Further thoughts about pricing….something I totally didn’t consider

Richard Charpentier Arizona Photographer, Digital Cameras, Photography, Portrait Work, RLC Design Leave a Comment

In my quest to really learn more about pricing and best business practices I’m reading every day.  The latest book?  “Best Business Practices for Photographers” by John Harrington.  So far, a very good read.  8 chapters in within a few hours of cracking the book open.  Of course, there are 32 chapters.  Big book!

While reading through the author made an amazing point that has resonated with me, and I had to share it with readers here.

The author talks about a hypothetical situation where a potential client calls in to inquire about an on location shoot for a business owner.  He asks what they were hoping to pay, and the caller suggests $200.  He creates a proposal and sends it off after the call is over, and his price is higher of course.  A follow up call is made to the potential client, who is a little taken aback by the price.  He points out in this conversation, that it would cost the client more to have an employee go out, rent the photo and lighting gear, and return with it.  Well over $200 just for rental of the gear.  He continues to make the point that he would be providing the gear, as well as the skills necessary to create a nice product with the equipment.

To that I say, “Nice!”

When working out my own pricing I always keep in mind that I must cover capital replacement expenses.  What’s that mean?  Fancy term for saving up the money for a new camera before the current one I own breaks.  Or a new printer, lenses, inks, etc.  You have to factor in the cost per click.  The equipment wears down.  That’s a fact.  But I never thought of equating it to renting camera equipment.  I now have a new tool to factor in to my own pricing.

After reading this really cool scenario I went over to BorrowLenses.com and did some price scouting.  Several friends have used them and swear by them.  Someday I’m sure I’ll give them a try.  There’s a lens I’ve always wanted to check out, but can’t afford.  Anyways, Borrow Lenses does rentals in 3 day minimum increments.  I checked each piece of gear I bring along, divided by 3, and found that the gear I bring to a location shoot, in studio, or to a commercial client’s location would rent for $219.50 per day.  If we were to do the 3 day rental it would be $658.50.

So, when factoring a day rate, sitting rate, etc, and what I need to get out of a session, I’m now going to keep in mind the daily rate of what an equipment rental would cost someone.  Then you have your time, what you’d like to make per hour, opportunity cost, and all the rest.  You can quickly see why studios charge what they charge.

I’m going to go ahead right now and recommend John Harrington’s book to any photographers trying to make a living in today’s market.  A little over 100 pages in, but so far every page has been valuable.  Reading ahead, he covers it all.  Additionally, get your hands on the ASMP’s Professional Business Practices book as well.  As I look to grow the portrait side of my business I’m trying to do it right.  And by right I mean ensure that I can in fact make a living.  The whole starving artist thing is silly.  You shouldn’t have to starve while you bust your tail in your career.  And clearly there’s a lot more to pricing photography than most folks think.  A $50 one hour shoot where you turn over a CD of images to your clients will ensure you’re out of the marketplace super fast!

For regular readers, you’re probably saying, “Sheesh Rich, you’re reading a lot.”  To you I say the following.  Yes, I am.  I’m one of those guys who can read a tech manual, digest, and then go out and run the system better than the tech manual author (in the switching biz that’s what I did).  Art is a little different.  But the pointers I get from other pros get into my mind, roll around, and come out retuned to my needs in my business.  My goal is to grow, not stay static.  My goal is to travel again, shoot amazing locations, and get paid while doing it.  And I will get there!

A bit of a gear shift

Since we’re talking prices and such, I have a few further thoughts I’d like to share to photographers and artists out there.  I’ve been having a great number of pricing conversations with painters, sketch artists, charcoal artists, photographers, and more regarding pricing.  During these uncertain economic times I’ve had more than one artist tell me, “I’m dropping my prices in the hopes of selling more.”  And when I hear this my mind boggles.

Let’s say you’re selling in a gallery.  Galleries take 30, 40, 50% (and more sometimes) on sales.  Before you grumble about greedy gallery owners ponder for a moment.  The wall space they give you costs them.  Thousands of dollars per month if they’re in a good location.  They pay sales staff to represent your work.  Sales members often get commission for selling your stuff.  There’s electric, taxes, telecommunications, web presence, and more.  Their take covers those expenses.  Plus, as entrepreneurs they’re attempting to make a profit too.  I know several gallery owners right now who are getting ready to close their doors.  Rent isn’t made, electric is behind, etc.  There is a reason for their commission.  Keep that in mind.

Now, when you’re selling your work you have to consider whatever a gallery charges you.  Factor it in.  Now factor in the costs of the goods you put together.  Paints, paper, frames, glass.  How about your time in your field?  Opportunity cost.  Insurance?  Etc, etc, etc.

So, selling dirt cheap, competing with the Wal-Mart mentality in this sector of the economy is the same as saying you want to go under.  A $10 8×10 print of your work will not cover commission, cost to print, your time, your rental expense on your gear, or your talent.  Don’t sell yourself short.

In my personal case I’ve had to raise prices on my prints and canvases.  I’d always been below the industry standard.  Since I’m the printer I thought I could pass savings on.  But with material prices going up, inflation hitting my food, insurance, and everything else, along with the desire to make a living at what I do…….  Well, I upped it all.  And with good reason.  I have to think about buying new printers down the road, new cameras, more ink, more paper, more stretcher bars…..you get the idea.

And if you now say to me, “I’m not showing in a gallery.  I do it online.  Etsy, SmugMug, Zenfolio…whatever”.  I say to you the following.  You will not make it by devaluing your own work. Once again I’m going to link to a tool that I’ve been looking at a lot lately.  The NPPA’s Cost of Doing Business Calculator.  Plug your numbers in and shock yourself.  Personally, if I want to earn a low end salary (nothing like the wireless days) my business needs to see over $108,000 per year through the doors (that’s overall, not my salary).  And it’s a meager salary that I set as the initial goal.  So, I have a lot of growing to do myself.  But I think I’m zeroing in on what it’s going to take.  That’s a positive.  Hope you’re on your way too!



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