Is Pricing Hurting Your Business?
We all start somewhere right? I cringe when I think about the first wedding I ever shot, because I showed up with a Canon t3i Rebel with a lens kit, and my roommate had my point and shoot as a “second shooter”. It’s fine guys, I get it!! I was lame.
I’m going to share a little about my personal journey to where my business is today. I hope that it helps you with your own journey, wherever you are. If you want to hear more about my journey, you can check out my interview with Holly on the Why Should I Podcast. I’m talking all about Pursuing Your Passion, sharing my struggles with burnout and dishing the deets.
It was 2014, I literally had just bought my camera and my couple had full disclosure that I knew nothing. Like I had been in business all of 5 months at the time. I didn’t really think much about being a wedding photographer, I just thought it would be fun. I think I charged like $400 for coming to the rehearsal dinner AND an entire afternoon the next day for the wedding. It was also like an hour drive each way, so don’t judge me!
I then spent at least 40 hours, if not more, on culling and editing (because again I had no idea
what I was doing) and I really wanted these photos to be perfect. I had no idea what Lightroom was and I edited each photo INDIVIDUALLY in Photoshop. And ya, that’s also how I culled my photos too. I was literally just taking pictures because it was fun for me. And then I’m pretty sure I delivered them on a CD. That’s how you know it was old school – CDs. Hah!
I had no real drive to price myself to create a profitable business because I just thought it would be a fun hobby. I figured if I could make an extra $100 a month doing something I loved that was fine with me.
So fast forward to early 2016. I had a lot more practice, a newer camera and some idea about what I was doing. I knew that if I wanted to continue to buy new gear and improve my photography, I needed to figure out how to generate more income to invest. At this point I was charging like $150 for an hour session; and I didn’t require any kind of deposit and I had no reservation process. Everything was usually last minute bookings; 1-2 weeks before, and so I struggled a lot with clients not showing up. I had no contract so I was literally drowning in “work” for clients who ghosted me. They’d just call me 2 hours later and say oh sorry we couldn’t afford it or just not even return my calls at all. It was super frustrating because I would have much rather spent that time with my family or my friends instead of waiting at the park for this client to show up.
I finally decided to create a contract, require deposits and work on making things a bit more legit. I was realizing that at the price point I was at, I was really getting clients that wanted a good deal. It was exhausting, because I felt I was giving more of myself to each client, whether that was more images that I promised or an extra print credit, but I was also finding that some of those clients were still either unhappy or really hard to please, even though they got a discount or were getting a great deal. It was hard for me as a business owner to try and build something legit when I felt like the clients that were coming to me weren’t valuing me.
Now before you start saying “Woah, that’s harsh” I am NOT referring to every single client. I had some really amazing clients when I was starting out, and many have continued to grow with me and value my new skill levels as my business has grown. I’m referring to some very specific situations and clients when I’m talking about being undervalued, disrespected and dealing with hard to please clients. I love my loyal clients who have continued to come back, and so don’t think I’m just totally brushing off the amazing people I have met along the way.
Where I really felt the biggest struggle though was with my pricing.
I needed to make sure that I was compensated for all the time spent on engagement sessions, planning leading up to the wedding, being there on the actual wedding day, editing the images, delivering them, travel costs to and from venues/locations, etc. For family sessions I would help with outfit planning, location scouting and a lot of behind the scenes work that went into a session that my current price point just wasn’t accounting for. Still, at this point in my business I didn’t really have a good workflow so my To-Do list always seemed like it was never ending. And then at the end of the year I found that the business wasn’t really making that much money compared to the work I was putting in. I realized that I was working my tail off, spending hours away from my family, friends and my boyfriend to do what? Sit in front of a computer? It just wasn’t worth it.
Back then, I brought in like maybe like $5000 gross.
And I had about $4000 in expenses, if not more. I was technically losing money for about 2-3 years before I ever really saw a profit.
Then I wanted a new camera that was $2500 and a new lens that was $1700 so you do the math and see I was basically making nothing. Because all I saw was the hours and hours I was spending working for what? An extra $2000. Not to mention I had a basic website ($200/year) and travel expenses and now it’s like ‘Uh Meg, what the heck are you doing? This is NOT worth your time” – and it wasn’t.
So at the end of 2017, I sat down with my new husband and I asked myself the simplest question that literally changed my life:
Why am I doing this?
Lemme just paint you a little picture of my life right now, as I type in March of 2019. I work full time NOT in photography. I actually work in Agriculture full time as a safety manager for a citrus farming company and do photography on the side. Photography now brings in enough to nearly match my salary at my full time job, but that doesn’t mean I’m taking home that salary match. I have other business expenses.
*If you’re really curious what it costs to start a photography business, stay tuned because later this month I’ll be digging up all the dirt on what it actually costs to start a photography business.
The only reason I even picked up a camera to begin with was because I had a genuine love for making people feel good and allowing them to relive amazing, emotion-filled moments with my images. When they saw their photos and were like “WOW We look great!” it was THE BEST feeling in the entire world. When clients told me I captured moments they didn’t even know they wanted, my heart would do a happy dance. Seriously!
I was noticing that as I was pouring my heart and soul into every e-mail, phone consult, coffee date, session, wedding and editing frenzy, but I was feeling a little resentful towards my passion. My friends were used to the “I can’t, I have to edit” text. My life and my relationships were suffering. I was constantly stressed, and making myself sick. And because I didn’t value myself, I was taken advantage of by clients, and I let them.
It wasn’t until I dove into my WHY that I discovered not only how to price myself better,
but how to guarantee that I would be left feeling valued and fulfilled in photography again. And now, I do! I feel valued by clients who truly adore me. Like I cannot even tell you how much I love my clients you guys, because I am the one vendor that it literally with them their entire wedding day. For my family clients, I’ve watched their kids grow up. Heck I’ve seen them add one or two more to their tribe. I get to capture my little cousins growing up in front of my camera and it is the best job ever you guys. So really what it comes down to when pricing yourself;
Why you charge whatever rate you choose is so much MORE important than the actual number.
But I get it…you want real numbers. I can’t give you all the answers friends, because it does vary based on your financial goals and needs. Just remember that if you’re setting your prices low to get more clients, you might get so many that you could be setting yourself up for burnout. Also, you could be setting your clients up for disappointment if you’re so overworked that you can’t give 100% to your clients.
So what’s your WHY?
Maybe you want to add to your income. Maybe you need a creative outlet. You might be a single mom trying to provide for your babies. Maybe you want a job that will give you more time to be at home with your kids, or travel more with your spouse. Maybe you are looking for a way to leave your office job and do something that you truly love.
We have to stop comparing our journeys and here’s why. You are not at the same place in life as the person next to you. Overnight success really isn’t overnight, so don’t be fooled. It takes hard work. When someone says they’re calendar is full, it doesn’t mean every single second is full. I post about once a month with a calendar update about how many “spots” I have left. Generally I reserve 2 weekends off a month, so don’t think that this means my calendar is overflowing. This also helps if clients need to reschedule to have open dates. And the best part is, I’m ok with that!
Here’s the deal guys.
Once I dove into why I began to value my time. I had grown so much in the 4 years since I started my business in mid 2014. 2018 was my most successful year yet! My business brought in just under what my full time salary. That doesn’t mean I paid myself my salary though. I have business expenses that needed to be covered like gear purchases, website hosting, taxes, studio rent and more.
Where are you at in your life?
I have been asked why I charge “so much more” than that “XX Photography who takes the same photos as you”. I’m not gonna lie, I usually respond just a little bit passive aggressive with something like, “WOW, they are so talented and that’s a great deal! Definitely snag that session. Thanks!”
And that’s because those clients are the ones hunting for a good deal. It doesn’t mean that XX Photography is any better or any less of a photographer than I am. I just learned after being the cheaper photographer, that those clients just aren’t the right clients for me. I also wanted my work to be better, and be worth more. Don’t get me wrong guys; there is literally nothing wrong with getting a good deal. Heck I am all for it! But I also know that I can’t get a Michael Kors purse at a Target price tag.
Yes, we might have similar styles, but they are still different. But we probably have different gear or experience levels. Most importantly, we are probably at a completely different places in our lives.
They might have been working a minimum wage job, so they can get by with more. Maybe they’re a single mom, so they have to make it worth their time away from their babies; but they still have to charge enough put food on the table. No two people have the same financial needs. That is why it is so hard to just compare something as subjective as a price.
If you’ve been struggling with pricing, ask yourself WHY you’re doing it.
I’ve got a FREE DOWNLOAD to help you figure out your CODB where you can easily plug in your numbers and figure out what you need to charge to make what you want to make. *Click here to get the free guide!*