When Is It Time to Raise Your Prices?
Maybe you're a "newbie" photographer, or perhaps you've been shooting for a long time-- either way, at some point we all ask ourselves if we are happy with where our pricing structure has landed. For me (Ashley), this is something I struggled with for over a year. I can remember shooting my first sessions back in California at the beginning of my business, and getting paid between $50 and $100 dollars. I recall feeling so excited, because someone PAID ME for pictures! Cue the excitement! Boy, it is so funny to remember how I felt and thought about photography, and how much my mindset has changed since then. Once I started viewing this as my job (and realized I needed to be paying for things like insurance, taxes, gear, website hosting, branding, packaging, editing software, etc.) I started thoughtfully considering where I should be pricing my services.
Your pricing for a regular photography session (for me that would be anything except for weddings), shouldn't be a number you pull out of thin air. You really need to consider all the things. For example, consider things like how much you have invested into your business on gear, your taxes, travel time, hourly fee, editing time, etc. This is what you use to come up with a number that is worth the energy it takes to shoot, cull, edit and deliver a completely amazing photo session to your paying customers. When I first started accepting weddings, I raised my prices after every five weddings, until I was finally at the point where I felt comfortable and happy with what I was earning.
Maybe you aren't at that happy and comfortable place yet and you are considering increasing your fee, but....wait! It's a little bit scary and you're unsure of where to begin. Today I have four questions you should ask yourself and consider, before making this decision. Hopefully this will make the decision a little easier for you...
1. Where is your skill level?
This is kind of a no brainer. Take a mental inventory of your skill set. If you aren't confident or comfortable shooting in certain situations or in particular modes in your camera, then chances are you are still in the process of building your portfolio or learning your craft. You should price accordingly. It would be wrong not to take on clients at a bit of a decreased cost for sessions you aren't 100% confident in yet. Don't use people as guinea pigs, especially if it is their wedding day! I know we all have to start somewhere, but please don't take a New Year's Eve, midnight wedding if you can't rock the socks off some off-camera flash units! I have personally decided to steer clear of weddings that will be in dark venues, because I don't prefer the look of flash photography, but you better believe that I can take a properly-exposed photo in a ballroom, with no windows if need be. We have to be able to shoot in any condition, and if you're not there yet, don't worry. Take some time and continue practicing, being sure you are very skilled in the areas you need to be before you increase your rates.
As I've grown as a photographer and started shooting in film, I've needed to account for those new skills I now have within my pricing structure.
2. Who is your ideal client?
This is an important point that should be a theme when you are making any business decisions. It is so important to curate your branding, as well as your pricing, to the ideal client you want to attract. When I started, my pricing was low and because of that, I got a lot of low budget weddings. Now -- there is nothing wrong with a bride on a budget -- but personally I wanted to shoot lots of gorgeous details and work with brides who hired professional wedding planners, commissioned calligraphers and who, at the very least, had real wedding flowers! Your price point will determine the type of client who inquires with you. In fact, I was talking to a photographer acquaintance who works with several brides with photography budgets of $8-10K. He advised me to increase my prices, or those type of brides would never even give my website a second glance. And it is true, often people associate skill level and quality with your price. This is definitely something to consider when you are deciding on your pricing.
3. How is your demand?
If you aren't booked up, then chances are raising your prices isn't going to help your situation. As creative entrepreneurs, we are risk takers at heart, but we also need to be realistic. Booking clients and making money is essential to make our businesses successful. If you're not getting bites with your prices as they are, I would suggest putting together more styled photo shoots with excellent artists, so followers will see your caliber of work, giving them confidence to trust you with their next portrait session or wedding. Once you start booking clients and find that you are receiving more inquiries, signings and followers, it is then time to raise your prices!
4. Are you happy?
This. This is the biggest point I want to make. When you are considering your prices, ask yourself if you are happy shooting at your current rate. As a stay at home mom myself, I was finding myself unhappy. I was working my tail off, shooting several lifestyle sessions per week, and in turn, missing out on spending time with my little boy. Once I raised my prices, I was able to take on less shoots and felt at peace with spending that time away from him, because the income totally justified it. Don't ever take on work or offer discounts that you KNOW will come back to haunt you or worse-- lose you money. There is nothing worse than dreading a session, or heaven forbid a wedding day, because you cut someone a deal. Value your time. Value your talent. And then price yourself accordingly!
Running your own business is going to be filled with challenges like these. I like to re-evaluate where I am at at least once or twice a year. I ask myself all of these questions and make an informed decision to increase my rates or keep them where they are. It is always a work in progress, but you will get there! At the end of the day, even though this is a "job", you should be LOVING what you do! If you are confident in your pricing, value the gifts you have as a photographer, and put in the hard work, your clients will also value you.
What has helped YOU determine when to raise your prices? You can answer even if you're not a photographer.