Five scary words to a lot of photographers. There is so much of US wrapped into those five words. I think they may be the scariest words we self employed folks ever hear.
Although it is exactly what we want to hear… someone wants to hire us. All that marketing paid off. The emails, promos, tweets, status updates, pins, instagrams, and tumblr posts worked!!!
We have someone who actually wants to hire us… or do they? Maybe they are from our competition trying to weasel out our price points? Perhaps they are looking for someone to bid higher than their buddy so they can use our higher rate as a justification to hire their buddy? Maybe they are really some sort of corporate spy bent on destroying my business because of something I have no idea I ever did?
Actually no… they just want to know what it costs.
What if I am too high? What if I am too low? What if I don’t really know how to do what they want? What if they want something I cannot do? What if I fail to deliver? Do they have an army of attorneys waiting in the wings to sue me into oblivion at the slightest amount of sensor dust?
Do they have a goon squad?
“Go away or I’ll call the goon squad.”
“I’m on the goon squad.”
“You are the goon squad!”
As I like to point out… “It costs what it costs”. Now we have to discuss what it costs with someone who may or may not want to pay what it costs, and we have to be clear to ourselves and them on why it costs what it costs.
Relax… take a breath. Think about what you say next.
Because it can be very, very important… as it can become the ‘base’ of all that comes afterwards. It can become a touchpoint, and as such can hinder all attempts at negotiations.
Perhaps someone says “How much do you charge to do headshots?” You quickly respond with, “well, headshots are usually $200.”
You have just created your top rate. All negotiations will be focused on lowering that rate, and you simply tossed it out as a reference.
Now the client smiles… “That’s great”, he says, “I need a headshot of me in my office in Denver. When can you come up and do it?”
Remember that $200 you tossed out there… now it has to be changed. And the client is going to resist that change, as they have already gotten the touchpoint figure of $200 in their head.
Yes, of course it is a stretch story… all examples are stretch stories in order to make a point clearly. Most of the time the differences are more subtle, and the client expectations more nuanced.
What if the guy was asking you how much for a headshot, and you blurt out $200 and he does a quick calculation that to do the entire office staff of 30 people it would be $6000 and that is a grand over budget. So he thanks you and hangs up.
You had no idea he was talking about 30 people. Surely that would have been a better ‘per shot’ price for most of us.
When we give a price, we usually base that price as our highest point in the mind of the client. What we want to do is ‘base’ that price as the lowest point. This gives us more room to negotiate as needed.
“My rates for heashots are $200.” Bad… it creates a base high point.
“My rates for headshots start at $200.” Better… it creates a base low point.
“My rates for headshots can vary according to the job, but they start at around $200. What are the specifics of your job?” Best… this one creates a base rate that then requires more feedback from the client. We call that dialog and it is very good for establishing relationships.
Number three takes care of establishing a price point by noting that they START at $200, and we indicate that there is room for negotiation based on the facts of the job.
Beware of being vague.
“How much do you charge for a headshot?”
“How much you wanna spend?”
“What is your budget?”
“I dunno, what do you have in mind?”
Vague means you don’t know, and are making it up as you go along.
(HINT… yeah, many of us do just that on occasion… shhhh…).
That neither instills confidence or trust, and we get down to negotiation stance before we even know what we are negotiating for.
I suggest for single off jobs you have an established “starting at” rate, and go from there to the inquiry of the specifics. If you have let them know that you are open to making considerations for possible special circumstances, and that you are also able to charge more for the work, you have a bit more of a platform to stand on when discussing the rates.
For larger jobs with lots of moving parts, it is ALWAYS better to get the specs for the job before even mentioning an number which could become a touchpoint for the client. They asked off the top of their head and you gave them a specific number… done. No… don’t do that.
Is there a time when it is OK to ask what their budget is?
Yes… once the negotiation has begun. Once the figures have been established as real, and fluid if necessary, you can then ask if there is some way to work within their budget.
But be careful not to give the farm away. That will not help you establish yourself as anyone of consequence in this or any business.
Headshots for 20 people.
Shoot fee: $170 per person.
MUA/: $75 per person
Stylist: $50 per person
Digital Tech: $550 for the day
Assistant: $500 for the day
Travel to location: $200 for the day
Gear Rental: $200 for the day
Client comes back and says you are a bit over their budget. That is a tip that they want to work with you but of course want the best price they can get. If you are way over their budget, you will probably not hear back from them. That should not be a problem if you are indeed confident in your value.
I would then ask… what is the budget. “If we can get within your budget, I will be glad to work it out.”
By line-iteming each of the cost figures laid in the bid perhaps you can trim a bit. The client feels better about sharing the budget with you because you have just laid your prices out for him.
If you must trim a grand off… there are ways of doing that.
If you must trim five grand off, walk.
To trim off five thousand dollars makes a mockery of your bid. And if you do it, never expect to do anything of value for that client again, as they know that your bids are paper tigers, easily shredded by desperation.
And desperation fueled by fear is most definitely NOT a good place to be for negotiations.
Part Two of this will be posted next Wednesday, August 13. See you then.
I met Josh several years ago on the stobist forum. We have stayed in touch and I am knocked out by his wonderful still life and product work.
I asked Josh to speak about his photography, and we chatted for an hour. Josh walks us through his transition from LA to Portland and from Portrait to Still Life work.
Enjoy this interview and make sure to visit Josh’s website: www.joshrosscreative.com
Thanks so much for spending some time with us Josh. I look forward to having you back in September to chat with the Project 52 students. See you then.
For some more insight on how Josh does retouching, see this page.
One of the most important considerations of a photographers work is the subject matter they choose to make photographs. Sounds almost simplistic, doesn’t it?
But there is a great deal of thought that goes into this part of what we do. If we have chosen subject matter for any reason at all, it should resonate and help us be more authentic in the work we choose to do.
For instance; if you are a mountaineering photographer, would you not be interested in mountains, hiking or climbing? If you shoot cars, are you not interested in them at all… just metal and wheels?
Car shooters LOVE cars. They LIVE cars. They can tell you about the fins of the 80’s and how big the cylinders the Cobra’s engine had in those classic muscle cars. A fashion photographer can instantly spot the trends, know the designers who are creating them and speak the language of fashion.
And that mountaineering photographer… she knows how to climb and hike and where all the cool places to shoot climbers are.
It is how the most authentic of us begin to work within our tribe. And it shows in the images.
One of the photographers I am working with loves motorcycles, in specific the older, retro designed bikes like Triumphs and BSA’s. He is not a kid though, and his friends reflect that as well. It is his tribe, and bikes are mixed with kids and the suburbs, day jobs and long weekends.
A niche he plans on using in order to build a stronger lifestyle book, along with the rugged outdoors folks who hike the Appalachian Trail in winter, the ridges of the Canadian Rockies in the summer.
It is the same people he spends time with when not shooting or working.
His tribe. His subjects. His authenticity.
A few examples of authentic photographers working in their own tribes.
Matt and Agnes Hage: Adventure Photographers.
The Hages live in Alaska because the love the mountains and hiking where the wild things are. They have turned that love affair with the rugged outdoors into their subject matter and are shooting for editorial and advertising clients all over the world.
When they are not climbing and shooting for clients, they are climbing and shooting for themselves. Their lifestyle IS the one they photograph for, and with the people who are part of that lifestyle.
Scott Toepfer photographs his friends, their interests and what they love. The west coast surfing, motorcycle, freedom loving youth are where he turns his lens. His tribe, his life, his subjects.
Scott has captured that culture, his culture, very well. And advertisers are wanting that authenticity brought to their products and services BECAUSE it is real and authentic
If Scott is not shooting motorcycles, he is probably out with the tribe riding them, hanging out with the buds and living the lifestyle he portrays in the work he produces.
Tara Donne loves design and food and travel. No small wonder it is what she makes photographs of as well as living that life. She loves to cook, and she loves to shoot food. Her travel bug is ignited by and paid for by her photography. Exotic locations are where she loves to go, and the images show us the excitement of visiting far away places. The food, people and quirky little vignettes are what she would shoot if she were on vacation.
Her tribe, her images, her way.
Can you work with subjects that you do not have a personal affiliation with? Sure… because you live that lifestyle through the camera, the work, and the professional friends you make while working. And you KNOW it, and how to portray it with real insight.
You may be an older guy who loves to shoot fashion. And that work becomes your passion and your subject. It doesn’t mean you have to hang out in clubs and do shooters with 21 year olds, it means that you have to understand that lifestyle and bring that authenticity to the work.
You find yourself knowing more about designers, makeup, hair trends and style than you may have ever expected to, but it is an interest that brings authenticity to the work.
In short, your tribe, your interests, your passions… they make the best subjects. And if you come to the subject from a different passion, let them engage your imagination and spark an interest that goes beyond the surface, and into the heart of the matter. Making YOUR photograph is the most important thing, and being involved helps you stay focused.
As we look at new and exciting new opportunities for photographers, it can also be wise to consider who we are, what we do, and who our own tribes are. Finding authenticity in our own lives and watching that interest become a part of our subject matter can be quite exhilarating. And fun too!