Why Clients Choose Cheap Photographers with Jess Hess
You’ve heard these complaints time and again, and maybe you’ve made one of them yourself: Point-and-shoot photographers are ruining the market. People who charge very little for their work are taking work away from legitimate professionals. The photography market is flooded.
People who are willing to work for cheap are taking away jobs from the rest of us, goes the common wisdom. By offering their services for very little, they are hindering professional photographers from booking jobs. But are they really? The short answer is no, cheap photographers aren’t cheapening the field. They aren’t taking your job. Why? Because they don’t know how to do your job.
Customers pay only for what they want. Cheap photographers take only those clients who wouldn’t have hired you in the first place. Everyone’s different. We all have different goals, ideas, likes, interests. The same goes with customers. Not everyone has the same priorities or values, and not everyone is willing to pay for professional photography, let alone good professional photography. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and just because a potential client treasures something doesn’t mean they can afford it.
People can’t be thought of in black and white. They come in a spectrum. Instead of thinking of them as yesses and no’s or clients and nonclients, think of them on a different level. They may express interest in booking you, but are they going to be worth it? Are they haggling over your prices? Are they going to ask for a refund after the session? Are they being difficult early on? Not all clients are made equal. Some are easy to work with and others will try to save a few bucks at your expense.
As backward as it seems, part of getting better (and more) clients is saying no to clients who don’t work for you. When you waste your time on hagglers, you miss the opportunity to work with people who value what you do. The key is understanding that you aren’t missing out on anything, and it’s okay to let those new photographers take one for the team. Do you know what 50 photos for $75 is? A nightmare. Let them have it.
I recently had to replace a washing machine in my home. I researched machines for a week, and in the end, I went with the cheapest. It’s not pretty, it doesn’t have fancy bells and whistles, it doesn’t have a pedestal and it’s not a brand name. But what does it have? The ability to wash clothes. I had a need, and this machine met that need. I would never have paid more for another machine to do the same thing because it just wasn’t within my priorities. My money was better suited elsewhere. Why opt for the see-through top so I could watch my clothes? I wasn’t going to be in the laundry room while they were washing. I didn’t need the extra features, and I certainly didn’t want to pay for them.
I apply this mentality to everything I purchase. While we brand our products as captured memories and lifelong keepsakes, to many people, the blurry cellphone photo of their son’s first steps is just as precious as the professional photo of him smiling in a suit. Memories are made and captured every single day.
So what makes someone pay money for something they can have for free? I purchased the cheapest washing machine, an inordinate number of people did not. How about the folks wanting a 20-minute wash cycle with an auto-sensing fill-up? They spent the extra money. And the couple wanting a set that fit the color scheme of their home? They paid the extra money. Whatever their reason, thousands of people have expensive fancy washing machines in their homes simply because they wanted them. Not everybody wants a 36-inch canvas print, but lots of people do. If you spend time moaning over lost clients who couldn’t afford you anyway, you are missing the valuable ones.
A market can be flooded only if all the photographers are the same. But you aren’t the same. Hundreds of new photographers pop up every day, people with no technical knowledge who are just in it for fun or passion or boredom, but have not developed skills. Some of these photographers may even start charging. What do a hundred unskilled photographers have against just one skilled photographer? In a room full of yellow roses, the red one sticks out.
You aren’t losing jobs because people are cheaper. You are losing jobs because you aren’t as good as you could be. When a client is looking for quality, prices aren’t the first thing they search for. Those cheap but unskilled photographers will be passed right over, and photographers with more skill will be given priority. They look at your portfolio before your price sheet. If they check prices first, their top priority is not quality. Many marketing websites will tell you that with the right advertising, marketing is more important than actual skill in this industry.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”Clients hire a newbie if they see the value in their work. For every penny pincher, there is someone else willing to pay for quality.” quote=”Clients hire a newbie if they see the value in their work. For every penny pincher, there is someone else willing to pay for quality.”]
If you don’t care about quality, why should consumers? If you aren’t concerned with the quality of your work, you aren’t set apart from these point-and-shoot photographers—you are one of them. You have to market well, but a product is easier to sell when it doesn’t suck.
If someone wants to work with you, they will pay your price. They will travel for you. They will wait to book you if you are overbooked. They will hire you if it is you they want. You have to stop worrying about what other people are doing or charging, and instead focus on what you have to offer. Point-and-shoot photographers are cheaper because they haven’t jumped through the bureaucratic hoops legal businesses are required to, and are not paying taxes on the work they are getting. In the end, that will come back to bite them—and it’s another thing that sets you apart. You don’t have to live in fear of the IRS like they do, only a moderate amount of fear like the rest of us.
But when a hundred people are charging $30 for 100 photos, won’t people expect that to be the average price? Maybe, but it is up to you to stand out. If your work is considerably better than everyone else’s in that price range, it won’t matter what they charge because what you have to offer is better. People still eat at steakhouses even though fast food restaurants exist. You can get a burger at either, and yet steakhouses aren’t going out of business.
Clients hire a newbie if they see the value in their work. For every penny pincher, there is someone else willing to pay for quality. All too often, we fool ourselves into thinking the world is smaller than it is. Don’t waste time on clients who aren’t worth it. Put your energy into the necessary factors (mostly yourself), and you will see a big change in the number of jobs you snag. Placing the blame on others for poor performance won’t get you anywhere, certainly not ahead. You can get there all by yourself—you just have to be dedicated to doing it.
The bottom line is this: No amount of undercharging can ruin the market for you if you work hard and set yourself apart from the competition. You can get steady bookings while charging 400% more than other local photographers if you are 400% better.
Charging less can’t make someone better than you, and it won’t take away clients looking for quality over value. Hone your craft, invest in marketing and destroy the competition by being the very best you can be at what you do.