Professional photographers can’t be in business for very long without becoming embroiled in the subject of pricing their photography and how to handle a photographer price list. For some reason, creating a price list of photography products and services presents a nightmare for the average person who wants to know the ins and outs of how to be a professional photographer.
First, there’s the question of what prices they should charge, closely followed by the problem of how to present their photography price list to their prospects, without appearing to pressure-sell them into investing in something they don’t really want.
As a photography coach, this topic pops up frequently in my photography business strategy coaching calls, so I wanted to share a few ideas and how to deal with the necessary evil of the photography price list…
The Many Ways To Present Your Photography Price List
In my time as a professional photographer, working in the business of being creative, I’ve personally tried many different methods of presenting my price lists, with varying degrees of success, including:
- Printed price menus and pamphlets
- Combining a price list with a brochure
- Including prices on the website
- Sending out photographic price lists by email
The problem with all of these methods was that photography sales suffered as a result. I would indiscriminately hand out price lists to prospects who requested them, count the number of hits to my price list web page, or email my price list to anyone who requested it. This was especially true as I was learning how to book weddings, for example. Unfortunately, most of those prospects disappeared as quickly as they came. Unless those people were simply professional price list collectors, it was a complete mystery to me, and it was easy to think, “my photography prices must be too high…” At that point, the photography business seemed like a poor choice to be in!
Stop Fiddling With Your Price List!
With the thought of all these disappearing prospects fresh in my mind, I took a long hard look at my price list, and I really did start to imagine that my prices were too high. So, I made the terrible mistake of lowering them and trying again. Yes, you guessed it – I saw just the same result; people would see the prices and then disappear.
If we aren’t careful, this can result in us getting caught up in a terrible cycle of continually fiddling with our price list, frantically trying to find that sweet spot, which doesn’t really exist, by the way!
Does any of this sound familiar to you? Are you stuck in that no-man’s land of second-guessing your prospects, trying hard to discover what you think they would pay, rather than what you think they should pay?
If so, you’re not alone – just about every photographer I know has been through this painful process, including most of the photographers I talk to in my business coaching sessions. (Check out this other article: “6 Photography Business Tips To Cure Pricing Headaches” for more on this.)
But, there is an answer…
Show Your Photography Price List – Don’t Tell
The solution requires three separate things. First, you must decide where you are going to position your photography business in the marketplace (branding and marketing), and what your services and products are going to be (i.e. what it is that you’re actually selling). Next, you should calculate your fees, based solidly upon your operating and sale costs, your income personal requirements, and what your photography studio needs to prosper. Finally, you should print ONE price list that remains solely in your possession, and never leaves the studio.
That’s right, just one; that means no one sees your full price list unless you personally show it to them, together with a full and complete sales presentation of all the photographic services and products you have to offer.
I know, I can hear you saying, “that’s the craziest thing I’ve heard!” but bear with me here for just a moment longer…
There’s a perfectly good reason why the other methods of presenting our photography prices are ineffective. When someone views a website and finds a price list, they can immediately see how much an 8 x 10 print or a wedding collection is. But, how are they going to compare that with something they’ve seen elsewhere, except by the price, print size or package contents? Suddenly, your prospect has been magically transformed from someone looking for sensitive, emotional photography into a robotic price comparison shopper! In the mind of most people, all 8 x 10 prints are created equal, based on the printing cost, but we know that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s what is printed on the paper that’s important, not the paper itself.
How can we possibly intervene and explain this to an anonymous web surfer, or someone just sitting at home reading a photographer’s price list that they picked up from somewhere?
Wedding collections are an even more extreme example. Displaying the price for a package on a website or in a brochure they can take away is only going to make the prospect think, “well, I get such and such for this price, but that other photographer over there will give me x and y for less….” We both know that the “other” photographer isn’t going to put as much effort into their wedding day as we are, doesn’t have the same experience, won’t deliver as quickly, or simply isn’t artistic.
But the potential client isn’t thinking like that anymore. They’re only comparing one photographer’s price list with another and trying to make a decision based only on the numbers.
The same thing applies when someone calls you on the telephone. The first question they usually ask is, “What are your prices? How much?” If you answer that question straight away, they’re gone, and we never hear from them again. Instead, we must divert the conversation away from the price (at least at the beginning of the call) and on to the emotional reasons for the photography they’re looking for. Once we’ve had a chance to educate them about what makes us unique, then we can gently introduce them to our fees, after which we arrange to meet them personally for a more in-depth chat if our price happens to fall within their budget.
This means that, by the time the client meets with you for a chat, they already know that your fees are affordable to them.
There Can Be Only One Price List! The Personal Touch
As you probably expect, I meet with every client I work with before I allow them to book a session or wedding. Apart from being able to meet them face to face, this is an opportunity to give my full sales presentation before introducing them to my full photographer price list. As a professional salesperson, it is my responsibility to ensure that I understand as much about their needs as possible before trying to sell them anything.
When it comes time to talk about fees there’s one copy of my price list, which is printed on fine parchment paper and kept in a leather folio. To the client, it really looks like an official copy, which it is, and no one has ever asked me if they can take it home or borrow it. They simply take notes as we go through it, but they don’t get my actual price list under any circumstances.
If I’m meeting with a prospect to discuss a wedding, for example, it may be 45 minutes to an hour before we start talking about price. They can see the folio with the price list there on the table, they probably know what it is, but I don’t open it until I’m ready to show it to them. If they ask about the price list, and I don’t feel ready for them to see it yet, I simply say, “I’m glad you brought that up, and I’ll be happy to go over my price list shortly. But first…” and then I ask them another question about the wedding.
By the time the discussion does get around to the wedding collection price list, we’ve already talked about the wedding day, how the couple met, what they like to do together, what’s important about the wedding, how many bridesmaids & groomsmen they have, the color scheme etc. At that point, they know that I really care about them and their wedding plans, and now the price is no longer a primary driving force. Obviously, they will still have a budget in mind, but their minds are no longer simply crunching numbers and comparing our prices to someone else’s. They are making a comparison – but it’s more to do with things like service, quality, attention to detail, personality and so on.
Photography Pricing Is From The Top Down
When I guide them through my photographer price list I start with the most expensive option first, no matter if they’ve already indicated a specific budget. This way, I only have to sell from the top down, and not the bottom up, which is much easier!
Don’t be tempted to make the terrible mistake of confusing this process for pressure-selling, because it isn’t – far from it. The purpose of selling down is to help them buy a collection that’s appropriate for them, even if it does happen to be the least expensive one on offer.
For example, if they had a budget of around $2,500 and I were to only show them a package for that amount, they might automatically perceive that as “expensive” and will be more likely to choose the one below it, which may not suit their needs as well. However, if I start at the top and work down, then they’re more likely to choose a more appropriate package.
Marry Me & Get A Birthday Gift!
If you’re still in any doubt about the value of not allowing anyone to see your price list until you’re ready, try this hypothetical example:
Imagine you’re looking for a romantic partner, so you register on a dating website to try to find the ideal person. The site is unusual in that there are no photographs and no information about any of the people on there. The only clue you have about anyone is how much he or she would expect you to spend on their birthday present. How would that affect your choice? Wouldn’t you be more interested in finding out about their personality, character, age and looks?
The same principle applies to selling photography. The prospect or client doesn’t understand as much about creative professional photography as we do, so they may not understand the unique factors they really ought to be concerned about the most. Instead, they get hung up on the only thing they can relate to, which is the price. At the end of the day, it’s our job, as sellers of photography, to unhook them from the price, and re-connect them with the real elements of what we do.
Treat Your Price List With Respect
Just to make sure that I do underline this point:
I have only one printed price list that I show to prospects – there are no fees on my website, no price lists emailed out to those who request them, no detailed charges given over the phone without a sales presentation, and no brochure with a few photographs and a price list for them to take away. By treating my own prices with the respect they deserve, others will do likewise.
I’m not hiding anything from my clients or trying to deceive them in any way – that’s no way to run an ethical photography business. But, it does demonstrate that I value them personally, and their individual needs, above the fees for my services. It also helps to screen out those types who I don’t want to work with – the ones to whom price is the only important factor and to whom values of family, relationships, emotions and memories are not as important.
So far, no one has complained about this procedure, or made any negative comment about it. People understand the context in which my fees are given, leading to better sales and, in my opinion, an overall better experience for the client.
Thoughts And Comments On Photography Price Lists
This is always a very provocative subject, with as many opinions as there are photographers! Please do take a moment or two to share your thoughts and comments, especially on anything you think I may have missed.