Recently, a fellow photographer asked me how I get clients to pay my photography prices because he could barely get people to pay $200 for a shoot. I completely understood where he was coming from. In 2016, I was living in Savannah working my butt off to just to get 12 $300 clients/year. Then I moved to Dallas & took a year off. In 2018, I had 50 clients who each spent a minimum of $1k. What changed? Not much. Just my business strategy & marketing. Here’s what I did & how you can do it too.
The first step to raising my prices was figuring out how much it costs me to be in business. When I first started, my costs were minimal. 2018 was the year I started paying for studio rent, website hosting, hiring staff, upgrading old gear, etc. My goal is to make $100,000 annually AFTER all expenses to have the kind of lifestyle I desire. I also only want 100 clients per year due to the high amount of planning that goes into each session. Once I figured out my income goals, this free online calculator helped me itemize all my costs and figure out my CODB (cost of doing business). I came to the realization that I need to make $1700 per client in order to meet my income goals as a single photographer. Take a look around & I’m you’ll see that most photographers who charge in the $100-$300 range are married, have multiple jobs, or live at their parents’.
Once I figured out how much I needed to make per client, the question became how to do it. There’s a few different schools of thought on this:
Shoot & Burn: This is when a photographer charges an all-inclusive fee, shoots hundreds of photos, then delivers them to clients at no extra cost burned to a CD back in the day, but now usually via digital download. Clients who purchase this product typically desire quantity over quality, and for a low price. On the low end, shoot & burn photographers are charging $25 per shoot. On the high end, they are charging $300 which sounds great in comparison, but isn’t enough to make a living. If you’re shooting 100 clients per year (or an average of 8 per month), you’re only making $30,000, pre-expenses. You could take on more clients, but that means you’ll have to sacrifice your creativity, otherwise you’re gonna get burnt out on planning custom concepts for each client, handling client emails & phone calls, editing, etc., etc., etc.
IPS: This is when a photographer charges a session fee & includes no images. They shoot hundreds of photos, narrow down to the best, & meet with the client to do a viewing either in person or on Skype which is why it’s called IPS, or in person sales. The client then selects their favorite images & purchases them in either print products or digital format at additional cost. In 2016, I joined an amazing group on Facebook called IPS Mastermind. Seeing the success stories of all the other IPS photographers (there are 60k members in the group & counting!!) literally changed my life. I IMMEDIATELY went from maxing out at $300 per portrait session to $1,000, $2,000, & $3,000 sales!! This group is amazing & I recommend joining it if you’re brand new to IPS. They also offer educational videos on a low monthly subscription basis.
Combo: In 2019 I converted to a hybrid photography business. I now do a higher-priced shoot & burn package, PLUS IPS. Clients pay for my all-inclusive packages in full prior to their shoot. My packages include a few images & during the viewing clients are given the opportunity to purchase more. This ensures that my time is no longer wasted with people paying a low session fee & not spending enough to meet my CODB (cost of doing business). If I’ve done my job well, most of my clients can’t narrow their photos down & always decide to purchase additional ones during their viewing. Since we’re barely into 2019, it’s hard to say how this new business strategy will work for me. Pricing this way should ensure that I will always meet my CODB. It should also ensure that the people who book me are people who value quality over quantity vs. price shoppers.
The next step to charging higher prices is to specialize. I used to do it all: Fashion, beauty, family portraits, weddings, engagements, babies, boudoir, branding, high school seniors, maternity, & whatever the heck else people contacted me for. Even if you’re good at everything, people who value quality over quantity look for specialists. They aren’t looking for “the cheapest photographer I can find,” they’re looking for “the best photographer I can find.” The going perception is that the best photographer specializes. I left all those other niches behind to specialize in helping women feel beautiful in both their personal & professional lives through boudoir & branding photography. Some of my clients hire me for one or the other, others hire me for both.
If you’re just starting out, it’s ok to experiment to figure out what works for you. But just know that in order to raise your prices, you’ll have to specialize eventually. You don’t have to choose just one niche; you just need to make sure the niches you choose make sense together in marketing. For example, it doesn’t make sense to have fitness on a wedding photography site, but it DOES make sense to have engagements. One other way you can shoot other genres is to create other brands & separate websites for each brand. I do this; Beautiful You Studios.com is for my everyday women work, CandacePerry.com is for my commercial, fashion, & beauty work. But, it’s A LOT of work to market both & I really don’t recommend it. I mainly use CP as a static portfolio site. BYS is the only one I have time to update (barely). So if you can, choose a couple niches that all fit under one brand and stick to those.
Once you’ve chosen to specialize, you need to be sure that your website shows only the best work. Sometimes as photographers, we get emotionally attached to work & leave it on our site even if there’s some glaring flaws wrong with it like being out of focus, poorly lit, etc. But to attract the clients who value quality over quantity, your portfolio needs to show quality over quantity. Regularly delete images that are just not good or up to date with current photography trends. If you don’t know what’s good or trending, Google some photographers who specialize in what you shoot in your area. Then take a look at their social media to see if they are getting regular bookings. If they are, they’re shooting what sells. This is the person you need to study to come up with your own body of high-quality work. However, don’t become so consumed with this that you begin to suffer from analysis paralysis either. If that IPS Mastermind Facebook group taught me anything, it’s that there’s some pretty crappy photographers out there making $5,000+ per portrait session because they are amazing marketers…which is my next point:
In some ways, it doesn’t matter how good your work is. If you can sell your clients on the experience of what you’re providing, there are people who will buy it. If you can make people FEEL something, they will hire you. The way some not-so-great photographers are making really good money is by creating hype. People hire photographers like sheep. Whoever has the most people talking about them is who everyone hires whether they’re actually good or not. Which is my next point; you need to create hype.
To create hype, you need to photograph a ton of people and tag them on social media. When I first launched my business in Dallas, I created a Facebook group, added all of my friends to it, & posted some work from recent shoots. Then, I created a post saying I was looking for new faces to add to my portfolio. In exchange for modeling, I offered a free session, but clients had to buy the images. This created value surrounding my work instead of attracting people who want freebies. The more clients I shot this way, the more my name got out around town & momentum was generated. I also ran contests, sales, and more to create a buzz around my work. Within a year, my group had grown from 100 to 3.5k members.
Unfortunately, Facebook has realized that businesses are skipping out on paying for ads by creating groups. They’ve begun cracking down by changing algorithms. Now, my group posts don’t show in feeds as often so it’s pretty hard to create momentum. You could just do all of this on your personal page, but Facebook also has a policy against people using their personal pages for business. Eventually, they will probably start cracking down on that too. In my opinion, the days of Facebook generating great traffic for photographers are kinda over. Look at Facebook as a secondary method of attracting clients, not your primary one, unless you have thousands of dollars to spend on ads. So what should you focus on? Google!
I believe based on my own personal experience, that paid Google advertising is THE best marketing strategy. Why? Because everyone who finds you through Google is a hot lead. They were searching keywords like “boudoir photographers near me” when your ad popped up & they clicked on it. The downside with Facebook advertising is you’re going after cold leads, people targeted through interests like lingerie for example. However, the time that your ad pops up may not be when people are looking to hire a boudoir photographer. This is why you have to spend hundreds of dollars on Facebook to get just one client. Most clickers are cold leads who are just curious, not people ready to buy, and you pay for each click. Google leads however, ARE interested in hiring a photographer. Google ads only appear when people are searching for specific keywords. There are tons of tutorials all over the web that will help you learn how to do Google ads so you don’t wasted hundreds of dollars. You could also hire someone to manage them for you, but beware of scammers.
You can also get FREE traffic to your website by writing blog posts containing relevant keywords. This is basic SEO or search engine optimization. Regularly updating my website with fresh blog content has helped me to get tons of clients. The more blogs you post, the more Google says “Hey everyone, check out this website, it has new content!” which in turn helps your website climb Google search engine results for whatever keywords you’re using in your posts. Make sure to do your keyword research as you’ll want to use ones that people are actually searching for. This is a great site for figuring out which keywords get the most traffic. If you don’t have time to write your own blogs, hire a blog writer. That’s what I did (though I’m writing this one).
Next up, you’ll want to work on building an email list. This is a great way to get people who come to your website but forget to click the contact button to remember who you are & hire you. To get them on your list, you’ll need to offer some kind of lead magnet, like a free ebook. I offer free “what to wear” and other types of guides. Once people sign up to download them, they are on my list.
For email lists, I like MailChimp the most because it is easy to set up & free up to a certain amount of subscribers. The key with emails though is not to spam people. You want to stay fresh in their mind without making a nuisance of yourself. A lot of marketers will tell you otherwise, but I recommend that you actually DON’T email them daily. At most, do every other day. At best, do weekly. Make sure your content is only 20% sales pitch, with the other 80% being educational. My boudoir list gets stuff like free fashion & beauty tips as well as self-confidence tips. My branding list gets stuff female entrepreneurs would be interested in such as how to build momentum for THEIR businesses.
The last, and most important step is to believe in yourself. The largest reason many photographers stay stuck in making poverty-level income is because they don’t believe they can do it. It’s all about mindset. So stay positive, true to what you need to make, and believe you can do it. I told myself for years that $300 is all I can get people to pay me because that’s all that was happening, & that continued to be all that ever happened. But then I had a friend who got into photography AFTER me make $100,000 her very first year. Watching her success made me realize it was my negative mentality that was creating my lack & nothing else, especially when she volunteered to do a couple of my first IPS viewings for me & landed $2500 sales from both. That little victory created the mind shift I needed to get to where I am today. So, take it from us both – stay positive & big things will happen!!