The great photography pricing hoax.

A stressed-looking woman pinching the bridge of her nose and holding a pair of glasses.

No sales? Hard time snagging clients? Your deep-discount pricing could be hurting your reputation. It's not uncommon to offer your services at a cut-rate discount with the hope you'll snap up eager bargain hunters. But is this the right approach?

Successful pros agree that raising your pricing may not necessarily scare away potential clients; in fact, it can do you some good. 

The trouble with “cheap.”

"Cheap" sets bad expectations for your clients. If you're a cheap photographer, clients wonder how you're cutting costs so much and if it's worth it for them to take the risk. They question your ability to manage expectations and communicate with them. Will you effectively guide them through an important experience, or will you simply fire a few snaps, hand over some digital files, and call it a day?

"Cheap" makes it look as though you don't think you're any good. Any business owner who doesn't think their brand's the best is probably in the wrong field.

How to not be expensive.

Right about now you're probably worried about scaring away clients by being too expensive. How do your clients know what "expensive" really is? It's all about pricing and a concept called anchoring—meaning they have to compare the value of something new with something familiar. In layman’s terms, clients will be able to better grasp the value of your work by judging their interaction with you.

Here are some tips to help you prove your work is worth every penny:

  1. Create a unified brand: A professional website. Clearly placed information. A custom domain and email address go a long way, too.
  2. Be professional: Be prompt, courteous, and friendly. You provide a quality service, which is worth paying for.
  3. Look and act the part: No one is going to pay $5k to someone wearing stained T-shirts, especially if they show up late and forget to bring the paperwork.

How to do the "free" thing (the right way).

Just because you should be paid fairly for your work doesn't mean you can't cut clients a break, or even do the "free" thing once in a while. Samples are a great way to give clients a taste of what you do without giving away the farm. Some ideas of how to work this into your business plan:

  • Model 1: Waive your session fee, but be sure to charge for prints and digital downloads.
  • Model 2: Apply the sitting fee toward the purchase of digital downloads, making the first X-number free.

On SmugMug, it's easy to offer a few deep discounts by creating a custom coupon to hand out. There are five different types, ensuring you can keep changing it up and keeping things relevant.

Calculate your costs to avoid going broke.

The reason most photography businesses don't survive is because their owners didn't properly calculate their costs. And as the old adage goes, time is money. Don't forget that your time and expertise are more precious than replaceable objects like paper and gear; you can hire assistants, but they aren't you. 

Here are our suggested guidelines for calculating your costs:

  • For prints: Your pricing shouldn’t be less than 4x your hard costs, including packaging and shipping. Seems like a lot? It's not; about half your balance goes toward taxes, 1/5th goes toward the base cost of the item, and the rest goes toward your profit.
  • Albums and multi-photo goods: Your pricing should be no less than 3x your hard costs, which may include design work as well as the physical cost of the product.
  • For downloads: Price your larger-than-web-sized digital downloads at no less than the cost of ten prints. Giving away images at any printable size means you have to make it worth your while: clients will use that file to print lots of prints, and you also run the risk of having your brand diluted if your client opens Photoshop and makes their own digital adjustments. Check out our resolution chart to find out how big different sizes can print.

The bottom line.

Don't be afraid to charge a fair price for your work. By understanding your costs and charging more, you're sending a stronger message to your clients and ensuring they value you, too.

If you're already in business and think your prices need an adjustment, remember that it's simple to adjust your pricing using SmugMug’s pricelists.