WHAT IS MY PHOTOGRAPHY WORTH?
There is a simple equation to determine what your photography is worth
(Client Experience x Photographer’s Market Confidence) – Business Expense = Cost of Photo
FIGURE OUT THE BUSINESS EXPENSES
There is nothing I can do to help you change your client’s expectations and experience with your photography. Like the bard said, “I may not know art, but I know what I like.” Every client is the same way.
There is also nothing I can do about a photographer’s confidence. I have seen amazing photographers give their work away because of low self-worth. I have seen horrible photographers turn their wedding business into a used car dealership and “ego” their clients into a $5,000 wedding package.
I believe in offering fair value for services. If I have done my job, I will have images that the client will believe in. I will go home feeling that I was adequately paid for the effort I gave my bride and groom. I will be proud of my work, my business and myself.
A photographer that overcharges his work, based on his salesmanship and not his photographic ability incurs bad kharma and a while his bank account might grow, his soul becomes bankrupt. And this is true even if the clients never notice the difference.
The first question in pricing your images should be “How much do I need to charge to recoup all my expenses?”
All too often, beginning photographers undervalue their work because they fail to consider the real expense of materials and labor. For these “weekend warrior” photographers, $500 in the pocket is all profit (especially if this is just extra money added to a 9-5 weekday job).
Unfortunately, even if you are just shooting “on the side” you still have expenses. That $500 isn’t pure profit. There are all sorts of expenses that must be considered.
Gas to and from the event
Time spent meeting with clients
Wear and tear on camera equipment (who will pay to have worn out gear replaced?)
Consumables (batteries, tape, etc.)
Wardrobe (You can’t show up to a wedding in shorts and a T-shirt)
Your time (this is really important. Many part-time photographers end up working for less than minimum wage when their expenses are deducted from the paycheck. Is it worth the trouble at that point?)
Insurance. (If you get hurt, your day job won’t pay your bills. If your wedding is ruined because of a computer surge, you can get sued).
Web site (hosting, domain names, design, upkeep, editing time, etc.)
The list can go on for a long time. In the end, it could take several dozen $500 weddings to pay off just the equipment you need, and we still need to deal with marketing.
When you have worked out all the costs of shooting a wedding, add 35% to take in consideration forgotten expenses and marginal profit. Put this number in your “Business Expenses” portion of the formula.
Another consideration is the market. Obviously the cost of living is different in each area of the country. A $100,000 house in Pittsburgh might be a mansion, while $100,000 wouldn’t get you a sublet to a closet in a Manhattan studio apartment.
There should be information online and at your local better business bureau on the average costs of weddings and services in your area. A common belief (held by brides) that wedding photography should average 10% of the total wedding expense. This should give you a starting point.
The next step is to start looking at the other photographers in your area. Many of them will have their prices on their Web sites. If they don’t, then call them and introduce yourself! Be honest about who you are and why you are calling.
Some photographers see every other photographer as competition, but most would rather see you price yourself appropriately and keep the “market” prices competitive. Low balling the competition only serves to deteriorate the overall sense of value of everyone’s work.
Be honest in your self-evaluation of your skill as a photographer. Then ask many of your friends to look at a variety of sites and be honest as to their evaluation of where you sit in the market. [note: have a thick skin for the really honest ones, and be suspicious of those “nice” friends who always praise you.]
Do not forget that you also need to evaluate your business as well as your skill. You need to be able to provide good customer service, quality prints, high-end wedding albums, address concerns and issues, and keep everyone happy for months before and after the wedding as well as during the wedding. You will need to be sure that you can control the environment during formals, and be unobtrusive during the wedding ceremony.
Once you have done your research, plug in your estimated place in the market in the “Photographer’s Confidence” portion of the formula.
This is the hardest portion of the formula to figure out. In fact is it all just a guess (especially at first), but this is a ranking system of how well you think your clients like your photos and “WANT” you to shoot for them. Are you “in demand?”
This number should always start at “1” when you start your business. Your place in the market must be higher than your expenses to be profitable (or at least break even). This is a baseline of your business. As you see your client satisfaction number get higher, you can then make adjustments to your pricing accordingly.
Here is an example: Two photographers Bob and John start separate wedding photography businesses. Bob and John have the same gear, the same expenses, the same reputation in the community, etc.
However, Bob was very good at pleasing his clients. The end product was the same and the service and products matched exactly, but something about the connection he made with his clients made them raving about him to all their friends (at least more than John’s clients who may have been an older crowd with less single friends to influence).
John, in the meantime, we very skilled with the Web and was able to drive more and more new traffic to his Web site to find new clients. John also volunteered at his church and made a lot of connections that way for new weddings.
At the end of the year, a very popular Bob shot 25 weddings and John shot 28. Bob was already booked for 30 weddings his next year and John had booked 43.
Should Bob and John’s wedding prices remain the same or go up? Should they go up equally? What happens if they raise their prices too much? Will they lose customers? What happens if they don’t raise them at all? Will they lose profit?
Bob figured that 23 of his 25 weddings raved about his work to friends and he booked 15 weddings by Word of Mouth (WOM). Bob also booked his other 15 weddings just through his Web site. Bob figures that his Client Satisfaction Number should be determined by his WOM ratio (25/15= 1.6) and his decrease in unsolicited bookings (15/25= 0.6). Averaging those numbers together, the new Client Satisfaction Number for Bob is 1.1.
Bob decides to increase his costs.
John had a different formula. He increased his bookings from 28 to 43 weddings. He is reasonably sure that his prices are too low because of the demand for his work. He knows that if he increases his prices too much he will be out of the budget of many clients. He could just look at the increase of business as an indicator of demand (43/28 = 1.5) but he feels that his extra time and effort building his Web site popularity and his community relations is taking up a lot of effort and expense (which will figure into his Business Expenses section). He has decided to use the 1.5 Client Satisfaction Number and add his estimated marketing costs to both his expenses and his market value (putting the cost of marketing directly on the clients expenses).
John decides to increase his costs as well.
If both John and Bob make their goals in booking wedding clients, then they will have proven that they were right. If the weddings stop booking—then they will need to make more adjustments.
It isn’t important that you discover the secret formula to pricing. It is important that you have a way to measure your success and develop a way to keep measuring and evaluating your business.
WHERE TO CHARGE THE CLIENT
When I first started shooting weddings as a real business, I found that where we price products influences how clients respond to the photographer.
My research showed that the average Pittsburgh wedding costs $25,000. That gave me a starting point of $2,500 for photography (not including wedding album).
The initial plan was to offer a full “one choice” plan of image ownership, shooting, etc. I wanted to be the Henry Ford of wedding photography, “You can have whatever you want as long as you want THIS.”
It didn’t work, and I booked very few weddings, but I was a weekend wedding photographer still, and made most of my income shooting photojournalism.
The next year, I started offering lots of choices for the clients. It was a very extensive menu that confused and confounded clients. Within weeks, it was obvious that wasn’t going to work.
I had to take from scratch and look at what the clients saw as value and what the clients were expecting to buy, and I came up with a great product line and services. The only problem was that I needed to adjust where the value went.
At first I charged $1,750 for wedding photography and $250 for a wedding photography CD. Albums were $500-2,500.
When I shifted the prices to $1,600 for wedding photography and $400 for a wedding CD, I immediately doubled my clients in six months. It didn’t matter that my album prices had risen to $750-$3,000.
Adjusting the prices again ($1575 and $450) for the economic recession has kept my flow of clients.
My point is, that once you have a good idea of what you should charge for your services, you may still need to make adjustments in your pricing to find the right psychological worth of the images.
This also holds true for increases in prices. There are times you will find that increasing your prices will add to the psychological client satisfaction of the images. If it costs more, it is worth more. Just be careful not to price yourself out of the market.
Is my formula the way you should set up your business? I can’t answer that. However, whatever you decide to do, it should be based on a plan to retrieve measurable results.
“You can’t improve it, if you can’t measure it.”