Remember the first time someone asked you what you charge?

Do you remember what you said?

Odds are you stumbled over your words and blurted out the first number that came to you. The client’s eyes lit up because they knew they were getting a stellar deal and they quickly agreed before you could change your mind…or you price.

They referred you to a few friends and before you knew it, you had a business.

Whether your business is brand new or well established, pricing is often an ongoing struggle. The shift from photographer to business owner is a big one and it can be hard to know what to charge, especially because you are trying to put a price on your art in addition to your time. Objectivity is almost impossible and, as a result, you are probably making some of these top pricing mistakes.

1. Undervaluing your time

It’s 11:30pm and you have to be up early tomorrow for a shoot. Rather than getting a good night’s sleep you are editing files from last week’s session while responding to a seemingly endless number of emails.

Your time is not only valuable, it’s a business expense. Consider how many hours you spend communicating with a client, prepping for a session, photographing the session, editing the files, ordering products, archiving images, and more. Now think about how much time you spend working on administrative tasks like answering emails and accounting. Are you being paid for all the work you do?

It can be hard to know what to charge for your time, but you must build that into your pricing and be sure you pay yourself.  Start by estimating how much you would pay someone else to do each job in your business, then estimate the number of hours you spend on each task for each client. Once you know how much you would pay someone else, you have a better understanding of how valuable your own time is.

2. Copying your competition

You know you do it: you visit your competition’s website and head straight for the pricing page. As you scroll, you wonder how that photographer can charge so much or how that photographer can charge so little. You start to wonder if you need to change your pricing to reflect what the competition is charging.

However, when you look at what other photographers charge, you only see the final equation, and not what is happening behind the scenes. You cannot, for example, know their cost of goods or overall expenses and, as such, you cannot know if it’s a good pricing model.  While it is possible the people you are copying are profitable, it’s also possible they are making very little money. Stop looking at what everyone else is charging and focus on what you need to earn to be profitable.

3. Pricing based on what YOU can afford

When you go to an expensive restaurant for a special dinner, do you ever wonder if the chef is a customer there? Just like the chef may not be a patron at said restaurant, you are not your target customer and you cannot determine pricing with your own wallet in mind. Your customer will pay what they feel is reasonable and valuable, based on the perceived value of what you offer. Limiting what you charge per session because you (or your outspoken friends and family members) can’t afford it severely limits your ability to grow your business. Just ask the sales team at Neiman Marcus or any luxury retailer.

4. Pricing only based on your costs

Did you simply add up the cost of everything in your package, including your time, and add a little bit for profit to determine your price? If so, you are not accounting for expenses like insurance, gear repair, or any other unexpected costs that might arise. This might work for a little while, but it is not a sustainable pricing model.

5. Pricing too low

It seems like a smart idea to start out with lower prices and then raise them once you have more experience and an established client base, right? The problem is that the clients you attract at your lower price are not very likely to pay a higher price. When you finally raise your prices you will need to find a whole new set of clients, which requires different marketing, better quality products, and a significant amount of your time.

Most photographers don’t start out with plans to open a business. This leads to a lot of confusion around what to charge and how to price for profit and sustainability. To get started or to learn more about how to price your products, check out our pricing guides for portraits and weddings. Just remember, everyone makes mistakes with pricing and it’s never too late to create a system that works for you. The sooner you do that, the more likely you will stay in business….and thrive!