If there’s one thing we part time photographers never get bored talking about, it’s pricing our work.
But I’m going to digress from talking about pricing, because your pricing isn’t the problem:
You’re trying to scratch your butt by brushing your teeth.
It’s been five years since I wrote my (some say controversial) post on What to charge for your part time photography, and you awesome readers have asked me if my advice still stands today.
In the historic words of fellow Bandera Texan and Classic Western actor Rudy Robbins:
My philosophy on pricing your work is to be humble: recognize the unique value you create, understand that value will grow over time and practice, and look at pricing as more a tool for managing your calendar than your profit margin.
I could introduce a lot of nuance into this conversation, but here are my practices, some simple if-then-else’s, boiled down to the bones:
- If you’re marketing yourself well (communicating clearly and excitingly the value you create to the potential clients in your market who want and can afford what you offer), but you’re not booked solid, your prices are too high.
- If your prices are humble and broadly affordable (such as my ‘buy what you love’ suggested pricing), but you’re not booked solid, you’re not marketing yourself well (either with the wrong message, or to the wrong people, or both).
- If you’re booked solid, your prices are too low.
- If you’re booked close to solid, and you’re putting enough cash in your pocket each month or year that it leaves a big ol’ grin on your face, your prices are just right, and it’s time to invest your efforts in growing as an artist and marketer.
- If you’re happy, don’t listen to a word I or anyone else says to you: never forget, you’re a part time photographer because you choose to be, and you’re the boss – this is your business, and you call the shots.
- Now, if you’re happy but complacent, if you’re happy but not hungry for more, not growing, I would submit that your happiness is going to fade. If you’re like most artists, you’re going to get bored or burned out – never stop challenging yourself and growing as an artist, marketer, and business owner.
These are some pretty simple formulae to apply to the very complex journey that is being a part time professional photographer.
Simplicity also lets us move on – it allows us to get back to work.
There’s a phrase I hear over and over from my peers, and I feel deeply for them when they feel this way:
“My phone isn’t ringing. I’m doing everything I’m supposed to: I got my web site set up, I handed out business cards, I posted a great deal on my Facebook page, but nobody’s calling. Is my art really that bad?”
I feel you, brothers and sisters.
I believe in art.
I believe in craft, in making, and I believe in its value as a profession and business.
But outside of very special creations and circumstances, your art is not the most influential ingredient to your success.
In fact, when it comes to business success, it may be the least important when compared to your marketing and your business (which includes the experience you create for your clients).
If you’re reading this, if you’ve come this far in your journey into professional photography, your art is almost certainly not what’s holding you back from success.
Chain studios and yearbook photographers prove that you can profitably systematize the photography product (the “art”) down to as little as five canned poses and pay a bored employee $8 an hour to manage that series of repeatable processes: intake, shooting, selling, up selling. Then an automated computer system will follow-up ad infinitum.
(A high school friend, now a mother of three, told me she once paid over $1,000 for a chain portrait session and walked away with an armload of prints of maybe 10 ‘classic’ poses. She was perfectly happy about this… Until I told her my prices.)
Friends, they’re doing business every single day – probably with more clients in a month than you and I shoot in a year.
And their per-client sales are enviable; don’t let the $10 portrait package special advertised on the poster fool you. These businesses have a time-tested process for turning a $10 client into $100, $200, or much more. One PTP reader told me she learned more about making a profit as a portrait photographer from her time working for Kiddie Kandids than she did from years of scouring the Internet.
Good art (even great art) does not guarantee bookings.
Nor does a low price guarantee bookings (so many PTP readers get stuck here, failing to practice and grow their marketing skills).
No doubt, the better your art, the easier it is to show the quality and value of what you have to offer your target market. As the wise folks say, nothing kills a bad product like good marketing.
But there’s the rub: good marketing.
No doubt, you can run your business into the ground with a bad attitude, with policies that make your clients feel like criminals, by treating your clients as adversaries instead of friends.
But even a bad business can get folks in the door with good marketing. They may only come once, they may tell all their friends what a horrible experience they had with you, but the phone had to ring in the first place to get to that point.
If your phone isn’t ringing, I’d bet my beloved 50mm your marketing is weak.
Odds are, it’s non-existent – at least when it comes to proactive, purposeful, targeted, well-placed and well-timed marketing with a high-octane message that not just exists, but invites – nay, excites – potential clients to make your phone ring (or e-mail ding, or Facebook swish).
Your attention, and effort, and research, and concern are misplaced.
It’s not your pricing.
It’s your marketing.
Go find your people.
Show them how you can make their lives better with your art.
Then ask them to do business with you.
- Brainstorm session: Look at your pricing schedule. Write down 10 things you love about this setup. Write down 10 things you hate about this setup. Write 5 things you think your clients love about this setup, and 5 things you think they hate about it. Be creative, think outside your perspective as a business owner. Do you see any opportunities to change things up to better fit you, and better fit your clients? Make those changes right now, then file this away in your Brainstorms folder.
- My writing at PartTimePhoto.com exists to serve your needs as an amateur photographer making the transition to paid professional. I appreciate and welcome your readership, and invite you to subscribe to my e-mail newsletter at the top of any page of this site.
- What’s the biggest struggle holding you back right now? E-mail me your answer (yes, right now!), and let’s make a breakthrough today.
- If anything in this post has spoken to and inspired you, please comment below, drop me an e-mail, or call or text me at 830-688-1564 and let me know. I’d love to hear how you use these ideas to better your part time photography business!
- What should I charge for my part time photography? – Your First Customer Series, Part 3
- How to prepare for your first photography client’s call – Your First Customer Series, Part 5
- Pricing for growth versus pricing for profit
- How do I get my first photography client? – Your First Customer Series, Part 4
- How to run a gift certificate sale on Facebook
- Not sure where to start in marketing your part time photography business? You can’t beat a good book for bang-for-the-buck. Grab one off your mentor’s recommended reading list, from Amazon’s Bestseller List, or start with one of my personal favorites: Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Sales, Booked Solid, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook).