Reasons You Aren't Landing Photography Gigs: Part 1

Reasons You Aren't Landing Photography Gigs: Part 1

Photographers and videographers both tread water in a crowded pool of competition, and often we feel in danger of drowning in that pool. In this week’s and next week’s articles, I will present the most common reasons we lose out on work we otherwise might have won.

Here's a scenario we all face more often than we'd like: an email or call comes out of the blue from a prospective client. A wave of emotions including excitement, pride, and gratitude rushes over you. You might feel relief, something like, ”If I land this one, I can make a down payment on that car.” Perhaps you have a nice phone chat with the prospective client and hang up with a sense of optimism. Now the waiting game begins.

While waiting, maybe you attempt to keep these emotions at bay (I've learned to do this). From past experience, you’ve found there's no guarantee that this prospect will become a client. Time passes and worries might make you lose sleep. Competitors might have undercut you on this project. You might have misunderstood the exact needs of this client. Were you formal enough? Were you too formal?

Days pass and you hear nothing but crickets. Finally you reach out with a "just checking in" email and learn that the prospect went with someone else. "We'll keep your info handy for the future,” they reassure you. But it’s not reassuring, is it?

While it can be helpful to know why a prospect turned you down, it can also be uncomfortable to ask the prospect to detail the bad news. So I've curated a short list of the most common reasons why we photographers and videographers miss landing jobs. 

By the way, this isn’t medicine that’s hard to swallow. It’s more of a reality check. Recognizing and dealing with these issues can actually increase the percentage of jobs you do land.

pieces of yellow crumped up paper next to a trash can

You won't win them all. Image by Steve Johnson via Pexels.

Your Prices Are Too High

This all-too-common reason dogs almost all creative professionals. It’s true that there are times when you should stand firm on a fair price (more on that in the following reason). But avoiding overpricing can also be tough to manage, especially because so much project negotiation involves lowering quotes for less work or reduced usage rights.

If you're unsure about the appropriateness of your prices, research your market. Some of your local competitors will list prices on their web sites. Software like FotoQuote Pro can help you review commercial industry standards and determine average quotes for given projects. 

In determining typical industry prices, I’d strongly recommend you not use infographics that crowdsourcing or bidding services put out. These are usually skewed to the low end. Such pricing generation is effectively a mechanism that encourages freelancers to undercut each another and impairs their sustainability through “lowball” quotes. Everybody loses and quality suffers as well.

It's never fun to learn that you apparently lost a job on price. On the other hand, those losses can amount to “dodging a bullet” of a client with an unrealistically low budget. Do you want to know what it's like to work mainly for clients who expect to pay you peanuts for quality work? Short answer: you don’t.

Your Prices Are Too Low

The other side of the coin: low prices often suggest low quality.

Offering discounts for no reason or lowering your price on command might tell the client that you're weak or desperate, in a position to be taken advantage of. You should avoid that position. Your fair price and respectful negotiation strategy say a lot about your product and your professional value.

Even if you under-bid and win a job, chances are you did so because you were bidding based on emotion and not your legitimate business costs. Now you're stuck working at rates that don’t allow you to deliver high-quality work while keeping your business profitable. What if the client keeps you busy at this low rate and your days are consumed by low-paying work? That's not a sustainable business model.

an ant's eye view looking out to the water from of a dock on a gloomy, foggy day

Don't miss your opportunity to connect. Image by Davide Pietralunga via Unsplash.

You Failed to Make a Personal Connection

People buy from those that they know, like, and trust.

Let's say a prospect rings you up and gives you a brief description of needed photography or videography. You respond with a rough price quote. They say "thanks, I'll be in touch" and hang up — permanently, it turns out. 

What went wrong? One part of the answer might be that you made no attempt to gain trust and failed to show who you are or if you're competent enough to do the job right.

Often we creative professionals are so busy in our work that we forget to make strong human connections with clients. You don't need to be a smarmy salesperson to gain trust, nor do you have to fake gushing enthusiasm if you're naturally introverted. You only need to be be authentic and relatable. A bit of enthusiasm helps. Nobody is going to get excited about your work if you aren't excited about it yourself.

The easiest way to build rapport is to research your prospect beforehand, then speak somewhat informally to them before diving into business. Let's say your research reveals some common ground, even something simple like a city you have a connection to. You could mention, "I see you're from Houston. My sister lives there!" No connection to the client's background? You can say, "I was just looking at your company site. I saw in your bio that you used to live in Houston." After they respond, you can simply end with: "Sounds nice. I've never been, but I've heard great things about the museums.”

This smalltalk approach might seem like a small thing, but it's essential to establishing a basic connection.

If you have trouble finding commonalities, just invite the prospect to chat a little bit, encouraging the client to showcase what they enjoy about their business and work. Making a basic human connection can make a world of difference in gaining trust. 

Meeting someone in person builds more trust than a phone call or email ever will. Your positive character is authenticated when you shake a stranger's hand. Your name popping up in an inbox just doesn’t do that.

Pricing and personal connections make up the base of a project relationship. Next week I will share three more important reasons.

Update Jun 18, 2018: Click here for the follow-up article.

Lead image by Kat Jayne via Pexels.

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Honestly, people put too much emphasis on price and not reaching people. You can have the perfect pricing and work but if no one knows, you won't get any gigs. You should only start to look at your price if too many people aren't converting to paying customers (or you aren't making enough of a profit) Even if your prices are too high, if enough people know about you, someone will pay it. I'd love to hear more about marketing that photographers use...

Vincent Alongi's picture

Yes... I'd love to hear as well on the marketing. There's only so much social media can do you for, as well as word of mouth. What types of advertising is utlized?

Scott Mason's picture

Zachary, I replied to your comment after it was posted but oddly it disappeared - perhaps I never hit the Post button.

Exposure is great but there are no promises that come along with it.

I agree that if enough people know about you (especially if they personally know you), you're more likely to get work. But unfortunately it's not always that simple - a photographer could be widely known in a town, but if they don't put out good work, or they have poor customer service, the news will spread and eventually their notoriety will become a bad thing. Friends and families will stop others from hiring the well-known photographer before they get the chance. Famous vs. infamous, I guess is what I'm trying to differentiate.

What I'm saying is that exposure itself isn't enough. It is a huge catalyst though, if you are already a great artist and businessperson and have a wide network, exposure will only jump start your business.

On that note, readers, if you're already a professional please don't take non-paying gigs for the "exposure" promise. As I said, it's usually an empty one.

Luke Adams's picture

How quickly do you think one should try to convert an email conversation into a phone call or meeting? For instance, if someone messages me and asks for a price, should I give them a quick run-down and offer to give them a call to get a better idea of their needs? On the one hand, I want to give a concrete next step, and I think if you can take the conversation to that next level, there is a much better chance of landing the client. On the other hand, people are super afraid of the phone these days. I’m just starting out in the portrait and wedding business (although I’ve been photographing for years), and am really second guessing myself at every step. What’s everyone’s experience with this? Thanks!

Scott Mason's picture

Luke, great question. As with anything business-related, your best way to learn this is to just keep trying it yourself. We can tell you our opinion until the cows come home, but when the time comes you might get nervous and blurt out a price at the completely wrong moment.

That being said, I would try to gather enough info as possible in the phone call, then if you're confident enough in the scope of the project and how your prices correlate, bring up price but do it as the last part of the conversation.

Some people prefer to tell the client that they need a few hours or days to work out the price, but generally that is for larger commercial projects where you really need to take all overhead costs into consideration. With weddings and portraits, it's best not to make them wait. If it's a smaller project, I wouldn't wait too long as the client/bride might need quotes immediately (they're sizing you up to others). Knowing that, you might feel pressured to undersell yourself - don't.

steve fischer's picture

I think you make a very good point that many photographers fail to realize: your price is too low. Pricing to low will worry ad agencies, in-house corporate etc. that you do not understand the scope of the project or your work will not be to the level they are looking for. In my opinion this is a reason a lot of bids are not accepted. And i'm glad you brought this up especially after an article on Fstoppers a week or two ago encouraging photographers to work for free or work for exposure because the client will pay higher fees on future shoots. Which for those of us that have been around long enough know is total nonsense.

Scott Mason's picture

Thank you Steve. I think that there can be a right place and time for low-cost work, but as I mentioned in an earlier comment reply that doesn't come into a play for already working professionals.