That last sentence leads me into my first point. There are so many things to consider when writing a post like this and so I’m trying really hard to cover all of my bases here! In our 8 years of business, we have realized something very interesting. We run a VERY personal brand… which can make people feel like they truly KNOW us… and they do! The issue arises when some friends of friends, whom we have met once and they follow our life online, get engaged and they truly feel like we’re really good friends because of how much they know about our life! That’s OUR fault! We’re the ones who market personally and share our life with the internet! So how do you handle this? My first point is….
– YOU HAVE TO CREATE A FILTER SYSTEM : When it comes to giving discounts (we’ll address that specifically later) you have to have a filter if you’re going to offer them to certain people and not others. For example, Michael and I decided 6 years ago that we would have a “Bridal Party” rule. Two college roommates got married before me and so early on, I established a price point for friends who were that close to me. So we made a rule that anyone in our Bridal Party at our wedding would receive a “Bridal Party” discount for their wedding. It’s the same price for each of them, depending on travel… (if they are getting married 6 hours away, we obviously have to charge more than if the wedding was right down the road). My point is, you have to draw the line somewhere or else ANYONE who FEELS like they know you personally will expect a discount from you. That leads to my next point.
– BE SO PROFESSIONAL THAT NO ONE EVER EXPECTS A DISCOUNT : This is probably the #1 reason why most photographers struggle in this area. You need to run your business in a way that makes friends and family come to you not expecting a discount because that’s how much they respect what you do. I don’t think we have ever had someone come to us and say something like “Well, I get a discount right??!”. Most friends and family approach us very humbly and explain that it would be their dream to have us shoot their wedding, but they know that it’s not in their budget. A lot of the time they will ask for recommendations of other photographers even though they want to work with us, and that puts the ball in our court to either bless them with a discount or bless them by helping them find a photographer within their budget who they will absolutely LOVE (and that blesses the other photographer too!).
– IT’S YOUR DECISION, NOT THEIRS : This is huge. You can’t be bullied into losing profit for your family. That’s not fair and if that is happening, that probably means that the person whom you’re dealing with shouldn’t make it through your “discount filter”. They want a deal, and they don’t really care about YOU being the one who’s photographing their wedding. They just don’t want to pay, and that’s not the type of person who deserves your discounted time and service. Whenever we have discounted a wedding, it’s ALWAYS for a close friend or family who loves and appreciates who we are as PEOPLE, and they aren’t just begging to save money. This is REALLY important because it means that we never shoot these weddings thinking “Well they practically paid nothing so they can’t expect much of me!”. No way! Our discounted weddings are some of our favorites because we’re surrounded by people who love and appreciate us…. they aren’t taking advantage of us.
– YOUR FINANCIAL SITUATION MATTERS : When Michael was quitting his full time job and we lost health insurance and his entire income, we had to be extremely careful with the “discounting” that we offered. Our financial situation was changing drastically and so our business decisions HAD to reflect that. When we received questions about discounts for friends who we kinda knew but weren’t super close with, we had to be very honest and explain that in the season of life that we were in we had reached our number of gifts that we could give for that season, and we were so sorry. You may be in a season of your business where EVERYONE is trying to get a discount. Everyone. You’re going to have to put your foot down. You can’t have a reputation of being the local “Discount Daisy” who just caves to EVERYONE’S requests. That’s not fair to your kids, your spouse, your family or your friends who you are losing time with, or to you for not being compensated for your work! If money is tight for you and you’re struggling to turn a profit in your business you have to draw the line and stop giving discounts. It’s as simple as that. Your business will fail if you can’t do this, because you will never be taken seriously if you don’t. This points me back to point #2. If no one takes you seriously, something is going wrong with their perception of your professionalism. Maybe it’s the way you carry yourself at weddings…. are you dressing professionally? Maybe it’s your website? Does it match what you’re charging? Maybe it’s your workflow and your marketing? Do you have a system or are you haphazardly posting here and there, and no one can REALLY tell if you’re taking yourself seriously or if this is just a hobby. You have to make it VERY clear that you’re a professional in order to be treated like a professional.
– BE STRICT SO THAT YOU CAN BE A BLESSING: Michael and I are strict with 95% of our bookings. If you inquire and you weren’t in our bridal party, you aren’t my sister, brother or one of our closest family friends from childhood who feels like family, then you have to pay our standard prices. Our prices are HIGH right now. We’re getting ready to have a baby and our demand is still high, but the supply is lessening some with our new life change. So if you’ve taken any basic economics class, that means that we are charging a higher price point and are shooting less weddings in 2017. We are STRICT 95% of the time so that we can be a BLESSING to others 5% of the time. Let me explain…. because I’m a stickler with our prices, I get the PRIVILEGE of blessing someone in need or someone who is practically related to us with a discounted wedding package each year. Each year we have about 2 weddings who don’t pay full price and these are either VERY SPECIAL circumstances or they are practically related to us (like they go on vacation with us and we have known them our whole life!). I teach at our workshops that being STRICT has it’s REWARDS. This is how I balance discounts in my business. I have to do the hard job of saying “NO” a lot in order to be able to say “YES” to discounts for those who fit in our “Discount Filter” (bridal party members from our own wedding and family/people who are practically family).
– YOUR FIRST YEAR MAY REQUIRE DIFFERENT RULES: My first year in business went something like this ….. “Oh, you’re getting married? Oh, you like my work on my website and you’re willing to pay $750 instead of $1000? Ok then!” That was my first wedding. I had several others like that, but I also quickly realized what I was worth and I started sticking to my prices… which were very reasonable. It’s better to have reasonable prices and be firm with them than to be wishy-washy with what you’re charging. I stayed at this price point for the majority of my first season and then I raised prices for my second season. My point is, when you don’t have any portfolio work, you have to make some exceptions AT FIRST. However, a lot of photographers NEVER get out of that “making exceptions” phase and that is what kills their business. So if you’re super new to all of this, I understand making exceptions… but that season cannot last forever and it definitely doesn’t NEED to last forever. Don’t live in fear!! You can have appropriate prices and stick to them!!!
I know that this doesn’t solve ALL of the discounting issues that photographers face, but I do hope that my personal experience and how we choose to handle this situation in our own business is helpful for you. There are so many different opinions about this in our industry, but this is what Michael and I have done for 8 years now. You don’t have to adopt all of our ideas and policies, but if you’re struggling in this area, it’s not hopeless and I recommend implementing some of these ideas immediately! Here are some additional tips that may help as well:
– Our “If you were in our bridal party” discount is percentage based.
– We have a strict “You don’t need to share this” policy with those closest to us who receive discounts. We expect them to honor this request and they do because really, it’s the easiest way that they can say “thank you” to us. If someone asks them what they paid, they can simply say that Katelyn and Michael requested that we not share the financial details of our booking process with anyone and we want to respect that.
– Life circumstances also change our ability to discount. We have to discount LESS now that there will be a baby in our life. We have more reason to be home now and so we have to take that into consideration. If you have 3 kids and photography is part time, I may be wrong here but I don’t think you should be giving up your weekends with them and not getting paid… unless this is your first or second year and you need to build your portfolio work and you’re still in the extreme “hustling” stages of your business.
– Present your Pricing PROFESSIONALLY! This is your first chance to show the level of professionalism in your business so take advantage of this opportunity and don’t blow it by copying and pasting numbers and packages into an email! You need to show them a more professional presentation from the beginning!
If you struggle with pricing and you want additional resources to help you improve and understand what you’re worth, we highly recommend checking out the KJ Pricing Kit in our store for photographers! One way we make sure that we are taken VERY seriously from the very beginning is by having an incredibly professional Pricing Guide to send to brides who are inquiring! (It looks like an online magazine!) This is a vital part of the booking process because the way that you display your prices determines your professional perception. We’ve actually shared all of our pricing education AND my personal pricing template in our kit so that photographers can use our pricing content and layout to create their very own professional pricing guide! CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE!