When somebody asks how much they should be charging for their service, this is the single best piece of advice I’ve been able to give. It’s hardly unique, but it puts things into a much better perspective. I always suggest justifying your prices, and prevent reduced hours. Here is the problem with charging by the hour, and how I fix it.
Clients haggling with photographers and videographers is nothing new. Lowering your prices obviously isn’t desirable, so hopefully this trick helps change your client's perspective. It boils down to not letting the client get away with asking for less hours. Let’s face it, if you work three hours less it’s not as if you’re going to pack your gear up and move onto a whole other shoot. You’re not gaining anything, and you’re rushing the project.
The best analogy I’ve heard for this is to treat your working day like a battery. If you use 100 percent of your camera's battery, you’ll need to charge it back up. Use 70 percent of your battery, and you’ll still need to recharge. This is why people use day rates.
However, if you need to charge by the hour, how do you prevent clients from asking for less hours and using up 70 percent of your working day?
Two Wrong Ways, One Right Way
- You say that you charge $30 per hour, and so a day’s shoot amounts to around $300. A client may ask you to work less hours. The end product gets degraded, you get less money, and it’s terrible for everybody involved.
- If you’ve solved this problem by saying that you charge $300 for a day, then you may still be open to haggling from the client. This is especially true in postproduction work and re-editing, where the former way of charging by the hour works out better.
- The best of both worlds isn’t to charge for the time that you spend with a client, it’s the time that you’ve lost. You could have been spending that time working on an amazing project, with a fully paying client. It’s valuable time, but not if they take up most of your day and expect to pay less for that.
Justify Your Minimum Fee
The trick lies in making it clear to your client. They need to understand that they’re not the only client, and they’re also not in a position to haggle. They need you, and probably don’t want to put in more time looking for somebody else. If they question your prices, you reply (less bluntly) by saying:
“If I don’t work for $300 a day with you, I can work for $300 a day with somebody else or I can take a well needed day off. I won't accept working less hours for $200, because I won't be able to make an extra $100 with another client in the same day.”
“I don’t charge by the hours that I’m working, I charge by the hours that I’m losing and can’t cater to any other clients. If I’m working for you most of the day, then I can’t dedicate the time to anybody else. I’m setting aside this day for you.”
The idea that you need to set aside an entire day for this client is the key here. Whether they like it or not, you're not going to find a second client who's willing to work with you for a few hours at the end of the day, just to make up the rest of your day rate.
It’s nothing crazy, it’s hardly original, but it’s a wonderful way of thinking about pricing that I think a lot of beginners could use. You value your time, you value your best clients, and you prevent working for less. Sometimes it makes sense to charge by the hour, and if you must, it may help you avoid the pitfalls. At the very least it will be another tool to use if a client begins haggling.