Author: Garey Gomez
It comes up often in various online groups, for all genres of photography, and in all types of small businesses in general. Clients ask for discounts all the time and we feel pressure to please them. I have long felt that discounting my rates is a mistake and I thought I'd write about why.
Here are a few guidelines I have set for myself:
- Never agree to a discount based on a promise of future work. I made this mistake a few times, and I learned from it the hard way. The idea sounds tempting in theory. You have a client who promises to keep you busy, and in exchange for that "guarantee", you give a fair and reasonable discount. Everyone wins, right? Well, not in my experience. In short, the promised future work probably won't come. If it does, it won't be at the volume you anticipated. And if it does come at the volume you anticipated, you will be frustrated that you are working so much for a lower rate! I have spoken about this with other photographers, and the experience seems to be very consistent. I don't do it anymore.
- Your rates are fair. You did your homework, you setup a rate structure that is competitive in your market for the deliverables you promise to your customers. You can justify your rates (not that you should have to) with the research you've done. Let's not forget that all of your other clients happily pay your full rate, which further proves that your rates are fair. For me and my business, I feel more comfortable standing firm on the rates, confident that the client will be happy when the job is done. It's worth it for them to hire me at my full rate, and there are always photographers willing to work for less, so they have options. It feels GREAT saying, "no" when it's appropriate. You know what? I often get hired anyway after declining the discount. Win!
- Set a minimum rate, below which you will not work. There are costs that are consistent across every shoot you do, and beyond those costs, you need a healthy profit. For example, you need to charge your batteries, pack your gear, respond to emails and text messages, create and invoice, deliver photos, drive to the shoot (gas/mileage), collect payment, etc. Let's not forget the cost of your specialized equipment, computers, hard drives, and the wear and tear on all those tools. Your minimum rate should take into account those costs, and the time you put into the shoot and editing, as well as the value of the images you deliver, and your profit margins. When you discount, you lose your profit, and that is not a sustainable business model.
- When I am not paid a fair rate, it affects my enthusiasm for the job. We love what we do, but we have to be honest with ourselves. It's still a for-profit business, and we need to pay the bills! I have a hard time doing my best work when I'm frustrated that I'm not making what I normally make. If I have another shoot lined up after the discounted one, I may find myself wanting to rush to finish so I can get out of there faster. We all know what happens when we rush... Instead of figuring out how to get by while charging less, I get much more excited about figuring out how I can do something better and/or different than my competitors that allows me to charge more. When you stand out from the crowd and do something that the market is excited about, they will tend to pay a little more for it.
- Your client will expect more discounts going forward! If this feels like a trap, it's probably because it is! You did it once, and all the client did was ask. They will likely keep asking, and will likely be frustrated or disappointed if you say no. It's a tough spot to be in, and in the end, you lose no matter how you decide to handle it.
THE EXCEPTION TO THE RULE: When does it make sense to offer a discount?
It's a relationship business. It's important to be flexible with your clients, and when they have a true need and you feel you can deliver on it, even with some compromise on your part, that's called teamwork. Your clients will love you for it. So what I do in such situations is, I protect my rate. I do not reduce the cost, but instead I will offer to add more value at no additional charge. Some ideas for ways you can add value are;
- A few additional detail photos at no charge
- Offering alternative formats to the delivered images at no charge: I like to send Instagram formatted images, where I add white borders to the sides so my careful composition does not get cropped to 1:1. My agents love that!
- If they want a virtual tour, sell it to them at cost. No expense to you, but they get a monetary discount that they can feel, and you still get your full rate for the shoot.
- Free rush delivery
- Do you offer sky replacements for an additional fee? Consider including it at no charge for the main exterior photo.
- More than one shoot on the same day with the same client? If they are close to each other and they can be scheduled back to back, there's some time savings for you and maybe you are then able to offer a small discount. I have done this a few times, with duplex properties, and in new construction scenarios when there is more than one home side by side that I can shoot back to back. But only if the client asks for it, of course!
- Do you offer drone photography for an upcharge when you're there for a shoot? If so, offer a smaller quantity of aerial photos than your base package at a discount or at no charge.
- If all of that fails, and you do not want to say no to the client, you can always offer a lower rate but with fewer deliverables. It's important to protect your rate for the future!
Lastly, and more anecdotally, I have noticed that when I charge more, the quality of my clients improves, and so does my overall experience working with them. They are respectful of my schedule, are engaged and fun to be with at the shoot, and have the house ready when I get there. They pay their invoices promptly--often immediately after I deliver, despite the net 15 terms. They have prepped their clients on what to expect, and in general, they give me the freedom to shoot it as I see fit, which is really fun!
How do you handle discounts? What are some personal polices you have set for your business?
Garey Gomez is an architectural photographer based in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a three-time PFRE Photographer of the Month, and the creator of the Mastering Real Estate Photography tutorial series.