Should You Offer Friends and Family Discounts?

Business is tricky at the best of times, but what should you do when it becomes entwined with family and friends? There can be a number of awkward conversations and it can lead to more than that. So, should you give discounts or not?

Whether you're a hobbyist making some side money, or a full-time photographer, you have likely found yourself in this situation. I know I have more times than I could possibly recall. There are two ways it usually occurs: the first is when you feel obliged to offer a friends and family discount when they ask you for your price. The second is when they ask you for a discount to begin with. I have only once or twice been in the latter scenario and I will almost always politely decline the work.

However, when a friend or family member asks you if you could do a certain shoot for them and you know you can, do you give them a discount? There's no right answer to this, but my approach is pretty consistent. If the person enquiring is a close friend or immediate family, I will give them a discount. If, however, they're an acquaintance, 4th cousin 19 times removed, or somebody I rarely speak to, I'm very unlikely to. My prices are calculated based on a number of factors and aren't plucked out of the sky, so I would be unable to apply discounts liberally.

What do you think? Do you offer discounts? Should you? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Gordon Stogre's picture

I generally follow the concepts Robert mentions. As professional photographers, we make our living using our knowledge, artistic talents and expensive equipment. All of these cost us substantially to acquire and hone.

I have frequently advised budding photographers about the pitfalls of agreeing to discounts. Among these pitfalls is repeated requests for discounts (the person who successfully gains a discount from you tells others) as well as the ethical dilemma of undercutting other hardworking and dedicated photographers. Work should be performed on a merit basis: Our work is worth the fair market price we charge for it because of the quality and consistency of our work. Therefore, it really doesn't constitute a favour to anyone to give discounts.

There are obviously exceptions to this such as people who truly cannot afford the work or when there are other overarching reasons such as charity work.

Scott Hussey's picture

I have three price structures: Retail, Non-Profit rate, and "free."

Nobody gets "free," if they ask for it. The only way that happens is either I approach them and say, "I would like to do this for you for free," or they offered to pay my full rate and I decide I want to do the work for free as a gift.

Kirk Darling's picture

I choose her #2 option every time.

I never give discounts, not for anybody ever. People do not respect discounts in photography. If you do a $5000 wedding for $500, nobody thinks they got a $4500 gift, they're still annoyed they had to pay a relative or friend $500. Further, since they're paying some money, they'll still feel that they have full say in the production.

If I love them enough, I'll do it free, totally as a gift. Since they don't pay, they more easily understand they have no say.

If I don't love them that much, I'll just give them a toaster and a Hallmark and call it done.

Full price or free. No discounts.

Willy Williams's picture

I don't do discounts, period. My expenses don't change for friends and family, especially now with gas prices going through the roof. Sometimes a shady realtor will ask for a free shoot (expecting a free shoot to be the first job), then move on to another sucker. In this case, I boost my prices by 10% and tell them that the free shoot will be the tenth shoot, not the first. That said, I will occasionally do a pro bono job for a reputable and respected charitable organization, but get a signed contract or job order to document the job for tax purposes.

Peter Mueller's picture

I'm not a professional photographer who's income stream is from photography, but I've done a bit of side hustles and commissions work. The annual Christmas picture shoot for my adult kids and grandkids is a tradition and I never charge for that. It's a family thing.
Outside of that, time and materials (as it were) for immediate family for certain things, but not major event items or marketable issues (i.e. something that benefits their business). No discount there. If I were asked to do a wedding of a close family member, I'd ask why they thought I'd enjoy that more than participating in the wedding itself (and refer them to a trusted associate).
I've discounted projects that I felt benefited me - either for skills honing or because I had a passion for the project (but only if I have creative license)...
There's some volunteer work, no charge - i.e. staff photographer at our local theater group, shelter pet photography...
All the rest, get the same rate regardless of acquaintance or familial status. Some may have been disappointed but they all seem to get the logic when I remind them how life works - same for all of us regardless what we do vocationally.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Stay away from business with friends or family.

Catherine Bowlene's picture

I did family and friends discount or additional free services like Smartshow 3d slides for graduations or birthdays but shut that down quickly since people just do not appreciate that and there is always some friend of a friend who comes for a discount as well since they are 'practically family'. Besides, as others had noted, people tend to gloss over the X discount and get annoyed they have to pay Y. How does 'family' equal 'entitled to free service' is beyond me.

dale clark's picture

I no longer shoot for friends or family. I just refer to somebody else.

Leon Kolenda's picture

I either do family for free as a gift or recommend another associate and then If I'm doing family I tell them I have free license. 95% of the time there are no arguments with the quality of the work.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Why is my post about staying away from doing business with family and friends locked?

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

It's a site glitch. From what I've noticed, happens sometimes when you click on a notification link. Some comments' up/down votes and reply buttons are disabled. And sometimes, the comment box is disabled.

A workaround is, from the url, to remove the "#comment-" and anything after it.

Eric Menezes's picture

A friend who started a cargo shipping business once told me "If your friends want you to be successful in your business they would pay the full price to help you out".