What Do You Say When a Client Laughs at Your Price Quote?

What Do You Say When a Client Laughs at Your Price Quote?

If a client has ever laughed at your quote, you know it’s hurtful and embarrassing. But there are ways to respond so that you can keep the client and get a price that’s good for you. First, I want to say this isn’t an article about how much you should charge for your work. That’s up to you, and there are hundreds of variables to consider. This is about how to respond to someone when you tell them your prices and they laugh at you or tell you they’re far too much.

Over the years I have tried many different responses and ways to negate the scorn that clients often hit me with when I give them a quote. We all know how much photography work is undervalued and underappreciated, so we need techniques to deal with people who don’t want to pay what we think we’re worth.

There’s no point in throwing your hands up in the air and giving the client the proverbial finger because you won’t get any work that way. But you shouldn’t bow to demand either and price yourself so low that you’re barely picking up peanuts. I have a number of answers I give clients now, but these two are some of my more successful ones.

Response 1: "You Contacted Me"

The first response I usually go with simply reminds the client that they initiated the contact. It’s usually my second email after the initial price quote and goes something like this:

Once again, thanks for getting in touch with me about the job you have, it’s much appreciated. But before we start negotiating a price that’s fair to both of us, I just want to quickly remind you that you have initiated the contact with me. Now usually this happens in one of two ways: either you’ve seen me online through my website or Instagram or Quora, etc. (you can insert whatever social media channels are relevant to you) or I was recommended by someone you know who I’ve worked with in the past.

If you know me through my online presence, then I’m going to guess that you didn’t just come across my work in the last couple of days. You’ve probably been following me for a while and checking out my work, and seeing that I consistently deliver a good product.

You probably follow hundreds of people across social media and you see lots of great photos every day, but for one reason or another you’ve chosen to contact me, now that you’ve got a photography job coming up. So there must be a reason for that, right?

In the event that someone you know recommended me, or you heard about working with me through word-of-mouth, then what you heard must have been positive. The person that you know must’ve been satisfied enough with my work that they felt happy to recommend me and say that I was good to work with. In that case, if you’re like most people, you went and checked out my social media profiles or my website and had a look at my work. And after going through my work, you decided to sit down at your computer and write an email to me introducing yourself and that you wanted to work together.

I’m really happy to hear from you and I’d love to negotiate a price that’s good for both of us. But I am a professional, and this is my living. So I just ask that you be mindful of that and understand that I stand by the quality of my work and I expect my clients to respect that. If that sounds fair to you, then I’d love to work something out together.

This is usually my first stock response, and it often works very well — probably because everything I’m saying is true and the client has very little to object to.

Response 2: "Skills And Qualifications"

The second response I use if the client is still on the fence relates to qualifications, particularly in other fields. You can get creative with this and adapt it to your needs, but I often go with something like this:

Let me ask you a question. Do you send your kids to school? (The answer is almost always, "Yes," because I’m in my 40s and most of my clients are around a similar age). So when you send your kids to school each day, you expect that the teachers there are qualified and have been to university and got the required training, right? You trust that every time your kids walk into the classroom, they’re being taught by someone who knows what they’re doing. That’s why you pay the school fees and why teachers draw a salary. And it’s why private schools with the most outstanding teachers and facilities have the highest fees.

Do you think any guy who has browsed Wikipedia a couple of times should be up there in front of the classroom teaching your kids? Of course not. You expect a certain standard of teaching and you expect the teachers you entrust with helping your children to deliver the highest possible service.

Well, it’s exactly the same with photography. If you want a quality product, then you need to pay a fair price for it. You have come to me because you have a photography job and you want the best possible product. Almost every person in the world has some kind of camera they can use, so why haven’t you gone to them? Your mother, your sister, your wife, your kids — they all have cameras, right? So why have you come to me?

It’s because you’ve seen my work and you like the look of it. Or you’ve seen the work I’ve done for people you know and I have been recommended by them. I am a professional and I deliver a service that I stand by 100 percent — and one which has delivered positive results for many previous clients.

I’d love to work with you and give you results that you can be proud of and display happily forever. In return, I hope you respect my position and the cost of my work, which I think is fair for the service and results I provide. If you’re open to talking more, then I’d love to hear from you.

Key Takeaways: Be Neutral and Willing to Negotiate

I always try to be quite neutral in the language that I use and not overly emotional. And I also try to end it without giving some kind of black-and-white ultimatum. I like to say things like, “If you’re open to talking more,” or, “If you’re willing to sit down and negotiate,” and so forth. That usually gives them a bit of leeway and shows that I’m reasonable and happy to engage more in conversation.

I’ve found this approach to be quite successful in the last few years. How do you deal with clients who scoff at your price quotes or come back with some kind of abusive or sarcastic response? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, so perhaps we can all put together a bank of resources that will help all photographers deal with such situations, as these that happen far too often.

Lead image by Geralt via Pixabay, mail image by Geralt via Pixabay, and training image by Geralt via Pixabay

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40 Comments

Robert Feliciano's picture

Good-bye.

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

Yes, no need to spend any more minute with them.
You already took time to prepare a quote, they don't like it.
Fine.

"I have cheaper quote but I prefer your style" Deal with it and pay the price for it....

Christian Santiago's picture

Although I agree with the premise of each answer, I feel like they're too long and drawn out. And I definitely wouldn't consider negotiating for the sake of it unless they'd understand that a reduced price comes at a cost (fewer images or less of w/e it is they want).

"This is how I make my living and what I've determined the value of my time to be based on my skill, portfolio, and years of experience. I certainly understand if it's out of your budget at this time and I wish you the best on this project. I hope we can work together in the future. Please keep me in mind. "

and If this is someone I really don't care to work with and they questions my rates like that, I'd just simply be

"This is what I've determined my value to be. Sorry if you can't see it, but my other clients do and truthfully they're already providing me with enough work that I am booked for the next 3 months anyway."

Johnny Rico's picture

Yeah these are way to long and speechy. My go to is "Well, that's my established rate".

EDIT: Also, "If a client has ever laughed at your quote, you know it’s hurtful and embarrassing." It's really not?

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

It's embarrassing for him actually.
I have 20 years experience in the business, 99% accept my price for my service. And I should be embarrassed when one is not happy...?

Tony Clark's picture

If they have the audacity to laugh, anything goes. If they are inexperienced and don't understand pricing, I will try to access if there is room to negotiate. If it's a no win situation I will say, "perhaps you will have a project in the future with a budget". After nearly twenty-five years I think that I know what questions to ask before quoting a fee. So, I'm not going to just pull a number out of the air.

Christian Lainesse's picture

"If photography skill does not have value, ask a friend/family member/employee to take the photos with their phone for free/cheap/exposure."

Marcus Joyce's picture

You have to stick to your rates and you have to stand up with the volume of work behind you that backs up that rate.

If your finding a dry spell or your not completely booked out you could change your rates. But you shouldn't. You should find the clients that suit you.

Photographers who are celb portrait photogs don't charge celebs a few thousand then go mansplaining everything to Joe blogs who laughed at his rates.. do they?

Pedro Pulido's picture

This is the value at which I price my work. I'm guessing you approached me because you like my portfolio. I'm very sorry if this value is not working for you. Hope we can work together in the future and wish you the best of luck. Cheers.

Tom Lew's picture

Woah. Bit wordy and almost condescending imo? I think a short and sweet message saying that this is my rate and please reach out in the future if I become a better fit for your budget would be a nicer approach...

Although your answers are MORE than fair.. you don't have to take the obligation of educating the prospective client on how ignorant they are.

Michael Rapp's picture

Mph. Although I agree with mind, heart and soul, I feel these stock responses long and preachy. Almost teachy (you may well guess what profession my parents had...)
I feel like taking a shoutcut like
"How much does your garage charge you for a 10 hour body job? Without parts or extras?"
- usually, that's a four digit number, forked over without a second thought.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

To be honest, I have never had any client laugh at an estimate. I have had requests for explanations but no one has "scoffed" at an estimate. Maybe you are "overqualified" for the laughing client?

There are low medium and high level clients and the same levels of photogs. If you need to tell them that "I am a professional" you just put yourself in a bad position, and if you think that you are helpful in your explanation of how schools work maybe you and the client are not on the same page.

I don't know what kind of clients you work with but Response #2 with the line "Your mother, your sister, your wife, your kids — they all have cameras, right? So why have you come to me?" is extremely condescending...or kinda pima donna-ish.
If you said that to me I would say "Thanks for your input and estimate but we are going in a different direction"

Hey if it works for you, go for it.

Rex Larsen's picture

Another silly headline here, but we get the point. Best Business Practices for Photographers by John Harrington is a great resource. The book is inexpensive. Be sure to get the latest, third edition.
I agree with many of the comments here. John's main point in his book is to know your cost of doing business. No sense using rates that will lose you money. You have overhead, often a lot of overhead.

Asking a client about their budget is very wise and worth pushing on a bit. Many times a budget was larger than my standard rate and I made more money by being hesitant to quote a fee before getting budget info. Factor in processing and computer time.

In my business I quote higher rates to companies that can easily afford it, and use different rates for more modest budgets. The great Art Streiber often takes editorial jobs with tight budgets when the benefit is industry connections and strong portfolio images. He thinks long term and is a master of photography and business.

Own the rights to all your images.

Be aware that rates vary around the country. A photographer in California needs to charge more than someone based in Michigan.

Timothy Turner's picture

You're going to think I'm crazy for saying this but here it goes. When I book a photo session whether it be a portrait or some kind of commercial job, I do not have a retainer fee, in fact I will do the entire shoot at my expense, then I show the proofs along with an order price list. On a recent family portrait session, I did exactly as I described. My upfront cost was $75.00, the customer placed a $650.00 reprint order, after it was all done I walked away with a $380.00 profit.

Johnny Rico's picture

"... or some kind of commercial job, I do not have a retainer fee, in fact I will do the entire shoot at my expense" huh?

Timothy Turner's picture

Like I said, you're going to think I'm crazy. The one clause in my agreement with people that makes this work is when I tell them that the only pay for what they want. In other words "you keep your money, I keep the photos" however that has never happened.

Dominic Deacon's picture

From what I can see that's actually a pretty common way to work for portraits isn't it? It's one that annoys me a bit. Potential clients see me charging a grand to walk in the door and then they see someone doing comparable work who says "we do everything they do for 50 bucks!" What they don't tell the client is that they are going to be charged like a wounded bull for actually getting any photos from the shoot- and walking away with photos is the only reason to do a shoot in the first place. I assume people aren't coming in for fun. Not that I'm saying that's what you do but a lot of people who price in that way are not upfront, try to hide the cost of obtaining photos from potential clients, and I don't feel great about it on a bunch of levels.

Timothy Turner's picture

Very good point, however I show a price list before any thing is done, that way they know up front how much they are spending. The other aspect of it is that if I charge a sitting fee, reprints are extra above that, by not charging one what would have been a sitting fee goes to purchasing reprints. Somehow this seems to put the customer at ease and makes the entire experience more pleasant.In the end, the customer ends up paying about the same anyway. I do appreciate your point and thank you for sharing.

Mark Davidson's picture

If they are laughing, they are not professionals in the field they pretend to inhabit.

Today, all too many are fast talkers with no money and zero idea of what they are even talking about. They don't have money for your project and they absolutely have no money for the follow on work needed for the ambitions they harbor.

The learning experience here is to learn to identify such time wasters and get them off your phone ASAP.

Timothy Turner's picture

I have seen many photographers with very poor skills getting a lot of business. Some people are very good artists, but don't how.to market themselves.

aaronbratkovics's picture

Just continue being polite. Kill them with kindness.

ron fya's picture

The "you contacted me" strategy blames the counterpart. This is usually a bad strategy in negotiation.
The "skills & qualifications" strategy MIGHT work to convince some counterparts if they are the type of people valuing this but just forgot it momentarily. Otherwise it won't work either.

People do business with people because of feelings. Nothing else. Even if it's the "feeling they will do more money because it's backed up by numbers". It's somehow paradoxal but that's how it is.

Therefore, the best strategy I can think of is the following.

1. You need to know somehow their budget range upfront BEFORE sending them a quote.
"Would you feel offended if I ask you for the budget you have for this ?" (Note that the question is about their feelings, not their budget directly).

If that doesn't disclose their budget, they're probably afraid you're trying to pull every dime from them. Label out loud that fear to show them you understand it and only then explain the real reason you need the budget.
"You're probably thinking I am trying to take the most money as I can from this job. What I am really trying to do by asking the available budget is to assess how long I can research and prepare before the actual shoot so that it goes smoothly for you and how meticulous I need to be in post-production so that the result will help you reach your goals."

2. If they tell you their budget or if they don't, the next move goes like this. It is always a 2-fold: a+b.

a. You're going to compliment them on what they are trying to accomplish with their small budget (very counter-intuitive, I know)
"You know, it sounds like you have a beautiful project here. (maybe say a reason here). and I know you're trying to make it work with your available resources"

b. Next you follow with some variation of "But, I am sorry, how I am supposed to do do that ?"
With "that" being here "it for the price you ask ?"

3. Shut up and hold to your ground. Don't get angry or pissed. Whatever they say. This is the most difficult part of it.

4. Loop the 2a, 2b & 3 until you get a price you agree with.

5. Thank them for their deal & enjoy when you get out.

This works beautifully for buying a car as well. Only in that case there is no #1

Mike Dixon's picture

I find that asking "Do you have a budget that I would need to stay within?" works better than just asking them what their budget is because it infers that you might lower your price to fit within that budget without actually saying it.

ron fya's picture

Very true Mike ! That's the power of ranges and that is another discussion ;-)

Chris Poblano's picture

I usually get contacted via text or DM on instagram and when I tell them my price and I follow up with something like "I'd love to meet with you and maybe we can work something out", I get ghosted most of the time. I don't like to negotiate via text or DM, I always try and find an opportunity to meet face to face. It's there where you have the chance to negotiate and come up with something that you both can agree on.

Jim Wilson's picture

While it's very tempting to do a long explanation of your work/rates/the industry, it indicates a weakness and immediately tells the other party that you're open to compromising your fees. The best long run technique is to be courteous, thank them, and move on, this leaves your integrity intact and them respecting you and your work. Would they have an interest in working with you if you laughed at their pricing, product or services, doubt it. It's one thing to have them ask if it might be possible to shave a little off your day rate to fit a certain budgetary constraint, quite another to laugh at your quote. Don't work for anyone who doesn't respect your talent and efforts, you don't need to be a prima donna about it, just be professional and leave them wanting. I "want" an Aston Martin, but I don't laugh at their pricing because I can't afford one, that's just jerky.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

It depends on your client...I mostly do automotive work so most of my jobs have a lot of moving parts :) Often I have multiple days, 2 - 3 in the crew, sometimes models, lighting and grip packages, more than one vehicle and more than one location. So with all those things to deal with there is flexibility in the production costs. Maybe less shots on the list, maybe 2 locations instead of 2 of 3. Less on location lighting will save money. 3 models instead of 4...
The trick is to shave off enough $ to fit the budget and still meet the goals of the job at the highest quality for the $. Take the $ from production before the fees. There needs to be a give and take. If they take $ off the bottom line something has to go from above the line

OTOH retail or commodity type shoots like shoot 15 gadgets on a white sweep or and established portrait package there may be less wiggle room. Sort of a take it or leave it. Like buying a BBQ grill at Lowes...but they might throw in some charcoal or tongs to make the deal...

Unless you don't need the $ the best in the long run is to get the job at rates and profit you can accept on your terms. If that doesn;t work find clients with more $$$. Integrity and respect from cheapskates is great but it doesn't pay for dog food. And that is the only reason I work...I love my dog. Woof.

David Cannon's picture

The first response, although it might be true, is very condescending and sounds arrogant. The world needs more people with humility and kindness, even when others don’t extend the same courtesy (like laughing at your prices).
My response is simple: “I have dozens of clients who pay these rates almost every day of the week, and my images help them tell their story to their prospective customers. If my images weren’t effective, I’d be out of business.”

C E's picture

If a potential client scoffs at the cost, I simply say "That's what it will cost to get what you're requesting done. What did you have in mind for budget?" When they reply I put together a second proposal that outlines what you can do for that cost. Then you're leaving it in their hands. They can either get done exactly what they want at a realistic budget or they can save money and get a solid end result, just scaled back to meet what they have planned.

Matthew Hoffart's picture

THESE ARE BRUTAL RANTY RESPONSES AND TOTALLY UNPROFESSIONAL! NOT EVERYONE IS YOUR CLIENT! MOVE ALONG! THIS IS BEYOND EDUCATING THE CLIENT!

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