It’s much more likely that if you’re reading this article then like me, the agency jobs in general are few and far between and it’s the emerging designer brands that make up your bread & butter with look-books and marketing campaigns.
So whilst I appreciate we should keep an eye to the future, surely it makes a lot more sense to maximise the profits were making right now by tailoring our services to our actual customers.
If the fabled “big clients” come knocking at a later date you can rest assured so will a decent photography agent to represent you, so wait until then to pander to the status-quo.
Until that time it’s probably better to think like a business providing a product, not an artist!
Sick of simply being a “self-employed worker” and keen to grow my business to enjoy the entrepreneur lifestyle, I recently joined a business accelerator academy in London and this is just one of the thoughts I’ve been pondering.
Needless to say I’m pretty fired up with ideas and motivation to make changes in my business and I will be sharing everything I learn with you along the way!
So today I want to start with pricing structure.
Why Do Clients Choose You?
We all like to think we get hired based on the strength of our work alone but unfortunately that’s bull. How many of you have actually sat your clients down and found out why they chose you on a job and what process they went through to make that decision?
I have, and here is a typical example of what I learnt.
A client is looking for a photographer so they take in recommendations and hit up google.
They shortlist five photographers whose work looks “good enough” to fulfill their needs.
They then get in touch with each of these photographers to find out their rates.
Usually there will be a very low rate they discard as they are obviously not experienced enough and also a very high rate that they discard as they see no benefit to paying more for the exact same service (fashion photography).
This leaves them with three photographers whose rates are in the middle and seem good enough to work with.
Guess who they will choose?
If you guessed the cheapest of the three you’d be absolutely right.
This is the problem with selling photography alone, it’s easy to get price shopped and be treated like a commodity.
The solution is to start selling products that stand out instead.
Productise Your Services
“But I’m a fashion photographer, I don’t sell products, I sell my time?”
Let’s redefine what a product is for our purposes:
A product is a consistent way of achieving a desired outcome that your customer wants.
Now, just taking our fashion photography and calling it a product won’t really help us much. For us to take ourselves out of the freelancer market we need to package it up with additional value points and offer a range of products.
This is actually a step in which wedding photographers are light-years ahead of us and benefit from the up-sell through comparative pricing!
Our aim will be to create three products.
Firstly a base product that delivers our minimum service for a rate you would be comfortable working for.
Secondly our middle product which will be of both high-value and profit. This is the one we want to sell most frequently.
Then lastly a very expensive offering that few people will choose but works as an anchor price to help our middle product look much more affordable by comparison.
First though, you need to think what value you offer your clients apart from clicking the shutter button.
These could be simple things like creative direction, mood-boards/pre-pro books, model casting, arranging studio/location hire, shoot scheduling, RAW conversions (edits), retouching etc…
The chances are you already offer most of these to a certain degree within your rates anyway but never educate your clients on the value they are getting.
You probably also find that different clients require vastly different levels of help with each of these and jobs that you’re charging the same price for can take up vastly different amounts of your time.
So the first step in your product offerings is to set a base product.
I can’t tell you how much you should charge for this but I would suggest your current day-rate would be a good starting point and then as a rule of thumb charge 100% of your day-rate for shooting days and approx 50% for pre/post production days. This seems to be a good formula that’s served me well.
I’m going to use $950 simply for illustrative purpose but these are the actual products I’m currently building.
Shoot Only from $950
In this I include a written treatment to interpret the client’s creative brief, 8 hours of photography, RAW image processing to deliver high-resolution TIFF’s ready for use or additional retouching and a generous two year image licence that covers all marketing usage (not advertising).
And here is the copy I use to define this product:
If you have your own production team to orgnaise model castings, shooting schedules & creative direction but are simply missing a talented eye behind the lens then this package is for you.
As you can see this is a very simple, repeatable solution that you can deliver for clients and now that we have stripped away any excess pre-production/hand-holding, it’s feasible for us to shoot several of these a week without burning ourselves out like we would currently.
Personally though, I really enjoy getting more involved in the creative direction of shoots and sitting down with my clients to get invested in their marketing strategy so this product doesn’t quite satisfy me. I want to do more work for my clients but I need to make sure I’m also being paid for that time which leads us to my next product.
Shoot + Creative from $1750
In this I include a creative consultation to discuss the brief and brainstorm ideas, upto 8 hours of pre-production (orgnaising castings, location hire, shoot scheduling, call sheets etc…), 8 hours of photography with an assistant providing on-set proofing, a behind the scenes video for YouTube*, RAW image processing to deliver high-resolution TIFF’s ready for use or additional retouching and a generous two year image licence that covers all marketing usage (not advertising).
I’m still working on the copy for this but as you can see the value proposition is insane. For any client that doesn’t employ a full-time production/marketing department to handle their shoots this stands out as a full service proposition that doesn’t just provide them with photography but satisfies their entire project management AND they are getting a behind the scenes YouTube video*.
In hard costs to myself this adds $200 for an assistant and 8 hours extra work (not including the video edit – see below) but I get to bill an extra $800.
* YouTube video: It might seem that throwing in a behind the scenes video at this price point looks like I’m vastly underselling myself but the truth is, I’ve started to build my own YouTube channel (shameless plug check it out and subscribe here) and plan to use every shoot I do as an opportunity to create content for it anyway and it doesn’t cost me any more to give my client a copy too. But look how much more valuable it makes the offering!
Lastly we need our anchor product that makes our mid-range product look highly affordable.
For this I suggest expanding on the video element to include a fashion-film.
Shoot + Creative + Fashion Film from $3450
This product includes everything that the previous did but with the addition of a 2 minute fashion film.
“But I’m a fashion photographer, I don’t know how to make a fashion film”
At this level neither do I presently and I wouldn’t have the time to do both this and photography on set even if I did. That is why you should partner with a professional video production company that has experience producing fashion films to offer this high-end package.
Just to warn you, I’ve plucked this price out of thin air at present and I’m currently working with a video producer to set my actual rates but here is an example of a project we worked on together so you can see what clients could expect around this price point along with the photography.
You’ll notice I’ve kept retouching out of my products. I’m learning a lot lately that retouching is a very difficult thing to bundle within a set fee as not only does the time it takes for different images vary greatly, so do clients expectations.
I think this is something you should consider charging separately for and also make a point of asking yourself, if I became too busy with shoots to do my own retouching, could I outsource this and still retain a small profit at the rates I’m charging? If the answer is no then you’re not charging enough!
Now be honest, how many of you were already offering most of the value in our mid-range product to your clients at no extra cost around your base rate?
One complaint I imagine I’ll get from this is “What if a client isn’t interested in my set products and wants something different?”
Well then you’d just start with your base rate and build a bespoke offering from there as you always have done. But at least now you have a clearly defined line in the sand as a starting point and can charge extra for any additional work they ask of you.
Join me again next time as we discuss the best way to answer the question “What do you do for a living?”