In September 2016, I had been asked to photograph a fairly large event for the…
If you’re a creative, a business owner, a freelancer, I hope this resonates with you and adds value to your learning. I’m going to be speaking to both sides – the photographer and the potential client. This is what I’ve come to learn over a period of several years in business.
Early in my journey of starting a photography business, I would get asked to quote photography for a variety of things and in my responses, I felt like I did all the right things: lay out my rates in a very straight-forward and logical way, I spoke to the value I bring to the project and so on. Sometimes I would get booked for the job and sometimes I would not. When I didn’t get booked, the person on the other end would usually tell me that my rate wasn’t within their budget (aka I was too expensive). What went wrong? I thought I was priced fairly considering the amount of work that was being asked of me for the specific project and the value the photos would bring to the client.
When I didn’t get booked for the job, I would replay scenarios in my mind and start beating myself up and think, “If I had only outlined my value a little bit better, she would have booked me.” “If I had only said this differently, he would have seen the potential of what my photos could have done for his business.” As creatives/business owners/freelancers, we’re so good at beating ourselves up for something that we should have done or could have done, thinking that this could have changed the outcome. This is what leads to feelings of doubt, discouragement, questioning your worth as the artist / service provider and more. Early in my career, what I had not considered was fit. That the reason the potential client did not move forward with my quote was that we were not a good fit for each other. What I was offering was not in alignment with what the potential client was wanting or needing.
The truth is: no amount of persuasion, or the ‘perfect response’, wordsmithing, outlining of value could have inspired a potential client who was only looking to pay $300 to pay $1500 for my services. It’s nothing personal, it has nothing to do with your value or your quality of service, it’s just business. While they understand what you do, they’re just not willing to pay that rate because it’s not what they want or need at the moment. I think many people who are starting off their business or are a creative have a hard time with this.
Let’s talk about value for a second. I never have been into designer fashion. I understand that many people in the world are willing to pay the price tag on that kind of clothing. I can understand and appreciate that much time and craftsmanship went into the design and manufacturing of this kind of clothing. I can appreciate that you get what you pay for. But if we’re talking about it as it relates to me, it’s not my kind of clothing so I don’t place much value on it. Do the Armani or Luis Vuitton brands care if I am wearing their stuff? No, because I’m not the right target market for them.
I used to think that Lululemon was overpriced athletic wear but then they started to create a lifestyle line and that peaked my interest. So I tried on some of their clothing and it fit really well and the material felt like it would last more than a few washes. After owning a few items, I was really impressed with how the clothing kept the shape after washes, the colour didn’t fade, the performance was there while wearing it and more. The price tag on Lululemon clothing is still more than what I would have normally paid for similar products, but I pay it because I place value on their clothing. I feel like I get what I pay for.
What I have learned from the above scenarios is that, similarly, any of your potential clients will place varying levels of value in photography (same goes for whatever your skill is) and they will only pay for what they value. It won’t matter what you say or do, it would be near impossible to change their mind. If you can accept that this is nothing personal and it’s just business, then you’ll have an easier go at it. At the same time, knowing this, you should stop kicking yourself if you don’t get booked for the job. It means that you and the potential client were not a good fit for each other and that is ok.
…any of your potential clients will place varying levels of value in photography (same goes for whatever your skill is) and they will only pay for what they value.
When potential clients are asking me to quote a project, I now always consider fit and this goes both ways. If you are looking to work with a photographer, you should choose to work with someone based on variety of factors but fit is a key one.
Things to consider:
- Do you have a specific style of photography that you’re wanting? Do you feel that the photographer can produce the results you’re wanting? If you do have a specific style in mind, generally the rates would be higher for this because it is now specialized, which makes sense.
- Most times, value in creative direction is overlooked. In large companies, there is a Creative Director and a Photographer and these are two separate positions. Do you want basic shots or something with more creativity to them to match a campaign (or vision)? If you’re wanting support in creative direction but don’t have a Creative Director, an experienced photographer would be able to handle both. Keep in mind that someone who is experienced in this area would be charging more because there is now more value provided.
- Photo editing: how detailed do you want the end result? Are you okay with someone who does a blanket filter across all of the images with little editing, or do you require more attention to detail with skin tones being consistent, Photoshop work to remove distracting things in the background and work to bring out detail in the shots? Rates will coincide with how much work is required.
- Do you feel a connection with the photographer? Is their personality or demeanor someone you feel you can work with?
- Do you feel the photographer understands your vision, the objectives and deliverables? This is what will lead to getting the results you want. Likewise, as a client, do you feel you have sufficiently communicated your vision, objectives and deliverables? There is nothing worse than spending a few hours at a shoot and then reviewing photos that are nowhere near what was supposed to be done.
As the creative or photographer, you need to understand where your potential client is at. Where do they place value on the above? What are their objectives and deliverables? Make sure that it’s in alignment with where you feel you are so that you’re going into the project where both parties are getting something mutually beneficial.
If the potential client is asking you to do “quick shots” or apply one filter across the entire batch but your photography is based around more skilled technical shots and reviewing and editing every photo for quality and consistency, then they are not your client. The fit isn’t there.
If you’re getting asked to quote a certain project and you’ve done the math into how long the shoot will take, the amount of editing to be done afterwards, the amount of coordination involved, the value the photos will provide to the client and you determine that the work is worth $5000 in total but the client is only willing to pay $1000, then the fit is not there and that’s ok. It has nothing to do with the quality of your work or who you are. You have to be willing to let it go because not everyone will be your client.
At Vivid Ribbon, we want to be working with clients who understand the value of what we do and secondly, they have a need and want what we do. In other words, we want to work with clients who place the same value on the work as we do. It took a while, but I know who our target market is and I know the value of Vivid Ribbon’s work. I no longer spend my time trying to market our work to the wrong market because the fit won’t be there. As a creative/small business owner/freelancer, I understand that when starting off, you may not know who your target market is so you take on any job that comes your way, you deeply discount your rate just to take on the work etc. I get it. At the beginning, this may be something you do because it takes time to understand your own work. My recommendation is that over time, as you understand your target market and the value of your work, progressively move your rates to where they should be at and be ok with letting work go that isn’t a good fit. Not everyone will be your client and that’s okay.
In business it’s a great feeling when you’re working with a client that truly values your work and is willing to pay for it, and you provide them your best work and service and you both value the relationship because it’s a great fit and it’s more balanced.
– Chan Rin, Partner & Director of Photography
Vivid Ribbon specializes in commercial, brand, lifestyle, event, and interior photography with a focus on helping brands through visual communication strategy. We produce visuals and creative artwork that are in alignment with our client’s marketing and branding objectives. In addition, Vivid Ribbon also provides consulting services on branding and visual communication strategy.