Thursday, February 23, 2012

When Clients Say You Charge Too Much

When a potential client says someone else offers the same product or service, but for less- the first thing you want to do is probably delete their email or throw them out of your meeting. I know, because I was there once and it only took two comments like this before I took it to heart and realized I needed to figure out where things were going wrong.

Even when you've done the numbers and you know you're worth what you charge, you may still be tempted to lower your prices because other people in your market have. The problem is, you don't know how long they've been in business, if they're running a profitable business, or if they're going out of business next year because of their discount pricing strategy (have you seen a Groupon discount disaster happen in your area?)

As much as you want to justify your prices, quality, creativity, or exceptional products- the problem is there's something ELSE about your outward branding, portfolio, or marketing that's giving off that "not really worth it" vibe.

OUCH! I know that's not what you want to hear, but obviously that's what those inquiries are saying loud and clear. Rather than swallowing a tough reality pill and taking it to heart as an opportunity for change and renewal, our ego immediately puts up defenses and writes it off as uninformed, uneducated babble. The problem is, writing it off doesn't solve your problem or prevent you from hearing that phrase from someone else in the future. It's time for a reality check.

Please note- having someone tell you they can't afford you, is very different than someone telling you that your competition charges less. When someone says they can't afford you, it means "you're worth the price, but I'm broke (or cheap)." When you hear "XYZ photographer offers more for less" it means your customer can't see the outward value of what you offer as being any different or more valuable than your lesser priced competition. I realize this may infuriate you, but please, grab a glass of wine, take a bath, and really think about why a client would say that if it didn't appear to be true? When you've calmed down (and ONLY when you've gotten over the initial sting) read on about the action steps you can take to start making changes....

Since most people find you through referral from a person, online listing, or web search and start at your website- that's most likely where clients are receiving mixed messages about the value of your service and product. Since you have an attachment to the brand you've created, you're probably too close to the branding to see where the mixed messages are coming from. That's why it's key to get outside critical and objective opinions. A truly objective approach takes advice from two key sources:

  1. Outside Business Mentor - someone who has no prior experience with your company but understands your market as a whole- such as a photography mentor, photo agent, or event coordinator who has experience working with different photographers.
  2. Clients Who Didn't Book- seeing a mentor's perspective is very informative, but some things like outside factors, response times, service or product offerings can only be revealed by people who were interested in hiring you, but decided not to.

Finding a business mentor opinion is easy- simply reach out to 5 people you admire and respect for their awesomeness. However, surveying people who decided not to hire you can be a bit trickier, so here are some concrete steps to reveal the mixed messages clients perceive in your marketing materials:

  1. Create a list of email addresses from the last several months of inquiries that were interested in learning more about your services, but did not hire you. A list of 30 would be a great start.
  2. Create a survey with no more than three questions.  You want as many responses as you can get, so keeping it short and simple is the easiest way to get the best response rate.  I'll include a sample email here to help you get started- but please customize it for yourself so it sounds like your voice and not mine.
  3. Click send and then go do something to completely take your mind off of it.  Seriously.  If you sit and wait for emails to come back, you're just going to get all worked up over nothing and then hate reading them even more.  Find a happy place instead.
  4. Don't expect everyone to respond.  I generally survey my recent inquiries who didn't book about 1-2 times a year- or whenever I'm feeling like I need some fresh info and statistics to pour through.  After doing this for several years, I've found that I only hear back from 10-20% if I'm lucky.  You definitely get more information if you send this email closer to the time when you've confirmed the client hasn't booked you.  The further away from that point you send it- the less relevant the responses will be because the experience isn't fresh in the client's mind.
Sample Email:

Dear Jennifer,
Thank you so much for considering me for your wedding photography!  I hope you found an awesome photographer that you're thrilled to work with!  As someone who was interested in working with me, I really value your opinion and would love your feedback on a couple things:
1. What was the deciding factor in your photography decision?
2. How can I improve my website, products, or services to be more appealing?
3. Who's the awesome photographer you ended up booking for your wedding?
Thanks so much for taking the time to respond- I really care about serving my clients and want to make sure I'm giving them the best experience possible!
All the best,

Because that's written in my voice, which is happy, energetic, and fun - please edit it to fit your tone and branding so that it doesn't seem out of character for you. It would be really bad if they got emails from other photographers with the EXACT same wording- which will make them think there's something weird going on and just not respond. Again- please be prepared for people not to respond, or not to answer all of your questions- especially the last one. I always want to know who people are comparing me with so that I can better evaluate my marketing efforts AND so I can discover people I might be able to exchange leads with if we have a similar enough photo and business style. When a client responds, always follow up with a simple THANK YOU for giving their honest opinion and feedback. DO NOT try to explain anything or justify your side of things. JUST SAY THANK YOU and take their advice as a gift.

True story: after sending this email, I actually had a client cancel her discount photographer and book my regular package- so don't fear the feedback and always be gracious.  Feedback is one of the best ways to learn how to become better- so you must be willing to swallow your pride and open yourself up to feedback if you really want to improve and move forward in your creative business.  There is another way to get feedback and outside opinions during our Live Online Critique Sessions.  If you'd like to join a FREE live website critique session with the PhotoLovecat editors, sign up with the link below:

Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography as an independent small business. She loves helping others find creative and low-cost solutions to business problems. Follow her on Twitter to see her daily adventures and thoughts.


  1. Great article, Anne! Thanks for sharing. I definitely have to keep track of people who do not use me so I can do that...great idea for improvement. Thanks!

  2. Thanks, Anne - always nice to hear a different take on things.

  3. You have to be jack of all trade to resolve different matters.

  4. For a year and half I have been building up my portfolio and my name to finally quit my job as a contracting tech. When talking to coworkers they have this really high opinion of how much NOT to pay a photographer because they have a phone and some cheap free software. It is really sad to be honest. Nothing like getting into a debate with a person who has no clue and then insults you further by saying they can do just as good as you in a 10th of the time because "iPhone."


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