Price lists can be dangerous, but they can also be great. How do you know if you should reveal your hand and have one displayed on your website?
Why You Must Know Your Prices
If you are making a living from your photography, then you have to work out some kind of pricing model. Yes, you could just guess, but it is much better to draw up a pricing scheme based on your particular business and your target marketplace. It is definitely better to know that you’ll be covering all of your costs and making enough from your work rather than just winging it and hoping for the best. So, regardless of whether you choose to display your prices or not, you need to know what you charge and why.
Do Your Own Calculations
Copying what other photographers do might seem like a good idea, especially if you are starting out and want to test the waters. But this approach assumes that they are working profitably, which they may not be! It also assumes that their costs and earning requirements are the same as yours. Again, that could easily be wrong. By all means, use other people’s pricing as an insight into the market. Don’t use it as an excuse not to do any of your own research, though.
To run a profitable business, you need to know that you are charging enough. You also need to be aware of the market around you so that you can adjust your prices to reflect how you are positioning yourself in the marketplace. You shouldn’t be cheapest if you are aiming at high-end clients. Similarly, if you offer a budget service, you shouldn’t be the most expensive around. So, you should have a price list for your own benefit at least. But, should you put it on display?
If Others Show Their Prices, Then Don’t I Need To?
Just because other photographers choose to publish their prices on their websites doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to do so as well. Creating a brand is about differentiating yourself from others. So, don’t be afraid to be different. Choose whether or not to publish a price list based on what you think is best for your business and on the evidence you gather from trialing it. Let’s have a look at some of the pros and cons of having your price list publicly available.
Why to Show Your Prices
You’re Aiming to Be Cheapest
If you are happy with a business model that is deliberately competing on price, then you will probably want to show this off. It is important for businesses to highlight what is different about them. So, if you are trying to be the cheapest, then you will quite likely want your numbers to be front and center.
Saving You Time and Money
It could end up being cheaper for you to show your prices because you may then spend less time interacting with queries. Writing emails to respond to lots of inquiries can take time and cost your business money. Cutting out unnecessary communication can help to streamline the process.
Easier for Customers to Choose
Customers might be able to decide more quickly if you are a suitable supplier for them. Once they know what the costs are, people can decide if they can afford you. Having your price list on display can be a way of making it quicker and easier for them to make the decision to buy.
Some people feel it is more transparent to show prices. Customers might feel more secure thinking that everyone is charged the same because the figures are on display. Some may have had a bad experience of bespoke pricing where they felt they were over-charged. Setting everything out clearly can help some customers to connect more readily as they don’t feel like they have to work hard to get what they want, and everyone can come and buy on the same footing. Not having prices can suggest a degree of exclusivity that some may find snobbish or they just don’t relate to.
Why Not to Have a Price List on Display
When you have fluctuating costs from your suppliers, you may find it necessary to have relatively fluid prices yourself. If you don’t show them, then you have less maintenance to do on your website and any other marketing materials as you won’t need to update everything if your prices need to change.
If you offer a wide range of services, then your price list may start to get rather long and complicated. The last thing you want to do is put people off by making it hard for them to understand what they are getting or making it difficult to find each item they need. This can work fine if you are selling physical items, but for a service-based business (as most photographers are), it isn’t necessarily the best approach. You could choose a halfway house of showing some indicative pricing, perhaps. But if there are too many permutations, it may be best to draw up bespoke estimates and quotations.
You’re After a More Exclusive Clientele
If your business model is aimed at people with bigger budgets to spend, then you may not want to put price lists on your site. Clients who spend more often have particular needs or wants that you tailor to them. In some high-end retail contexts, there is the saying that if you have to ask how much it costs, then you can’t afford it. Hiding your pricing may hint at a more bespoke, high-end service, provided that the rest of your branding points in that direction too.
You Want Customers to Put Value First
One danger of having price lists up on your site is that people can make a quick comparison with another business and assume that you are offering the same thing. If one photographer says they do a day of wedding photography for $2,000 and another says they do a day for $4,000 then you might think as a customer that you can just go for the cheaper one as they are doing the same thing for the money. That may not be the case at all. There may in fact be a huge difference between what you would get from the two suppliers.
Not going straight in with the price means that you have an opportunity to explain to the client all the value they will be getting from you. Once someone understands the real value of your services, you can find that some are quite happy to pay the premium.
As a commercial photographer, I have often found that people don’t actually know exactly what they want when they first come looking. The process of interacting with me helps them to define their brief and get a more suitable result.
Relationships With Clients
Encouraging contact from potential customers enables you to start building a relationship with them. If they simply come to your website, take a look at the price list, and then leave, it gives you no feedback at all. It doesn’t allow you to build a relationship with them that could persuade them to work with you. People are more likely to be contacting you because they like your work and how you come across, rather than due to the cost.
Keeping your price list hidden stops others from doing quick and simple research to find out about their competitors. Like it or not, your competition will be doing research on your business. They will want to know what you are offering and how much you charge for it. The question is, how easy do you want to make it for them? Do the benefits of displaying costs outweigh any potential negatives?
Would Bespoke Pricing Work for You?
There is no one size fits all for this kind of thing. Selling prints of landscapes might lend itself to a simple price list based on size and print medium. Product photography could vary from pack shots to advertising images, simple low-level retouching to complex Photoshop work and so on. Bespoke pricing is often more effective, where the service can be fine-tuned to suit the client’s needs and budget.
What’s the Answer?
So, should you have a price list on your website? Whichever way you decide, make sure that there is a good reason for it. If it doesn’t seem to be working, try something different and compare results. I don't post prices on my commercial photography website, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't either. It is your business and your brand, so do what works for you.
I hire photographers on a weekly basis for the last 32 years.
We pay a certain amount for editorial PhotoJ photography. You could be shooting yourself in the foot sometimes if you are below what someone's usually pays, and cutting yourself off if it's more than what someone's willing to pay.
Also, when a company is paying for the Photography, the creative Director or photography Director who hires is looking at your site photos to see if you can actually do the job. They're not paying attention to your rate, that will come after they see if you can do the job.
I think the only time you should post your rates is when you're in the wedding business, a bride on a budget has a certain budget in mind they are usually looking at the price first. The wedding business everyone knows is really a whole different ball of wax.
Interesting post. Thanks.
Pretty much this, if you are a photographer who is working doing commercial gigs, price can vary so much from job to job that posting prices makes no sense, but if you are directly serving consumers then posting prices usually makes sense because those sorts of customers often are "shopping" around. (Not just weddings but also stuff like headshots, events, family portraits, baby, pet, private real estate, etc)
That's an important point Shawn Moore - photographers can easily leave money on the table by coming in too low and advertising that in advance can cause various problems as you say. Pricing is such an important issue. It is worth really thinking through and for beginners to get some input from someone with relevant experience
For prints.. yes. For normal inquiries.. no.
I'm a huge proponent of standardizing prices as an individual business, however the customer ask can be so wildly different that I agree with the previously comments that it's not super duper helpful to post those.
It does depend on what line of business you are in. For volume photography it could be different especially if one has a studio setup for a very specific kind of work aside from weddings.
Great write-up here Joe. I do pricing for a living. Many photography projects have too much going on to say, "this will cost $4,235" - especially with commercial photography.
But for things like lifestyle photography, pricing should be on your page. The reason is, you're going to lose more potential customers by making them chase the pricing, or call and set up an appointment to discuss it than if you had a price that's too high (or too low - yes, that's possible). You wouldn't make them guess about the quality and style of your photography - that's what the website is made to do. You shouldn't do it with the pricing either.
Weddings, in my humble opinion, are akin to commercial. But, can generally be broken down to some components that can and should be priced.
Consider a few basic package products/price points, and have great add-ons to up the price. Explain you want to hit their budget, but that they'll want to buy more when they fall in love with pictures outside the original package.
When I looked around for wedding photographers, I passed up any that were charging $1,900. I passed up ones charging minimum $10,000. And then looked through the quality and requirements.
You must be a patient man Roger Cole! Pricing is one of those things that can so often be really testing for small business and especially in the arts. It is both an art and a science. I've met too many photographers that really struggle with pricing - especially by being too cheap!
Great article Joe and clever banner image. You make great points. As some said it depends a lot on the industry. In commercial photography it's impossible. Contracts are based on not only number of deliverables, but how much staff will be needed and what the image usage will be. In something more cookie cutter such as weddings it may make more sense.
Thanks Michelle VanTine. The cover image was a bit of fun with a pun - glad you liked it. I've heard all sorts of points of view over the years. Some fellow business-people in networking groups used to advise showing prices to make it easier for potential clients. But, for commercial work you either end up with a ridiculously long price list with caveats and variables or you have to turn what you do into a budget commodity. I had no intention of doing either!
I shoot Commercial Projects so my quote is based on many factors including the number, difficulty, use, term of use and size of the client. I believe that photographers shooting Weddings, Portraits and Real Estate images are likely to list prices on their website as they probably deal with more tire kickers.
It is very rare in commercial work to have any 2 projects the same, so I agree it makes little sense to try and put prices on your site