What Should I Charge? | Pricing 101
Photographers are often asking themselves (and other photographers) “what should I charge?” It’s a foundational question that raises worry and doubt over the survival of our profession. There’s an ocean of information out there with endless waves of differing opinions. With so much information, it’s easy to just go with the current tide until we’re lost far at sea. I think part of the confusion comes because asking “what should I charge?” is really two questions in one. Let’s take a closer look.
The underlying issues are 1). how do you price your work to be sustainable and 2). what are your potential clients willing to pay for it? One question is about your business’ cost/profit ratios and the other is about the value you offer to others. If you try answer the second without answering first, you’ll most likely base it on these common pricing myths.
- What Other Area Photographers Charge. Don’t fall into the trap of basing your prices on what the other guy is charging. Why? Because you have no idea what his actual costs are, which means you don’t know if he’s making money or losing it. It’s also quite possible he doesn’t know either, especially if his prices are based on some other photographer too.
- The Level of Your Work. If you base your prices on the level of your work, it gets sticky real quick. Who decides when you’re good enough? Your clients? Other photographers? Most likely it’s based on how you perceive your work–or worst, how you perceive what other people must think about your work. That’s a self-inflicted headache. If you’re always growing as an image marker, the truth is, you probably never feel as though you’ve “arrived” because there’s always room to grow.
- What You Would Pay. Another mistake is to forget you are not always your client, and start asking yourself what would you pay for your own work? This can be an especially subtle and damaging trap because it preys on the natural bent of dissatisfaction in one’s own work. I call an epidemic of self-abuse within the creative and artistic community. The roots of which are intertwined within our hidden thought patterns and how we feel about ourselves as human beings (see the upcoming post: Identifying the Patterns of Artistic Self-Abuse).
Pricing for Sustainability
- The first step includes an in depth and brutally honest look at what it costs you to produce a final product for your client. The primary factor of a healthy business is that it makes more money than it spends.
- Under PPA benchmark research, the average photographer’s salary is 20% of his or her gross income. In very simplistic terms, this means if you charge the client $100 an hour, you only make $20.
- That other $80 enables your business to sustainably function by covering the raising costs of products, albums, computer upgrades, equipment, maintenance, education, healthcare, etc. If you don’t have these costs built in, guess where they come from? That’s right, they come out of your 20% slice.
- Once you honestly and thoroughly crunch the numbers, you’ll know without a doubt where you need to set your prices. You’ll have a bare minium you’ll need to charge for your business to survive without stealing from other areas of your life.
- It can be an overwhelming process to go down this road, and so I understand why most people never start. But it’s like someone saying they may be worried about being seriously sick so they don’t want to go into the doctor. The truth might confirm your worries, but it can also offer you an opportunity for a real and exciting solution. You can get the help you need.
- Here are some tools to help you get started: the 2005 PPA Benchmark Survey, Expense and Pricing Templates from PPA, Stacey Reeves’ Pricing Guide, and Hopeland Studio’s Pricing Spreadsheet (based on Stacey’s guide).
- We are available on an individual basis if you need help applying this information to your specific circumstances. Contact us here for more information.
With that said, what your potential clients are willing to pay is a completely separate issue that deserves a post all to itself. More to come later…