At a time when client budgets are tight, it’s tempting to reduce your photography prices in hopes of boosting your business. But successful photographers know that it’s better to focus on the value you deliver, rather than the price you charge. Photographers should sell value not price.

Here are five reasons why selling value, not cutting prices, is the smarter strategy:

1. After you cut prices, it’s difficult to increase them later.

Your clients will expect you to honor a reduced price even after the recession passes. And the new clients you receive through word of mouth will expect those lower rates also. You could be digging yourself a hole from which it is difficult to extract yourself.

2. You can often meet a client’s price point without reducing your rates.

If your rate is $2,500 for an assignment, and the client says she can only afford $1,800, don’t turn down the gig. Just “take away” something from the shoot. Say you will have to shoot fewer images/set-ups, use a single person for hair and makeup/stylist, limit the rights package, etc. That way you can get to the client’s price point without reducing your value in her eyes.

3. Cut-rate assignments beget cut-rate assignments.

Some might say that you can make $5,000 from one $5,000 wedding shoot or five $1,000 wedding shoots. The money spends in either case. But $1,000 weddings beget $1,000 weddings. The decor is usually minimal, and the scenery that makes for an outstanding wedding album — and ultimately portfolio — just isn’t there. It may take more time and effort to book the pricier event, but once you’ve established your value at a high level, and you get the word of mouth going, it’s not much more difficult to continue booking at that rate.

4. Clients often just need a little convincing.

If a client claims he can’t afford your rate, make sure to bring the value of your work into your conversations. Tell your client, “Our approach to this assignment will bring real value to your customers’ perception of your widget,” or, “The value we will bring to this assignment will result in images that will make your prospective clients more aware of the benefits of your service.” You should also emphasize the value of photography relative to the other budget choices your clients are making. Tell the client, “Long after the sweet fragrance of the floral arrangements has faded, photos that stink will be a reminder of where your event/wedding costs should not have been cut,” or, “Four-color press releases won’t make up for photographs that miss the moment.”

5. Selling on value creates a clientele that is less price-sensitive.

If you’ve built your current clientele by emphasizing service and quality, rather than low rates, they are less likely to ask for a lower price when times are tough. It’s the clients who came to you originally because of your cost who will probably request further reductions. Statistics suggest that for a full 20 percent of clients, price is only a detail, not a deciding factor in hiring. If you consistently work to build your clientele from that 20 percent, you’ll have a much more sustainable client base in the long run.
For over two decades, Washington DC-based photographer John Harrington has covered the world of politics, traveled internationally, and negotiated contracts along the way. A 2007 recipient of the United Nations’ Leadership Award in the field of photography, Harrington’s work has appeared in Time, Newsweek and Rolling Stone, and his commercial clients include Coca-Cola, XM Satellite Radio and Lockheed Martin. Harrington has also produced three commissioned books for the Smithsonian. He has lectured on business practices to numerous trade groups on the importance of solid business practices and has published the well-received Best Business Practices for Photographers. Learn more about John by visiting www.johnharrington.com and his blog at Photo Business News & Forum