Arguably among the hardest things a freelancer must do is determine the value of his or her services. This is something I have struggled with throughout my entire freelance career; I even doubt and second guess my pricing today. The reason is because the price and value of your services can be entirely relative to your client. There are some large corporations who will want you to work for free, whereas others will have an incredibly huge budget to spare. Or there are nonprofits who can only offer a fraction of the market rate for your services, or small businesses who ask to barter or trade for products or services in lieu of cash. These kinds of tricky scenarios pop up all the time, and the truth is there is no wrong or right answer.
The answer depends on you and your values as a freelancer, which is why it is important to establish your purpose and mission statement early in the game. Personally, I am the type of freelancer who values experience and relationships over money. As a result, I will usually accept 1 out of every 3 offers for free work or bartering. However, I always make sure I am making my bottom line financially, and if worst comes to worst, I will generally take a higher paying job over a free or barter job. But I try my hardest to make both scenarios work out.
How do you go about pricing your work?
Personally, I have a pricing matrix that has a range of pricing and rates for each type of photography service I offer and the type of client. I generally charge corporate clients my maximum rate, and give a slight discount to nonprofits, small businesses, and friends and family. But I always research my prospective client first by asking as many upfront questions as possible and doing Google searches to try and figure out what the client’s approximate budget is.
Price According to Market Rates
It is also important to try and price yourself according to the market or industry rates that your competitors are charging. The reason is this: you don’t want to undercut or overcharge in comparison to your competition. If your competitors, or worse your clients, get wind of your prices not being in line with market rates, it can mean bad news for your reputation and your business down the line. To get a sense of market rates, email a few of your competitors (or colleagues), politely asking what they charge, or ask Google. There are tens of hundreds of forums out there that should give you a good sense of what to charge.
In terms of my photography rates, I typically charge an hourly base rate for event photography ($XXX for the first 2 hours and $XX for every hour after that), and on a per photo basis for architectural and restaurant photography.
Don’t Overprice or Underprice Yourself
The trick is if you underprice yourself, a client with a higher budget might begin to doubt the quality of work you offer. Whereas if you overprice yourself, I find that only 1 out of 3 prospective clients will even try to negotiate with you. The bottom line is this: figure out what prices and rates you are comfortable asking for and stick to your guns. Always offer to negotiate, but always always ALWAYS include a firm price in your quote. The worst thing you can do is be unsure of yourself and the worth of your services.
Detail What is Included in Your Price
One thing I’ve learned to do over time is to not just state a price or rate, but also include a lengthy page of information of what is included in the price. I actually have a canned response in my Gmail drafts that I copy and paste whenever someone asks me for a quote. The canned response consists of about 4 paragraphs and it includes the following information (using event photography as an example):
Event Photography Prices and Payment Options
$XXX/hour for the first 2 hours
$XX/hour for each hour after the first two
I also include the various types of payments I will take, any upfront deposits that are required, and their due dates.
I include a request for a shot list, as well as a brief explanation of what a shot list is. This helps cover me to make sure I put in this request as soon as possible to help me prepare for the shoot.
Photo Processing and Delivery
I use this section to explain that I shoot all images with a DSLR camera and edit all RAW images in Adobe Photoshop CS6. I am also explicit in that I only deliver hi-res JPG images, not RAW images, and that there is an additional fee for RAW images.
I also include the approximate time it will take me to process the images and when final images can be expected for delivery. I also detail out how I can make images available to the customer (ie. cloud drive, thumb drive, CD), and any additional fees for procuring storage devices.
Some of these details may seem like overkill, but I believe it is important to anticipate client questions and answer them before they are asked. It is also important to be as transparent as possible from the get-go so that everyone understands what is included in the price.As a matter of fact, all of the details I include in my canned responses have been developed over time from real scenarios–for example, I’ve had a client come back later and ask for RAW files, and I’ve had no choice but to hand them over because I was not explicit up front that I do not provide RAW images.
Solidify your agreement with a contract
If/when the client accepts and decides to move forward, I take everything that we have agreed upon (including most of the information in the canned response) and put it into a contract. I send it to the client to sign, and then I sign and send over the final copy. Contracts are extremely important to make sure that both you and your client are bound to your agreement. Never move forward on a job without having a signed contract. For an example of a contract including a free downloadable template, click here.