends on your ability to price yourself well. Does your rate sheet have any of these mistakes?

First, what is good pricing? A great pricing system is a win-win scenario for photographer and client where both sides end up pleased with the value they’ve received in exchange for the value they’ve given. In an inequitable exchange, either the client or photographer walks away feeling taken advantage of, and neither scenario promotes longevity for the photographer. This leads me to pitfall number one.

Pricing Too Low

Knowing your numbers is essential to knowing how to price your work. As I’ve met with photographers over the past 10 years, I’m shocked at how many low-volume shooters are happy to sell their work (session and digital images included) for $100. In my win-win scenario, they’re leaving that exchange happy because they haven’t sat down and crunched the numbers for what it takes to be successful in business.

The baseline amount varies around the world, but if a photographer in the United States is selling one client a day — a lofty goal for a newcomer, in my opinion — on their $100 package, they’re grossing just $26,000/year in revenue. After expenses and taxes, that’s essentially working for free, or at least very near the poverty line. If you want some great insight into how much those expenses are, check out Danette Chappell’s recent article — you might be surprised.

However, that’s not the only problem with setting your rates too low. One thing I learned early on (by making a similar mistake), was that good clients won’t take you seriously if you’re priced unsustainably low. It’s not dissimilar to a 99 cent sushi special. Probably best to avoid that, and avoid being seen as that kind of brand. I know the argument goes around that “nobody will hire me if I raise my prices,” and even if I agreed with that mentality, who wants to keep working for nothing? In a pricing talk I gave recently, I equated this kind of pricing to lingchi, or death by a thousand cuts. It’s a slow and torturous way to kill your business if, even at your busiest, you’re priced too low to be profitable.

Having Too Many Options

Conventional wisdom tells us that consumers want choices, and if you’ve walked down the snack aisle in a grocery store, it would seem to confirm that idea. In photography, however, presenting someone with 31 flavors can be daunting and confusing. The oft-quoted adage, “a confused mind says ‘no,'” is resoundingly accurate in our profession. As the creative professional, clients come to you because you know best, and that extends into your product offerings.

If you’re selling fine art prints, you don’t need to offer every size from 4×6 inches to 40×60 inches; you need to sell sizes that best represent the image you’re selling. Would you be disappointed if someone put an 11×14-inch print of a sweeping landscape on their wall? I would! Don’t offer it. As a portrait photographer, offering a dozen packages with varying amounts of various print sizes is overwhelming from a client standpoint. Instead, choose the products you’d most like your clients to have and base packages around that, even if you still maintain an a la carte list with a few more options. Make your pricing easily digestible and not confusing, and your clients will be more confident, and therefore more content, with their purchases.

Pricing Without a Plan

Running a photography business is just that: running a business. Your pricing cannot be a product of emotional attachment or how you feel clients will react. You also need to know your bottom out points as well as the caps you’ve placed on your potential sales. Your price sheet is a means to an end, and ought to be created as such.

What this means is that you need to know how much you need to earn per client to reach your target income, and then set your prices accordingly. If you’ve crunched the numbers and determined that you need to earn $800 per client to stay afloat, you’re not going to get there selling 4×6-inch prints for $5. Instead, you need to craft your offerings so your clients are purchasing at least that amount, with the option to spend significantly more. I’ve talked with a lot of photographers who want to be in the six-figure club, but whose own pricing makes it impossible for them to do so.

It’s much easier to be confident in your prices when you know what you need to survive. And, hey, if it doesn’t work out, it’s better to fail on the road to success than to spend years on the slow road to inevitable failure. Remember, you can’t do your clients any good if your own prices put you out of business. Price fairly for both yourself and your clients and you can enjoy your career for as long as you’d like.

Lead image by TeroVesalainen via Pixabay.

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