In reading through the 70+ comments on last Tuesday’s post, “12 Excuses for Shooting Photos for Free — and Why They’re Bogus,” I found two complaints interesting from the “will work for free” crowd.
The complaints are, to paraphrase:
- I don’t owe anything to pro photographers; they’re just whiners who can’t compete anymore.
- How come pro photographers don’t help “noobs” like me learn to get paying work, instead of just criticizing me?
So you don’t owe anything to pros, but they owe you something? OK.
Let me be clear. In debunking excuses for working for free, I am not trying to discourage young photographers from breaking in to the business. I am not a bitter pro photographer fearing encroachment on “my domain.” To the contrary, I have long been committed to helping people become successful photographers with a sustainable business.
The key word here is “sustainable.” That means not giving away your work for free, and not selling it at rates that don’t make sense financially.
So, for a moment, let’s stop using our obvious verbal skills to debate one another on Black Star Rising, and let’s focus them where they may actually yield a financial return: our prospective clients.
I Will Gladly Pay You Tuesday…
Anyone who hangs up a shingle as a photographer will soon get a call that goes something like this: “I don’t have much (or any) money, but if you’ll do this job for me, I will make it up to you on the next one.”
Stay in the business long enough, and you’ll hear this promise a thousand times.
I am reminded of Wimpy J. Wellington, who said to Popeye, “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”
Or to quote Oscar Wilde, “While a first marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence, second marriages are the triumph of hope over experience.”
Over two decades, I have never experienced the promise of future work by a lowballing client as a promise kept. Therefore, I have given up hope. And you should, too.
Here’s how to handle a client who tries to sell you short in this way:
Client: Boy, am I glad to find you. We often have assignments in [enter your city here] and really like your work. The thing is, we only have $400 for this assignment. But I can make it up to you in the future, as we frequently have a need in [enter your city here] and would love to work with you on an ongoing basis.
You: Wow, that’s great. So you’ve had a lot of shoots in [enter your city here]? Who were you working with before finding me?
Client: Um, er, different people. I’d rather not say who.
You: Hmm. Well, you know, your offer sounds enticing, but $400 is a little low. How about this: since you’re going to have a frequent need for my services, let’s assume that you’ll have 10 assignments for me per year. That works out to $4,000. So, what I’ll do is charge you $500 for the first eight, and then the ninth and tenth ones will be free. That way, you’ll be able to stick within your budget for the year, and I’ll be assured of a continued relationship and a revenue stream I can count on.
Think I’ve ever been taken up on this? Nope, and I’ve proposed it easily a dozen times. Yet, were I able to find a client willing to make that commitment, I would uphold my end of the bargain.
Getting the Price You Deserve
Notice that in the example above, I did not say “no.” I just wanted a firm commitment rather than a vague promise.
In the same way, all aspiring professional photographers should have a firm game plan for their business, rather than vague, romantic goals.
When I speak with prospective clients, I ask them, “What budget are you trying to work within?”
In most cases, they are straight with me. But even when they state a figure that is unreasonably low, my response is not “no.” Instead, I say something like, “Let me look this over, and I will send along what I can do for you.”
And then, in short order, I do. And, guess what? I often get the assignment.
Not only that, but the client makes a point to tell me that I am the only one they talked to who bothered to present my position, contract, fees and expenses, and to provide a reasonable justification for them.
So rather than twist yourself into pretzels trying to rationalize doing work that doesn’t pay the bills, why not focus on valuing your own talents — and learning how to communicate their value to clients?