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How My Business Evolved…My Pricing {Loudoun Professional Photographer}

Pricing…a touchy subject for many photographers.  I won’t lie – I was totally looking at this from the wrong point of view in the beginning.  I did what most people do wrong – I looked at “competition” and said “I wouldn’t pay that much for that”, and so I priced myself at what I thought I’d pay.

Ok, right about now you are thinking I’m nuts to say this in public.  But seriously, the point is, I hadn’t considered how much it actually cost me to produce anything.  And I mean the real cost.  The cost with all the software, computer hardware, insurance, taxes, camera equipment depreciations, marketing, and more.  And I totally didn’t value my own TIME into anything.  So when I said I wouldn’t pay that price, I wasn’t thinking about the business owner and what it took for them to make that product, market that product, and sell that product.  I devalued my own worth because I had no idea what it all took to make.  I was still thinking about the cost of the paper, and not what it took to create the image to put on the paper.

Soooo…those other guys that I thought were too expensive?  Well, they had done that homework for themselves.  And I had to take about 4 years to fix what I’d started off wrong.  It wasn’t just about changing my prices, which by the way – you can’t do that too fast or you lose everything you’ve worked for…unless you want to toss away ALL your customer base at once.

So why 4 years?  Because along the way I also had a misconception of how I should sell what I produce.  I figured out how much it was all costing me pretty quickly, but learning how to sell it…well, that was too sided. I had a lot to fix, and that took time AFTER I figured out how to fix it. Those first five years, I really don’t know how I survived.

How much could I charge?  AND…How much could I tell people I charged?  The second part of that statement involved courage.  GUTS to say I was worth anything, you know?  GUTS to defend that position when questioned.  GUTS to charge more than someone else along the way too.

Actually, in my case, I actually charge more than the shoot and burn photographers, yes, but still LESS than many of my professional counter parts.  Funny, right?  But true – if you charge less for something than the ones you are being compared to you are considered not as good as the others by many people.  This was, and still is, a BIG problem in wedding pricing, but it’s hard to fix everything!

So finding my pricing involved finding my speciality, and realizing I needed to be different enough from the others that from the “get go” I was worth a second look to people as their potential photographer.  And each specialty had to be priced differently.  Weddings are not priced as seniors, and business portraits are completely different than family sessions.

I spent a lot of time looking at how others sell their work.  Although resistant to packages early on, I soon realized the value of them to photographers.  Of course, selling the same image over and over again is a better deal for me, I’ve done the hard work of taking the photo and retouching it, so printing in quantity is easier and I can pass along more value to the client. But they are confusing, and often times the client ends up with a bunch of images in sizes they just don’t need.

So when I wanted to offer what I felt – and still feel – was the better option for clients – the ability to order ANY image they wanted, that meant I had to show value in and price it all right for my business and the customer too.  I finally knew my base costs, I just had to configure the offering in a way that worked for all. So I spent over a year developing the Create Your Own Package system I have now.  It was tweaked a lot, but the system as it is now has been in place for 4 years, and works GREAT – for me, and how I work.  It allows folks to follow the steps to get the small print discounted pricing, and/or discounted digital files.  And I’m always happy to tell people how to “cheat” my own system and get more. Because in the end, my “cheat” benefits my business too.

The next big mistake I made in selling – and still do in many cases, was selling online.   People don’t mean to steal, I know that.  But innocently they swipe those images – with watermarks in place – and cut and paste them into an email back to me.  Or mock up a design they think would work on their end – yup, with the swiped images. Or just plain swipe them to post on social media because they don’t know any better.  Think about it – haven’t we all seen someone who even takes a photo of a photo and posts it online?  Most people think that is acceptable, because they think they own the image since they bought a print.

But buying a print DOES NOT give you the rights to the image.  You bought one piece of paper with the image on it.  The online world, and digital file versions are a whole different realm.  Like digital music – just because you heard it on the radio and enjoyed it does NOT mean you can record it and use it to listen to anytime you want.  Those artists figured out early on how to price, and police, the policies.  Go musicians!

I know people aren’t doing this meanly, or maliciously, but it is a problem in my business.  A big one.  So I had to move to in person sales as my only means to try to control the online swiping.  The “photo of a photo” problem – well, I can only hope people begin to see that it is stealing from someone who is only trying to make a living, and keep a business afloat.  And it’s just NOT NICE.

For me, the realization that the only way to show, and sell my images had to be IN PERSON was huge (and expensive).  I had to set up an area to bring people back to see their images.  That meant special software (and the learning curve and set up time of that too), a large screen TV, chairs and couches, and printed materials to support it all.  AND samples.  LOTS and LOTS of samples.  I spent a fortune on samples so folks could see, and touch the different items they might want, in all sizes possible.  I put images on my walls so people could see the sizes in spaces relative to their own, and I researched the best companies to order products from that could provide value, and quality to my clients.

And then I had to have the GUTS to do it all in front of them.  Hear them say they hated something, and be able to tell them in person how much something was priced.  If you have a confidence issue yourself, you should know that overcoming this part was really really HARD.  (And I won’t say I’m completely over it either.)

I added frames to my lineup about 5 years ago.  A game changer for sure.  LOTS more work for me, more packaging, and more samples.  But now I can provide a completely finished product for folks, ready to hang.

Digital files are asked about all the time.  Why are they so expensive?  Well, if you look at it from a photographer’s business point of view, you are buying the only thing I sell, in it’s base form.  So you take away my ability to sell it to you any other way except for that one time.  I want to sell prints.  I want to make sure you have something to touch and look at all the time.  Digital files so often just get put on a computer and never looked at.  That is not my happy place for so many reasons.

But neither is a $100 sale.  I can’t stay in business that way.

But I know you want them.  So I offer them in a BIG discounted way through the Create Your Own Package system.  And I look for when you most want them – like for business headshots, or grad or Christmas cards.  I price business headshots and weddings as digital sessions from the start, and there are concessions because of that.   I have never offered all digital sessions for seniors or families.  I just don’t feel it’s worth my time to be in business if that’s all I can sell.  But I do offer options that are priced fairly for customers so they can have everything they want.

For cards, I used to be able to offer complimentary uploads to a popular card printing site.  The site I used gave me 2-4% of any card sales they got from my images.  Last year they decided they weren’t going to offer that to photographers any more, because they wanted to keep all their money for themselves.  So now I have to go back to a different plan for those customers.  Everyone throws curve balls at you when you are in business.

So yup…every step of this journey I had to readjust – basically to listen to what customers were telling me, and to learn even more about how I could not only help them get more, but sell more too and have them still walk away happy.

Cause that is always my goal.  Happy customers.  And a business that can pay it’s own bills, too.  Cause it isn’t a charity….

Don’t forget to check back tomorrow! Another post will be up and it’s a good one too!

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