Pricing was the area of professional photography I struggled with the most in the early years. However, it was far too recently that I realized I had a fundamental error in my approach to pricing and value.
I’ve always been completely open about my naivety towards business when I first jumped in to full-time photography. I had no niche — not even close; I was spread-betting with and no idea how I should price jobs. I had only just started on my journey into business, so how was I to know how much my time was worth? Gradually, I found my level as I worked on jobs where I under-quoted significantly (there were lots of these) and worked on jobs where I some how got the role despite over-quoting (there were not lots of these). That was, in essence, stage one.
Stage two was increasing my prices. Once I had an understanding of how much I ought to be charging for a job at that time, I started to get more work, I narrowed my focus, and improved my expertise. Naturally, the next step was to cultivate this career and increase my prices to be in line with my improvements elsewhere. Yet again, I got it quite wrong. Both fortunately and unfortunately for me, I began getting work at my higher prices, and I couldn’t decide if I was worth my fee. I was torn between that doubt being insecurity or perceptiveness, so I continued. Some companies I had worked with before regularly had tried to negotiate my old price down, so my new price was unlikely to fly, and thus, those bridges became burned, albeit respectfully. Gradually, the work became slightly more difficult to attain despite my improvements in skill, industry knowledge (both mine and the clients’), and industry worth (that is how well known I was in my area). So, I made my third mistake: I lowered the prices again.
The decisions I had been making, while not perfectly informed, were not on a whim either. I had researched prices for similar work from other vendors and attempted to match what it was the client would be receiving by way of imagery, but I hadn’t noticed that which is glaringly obvious to me now. Why was I trying to match everybody else? Those benchmarks aren’t there to be attained. Or rather, the successful people in any industry don’t aim for the middle. So, my prices went back up to where I wasn’t sure they were definitely fair for everybody involved, and then I changed the other side of the equation: my work. I began dreaming up all the ways I could improve my service.
The obvious way to improve a photography service is better images. If you can’t do that, you’ve got a big problem: you ought to always be aiming to create the best that you can create. The second obvious way is to give the client more images than they paid for. I always do this anyway, offering some behind the scenes images and some extra shots that I liked as a sort of free gift, but this won’t set you apart. That makes you the photographer that over-delivers, which you ought to be, but you’re still just a photographer. So, I began adding value elsewhere. I would help the brands I worked with with marketing, I would sell for them (if I liked their product, and I almost always do because I choose to work with brands I admire), and I would advise them on areas they could improve. I started joining communities left and right within the industry I served and presenting these communities with products I was working on and why I liked what the companies produced. I would attend events and chat to people about the products. I became an unofficial champion and ambassador of my clients.
It didn’t end there. I began teaching my clients ways in which they could improve any photography they do themselves. When I first started out, I was petrified of sharing such wisdom in case it prohibited future work. In my experience, that’s simply not the case. I also tried to connect my clients with other people in their industry they may not know who could further their company in some way. I work with many young brands and start-ups, so these helping hands can have profound long-term impacts.
My aim when approaching and working with companies isn’t unique, but I believe it’s effective and it’s this: how can I make hiring me in the future a no-brainer? Ask yourself how you can improve the companies you’re working with in any way that’s within your reach. With smaller companies, that question is open-ended, and you can make a lasting impact. With larger companies, perhaps you have to stay closer to the circumference of your job’s area of influence, but do anything and everything else you can.
There are a lot of photographers out there, so be more than just a photographer.