business: avoiding the “ballpark price”


Portrait and wedding photographers usually have a price list. Want to know how much something costs? It’s there on the price list. Public relations photographers may charge by the hour. For commercial photographers it can get a bit more complicated because most every job is different. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start and what questions to ask.

blinkbid screen capture
Last week I referred to Blinkbid software and how it greatly aids thinking through a job. Here’s a screen capture from the soon-to-be-released new version. How ’bout those numbers?

Most of our clients come to us by way of referral. What’s the best way to market yourself? Do a good job every time out and the referrals will come in. Many of our new client relationships begin with a phone call they’ve placed to us, often in a hurry and under a deadline. They need photography, need it quickly and were told that we can get the job done. Our instincts are to respond quickly to help them out but we need to slow the process down enough to make sure it’s done correctly.

The client, though, may be pressuring you for a price on the spot. “Just give me a ballpark”, they say. I hardly ever give out a ballpark price. I respond to this request in one of two ways:

  1. “I need to talk it over with my business partner, we always work together on this part of the process. Let me have your email address and I’ll get something down in writing and have it to you by noon. ” The beauty of this is that you don’t actually need a business partner but this can buy you the time necessary to think things through.
  2. The other thing I may say is “pricing is all done through my software, I need to run the job through it to get the numbers together. Why don’t I do that and email something to you in, say, an hour?”.

This approach works 99% of the time, buying the time to ask proper questions, think things through and get something down in writing. If they absolutely, positively, must have a number at that very moment, I can pretty much assume that their major concern isn’t quality, it’s pretty much all about price. You may want to get your foot in the door with this client and be willing to do the job inexpensively in order to get future work and, hopefully, to raise your prices. This rarely pans out. If you do try to raise rates down the road they often just go back to their list of photographers and find the next person willing to work inexpensively. Just be aware of this going in.

Agreeing to a rushed price also often leaves the photographer backed into a corner. If you’ve ever taken photos as a favor then you know what I mean. When you do get on the job it can change and the client begins throwing curve balls and change ups. Once I’m on a job I don’t like to discuss money, I prefer to concentrate on photography. A well written estimate allows me to do this, even if the job appears simple at the outset.


Macbook, Macbook Pro, iMac and iPod Sale!

In the “can I charge for that” post I talked about the basic charges our studio has for commercial work. Different charges for creative fees, file processing, delivery of images, crew, etc. Matthew B. asked if new clients ever balked at seeing this laundry list of charges. Yes, they sometimes do but I feel it’s necessary to give them a detailed estimate, especially when starting a relationship with a new client. They often don’t know exactly what they want or need and I help point them in a certain direction, based on experience.

Next week we’ll look at the questions we ask a new client in order to determine their needs and come up with an accurate estimate.