I get asked about discounts pretty often from other photographers and potential clients alike. I know this can be a super touchy subject (money – yay!), so I hesitated even writing a post about it… but after this question keeps coming up again and again – I figured I’d finally go and just talk about it (much to James’ dismay). I realize not everybody is going to agree with this post – but this is just how we choose to deal with this issue!
First, photographers often ask me if I offer discounts to my friends and family members. My answer to this is Yes. But it is a very thought out discount and it is most certainly not given away to every person I’ve ever met. These are my family/friend rules that I have always stuck to:
1. If you are in my very most inner circle of loved ones in my life – I will shoot for you for free. This includes my immediate family, anybody who stood up in my wedding, lived with me in college, or was one of my closest girls in high school. That’s it. Those people I refuse to accept money from (though they try over and over again to give it to me). I just refuse. I will shoot their babies, families, and weddings for free (& have). It’s as simple as that. Anybody else pays full price (with one exception… see #2).
2. I have about a million cousins on my mom’s side. These people have been a part of my life forever. I love them, and I see them at holidays and often times when I’m back in my hometown. If they are cousins that don’t fall into the category above – then I will shoot their family sessions for 50% my regular session fee, and they pay my normal rates for any products. This way I’m not losing money on the shoot, but I’m not making anything on them either.
Those are my simple rules about family & friend discounts. Beyond that – if someone wants to book me and asks for a discount – I just can’t do it.
When I was first starting out – I didn’t get asked for discounts because I was sooooo low priced. I charged a crazy low hourly rate for weddings and people booked me for as many hours as they could afford. As my prices started to go up, the requests for discounts slowly started to roll in. While I was trying to book enough to quit my day job I was booking whatever I could and often times gave some sort of discount if someone asked for one if it meant the difference between them booking me or not. I also gave discounts to friends whose weddings I wanted to shoot because it would be fun, and because their weddings would add to my portfolio and showcase more of the types of weddings I hoped to book in the future.
However, now that this is our full-time job and our sole source of income for our little family that has changed quite a bit – and here’s why…
1. The bottom line is that we just can’t afford to give discounts. Over the past year I’ve realized the true cost of running a business full-time, and have adjusted our prices accordingly. I know how many weddings & sessions I can handle without totally losing my mind, and our work product suffering. I know I want to give each and every one of my clients 110% of myself, my energy, my focus, and my talent. If I give out discounts – that means I need to book more weddings and sessions than I can truly handle in order to keep the business afloat and pay the bills. Booking more than we can handle results in lower quality products and service. It results in an exhausted version of myself… where I end up making myself sick, wiped out, and unable to do my job well. Nobody wants that. Not me. Not you.
2. Giving discounts lowers the value of our services and products. Imagine you’re a client who happily paid full price for a full day of wedding coverage with me. Then imagine you found out that another client came along and got the same package for $600 less than you paid. How would that make you feel about the investment you made with me? How would you feel about the value of the package, and the quality of services you’re getting from me? Giving discounts lowers the value of our services across the board… especially to clients who paid full price for the very same thing.
3. While most of these points are about paying the bills and the cost of running a business, the truth also is that some things just cost more than others. Starbucks costs more than coffee from the gas station. Apple costs more than a PCs. A Kate Spade purse costs more than a purse from Kohls. Just as with all other companies and brands out there – there will always be a photographer out there offering what you are for less money. That is the honest truth. That doesn’t mean you should lower your prices and undercut to bring in business. It means you need to create a value in your services that goes beyond cost (like the companies I listed above have)! For me that value is about creating a one of a kind experience and lasting relationships with my clients. It is about surprising them throughout the process, always doing my best to brighten their day, make the process easy & stress-free, and for them to look back and feel great about the entire experience from start to finish. That is what I want for my business and for my couples. People who value those same things and see value in the experience of being a Christy Tyler Photography couple… will see the value in paying for it.
4. Aside from the experience itself, is my actual photography experience/expertise. Officially I’ve been shooting for 7 years at this point (more than that if you count side jobs through college before I went to photography school). I’ve been shooting weddings 4 of those 7 years. Throughout that time, I’ve learned the ins and outs of wedding days, of engagement sessions, of work flow, and of shooting quality images. I of course know that there is always more to learn, and I continue to learn and expand my knowledge of running a business and photography in general – keeping up with the newest software updates, gear, and honing my shooting techniques. That being said – there is something to be said for the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’ve hired a professional you can trust to give you a consistent and high quality product. Wedding days are a one-time thing (hopefully). There is no reshoot, so hire someone you wholeheartedly trust to document your day. Potential clients who love my photos… who LOVE the way I shoot… who see the emotions/reactions I capture in my couples… who trust me to photograph the truest version of themselves… those who see the value in those things – will feel that it is 100% worthwhile to pay full price for the end product and peace of mind.
5. I’ve learned my lesson. I have booked clients for a lower-discounted rate, only to have another couple inquire a month or two later asking for that same date. A couple who could have and would have happily paid me full price. But it is too late. I already gave that date away to a couple who asked me for a discount. It just doesn’t make business sense to hand out dates to anyone who is willing to put down some money. It makes sense to book dates for couples you love, that love you so much in return that they are happy to pay you full price for your services.
6. Saying I don’t give discounts is not to say that I don’t work within couple’s budgets. Often times I’ll have a couple approach me who really wants to work with me, but who has a certain budget in mind. We discuss their timeline and figure out a way to set up the day’s events, so I can give them coverage to document the day that is also in line with my prices (usually with less hours of coverage, for example). This is a win-win for both parties because I’m still getting fair rates for the services I’m providing, and they are getting coverage for their day within their budget!
**Of course there are exceptions to every rule. Of course there are rare occasions where I still give out discounts. But I don’t think of them as discounts… I think of them as Paying It Forward. And I only do it when it makes sense for me or the business (i.e. off-peak dates, last minute bookings a month before the wedding date when I know I won’t book anything else, a destination/venue I’ve been dying to shoot at that will add to my portfolio, or every now & then – a couple who has a story that tugs at my heart strings). There are couples that come along that honest to goodness just simply cannot afford to pay your rates. But they LOVE YOU. They love you so much they ask what on earth they could do to be able to work with you. They move their wedding date around to accomodate your availability and travel schedule (i.e. put it on a Friday or Sunday, or an off-peak time of year). They offer their services in exchange. They tell all their friends about you and refer so many couples your way that the discount you gave them becomes null. As a photographer, follow your gut. You can tell when someone is just fishing for a discount. If they have the money and if photography is a priority, they will find a way to shift their wedding budget around to make it work to hire you. If they honestly don’t have the money but want you badly enough, they will find a way to shift their wedding around to somehow make it work for you. (On that same point – even the few couples where I Pay It Forward… I don’t simply give them the full package for a lower rate. I shift the package offerings in a way so it still makes business sense (i.e. less hours of coverage, or maybe only I shoot the wedding alone, not with James… things like that.)
All these points being said (wow this got long – sorry)! Couples who love you, who want to work with you, and value your time, expertise, and the quality of your work – will find a way to make it happen and book you. Couples who don’t will move on. And that’s perfectly okay. Not every couple is YOUR COUPLE. (Hear that? Say it out loud – right now… go ahead… Not every couple is my couple!) It is difficult to remember that on days when it seems like one client after the other is saying no thanks, and going with a cheaper photographer… but in the end it will pay off for you and your business. You’ll be happier working for a fare rate (so you don’t burn out in the first year!), and happier working for clients who 100% love you, and value you as a person, your time & your hard work!