ASK CHAD - Wedding Photographer Business Questions and Answers
A few times a year we get the chance to sit down with photographers from different parts of the country and in various stages of business for our workshops. There seems to be a revolving set of questions about things from pricing, to marketing, to client relations etc. I wanted to put up a few of these recent questions and answers on here so we might extend the reach a bit of people it may help! Thanks to Sarah from our "Hustle and [work]Flow Workshop for sending these in!
1. Do you suggest even including a starting price on your page or completely leaving it off and just having couples contact you for pricing information.
The one thing I have learned on this topic of selling is that if you give NO info at all you end up with one of two situations: 1 - you spend a lot of time answering questions from potential clients who are far under your price range, but they love your work. So, you send out a bunch of replies with very little chance of ever booking them. Or 2 - your ideal potential clients come across your site, love your work and your words and never email you because they couldn't find any info on your pricing so they naturally assume it's far more than they can afford or want to spend. When you give at least your starting point, people who are interested know what they are getting in to. If you go to buy a car and they have pricing on the windows, you might not buy it if it's a bit outside of your range (even though you could likely afford it), BUT if they say at the dealership, "Deals starting at 10,000" and you are looking to spend no more than 12,000, you will likely go have a look around if you like what they have to offer. The same is true with out clients. We put "coverage begins at" text right above our wedding photos section so they know what to expect, but also not to limit what they will invest. Regularly clients will come in with a lower "budget" than what they end up spending because they don't truly know what they want until they see it. You have to remember that YOU are the professional in this area and, while I would never suggest selling people on something they don't really want, having your expert opinion and finely curated set of products to help them remember their love story in beautiful, artistic and permanent ways will possibly give them ideas on things they didn't yet know they wanted! Our couples get a questionnaire in their second email with us that gives them pricing ranges for their expected budget that gives them a more complete picture of what some of our investment options are, but we walk thru each of them in the consultation as well to make sure they understand what they are going to receive from us as well as what possible add-ons and upgrades are.
2. Are there times when even though you know what you need to be charging, it doesn't match the market you are in or is it possible to be in the dead zone with pricing. For instance to high for budget brides but to low for other brides to take you serious?
The biggest problem I see in the area of pricing (especially with creatives) is that it's not based of of anything concrete. When this is the case, and the pricing is a bit more "abstract," what tends to happen is emotions start to play into things like discounts, increases etc. A lot of "worth" issues come up based on how much you charge or don't charge. Photography is, at it's core, a luxury item. The thing that many people do with it, however, is try to make it a "necessity" item like groceries or housing. No one "needs" photography to live. Now, don't get me wrong, I think our world would be insanely sad if this industry were to disappear and I am definitely NOT saying it doesn't matter. I'm saying it isn't a necessity, so it becomes a luxury item - something that is extra or a bonus to other life items. I say that to say this, luxury items are not built or priced based solely on "what the market allows" mentality b/c they are EXTRA to the normal market. When you start to realize this, it will change a bit of how you approach things cost wise. Luxury cars aren't priced based on what the other cars decide to price at and luxury hotels don't look at the costs of regular hotels (who provide a similar "bed and roof" ideal, but a totally different EXPERIENCE) for their pricing. They look at their costs, the experience they seek to provide, and the profit they want to make and determine pricing from that. This should be your structure as well. Look at your costs - SOOO much to include here, but things like living expenses, insurance, equipment, retirement, etc need to be included. Next, look at your experience - Do you want to include a welcome pack of fun deserts for your clients? Would you love to send customized gift baskets to everyone who books? Do you want them to have monogrammed towel sets for their wedding? Those costs all have to come from somewhere and I assure you, when you get "perks" at certain establishments, it's not cutting into their profit margin, they are covering that cost in something they are charging! Finally, look at your profit - Do you want to work 40 hours every week? Do you want to make 6 figures? Your costs need to be based on how much you have going out in expenses and experience items and then ADD in how much you need to/want to make and then set your costs based on that. I have a bit of a shocker for you with this, when you put those costs together and realize what you have to charge to make a profit, it's probably going to be higher than what you "think" you are worth.
This is where "it's business" has to take precedence. When you set costs and packages based on what you need to make to make a profit each year, it is no longer about how you feel about things or what you think you should be charging, it's about hard facts. If you don't charge a certain amount, you will essentially be paying to work for your clients. If you want to do that, get a job somewhere else and offer free sessions on the weekends (or have rich spouse! haha). But, if you want to run a business, you have to act like a boss and run your business like a boss, not an employee. Employees don't have to worry about paying the light bill or making sure the internet stays on, they just have to do the work the boss has assigned. There is a market for EVERY level of costing. You have to determine your costs, recognize the market you are chasing, then adjust your marketing and experience strategies to fit that clientele you are seeking. High budget couples are likely never going to look for a "talented but inexpensive photographer" because they have learned that in most things like this, you get what you pay for. Lower budget couples are rarely going to stretch far above their initial budget to pay for you, not because they don't love you or want what you have to offer, but they simply don't have it to spend. It's no longer a value/worth issue, it's simply a "wrong store" issue. When I want a $10 t-shirt or a pair of gym socks, I don't run to the specialty store in the mall. I go to the "general store" with the lower prices. But, when I'm looking for a unique piece of clothing or a very specific part for a camera that I want to be high quality, you couldn't convince me to "bargain" shop it.
3. What type of email do you send if you get an inquiry?
My first email is very general. Word for word, this is what it says (my studio software fills in the sections from their lead form so it's more personalized) -
"Hey [clientfirstname] ! Thanks so much for getting in touch and CONGRATS!!! I'm excited to chat with you guys about if I am the one to be your story teller! I am SO HAPPY that we still have your date [weddingdate] open on our calendar! I know it's a bit down the road yet but this little questionnaire will help me get a feel for what you guys are like and what you're looking for http://diblasiophoto.com/machform/view.php?id=1639...! I wholeheartedly believe the connection you have with your photographer will be what allows the day to go smoothly and the photos to be the memories you can't live without! We do a personal consult with anyone we are considering working with and usually set time up in the evening to sit down with y'all in our office in Granville (or online if that's more convenient). Most of our packages do include two photographers, between 6-12 hours and some beautiful handcrafted albums and memory keepsake boxes to fill with prints and special memories! Excited to chat and talk to ya soon!!"
It's a bit "general" but our relationship at this point is new as well. I want them to know right away whether we are available (if we aren't it sends a similar email with an option to request info about associate shooters with our studio who work thru us, but are slightly less of an investment) and how we do things with our personal consults and a few basics about package inclusions. The questionnaire they fill out gives pricing ranges and asks for some more personal info that we use to do things like gifts/welcome packages as well as gives us a better idea about if they are the type of client we know works best with our style of business and photos. From there we set up a meeting (in person if they're close, online if they're out of state/country) and get to know them! Our workflow for this section goes like this - Initial inquiry > initial response with call to action for questionnaire > questionnaire response > consult booking > booking proposal sent with contract > retainer paid and contract signed = booked.
4. I think that my pricing is pretty in line with what we were talking about at the workshop but here is my issue... So I have a meeting with someone they do open up to me talk to me about anything and everything we seem to get along really well spend 2 or sometimes 3 hours talking with each other then a week or something goes by and I get the email thanks for chatting we had a great time but we decided to book someone else. It seems to keep happening. I don't understand why someone would take 2 hours from their day talk personal details then book someone else. I am assuming most of it is simple budget based. How do I break out of that? Is it in the simple closing that I might not be doing right?
Basically, any purchase or booking is a simple agreement - the client is saying "I agree to give you my money in exchange for what you have offered." There has to be clear and simple to understand inclusions, a contract (the agreement) and a decision point offered. If any of those are muddy or not clear, the client is likely not ready to make the agreement. The hard part is that people make decisions for all kinds of reasons and we typically assume it's something to do with cost. Usually that's a factor, but not the whole story. People buy things they WANT, not always what they can afford. The assumption then is there was something that either left them wanting in some regard (which isn't necessarily something you could change), or the expectations were unclear. A very simple close that I think anyone can do is, after finishing the consult or presentation, ask the question "do any of those options look like what you are looking for?" AND THEN DON'T TALK AGAIN UNTIL THEY DO!! :) This question is a great lead in because it will clarify for you what they are wanting/needing/liking, and the client will get to voice any questions, concerns or simply tell you, "yes, we like option three!" Whatever the response, you have a direction to head next. If they have questions, answer them. If they like one of the options, assume the close and hand them a contract to fill out and explain your retainer info. After all, they came there to hire you (or potentially hire you) to be their photographer. It isn't being "pushy" to give them that opportunity after they have said they like what you have to offer! What we typically do is ask this question, offer response and then say here is our contract (it's online) and how you book. We offer a 48 hour bonus (typically a $300 credit toward prints or an engagement session if their package doesn't included one) and let them know that we don't hold any dates until we have a signed contract and paid retainer. Then the ball is in their court, they have a clear way to book and know we aren't waiting on them. If they want you, they'll book. If they don't, and it happens regularly, you'll need to access what you're offering and how you're presenting it, but that simple close often gives people the clue-in that "this is where you make a decision" which can be somewhat ambiguous in a face-to-face meeting. They need to know (as well as you) when it's time to decide and what the "rules" are for this part.
Hopefully those will give you some things to work on and a little bit of direction with a few very common segments of business that we get questions on a lot thru our education times! We have a few opportunities coming up over the summer/fall for workshops in Boston and then in Pennsylvania that we would love to see some of you attend and, as always, we offer one-to-one mentorship both in person and online with options for per session or 6-12 month costing! Feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions about any of those and we will talk more soon!