Competition and Collaboration, Pt. 1: Mind Your Business and Know Your Numbers

How do you know what to charge for your photography? Are you charging too much? How do your rates compare with those of the photographer down the street? In the next city? Across the country? What do your clients think of your prices? 

Welcome to Part 1 in our Competition & Collaboration Q&A series designed to tackle these matters with actionable tasks and thought-provoking perspectives. You may not agree; you may have your own ideas. Our goal is to spark inspiration and drive dialogue, so you can find the solutions that are right for you.

Each of us has the capacity to succeed and thrive. Each of us should enjoy fulfillment and happiness in our chosen field. Each of us deserves the comfort of a wholehearted community of creative colleagues supporting, encouraging, and inspiring us to be our best selves.


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Photo: Anne Simone for RetMod 

The Question: Competition & Pricing

“I’m frustrated because I’ve recently lost several potential clients to a local photographer who’s cheaper than me. Her work is very similar in style to mine, but she charges so much less! Do I have to drop my prices to compete? What am I doing wrong? How can I get her to charge more?”

Price-competing can be incredibly frustrating! When a potential client tells you, “I hired so-and-so because they’re cheaper,” we know you consider tossing your gear out the window and settling in for a lifetime of Netflix and ice cream sandwiches. (Actually, that doesn’t sound so bad to us…) Lucky for you, we have a variety of unconventional perspectives that may offer some hope!

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Photo: Anne Simone for RetMod 

Just Because A Client Says It Doesn’t Mean It’s True

Are you SURE the competing photographer charges less than you? It’s possible (even likely) that this Photo Fiend (as we’ll call her) merely charges less up front.

For example, let’s say you’re a portrait photographer with a $500 session fee that includes the digital files. Done and done, right? But Photo Fiend only charges $100 for her session fee! That sounds crazy to you! However, Photo Fiend may utilize a thoughtfully-crafted in-person sales technique, and be closing sales deals in the thousands of dollars. Your potential client who didn’t want to spend $500 up front may be spending $1500 with Photo Fiend, all because Photo Fiend has a killer sales approach! (Go, Photo Fiend!)

Alternately, Photo Fiend may, in fact, be charging $100 for what amounts to $1000 worth of labor and product. (Oh, no, Photo Fiend!) She may, unfortunately, be drowning in work and losing money left and right. Bottom line: that’s none of your business. Each photographer’s business choices will eventually catch up with him or her. So instead of letting Photo Fiend’s current edge get you down, let’s look at ways you can establish your own longevity.

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Photos: Anne Simone for StonehurstRetMod 

Price Isn’t Everything

The best business people understand that The Price isn’t The Thing. And by that we mean: people don’t buy dollar signs. They buy solutions to problems and good feelings. Did you absorb that? People buy solutions to problems and good feelings. 

Consider the last time you spent BIG money. You didn’t splurge because you thought, “WOW! I’ve been DYING to spend all this money!” No! You spent because it felt like an investment. The return on that investment was both the solution to a problem (e.g., you needed photos for your holiday cards), and the supplier of good feelings (your photographer was fun, looking at the photos gave you warm-fuzzies, your friends and family oohed and aahed over the pictures, and you love documenting your family’s growth.) See how it works?

We happily invest into products and experiences that make our lives easier and make us happy – even if those products and experiences cost more than their alternatives. 

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Photos: Anne Simone for RetMod 

Maybe You’re Not Charging Enough

Whoa, now, how can that be? If clients aren’t booking because you’re too expensive, there’s no way you’re not charging enough – right? Wrong! Sometimes photographers get stuck in The In-Between, a price-point that’s a bit too high for their current market, but not high enough for the next market up.

We all approach buying with certain cost expectations, depending on our income histories and spending strategies. If you’re accustomed to paying $200 for a handbag, a $30 purse is going to seem shoddy to you. But if you’re accustomed to paying $1000 for a handbag, a $200 bag will be suspect. Why is it so cheap? Is there something wrong with it?  you may wonder.

We all do this in various ways. Maybe you’d never pay less than $50 for a bottle of wine, or perhaps you’d never pay more than $10. It all depends on where your values lie, and what your expectations are.

If you want your photography to be viewed as a luxury item worth investing in – both a solution to a problem and a good feeling – it could be that you’re not charging enough. You’re not cheap enough to be the discount choice, but not expensive enough to be the luxury choice.

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Photo: Anne Simone for RetMod 

Ask Your Clients For Feedback

This may be one of the scariest, most vulnerable things you ever do. It will also be the most informative. Online survey services such as SurveyMonkey offer FREE tools to survey your past clients (anonymously, if you like!) so you can find out what you’re doing right – and what you’re doing wrong.

Create two identical surveys, and send Survey 1 to your Favorite Clients – the clients you wish would book you over and over again. Send Survey 2 to your Challenge Clients – the clients who weren’t a great fit for you.

Hopefully, your Favorite Clients will respond favorably. But your Challenge Clients may surprise you and also submit positive responses. Just because a client is a challenge doesn’t mean they’re not a good client. It may mean you just don’t understand them yet. Surveys can teach you to meet the needs of all your clients – not just the ones you “click” with.

Here are some sample questions:

  • Why did you choose me as your photographer?
  • How have you used the photographs we made together? 
  • Would you describe my work as…   A) Underpriced, B) Perfectly Priced, C) Overpriced 
  • How would you describe me to a close friend? 
  • What do you wish you had known before our session together?
  • What could have made your experience with me better?

Get creative with your questions! The ultimate goal is to better understand where you succeeded and where you fell short. 

If you’re feeling REALLY brave, an even more powerful means of gaining feedback is through in-person interviews; learn how to conduct a stress-free feedback interview HERE.

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Photo: Anne Simone for RetMod 

Mind Your Own Business (Literally)

It’s easy to look at another photographer’s business and judge their pricing, their branding, their photography style… but at the end of the day, we should all be minding our own businesses. Literally. We have our own businesses that demand our attention if they are going to succeed!

If your colleague two towns over is charging too little, she’ll either go broke or figure it out. (Most of us begin by charging too little – and most of us figure it out!) No matter what, recognize that you don’t know another photographer’s goals, clients, lifestyle, or motives.

And relax in the knowledge that you are only responsible for yourself. 

When you begin to take note of another business’ apparent shortcomings, turn your gaze inward. Search your own business for the flaws you’ve noticed elsewhere. If you can’t find any – look harder! We can ALWAYS improve. The minute we stop improving we stagnate. And a stagnant business is a business dying a slow death.

Surround yourself with positive, hopeful creatives who motivate you to be your best self. Seek out colleagues who challenge you. Don’t let jealousy and bitterness weigh you down. And don’t pay more attention to another person’s business than your own.

Take care of your business, and we promise: your business will take care of you!


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