$6,000 Weddings in a $2,000 Market with Jeff & Lori Poole
“I can’t charge that in my market.”
We hear that a lot. Jeff and I coach photographers on pricing for profit, and the most common objection we get is that the market will not allow photographers to price themselves appropriately. Many photographers struggle to make ends meet in a market where prices are low and competition is fierce.
How Did We Get Here?
The photography market has changed drastically in the past decade. Digital has lowered the barrier to entry, and many of us (Jeff and I included) jumped into photography because we liked to create. Most of us did not become photographers because we wanted to run a business per se. So we learned to shoot, light and pose, and in so doing, we’ve created an entire generation of business owners who don’t know how to run a business. We priced ourselves low, telling ourselves we’d raise our prices later. And the next photographers priced themselves lower.
In many markets, wedding photography has become a commodity. A commodity is an item or service for which the market will accept only a specific price. Most of us know the current price of a gallon of gas, and we would not go to a gas station that charges a dollar more per gallon, no matter how much better the station claims their gas is. Quality is perceived to be the same, and the distinguishing factor is price alone.
If the market accepts only a certain price and that price is not profitable, how do we succeed?
Step 1: Evaluate Your Market
It’s important to understand your market. Don’t just assume you know what people are willing to pay. Do your research. What does The Knot say people should pay in your area? (It’s usually low.) What are your competitors charging? When clients turn you down for price, what price were they willing to accept?
Hint: Ask them.
What ads are your potential clients seeing? Equally important, what are clients receiving for that price? In our market, the average wedding photographer charges $1,500 to $2,500 for wedding day coverage and files with print release. In other markets, the prices may be higher or lower, files may or may not be included, and other services or products may be standard.
It’s also crucial to understand whether you are even in a commodity market. There are still many markets where cheapest is not best. In Southern California and New York City, for example, photographers are not taken seriously if their prices are not high enough.
What is the standard in your market?
Step 2: Create an Entry Commission Based on Commodity Pricing
As we mentioned above, the commodity price in our market is roughly $2,000 for coverage and files. As a strategic starting point, we have chosen coverage and files to be valued at $2,900. We are a bit higher than average, but still with a starting price in the $2,000s. Psychologically, we are in the $2,000 bracket. We include six hours of coverage with one photographer and digital files that are printable up to 8×10.
There are limits to what we offer: It is not all-day coverage, it’s not two photographers and it’s not full-resolution files. We essentially offer the bare minimum that the commodity pricing requires, with some value-added incentives that cost us little. This gives us room to upsell later.
In their first round of photographer shopping, most couples ask about price. They want to know if they are barking up the right tree before committing to a consultation. The entry-level price helps you get through the first round, ensuring that you do not scare them away with a high entry price. This is the “foot in the door” technique.
Step 3: Make It Easy for the Client to Book
With traditional wedding packages, you are asking your prospective client to answer all of the following questions:
- Do they want to book you?
- How many hours of coverage do they want?
- Do they want a second photographer?
- Do they want an album?
- Do they want rehearsal dinner coverage?
- Day-after session?
- And finally, what is their budget for all of the above?
That’s a lot to decide all at once. Instead, try asking them: “Am I within your budget? If so, would you like to book me? You’ve got from now until your wedding to decide everything else.”
Doesn’t that sound easier, less stressful? Consider offering a flat retainer fee rather than a percentage of the total booking, because they don’t have to decide everything now. In our studio, $750 and a signed contract means you’ve got Indigosilver Studio on your wedding day. Of course, we introduce them to the major add-on options: more hours, second photographer, album and additional portrait sessions. We don’t overwhelm them with every possible upgrade. Remember, we want to make the decision to book simple.
Some clients add options at booking. Others wait. Either choice is OK.
Step 4: Build a System for Upselling Using Incentives and Touchpoints
Congratulations! Your client has booked you for your baseline commission. Now, how do you get them to buy more? If you never see your clients again until the wedding day, you probably will not upsell them. It’s important to have scheduled meetings with them between now and the wedding. These are called touchpoints.
It’s important for your client to build trust in you and desire for your products over time. They also need both a means and a reason to buy more than the base commission.
Consultation & booking
Timeline planning consultation
Portrait consultation (engagement/bridal/boudoir/day-after)
Album design consultation
At the bare minimum, require your clients to meet with you four months prior to the wedding to discuss their wedding day timeline. We all know that clients are notoriously bad at planning too little time for photography. The timeline consultation assures the client that there’ll be adequate time to create the images they’ve envisioned.
Most clients happily accept the help, but if they say they’re too busy, I encourage you to insist. This touchpoint usually guarantees the client will add more hours to their commission (six is never enough!). They may also add an additional photographer. Finally, this touchpoint allows you to show them the latest album samples, help them find other vendors, talk about add-on portrait sessions, educate them through stories—you’re essentially growing their trust in you and exposing them to the value of the services and products you offer. You’ll repeat this touchpoint one month before the wedding as a final consultation.
Touchpoints are about pressure and buyer’s remorse. We’ve already talked about how removing the pressure to decide everything at the consultation makes it easier for your client to book you. A second advantage is that if your clients are given the opportunity to make smaller purchases over time, they will often spend more than if you ask them to pony up the dough all at once. It’s much easier to buy an engagement session here, a wall portrait there, and so forth, than it is to sign on the dotted line for $6,000 of wedding coverage right off the bat. Money spent is money forgotten. Clients are much less likely to experience buyer’s remorse when they had the chance to warm up to and see the value in each purchase. This does not mean you are tricking your clients. It simply means you are giving them the time and opportunity to see the importance of your products and services.
In addition to touchpoints, which provide the opportunity for upselling, you need incentives, which provide the means. You can’t simply hope your clients buy more. You need to give them a reason to do so. One of the most powerful incentives is a credit toward an upgrade that expires at a set time. We offer every client a $250 wedding album credit that expires the night of their image premiere. The expiration date requires the couple to commit to the purchase before their wedding imagery has gone stale. If we do not sell an album by then, odds are we will not sell it. The client simply needs a deadline by which to decide.
Upsell Incentives and Methods:
Engagement session credit
Pull-through to larger portrait sessions
Tiered options (good/better/best)
Quantity and variety of options (you can’t upsell if there is only one choice)
Our albums start at $1,500. The credit is not insignificant, but it by no means pays for the album. Our albums are structured as a microcosm of this pricing system. We start with a base price for the smallest album with the least number of pages. We use the credit incentive to encourage commitment. We then use educational selling, touchpoints and a rock-solid design system to encourage upgrades via additional pages, upgrades in size, upgrades in cover options and even upgrades in quantity in the form of parent albums. We also allow clients to spread their payments over time through payment plans. A wedding album sale alone can easily add $3,000 or more to a wedding commission.
Results: Profitable Weddings Above the Market Average
At this point, if you’ve built your sales system correctly, you’ve booked a client at or near the market average. You’ve then built their trust and educated them on your value with touchpoints, and provided them the opportunity to upgrade their commission along the way.
Clients shop commodities when they don’t understand the value of what you do. Selling over time removes the pressure on the client to decide everything upfront and allows you time to educate your client and demonstrate value, earning you bigger wedding averages—and clients who hug you on the way out the door.