Setting your prices can feel like you’re disarming a time bomb while balancing on a tight rope. There are all kinds of reasons you imagine that pricing too high or too low will drive away business and no one will want to hire you and you’ll go out of business. The funny thing is, you actually do want to drive away business with your prices. And you should be excited about that.
There are 2 fundamental business models to follow when setting up your pricing structure. They are both good and bad for different reasons. The key to success is defining which one best suits you, and then sticking to your guns. Consistency is key. You either want to attract clients who want high value or low price. Positioning yourself to attract one will repel the other. And that prescreens half of your potential clients. Time saved.
High volume/low cost means you will be taking on a lot of smaller jobs for a lower price. Think about the school yearbook photography companies. They photograph thousands of students and have the option to sell small prints. They may only be making $20-$50 per student, but if you multiply that out by the thousands of kids that pass in front of their camera, plus sports teams, etc., there is potential to make a lot of money.
Low volume/high cost means taking on few clients and charging higher prices. You can’t just take more money and not offer a higher calibre of service, though. You have to take better photos than the high volume studio in the mall, and your service has to be more inclusive. You can offer hair and makeup styling with your sessions, wardrobe rentals, longer shoot times, and more customized sessions. It’s certainly more work for each client, but it all evens out since you’re taking on fewer clients.
This was something that even I struggled with for a while. And I’ve changed my prices a lot over the years, exploring different strategies to find the best one for me. Once I learned this method of pricing, everything got easier and I haven’t had to touch my price list since.
Sit down and ask yourself a serious question. How much money do you want to make in a year? Be realistic. There is no right answer. If you know how much it costs to live in your area, and put some money away in savings, this will help you tremendously. I live in the SF bay area. The cost of living here is obscene. If you live in rural Kansas, your numbers will be much lower than mine without sacrificing your quality of life.
For the sake of this article and some easy math, let’s say you want to make $50,000 per year. Now, how many weeks per year do you want to work? Let’s say 50+2 weeks off. Knowing these numbers, how much do you need to make per week? $50,000/50=$1000 per week. Now were getting somewhere!
How many clients per week can you, realistically, take on? And how many do you want to take on? If you can take two clients per week, comfortably, you know you need to make $500 per client.
Now you can set your base package (session fee + profit from prints) at $500. If you’re running a 3 package menu (which is a reeeeally good idea) you can have two other packages for $750 and $1000. Worst case scenario, providing they buy something, is that you meet your goal. Best case scenario, you double your goal.
It’s good to set weekly goals because they are smaller and feel more easy to attain than one giant annual goal. Reaching out to find 2 clients is a lot less overwhelming than finding 50. And achieving each smaller victory will help you build momemtum and it will only get easier as the year goes on.
I’ve heard many many reasons for photographers choosing to go one way or the other, but the real key to success is having both. Here’s why.
Packages encourage your clients to buy more, and their reward for doing so is a discount. So, if they buy the package, it will be cheaper than buying all of those items individually. Everyone wins. It’s also a good thing to list the savings on the menu, next to the package price. Show them that they’re saving money. Make the choice a no-brainer. If they’re saving $200 on your small package, set the price so they save $400 on the middle package, and $600 on the top package. Your prices and savings will be different, of course. These numbers are just for reference. You can see how I set up my menu by clicking here.
The a la carte menu is the left hand to the package menu. Not only does it establish the value of the products you sell, but it allows you to upsell. One way that works for me is to offer discounts on additional items my clients add to their packages. If they buy my middle package, I am happy to give them 20% off another large metal print if they want to add it on. It’s free money. I also give them 30 days to add on, so if they have relatives who want to buy prints from their shoot, they are able to do so.
Whichever model you decide to go with, everything in your business needs to be aligned with it. You can’t advertise McDonalds and charge steakhouse prices. And if you offer McDonalds prices but claim to have steakhouse level products, no one will take it seriously. They won’t believe you.
McDonalds is the largest restaurant chain in the world. If that’s what you’re selling, own it. If you want to be a steakhouse, be a steakhouse. Just be consistent.
And as always, if you have any questions, just ask!
Remember to keep shooting, and strive to be a better photographer!
Mike is the Tim Burton of photography. He tells powerful, imaginative stories with cinematic photography. He specializes in dramatic, film-noir style boudoir and epic cinematic portraits. He's also the creative force behind Photogs Unite! which focuses on learning from professionals outside the photography industry to learn marketing, sales, branding, and everything else you need to know to build a thriving photography business. And burritos are the key to his happiness.