So your work is awesome and you know it???? You have set a fair price and in the words of a celebrated hairspray company ‘You’re Worth It’ ~ Then what’s with all the potential clients wanting to barter with you? It can be utterly soul destroying to be repeatedly asked to lower your rates because somebody else up the road is doing the same thing as you for less.
If this is you right now then first up, don’t panic. This issue comes up every year and always at the same time. It’s as reliable as Cadbury’s creme eggs hitting the shops and the daffodils poking through the ground. In spring, the first wave of this year’s serious enquiries die off and we are left with either the super-laid-back-client (I have a great love for them) and also the not-that-fussed-about-photography-client. I’m talking about those that leave it until spring to look for a wedding photographer for their wedding in a few months. Get into conversation with them and chances are they will have everything else in place so you are at the bottom of the list. Of course they want to haggle, they’ve spent all their wedding dollars already!
There are some suppliers who love to haggle over prices and don’t ever expect anyone to pay their full rates. If this is you then I wish you well but most of us set a price that we actually want to achieve and feel disheartened when asked to take something off. Interestingly, the most haggling happens at the lower and upper ends of the market. The couple with around £1800 or less to spend on photography often feel that because this section of the market is so overly saturated, that they have the power and quite frankly they do have a huge amount of choice. If you are somewhere around this price bracket and keep getting asked to take off 10-20% as ‘that is all they have budgeted for photography’, you will quite often get to the wedding and find that the bride is in a £3000 dress or they have a Choccywoccydoodah cake that cost more than you. What that couple actually meant is that they didn’t value your services above some of the other things that are only there for the day.
It also happens at the top end of the market. I went to see the hugely inspirational Elizabeth Messina talk at WPPI in Las Vegas and she tackled this very subject. Even though she was one of the highest profile wedding photographers in the world and had just shown us images from a 3 day wedding in Venice where Shakiri was the in-between-courses dinner entertainment, she said she often gets asked to reduce her rates. And you know what? She actually does. She said that the very wealthy are used to cutting deals and though she won’t flatly give them money off, she will reduce what she gives them to arrive at an agreed price.
Now I’m assuming that you are not in Elizabeth’s price range as then you definitely wouldn’t need advice from me. So what should you do when asked to lower your rates? Should you just stand firm and lose out on the income or should you try to price match whoever they are comparing you to? I firmly believe in being reactive to the market and there is nearly always something within your business that you can improve. Whilst I don’t believe in just dropping your prices I do think that sometimes you just have to hustle more.
I aim to mostly work with couples that appreciate photography and that want to be creative. They invest both emotionally and financially in their photography. But of course occasionally after sending quotes, I do sometimes get people coming back to me saying that they can’t afford me. If they have taken time to come back to me, then I take the time to recommend a photographer that I think they will like but that charges less than me. It happens a lot less now that I charge an hourly rate and I let them know that we could arrange a two hour couple session at a time away from the wedding instead. If it starts to happen to me frequently, then I react and look at what needs work.
If you don’t think it’s a temporary phase and you are often being asked to give a discount then think about this…..
- Are you truly worth what you are asking? It can be a sign that you are getting your pricing wrong if client expectation is always that you rates are lower. So maybe have a good honest look at your place in the market.
- Examine your most frequent Routes to Enquiry, as that is the start of their perception of you. Is it Google? Then of course you are swimming in a huge sea of your competitors there and it’s easy for the client to feel like they have all the power over how much they are willing to spend. So spend less time on your SEO and more on Brand Development. Is it recommendations from other photographers? Then find out their rates, as it seems only fair to assume that a photographer would put forward someone similar in both style and cost. So maybe you need to narrow down your referral groups. Is it from a wedding blog? Have you thought about the audience for that particular blog? If they regularly promote budget weddings then again, you can see how that might affect your perceived value.
- Are your packages based on hours alone? Then could you add in some items that have more value to your clients such as photo books, prints, thank you cards etc? Suddenly your rate could be looking like better value than the photographer willing to undercut you.
If you are sure you are getting it right but still get asked to reduce your price then …
- Ride it out, chances are it’s just the time of year. Keep a record of enquiries and which ones convert to bookings. After a couple of years you should start to see some patterns emerging so you’ll know not to panic.
- Remember they may well just be trying to shave a little bit off every supplier because they think it’s the done thing, so its okay to say “Sorry but this is my final price”. You will often find that they will come back.
- If bookings are slow and you feel you do need to negotiate just to get them booked in, then follow Elizabeth’s lead. Always make sure that you put a value on each part of your service and offer to reduce what you will include in proportion to what price reduction they want.
Chat in groups if you need reassurance that other photographers are experiencing the same. If more of us got together and discussed our rates then maybe there wouldn’t be so much haggling in the first place. And finally NEVER be the person offering to directly undercut another photographer. The only way to go when that happens is to get cheaper and cheaper and nobody wants to be the Ryanair of wedding photography.
Lisa Devlin worked as a music industry photographer for over ten years before switching to weddings in 2000. She was the first photographer to be awarded Wedding Photographer of the Year by the British Journal of Photography and she has been asked to speak about her work in London for Hasselblad, in New York for B&H Photo and at the NEC for The Photography Show. She is on Junebug’s current list of London’s top ten wedding photographers and was recently named as one of the UK’s leading Alternative wedding photographers by The Stylist Magazine. When not at weddings or running Photography Farm, you will find her in Brighton, talking about herself in the third person.