“Do what you love, and the money will follow”
Follow your passion. We Americans are born and raised to be an individual and that our passions and whims matter.
Unfortunately for many, we are not actually equipped with the strategies and confidence to earn a good living doing what we love. We all have different strengths and weaknesses, as well as money issues we learn from our parents.
Rather than follow your passion, you should follow your strengths.
When I was in junior high school, I fell into my very first darkroom. My metal shop instructor asked me to clean out what I thought was a closet, and in return, he would teach me how to develop my own pictures.
I was hooked immediately on the magic that happens when you expose a piece of paper to light and then place it in chemicals that magically make an image appear. I was spellbound.
Through high school and university, I continued my passion for photography and can happily say that I’m a professional photographer to this day.
I wish I had gone to business school instead.
Or maybe get an accounting degree. You know, something useful. It turns out that I love the numbers side of running my business! Who knew?
Are you shocked? Are you sitting at your desk job, wishing you could quit in a blaze of glory and go follow your passion instead? The money will follow, right?
It takes more than just hustle. It takes more than grit and determination. It takes a little bit of luck. It certainly takes more than a little passion.
Setting up a solid and profitable photography business begins and ends with your pricing strategy.
It is actually part of your marketing plan. What you charge for your art communicates a world’s worth of information about you, your confidence, where you are in the industry, your trendiness, and a little bit about your quality.
Most importantly, building a solid financial business foundation requires you divorce the ego from your art. This is where most new businesses flounder and why so many fail.
In the first few years, you’re really thinking this could work!
● “This is so much fun!”
● “I’m getting paid to do what I love!”
● “I can’t believe people are hiring me to take pictures.”
Naturally, you take any job you can get, and you are grateful for any additional money to pay your bills. You probably know that you aren’t the worlds greatest photographer yet, but you’re getting better every day.
You think you shouldn’t charge much because you’re new and still building your portfolio.
There are photographers in your area that are so-much-better-than-you. So you know you shouldn’t charge what they do. I mean, how arrogant of you, right?
I challenge you to rethink this strategy and mindset for a variety of reasons. First, if you are good enough to charge at all, then you should be priced to run a profitable business. Second, the early years are where all of your referral business will come from while everyone you know is excited for you. And lastly, you are so filled up with pride that anyone wants to pay you at all then you aren’t objective about the true value of your work.
Think about small businesses in your town that have recently opened, like a new restaurant or boutique clothing store. Did they open their doors charging 75% less than the shop next to them to build their customer base? What would happen if they did?
As soon as they raise their prices, in a year or two, they would alienate their early customer base who took pride in watching this place grow. Those customers would stop shopping there because it might no longer be affordable for them, or possibly just because the trust was lost. That store would have to start fresh with their marketing efforts to completely rebuild their client base.
New photographers all shoot themselves in the foot when they start way too cheap and increase as they grow.
You have to completely start your business over once you realize, after a year or two, that the extra grocery money isn’t what you thought it would be. You come to realize that you’re spending more than you are earning.
It is time to get real. It is time to re-evaluate and create a solid game plan if your business will survive.
Wouldn’t it have been great if you thought to do that from the start?
The only pricing strategy you need is straight up math. Grab a calculator, a pen, and a piece of paper.
Think about how much money you want to keep after all expenses, taxes, etc. I look at my income per year and decide how much my salary should be for my age, experience, and financial goals.
Let’s say that I want to take home $50,000 this year.
+ max out my 401k plan ($18,000)
+ max out my HSA ($3,800)
+ add 30% for income taxes ($15,000)
This has me at my actual income goal of $65,000 per year.
But wait! There are business expenses too.
+ add 30% for our Costs of Doing Business: internet, phone, website, education, office supplies, software, etc. ($19,500).
This brings my sales goal up to $84,500.
Are you offering products? Just go ahead and
+ add another 25% for what’s called Costs of Goods Sold: time to create/sell/edit/design/meet, cost of the item, shipping, credit card fees ($21,000).
So, just to run a photography business and offer products, you need to bring in $40,500 per year in sales, and that doesn’t even include your paycheck.
If you want a take-home salary, after taxes, of $50,000 a year, you need to have a total gross sales of well over $120,000 per year.
How many $200 photoshoots is that?
I’ll wait while you do the math.
Do you see why picking numbers out of thin air (or off of what you think the competition charges) for your photography is a solid plan toward failure? Or worse, basing it off of wanting to be “affordable”? What is affordable anyway? Affordable to whom?
Here is the kicker. When you really run YOUR numbers, you will gain the much-needed confidence to charge them. It is a grand irony. Once you know why you charge what you do, discounts fall by the wayside as well as guilt when you submit an uncomfortable invoice.
Knowing your real worth helps quiet the fear.
Instead of getting your ego filled up by people hiring you for your photography, I challenge you to fill your ego with sales figures that make you squirm. I promise you that you will rise to the occasion with your photography for your clients.
I can tell you from experience that that first $2,000 sale feels amazing. Then the first $5,000 sale feels fantastic. Have you had a $10,000 sale yet? I can tell you, that never gets old. Do you know what is even better than a $10,000 sale? Getting a thank you note and additional future business from the $10,000 client.
So run your own financial numbers for what you actually need to earn, keep your expenses down, and then get out there and find people who can afford what you are selling.
Are you ready to go from being a hobby priced photographer to a profitable professional photographer?
I’m a business mentor for creatives who struggle with charging what they are worth. They know they need to value their time and work by raising their prices but worry about scaring away customers. I help them confidently attract the right clients and increase their sales.