Photography is a commodity; It's not a secret, and we all know it. When I meet a new group of people, it seems that every time the conversation of “jobs” or “careers” is brought up, inevitably, someone is always a “photographer” by trade. Commodification is a process that happens to every industry, and we couldn’t prevent it even if we tried. So since becoming a commodity is unavoidable in any market, we, as small business owners, have to learn to overcome being branded a “commodity.”
First, we have to realize that when we are a commodity, we’re literally fighting a standard market price point, and if done incorrectly, we’ll be fighting until we hit rock bottom and get burned out. When we’re not pricing correctly, we price ourselves out of our target audience and directly into a downward spiral of self-depreciation. And while plenty can be said on the topic of having a proper pricing strategy, I want to stick to a specific area of pricing that several photographers seem to have a problem with: charging friends and family.
I get it. We all start somewhere as photographers. We’ve all gone through that terrible bout of imposter syndrome that tells us we’re fakes, we’re phonies, and we shouldn’t be charging for services that we don’t feel we’ve mastered yet. The fact of the matter is, most typical consumers do not see the difference between the techniques of seasoned pros who’ve been around for decades and timid beginners just starting out. If someone, friends or family included, approaches you regarding using your services, you owe it to yourself, and the industry that you’re a part of, to charge a fee for those services. If you’re just starting out in the photography market, you might be thinking, “But I’ve never charged before. How do I charge someone for something that I’ve freely given away in the past?” I have a personal answer for this. In my business, my rule is if someone approaches me for my services, I charge them, regardless of their relationship to me. Adversely, if I offer my services, I consider that a gift, and do not charge. But friends and family approaching a photographer to use their services can still be an intimidating interaction, even for photographers who’ve been in business for awhile, so whats the solution to alleviating the stress of having to charge friends and family for your photography services? I’ve got a few suggestions for you.
Set Proper Expectations
Setting proper expectations is something that I consider to be very foundational about how I run my business. If you hang around me long enough, you’ll notice I mention proper expectations in many aspects of running a business and in relationship building with people. Pardon me for getting sentimental, but friends and family are some of the most important parts of a person’s life, so it's extremely important when going into business with them that we’re setting the proper expectations from the very beginning. When friends or family bring up the concept of hiring you as their photographer, it's important to set the expectation that the services and/or products will not be free. It's important that everything about your processes are spelled out, and there should be absolutely no assumptions going on. To be on the safe side, as a rule, oversharing about expectations and your business processes is a good thing. Never assume that anything you’ll be doing with them professionally will be obvious, and therefore need not be mentioned. Mention it all.
Give “Friends and Family” Pricing
We obviously love our friends and family and when they have a special event or mile-marker in their life that they’re coming to us to document, a natural inclination is that we want to gift them something. It is absolutely possible to gift them part of our services or products without devaluing ourselves. A great way to do this is by having special pricing specifically for friends and family. Having a “friends and family” price list is also a great way to set proper expectations with a loved one, while also showing them that you love them and are willing to give them special pricing. At the end of the day, we all know that we photographers still need to eat. Our loved ones don’t always understand what is involved behind the scenes and with our overhead, so having a specialized price list is helpful (and again, it's important that we’re setting proper expectations and educating friends and family about our business and our value). To be clear, though, your friends and family pricing isn't about making money off of your loved ones. Its a way for those closest to you to understand that you still have costs of living, regardless of who you're performing a service for. So your friends and family price list doesn't have to make a profit, but it is a good tool in setting expecations with loved ones.
Go the Extra Mile
As professionals, I know we already go the extra mile to make sure clients have the best experience possible. This is no different for friends and family, and should apply even more so. The idea of “underpromising and overdelivering” is especially important when providing professional services for friends and family in order to maintain a strong relationship outside of the business relationship you’ve established. If you’re still feeling uncomfortable charging friends or family, consider gifting them a product like an album or wall art. There are ways to add value to the experience you’re providing beyond giving a discount to people. When in doubt, think of ways you can add value to yourself instead of taking value away when people ask for it.
In the end there are a few things to remember. Your personal relationship is what matters with friends and family, and it's important that your professional relationship strengthens your personal relationship with loved ones. Let this be your “why” behind going into business with a friend or family member. Also remember that you owe it to yourself to not be undervaluing yourself. Friends and family want to value you too, but it's up to us, as the professionals, to educate them on our value and why our value is what it is. Next time a friend or family member approaches you for photography, the last thing you should be thinking about is providing another free session.