When I first started taking professional portraits and wedding photos, I had a difficult time getting the prices I wanted from my clients. Because I was new to the business, I thought people felt like they were taking a bigger risk working with me. As such, I set my prices a little lower to try and attract new clients. It backfired, and I learned a lot from the experience. If you’re wondering what you can do to get the best possible prices from your first photography gigs, I suggest you give these negotiating techniques a try.
#1: Always be the first person with a number
This is negotiating 101. Part of the reason I wasn’t successful at first was because I wasn’t properly setting my rates and defining what’s “reasonable” to my clients. I would always ask them for the price, and then I’d try to negotiate up from it (almost an impossible feat). There is one fundamental flaw with this approach. The client always sets your price. It could be really great, or it could be abysmally low. Everything is up to chance if you allow it to be.
Now I have very clearly posted rates for all of the photography jobs I do. Clients aren’t confused about what I charge. They can negotiate down if they want, but at the very least, all prices are within an acceptable range for my business.
#2: Pad all of your prices
If you pick a number at the high of your price range, you’ve got a much better chance of getting a price somewhere near the middle. Not every client is going to try to talk you down from your number. Some of them will simply accept it while others will walk away from the deal. The goal is to pick a number that’s a little higher than the average but not so high it makes people feel uncomfortable.
Sure, you'll lose some customers but in my experience, those after the cheapest deals always seem to be harder to please than those who are happy with your fees.
#3: Know your clients very well
I don't mean know them personally, but it helps to know who your clients are, what they want from a photographer, and what their other options are. You’re unlikely to win a negotiation if your client has a family member who takes fantastic photos and is willing to do the job for half of your price. In that case, it might be better to lower your rate a little (but not too much!) so you can get the extra work. Each situation is different, but the more you know, the better you are when you sit down with your client to discuss prices.
#4: Make sure your clients know the right information about you
If you are very busy with other clients, make sure your client is well aware of this fact. Having a busy schedule is the best thing you can do to get the prices you want. It says you’re in demand, and because of that, your time is simply worth more. When most people negotiate, they try to size up the other person and determine which other options that person has available. If you let them know you don’t have many other options, they’ll try to get a better price from you.
Don’t need to pretend to act busy when you’re not, but it helps to avoid giving away information that could tilt the odds away from you. Here's what I used to do: I only blocked 2 hours a day (or even a week) in my calendar for photography clients. That way you can honestly tell clients 'I'm full this week, how about next week?'
#5: Know your walkaway point
It’s important to have a clearly defined minimum price for every type of shoot. That number is entirely up to you, but don't let your prospective client know what it is. If the client reaches that number, just say 'thanks, but no thanks'. It’s not worth pursuing anymore, and you’ll just do more harm than good to your photography career.
Do not be afraid to tell your clients that their price is just too low. Don't put up a stink, but also don’t feel guilty about not doing the shoot. A lot of starting photographers think they should take low paying jobs just to have some work under their belt, but I’d advise against this. Word spreads pretty fast. Low paying customers tend to lead to more low paying customers. It’s best to avoid them altogether.
#6: What's your price?
So, what price should you charge? It depends on your country, city (and even suburb) you live. To get an approximate price, look up other photographers in your area, call them as a prospective client and ask for their prices.
If I could offer one simple piece of advice, it’s this: Know what you’re worth and ask for it. Present yourself as a professional, and you will be treated like one.
Are you starting your own photography business? Do you have any stories of success, failure, or anything in between? I’d like to know about it. Leave a comment below.
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