Pricing your services can be difficult. But it doesn’t have to be.
Actually, one of the best things you can do is keep your photography prices simple. People like simple.
Figuring out pricing is critical to the success of your business. Freedom and flexibility are probably one of the reasons you started your own business.
And there’s nothing that threatens that more than pricing that doesn’t make sense.
So how do you know what to charge? What happens if no one books? When’s a good time to raise your prices? What if something doesn’t pay well, but it’s a “good opportunity”?
We’re gonna cover all that and more. And feel free to skip ahead…
- The Pricing Mindset
- Understanding value and your costs
- A word about “Portfolio Work”
- Customer Value Optimization and Pricing Psychology
- Those other ‘a la carte’ products
- When should I raise (or lower) my prices?
- Should I show my prices on my website?
- How should I present my prices to my clients?
But first we’re going to start with the pricing mindset.
The Pricing Mindset
We need to start at the beginning…
You have to believe that you are worth it. If you don’t, how can you expect anyone else to believe it?
This is step 1. People can tell if you don’t believe you’re worth it. It might be that you fumble around explaining your prices during a consult, or you always feel the need to defend your prices.
You have to believe you’re worth it.
Mindset might be people’s biggest barrier to pricing what their worth—this is especially true for photographers and artists.
For whatever reason we have trouble valuing our time and work. We reduce it to its smallest element and convince ourselves that’s all it’s worth. How much does a .jpg actually cost anyways?
But if people could do what we could do, they wouldn’t ask us to do it. It’s not like they couldn’t go out and rent a nice camera for a day.
We know that it’s way more involved than having a nice camera. It doesn’t matter how nice phone cameras get—there will always be the need for photographers.
Because while it’s easy rent a nice camera, it’s not as easy to understand how to use that camera, what moments to capture, how to tell a story, different lighting situations, posing people in a flattering way, and everything else that goes into it.
Understanding Value and Your Costs
Part of the pricing problem is that people always tell us to start with our costs. The typical pricing blog posts goes something like this…
Add up your costs (equipment, materials, labor, overhead, etc.), then add whatever amount you want to make in profit, and BOOM—that equals the price of your services.
Points for simplicity. But we suggest starting with value first.
It’s for sure super important to understand your costs, and we’re going to get to that in a second. But first, let’s talk about value.
Understanding costs will help you stay in business, but understanding value will help you figure out what you’re worth.
Letting costs drive your pricing strategy inevitably leads to the reductionist mindset we mentioned earlier: reducing your work to its smallest element… as if all you’re doing is producing a .jpg.
So let’s start with your value.
What value are you providing with your service? How will your clients’ lives be transformed or enhanced by your service?
Take a minute and write it down.
If you’re a wedding photographer, you are capturing someone’s story so that it can be passed down and cherished by future generations. You’re the day’s historian. Your work will be the memory of the day when others’ memories begin to fail.
So, what’s the value of that? Yeah, it’s a bit difficult to quantify. But moreso because it’s invaluable.
Maybe you’re not a wedding photographer and you’re thinking to yourself, “Well, Jones, that’s all well-and-good but I’m a product photographer. I just take pictures of thingamajigs.”
The value you provide is even more tangible than the previous example.
Think about it: How important is having good photos of products to the sales process? If you don’t think it matters, ask a realtor about how important it is to have good photos of a house that’s for sale.
If they could take great pictures of their own product, they would. But they most likely know that professional photos will result in X% more sales. Remember, it requires more than a nice camera.
And we haven’t even started to talk about the value of your time. How much is your time worth?
Remember you can’t create more time. You’re limited to 24 hours in a day.
Some will argue this should be included in the costs section below, but we think you should think about your own time in terms of value.
When you decide to work 8 hours on Saturday, what else could you be doing? Maybe it’s spending time with family.
It’s also not just the hours you spend at the event or project. It’s the hours traveling, editing, and delivering, too.
Time is your most precious resource.
Know your costs
Just because we want you to start with value doesn’t mean you should overlook your costs. If you do, there’s a good chance you’ll end up out of business.
Your costs are going to include some obvious stuff like your camera body, lenses, memory cards, film, light meters, batteries, lighting, and other camera accessories.
It would also include the cost of any assistants or second-shooters you need to work an event or project.
Remember to include all the costs associated with your office, too—whether it’s at home or in a studio. These include internet, software for editing, website development and hosting, office equipment, and all the other things that allow you to work day-to-day.
And we don’t want to forget all that other stuff like those workshops, conferences, and courses you attended to develop professionally.
It’s becoming really clear that this involves more than a nice camera, right?
There’s plenty more to mention, but you get the point. Some of those costs will be divided up over the amount of events/projects you work, while others will be per event/project.
These sorts of things need to be tracked, and there are plenty of tools out there to help you with this.
We use Wave Apps and love it. It’s like Quickbooks, but free (if you use the invoice feature, there is a small fee per online transaction).
What do your costs look like each month? Write it down.
Adding it all up and putting a number to it
Maybe we have you thinking about value, and you’re starting to believe that the service you offer actually is valuable. Good.
But now we actually need to come up with a number because we can’t list invaluable as a price.
Here are some tips for determining what to charge for your services…
Your price needs to be greater than your costs. Duh. I probably don’t have to explain this one, but the price you charge should be greater than your costs.
What kind of market are you in? Are you in New York or Washington, D.C.? Stuff is a bit more expensive there. Not only will your costs be higher, but you can also charge more in these areas.
But if you’re in rural Nebraska and you’re charging elegant New York wedding prices, you might find that no one is booking.
What does the competition charge? It’s good to know what others are charging for similar services in your area. It can help you determine what most people pay for what you provide.
With that said, don’t look at someone else’s prices and think they have it all figured out, or that you have to charge the same amount.
Putting a number to it will take some trial and error.
But whatever number you choose, make sure you feel that the number represents the value you provide. If you start feeling resentment, you’ve probably priced yourself too low.
A Word about Portfolio Work
Portfolio work can be super important when you’re just starting out, but it’s a slippery slope.
We totally recommend organizing styled shoots when you’re first getting started. It’s a great way to build relationships and create the kind of content that you want to be shooting.
Portfolio work is not those random, low-paying (or no-paying) jobs people offer that you really don’t want to do. Constantly agreeing to those kinds of jobs is not profitable and is a cycle that can lead to burnout.
You might be in that cycle if you find yourself repeatedly saying, “I know it doesn’t pay much, but it’s good to be shooting.”
If it’s going to lead to more of the work you want to do, consider doing it, especially if you’re just starting out.
Otherwise, you charge for it.
How do I present my prices to clients?
You want to make sure that you present your prices to clients in a way that makes it easy for them to understand.
Sometimes we think that we’re helping our clients by giving them a ton of options and listing all of our services in ‘a la carte’ format. That way, we tell ourselves, they can choose whatever they want.
But too many options can make it difficult to make a decision, and we want to make things as easy as possible.
We send our collections to clients in a beautifully designed PDF after they’ve inquired.
Collections and Packages
Organizing your services in collections is an effective way to simplify your prices. This way people don’t have to spend a ton of energy and time figuring out what they need and don’t need.
Collections is your way of suggesting to people what they need. You’re the expert, right?
We recommend coming up with three collections.
Your top collection should clearly be the most expensive and include nearly everything you have to offer. And the bottom one should be a stripped-down collection that only includes the “must haves.”
The middle collection should include what most people need and want. This really should be your recommend collection.
Your lowest collection should be priced so that it drives people to the middle collection. Thus, your middle collection shouldn’t be that much more expensive than your lowest collection. It should look like it has the most value for the price.
Your most expensive collection should be the first price that you include. This acts as an anchor price. Anchoring refers to an idea in psychology that suggests we have a tendency to rely more on the first piece of information we’re given.
Your most expensive collection acts as your anchor price: It makes the next collection look that much more valuable in comparison.
The top collection is there because some people will pay more to have the “complete” experience.
This is why we don’t recommend people listing their “starting at” price on their websites. If your lowest collection is what’s listed on your website, you run the risk of your anchor prices having the opposite effect: making all your other prices look more expensive.
Other Products and A la Carte
It’s still okay to list ‘a la carte’ options, but most of those options should be built into various collections. Avoid overwhelming lists of options.
These should be listed after the collections. You’ll want to make sure that the numbers add up, too. If someone were to recreate their collection using just ‘a la carte’ options, it shouldn’t be less expensive than the collection price. If anything, it should be more expensive (you want your collections to appear more valuable).
If you notice that everyone adds one of your ‘a la carte’ options to a collection, consider building that product/service into the collection.
Should I show my prices on my website?
We’ve actually written a whole post dedicated to this question because it’s something we’re asked all.the.time.
But here’s the TL;DR version: If you really want to show a price on your website, we recommend listing the amount that the average couple spends.
We don’t recommend listing your starting at price. See above for a little about your “anchor price.”
Head on over to the full post to read more about our recommendation about listing your prices on your website.
When should I raise (or lower) my prices?
Determining when to raise or lower your prices can be it’s own puzzle. We have a few tips for determining when it’s appropriate to do so, but there’s one thing you need to be doing so that you can make the most informed decisions.
You need to be tracking your inquiries.
This way you know what times of years you receive the most inquiries, and what times of year are generally slower.
Why does this matter? Because if you raise your prices during a slow time of year—but don’t realize that it’s generally slower—and no one books, you might think it’s because of your price hike. When, in reality, it’s just a slow time of year.
Tips for Raising Your Prices
One piece of advice we got when we were first starting out was to raise our prices between 1-3% for every five weddings we booked.
1-3% isn’t a huge jump, but it adds up after a while.
And this sort of method makes sense, too. If you’ve already booked 15 weddings this year, you don’t have as many weekends available. And less supply with greater demand generally means higher prices.
Another tip we’ve come across is to raise your prices every time someone books your top collection because it means there’s someone out there that’s willing to pay more.
Regardless of what you decide make a plan. That way you don’t raise your prices and they lower them out a fear because no one has booked in the past week.
When to Lower Your Prices
You might also find yourself in a situation where you need to lower your prices. Maybe you’ve raised your prices too much, and there simply isn’t enough demand at that price point.
This is why it’s helpful to have an understanding of your market and competition. If you live near an urban area like D.C., you can probably charge a bit more than if you live in rural Nebraska.
Before lowering your prices, consider other factors that might be preventing you from booking. Perhaps you’re presenting your prices in a way that doesn’t make sense. Or maybe your in-person consult call needs some work.
Again, it’s important to be tracking your inquiries and following-up with those inquiries. When you follow-up with people, they’ll often reveal why they decided not to work with you.
Creating Pricing for Your Services
Developing pricing for your services will undoubtedly involve some trial-and-error. It require some adjusting , and it’s definitely something you’ll revisit at least once a year.
But it doesn’t need to be complicated.
We hope this helps. And we’d love to hear your questions or tips you have for setting prices for your services in the comments below.
Be sure to check out our Pricing Guide for Photographers. It’s a beautifully designed PDF we use to present our collections to potential clients. And it does more than just list our collections—it introduces us, lays out our client experience, and answers frequently-asked-questions, too.