The topic of charging your worth is one of the foundational issues of boudoir photographers. People often get this wrong, and in doing so can unwittingly set their businesses in a direction that may not be recoverable. Think of it like a slicing a golf ball... whooosh!
You see, photographers are often their own worst enemies. When people decide to start a photography business one of the first things they start doing is looking at what others in their area are charging-- and this is their first big mistake. As you sit down at your laptop sipping a big glass of Snapple and start looking around your market, what are some of the common thoughts going through your mind:
You might be seeing that there are others charging less-- no one's gonna pay what I want to charge.
The people that are charging less are actually producing pretty good photos.
There are just too many photographers doing what I do.
My town (or geographic) area is to small, I won't have enough customers.
Does this sound familiar?
Here's the truth. Photographers are everywhere. Every town is crowded, and there will be more and more photographers popping up every year. Maybe if you're in a smaller town there may be 2 or 3 photographers. If you are in a larger metro area there can be 15-30. That number is going to keep growing year after year.
Here's the truth. It doesn't matter. Who cares what other photographers are doing or charging. It's irrelevant. The key is to focus on your business, and not what everyone else is doing. The only thing this will accomplish is making you second guess every decision you make, and what you plan on offering your clients.
The only limitation you are facing is you and what you believe is possible in your area. Its not about the competition. Its about how you share your image and your value to potential clients. You absolutely need to stand out in your market, whether its a big market or a small market.
One thing I need to mention before we talk about perceived value is your pricing, and whether you are prices correctly, or not.
Are you are priced accurately? Do you know what accurate is? Do you know what you're actually worth? Do you have any idea what your time is worth?
I bet you if I took a poll and asked other boudoir photographers how they determined their pricing-- I know pretty much what they'd say-- "I did market research." By "market research," they mean they looked around at what other photographers were charging, and they based their pricing on that.
That method has just a million things that can go wrong.
Do you know if these other photographers are actually booking anyone?
Do you have any idea if these photographers are even making money?
Do you have any idea what their costs are?
Do you know how many clients they book per year?
Do you know what products they're selling?
Do you know what their profit margins are?
NO. You have no idea! So, in other words you are basing your business on nothing. Even worse, you may be basing your business on someone else's bad information. No one ever said these other photographers actually know what they're doing. You have no idea if that pricing is even profitable or not. Does this sound smart?
Even if that pricing works for them, your situation may be completely different and that pricing may not work for you. Once you discover the reality of pricing your business, you may be a bit shocked.
What can you do? You can start by figuring out what your target sale per customer needs to be to cover your costs and accounts for your desired gross income from the business based on the number of clients you want to handle every year. Once you know that piece of the puzzle, you can use that to construct your session pricing and the pricing for your products. This is the basis everything. Once this is known you can start to build everything in your business around that number because that will tell you what you need to do to be profitable. There are worksheets available on the interwebs that can assist you in calculating these figures.
Here's the thing. I can't tell you what your pricing needs to be, because that is different and unique for each and every person based on their particular situation. What does it actually cost you to have your business running? I don't know... Some of the things that into this calculation for part of the formula are: insurance costs, equipment costs, advertising, rent, etc. These are some of the basic costs of doing business. You need to know these. For a full time-photographer, these costs may be $20K- $30K per year.
There's more, though. Are you doing photography part-time or full-time? How many hours do you want to work? How many hours does it take you per client? Are you a high end business that only works with a couple clients a month, and maybe it's taking you 15-20 hours for client, or you more high volume or it's only taking you two hours per client? Or maybe your business is doing mini sessions that are really only taking an hour per client with your editing and shooting time.
You can see why this isn't a one size fits all type of a thing. There's lots of different models. It's about all needs to be taken into account. That's why this is something you need to figure out on an individual bases.
Then, of course, one of the most important factors is your income goal. What do you want to make as a photographer? If you don't know how much money you want your business to make how are you supposed to figure out how much you should be charging? Maybe if you're only doing this part-time you may be fine making $10K per year. If you are doing photography full-time, and living anywhere near a major city or suburban area, you may not even be able to pay your bills for less than $45K-$50K per year.
Once you do some simple calculations around your costs, time, the number of clients you want to take, and what you want to make as a photographer you can start to start to begin to calculate what your target pricing per client needs to be.
(you need to get this pricing figured out... and that's another entire blog post.)
See what I'm driving at?
Your perceived value to your client needs to match your pricing. Remember, your worth is only accurate if your clients perceive it to be accurate. It doesn't matter how many times you say to yourself, I'm a "fine art" photographer. I have a diploma in photography. I've been doing boudoir for 10 years. It doesn't matter. The only things that matter is the perception that your clients have about your business and your value.
I know there's a lot of photographers out there that say things to themselves like, My photos are so much better than that discount photographer down the street, but why does she have so many more clients than me? Well, first of all you don't even know if that's true, but it's because your clients are looking at that business and your business and they're not seing enough of a differentiation between the value of her business in the value of yours. What they're saying in their mind is they'd rather save $500 -$700 and choose the cheap, but OK discount boudoir photographer over a full service experience boudoir photographer because you have not adequately laid out the value of what you're offering in comparison to what the discount photographer is offering.
The truth of the matter is that clients do their shopping "thing" online and process all these prices they see in their head. They try to rationalize your extra expense and unless you communicate that value and why they should choose you, they're going to choose the least expensive option more often than not.
This isn't the clients fault if they aren't selecting you. This is where many photographers start to play the victim-- No one's going to pay those high boudoir prices here. It's my market--it's too crowded. It's my competition. No one values boudoir photography here. You're blaming everybody and everything other than yourself, but it's no one's fault but your own. You simply did not paint the picture of the value that you offer. The simple truth is if they connected on your value message, they would buy it. They would pay it happily pay for your services.
Let's do a mental exercise. I want you to think of a time that you splurged on something. For me that splurge often comes down to really good dinners, travel, clothes or cars. For instance, when I went to China I was happy to pay more for a seat that's more comfortable near an exit door for a 13 hour flight. I have super long legs, and I don't want cramps in my legs.
I am happy to pay more when I'm on vacation and I want a great dining experience that I can't get in my area-- but, when I'm on the way home after a day of work and just want a quick bite to eat, stopping in a Chipotle works great, however, that's not what I'm going to choose when I'm on vacation, or I'm going out to dinner for a special occasion. In those instances I want a special experience.
Now I want you to think about it this way: What if there was a Chipotle that opened in your town in a beautiful new shopping center. It is a really nice Chipotle restaurant with fresh cooked food. It has a newly designed super amazing dining room. It had a beautiful decor and free wifi but it was priced at $149 per burrito bowl. I have a feeling they would be hard-pressed to find diners to eat there. Why? Because of the brand value that they have.
Their brand is fresh ingredients from ethically minded suppliers. It's one of the originator of the "fast casual" experience at reasonable prices. You go there when you are looking for a decent meal at a reasonable price. --When you're are looking for a quick lunch or dinner and you don't want a "typical" fast food meal. When your goal is to have more of a "healthy" and fresh meal. Chipotle does that really, really well. They have great grilled chicken. They have this amazing tofu that doesn't even really taste like tofu. They have nice beans, and rice and salsa, and I'm happy to eat there when I need a quick meal, but they don't have the value for what I'm looking for if I'm going out for a special dinner occasion.
Now, do I need to eat at a super fancy restaurant like Nobu? NO!! There are plenty of places that meet my needs for food at much lower price point, but because I value these experiences, I do, and I gladly pay for them. I want you to think of something that you value. What do you value in your life that you will seek out and you will gladly pay more for?
One thing causes photographers to get a bit fearful of here, and it's just due to a lack of experience, is that when prices are increased for your service there is this anxiety that no one is going to pay. You tend to start thinking in terms of what "you" would do, and what "you" would spend your money on, and you start to think "Boy, I certainly wouldn't spend $1100 on a boudoir session," and begin to think that this applies to everyone else as well, but it doesn't. This is a very common problem.
I know there's plenty of people that would never go out to dinner and spend $150 per person. I don't do that weekly but I love to do that every once in a while. You've go to enjoy this short life you have. When I'm away and when I have the opportunity to eat a nice restaurant that I would never be able to eat in at home-- I do it. Same thing when I am in New York and I want to eat at some place unique. I do it. Why not? That's what brings me happiness. I know there's a lot of people that would value spending their dollars in another way. and that is 100% fine. As a photographer, you are not going to be for everybody-- and that's fine. When you are targeting yourself to everybody, you are targeting yourself toward no one. You have to pick your market and go after it. The thing we need to do is we need to make sure that we are showcasing our value to those potential clients that value boudoir photography-- and that value what we offer.
Being a boudoir photographer doesn't mean to have to target yourself at the super high end of the market. This isn't a smart move to do, especially if you're just getting started. There's nothing wrong with doing that, but there are plenty of people out there that make a great living doing more of a moderately priced higher volume style of photography. It really depends on how you want to structure your business and how you want to structure your life. As I mentioned earlier in the pricing section, how you structure your business depends a lot on your goals, time, what you want to make, etc... There is still a very successful market for both the high-end, and middle-market photographers, you just need to determine which one you want to be in and stick with it.
Kia and Porsche are both very successful brands. If you look at both of those brands, and what they offer, and how they present themselves, they speak to two totally different markets. Even if these two brands are serving the same market, for example in my town there are both Kia (several of them) dealers and a Porsche dealer, for instance I would be a customer to both of those markets. When I'm running around town going shopping, or hauling my photography gear to my building I love my Kia. I can fit all my junk in the back of that SUV and it still drives great. I have no issues with my Kia. When I'm in the mood for a bit of "driving" experience I love Porsche. When I want to drive around in a car that's fast, and feels so solid like you could run it into a brick wall and it wouldn't even scratch, I like Porsche. It's one of the few cars that my tall lanky body fits perfectly into the seats. I've never driven in another car that fits like that. When I have to get a new set of tires or an oil change on the Porsche... its not $19.99 at Jiffy Lube. Tires are going to cost $250 per tire... and they don't last long. I realize that operating a Porsche comes with those costs and I'm okay with that.
If you want to charge those high end prices you need to be very clear about what you offer and and what makes you worth it. --And what makes you the best in your market. As I mentioned before, it's not about being a photographer the "longest," or "I create such great images," or "I have these meaningless photography awards..." That's not enough. I hate to break the bad news to you but it's not enough.
You need to look at it from your clients point of view. How do you show them what's in it for them? How do you differ from the discount boudoir photographer down the street? How do you do this? Can you talk about what uniquely goes into the creation process? Can you talk about what artwork you are creating? Can you talk about examples of beautiful finished artwork? Are you showing this on your website?
I just want you to make sure you are really looking at what value do you bring to the table and how are you communicating these to potential client.
The other piece to the puzzle here is, is your brand in alignment with the market that you want to serve? Remember, it's not enough just to say you're "fine art" or "high end." Just like a Kia can't just say, "Hey, we've just designed a new high end car for $135,000-- come in and give it a test drive." It doesn't work that way. Everything around the business needs to point towards that value, and needs to support that value. It needs to provide that experience. You need to walk the talk, and all of that starts with brand alignment.
I want to think about high end trendy restaurant in your area. I'm talking about the kind of place that's easily $100 per person-- and if your buying drinks you know it's easily going to be $150. What if you walked in that restaurant and the dining chairs were mismatched. There were cobwebs hanging on the walls. There was dirty carpeting. The wait staff was rude. There are light fixtures in the ceiling out. Even if they served the best steak in the area there would be a disconnect, and I would imagine they would have a serious struggle trying to stay profitable, trying to bring in enough clients because the client experience, the client expectations, the client value is not there.
What if that same restaurant produced an amazing dry aged steak, but they are in a beautiful building that used an interior designer, elegant dining room beautiful table and chairs, clean floors, super courteous wait staff. When you sat down they gave you say a complimentary specialty baked bread sticks and oil, or maybe some special water. People will happily pay more for this. Of course, the steak has to be good, but it doesn't have to be the best in the world. Of course, it needs to be good steak. The diners going to this venue need to be happy with the quality, but it's the experience they're paying for. It's all the other things that go along with that steak that keeps them coming back for an experience like that.
You're Out Of Alignment...
So what parts of the photography business can be out of alignment? The biggest one and the most damning one is the website. Your website is your storefront. Websites styles are constantly changing and getting more technical. Are you still rocking a vintage 2009 Wordpress site? How Google ranks and sorts websites is constantly changing. Google penalizes sites that load slowly. Google penalizes sites that aren't mobile responsive. If you are touting yourself as a fancy-schmancy photographer, your website better convey that message. And that message doesn't come from a free Wordpress template that your cousin downloaded and set up for you in his basement after his high school baseball practice. The website experience needs to speak to the value of what you're offering. That website has to be in line with your brand, that it feels in line with the price point of what you're selling. If you are trying to represent a $1200 session with a $4.99 Wordpress stock template, you're going to have issues. The copy writing has to be at that level. The messaging needs to be on that level. The design has to be on that level. --The photography has to be on that level.
Now, what if you needed to meet a layer to set up some business details, and your best friend wanted you to meet this super successful lawyer and you're waiting outside a restaurant for her to arrive, and she pulls up in an 18 year old car with chipped paint that's making a squealing noise and big black smoke coming out the back like the Uncle Buck car, and she get out and walks over to you in a wrinkled old 1980's business suit with shoulder pads... Well, that's going to be a brand disconnect. I think many of us will be like, wait a second, this woman doesn't look like she's a super successful layer walking around with shoulder pads... So, your website needs to speak to that to the successful business that we are or we aim to be. It needs to be clean. easy to navigate. and needs to have the message on there how we serve our clients and how we're different. --All the things I've mentioned a few sections ago.
Not only that, if you're pretending to be a luxury photographer and your website is rocking the free domain extension-- that's not gonna fly. Janesboudoir.wix.com isn't the best look for luxury.
Your email address is also under scrutiny. janesboudoir@aol or firstname.lastname@example.org screams brand disconnect. Most websites now included a domain related email addresses. If you really are that "high end" experience, you should be forking over a few dollars to have that set up for you. Little things like that make a huge difference, and they add up in the perceived value of your business.
What else are people doing wrong? The other place that I see a lot of people struggle with customer inquiries. You've created a nice website. You've set up your branded email address. --Then, you start getting inquires. and you send them a messy pricing PDF, or a home-made Word document that you cobbled together with your pricing. --And that's it.
You're not reaching out to prospect. You're not talking to them. You're not finding out what their needs are. You're even not attempting to get them on the phone-- or at least send them text. A lot of people today won't answer calls, I get it, but most people will respond to texts. You need to actually reach out to our potential clients and see how you can serve them. Because, if you are that "high end" business, it's all about the custom service and experience, right? This is where you have to walk the talk. You want to make sure your inquiry process is easy. it's straight forward. and that you are offering the highest level of service possible.
This also follows through with your products. If you are marketing yourself as "high end" you want to make sure you're offering high-quality products that are unique. You don't want to be offering products that they can get at Costco, or they can get online. You want it to be unique. I once had a customer who related a story that she went to a boudoir photographer who touted a "custom photo book," and the "custom photo book" turned out to be a little vinyl Walmart flip book stuff with 4x6 photos. Don't do this.
It doesn't stop there. The last thing I'll mention here, but it's certainly not the least is the presentation. It literally is the bow on top of their experience. It's one of the last things they will remember about you. If a client just spent $1,200 for their order and you show up and give it to them in like a grocery bag, that's just does not compute.
Think about if you got a promotion at work, or you just closed a big contract and you wanted to go out and treat yourself. Its a special occasion and you roll into your favorite local jewelry store to purchase a TAG watch. You've always wanted one, and now you can finally indulge and get it. After browsing the watches for a while you pick a beautiful model--and you're super excited about your purchase. I guarantee you it doesn't come in a little plastic grocery bag. That watch is going to be in a beautiful box, which in turn is going to be an a luxurious shopping bag filled with tissue paper. Buying it becomes an experience. What you just bought comes like a beautifully wrapped present. With that in mind, what is your presentation that you are offering your clients when they're picking up their products?