How to Respond When Clients Say You're Too Expensive

It really doesn't matter what kind of photography you do if you get paid for your services I guarantee that at some point you will be faced with price objections from a client. If you haven't already you definitely should arm yourself with a few tactics for when the inevitable happens.

The guys over at The Futur are back once again with some more role playing exercises to help creative people while out in the field. This week they discuss the typical reactions you are likely to face from a client during price negotiations. The video features Chris Do who is an Emmy award winning designer, founder of brand strategy design consultancy Blind, Inc., and passionate advocate for freelancers getting paid fairly.

Even though the video uses graphic design as an example, these tips are more than transferable to all imaginable areas of the creative world. Do has some great answers to the typical responses you will likely face when talking figures to a client. Ever had someone ask you to work for half the going rate with a possible offer of more work later down the line? This video will show you how best to combat such ridiculous offers and get the rates you deserve each and every time.

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Dusty Wooddell's picture

I'd much rather have a reputation for being expensive than one for being cheap.

michael buehrle's picture

as long as you are getting work and not pricing yourself out.

Wayne Denny's picture

Agreed. If no one is saying you're too expensive, you're not charging enough. A friend told me that he thought it was great when companies were agreeing to all of his terms, until he realized he wasn't really asking all that much. Once he started hearing 'no' for certain things, he knew he was right where he wanted to be.

Paul Adshead's picture

Great story Michael, thanks for the share!

Paul Adshead's picture

Totally agree Dusty, what ever price you set you will get rail-roaded into. Very hard to break out of it...

Matthias Dengler's picture

Thank you so much for this video!
That is totally what I run into. I'm a known photographer in my area in the North of Poland. I have my certain style.
When I tell people how much my price is, they tell me "Man, you are in Poland, not in Germany" -where I grew up-, "you need to adjust your prices. Why can I get one image for 100PLN, if I can get from another photographer 10
images for that price?!". Then my reply is usually:"if you get the same quality and style from that photographer. It sounds like a great deal. I would do that as well! But obviously you reached out to me, because you like my style."
But people here usually search for cheap solutions and don't know the difference (yet) between good marketing and images and bad ones.

Paul Adshead's picture

It's the same in many places, Mattias, keep fighting the fight! We all deserve it...

Ansel Spear's picture

As Red Adair once said (paraphrased)... 'If you think us professionals are expensive, just wait 'till you use an amateur'.

Matthias Dengler's picture

that's how it usually works, sadly...

Paul Adshead's picture

Love this quote! people need to hear it more often!

You start at $1000-$2000 and then drop to $500-750 without changing the scope. I think that is a mistake. During the pivot, you need to address WHY you think it's worth 4-10 times as much as the client. In their mind, the scope is smaller than yours, address that! Some of my biggest deals came about from these "gap" conversations. I will adjust the project cost down IF the client reduces scope. If they ask for 10 shots and I say $2000, then they respond that they thought $1000 I offer 5 shots (OR 5 setups and 10 shots) anything that gets them to consider the scope and the cost of that scope. In these conversations, I generally expose my planning process and often expose items and considerations that the client has overlooked. This level of detail often results in more work and getting paid what I think is fair.

Paul Adshead's picture

Totally agree Matthew, if the price drops something has to come off the table, be it number of shots, retouch, duration of shoot etc...

Matt Kosterman's picture

Yes, best advice I got was to make my proposals "modular" so you never simply drop your price without the client giving up something - number of images, turnaround time, something. Otherwise, why weren't you less expensive in the first place?

Paul Adshead's picture

Exactly Matt! modular all the way.

Just imagine if it happened in a restaurant, you'd be like if the price went down whats up with this meal?!

Gabrielle Colton's picture

such a great post. It's important in small markets for photographers not to charge a small fraction of what they're worth. I see $50 shoot posts all the time, potential clients refer to these exact people when asking about my prices. It ruins the market for the rest of us actually trying to make what we deserve.

Matt Kosterman's picture

If you are competing against these people, you are either going after the wrong prospects or you need to up your game. There's really no point in trying to compete against lowballers. If you find yourself in a lot of conversations where you feel you need to justify your price, something is wrong with the prospective client's perception of you. This is either a function of the clients to whom you are marketing, your body of work, who you are showing up as, or a combination of the three. Step back and take a look at the situation and try to identify which of the three is the culprit and then take action to fix it.

Paul Adshead's picture

I hear you Gabrielle! a rising tide lifts all boats... 🌊⛵️⛵️

Andrew Swanson's picture

Thanks for sharing the video. I will definitely use these practices in the future when negotiating with clients either face-to-face, virtually, or over the phone. However I don't think this addresses some fundamental issues.

Issue 1: Digital Communication - A lot of the clients I deal with where I run into this problem communicate with me digitally. Typically through the email submission on my website. Once we get to the point in our email communication where the focus turns to price, if the price I suggest is too expensive to them they typically don't reply back. Is the problem here that I'm having the conversation about price over email? Should I suggest face-to-face?

Issue 2: Competition Undercut - There have been multiple occasions where I've been in conversation with fortune 500 companies about video projects. For example, a construction company's annual update meeting with their CEO and board members. The project manager overseeing the creation of the video went with a company who severely undercut my prices, so we never got to the point of this negotiation. They compared prices, said they would go in a different direction and the negotiation never happened.

Perhaps these are different topics, but I feel as though they relate.

Paul Adshead's picture

Ok, this is just my take on things.

Issue 1: You really need to be negotiating in person or over the phone. This way you have the flexibility to react to the situation and if need be fight your corner. It's impossible to build rapport with someone via email, you need to be doing that stuff in person. I have been hired considerably more times after a face to face meeting than a cold email exchange. By making the effort to see them in person you are not only giving yourself an edge over all the people sending just emails but you are sending the message to the client you are making the effect. Also seeing them in person means you can get a better feeling for the business. Their website might say fortune 500 but does their offices?

Issue 2: If you know the market, the going rate, and you have illustrated to the client what value you would bring to the situation don't dramatically lower your rate. As mentioned above you need to take something off the table if need be. Just remember that no one wins a race to the bottom. If you cut your rates you'll get rail-roaded into that price and it's tricky to get out of it. Just imagine if Mcdonadals suddenly started selling the Big Mac at $30 each after it always being $5. How would the world react?

You're not always going to win every job you bid on, it's just part of the freelance life. Take it as a filtering process to filter out the bad clients you didn't want anyway...

Andrew Swanson's picture

Thanks for information Paul! I appreciate it!

Paul Adshead's picture

You're very welcome, I think you'd enjoy some more of the videos on: they are aimed at graphic designers but the lessons are transferable...

I am not a professional photographer by any means. I stumbled across this headline and felt the need to make a comment based on my experience with this subject. I puchased a nikon dslr to take photos of my kids because they were involved in so many activities and my pictures look very good. I took theater photos of my kids in theater and after a little trial and error with low light action photos, I was able to produce outstanding action photos. In fact, the school wanted me to take all of the theater photos but i have a career already and only pick up my camera for just my kids which is time consuming enough. Like all parents, I visited studios for my kids senior photos and was astonished at the prices. Don't get me wrong, I will pay for quality, but said quality needs to be better than the results I get with my own camera. Trying to find a studio to just take a simple senior photo without a vast array of packages was like pulling teeth, but I get upselling services. It just wasnt cost effective for me. I decided to just take my own photos and purchased a studio lighting kit and in the end, people thought they were professionally done. I am quite certain true professional studios have the software and education to make mine look amateur, but the 3 studios i visited locally sure didn't. The point i'm trying to make is, you can have a reputation of being high-end, but the product needs to reflect that also. Advances in technology for the home photographer enables them to take excellent photography so there needs to be a happy medium in what photography studios charge.

Andrew Swanson's picture

While your point is valid in this situation, you are removing the business elements that go into higher costs. You're able to create a product at home without any of the business risks involved. You don't have to consider overhead of rental cost of studio space, branding, insurance, accounting, etc. Most of the time the cost of overhead to run a business is factored into the price of the service/product.

Paul Adshead's picture

I'm glad you are producing amazing work at home it can be very rewarding esp of loved ones.

Kit aside, the difference between a professional and an amateur is the amount of risk involved.

Would you let an amateur change the breaks of your wife's car? In the commercial world, clients want photographers who can hit it out of the park each and every time. A professional's wealth of experience means they can do this and as a result, they get paid more.

I wouldn't want to risk the pictures taken of my wedding, the vital surgery I may need, or the crucial maintenance on my car to an amateur.

Even if they can get *pretty* close to the same results *most* of the time...

Anonymous's picture

Hi Paul,
sorry, but to compare car break repair with photography is dumb.

Paul Adshead's picture

It's not dumb. I was illustrating the difference between an amateur and a professional and yes this works with photographers too.

Feel free to fill in the blanks it works with every profession.

I wouldn't RISK my important [blank] in the hands of an amateur [blank]...

Tony Pardi's picture

TRUTH, what i have to deal with my graphic design clients almost every time

Paul Adshead's picture

I think most creative industries have to deal with it sadly. If you are a graphic designer you'll love the youtube channel above. It's even more relevant to you...

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