Hi, I love your work! Iíd like 10 hours of wedding day photography, two photographers, a coffee table album, two parent albums, engagement shoot, a 16x20 gallery wrap, everything on a disk and your firstborn child. Oh, and by the way, my budget is $1,000.
The client wants the sun, moon and stars but has a decidedly Earth-based budget. Inquiries like this are frustrating to say the least. Youíd love to work with this client, but their budget wonít even cover your costs. So how do you respond?
When this subject comes up in conversation with photographers, many express anger towards the client. Itís like the client is personally insulting them. Thereís even a tendency to want to respond with smart comeback or put the client in their place. Well donít.
Better yet, donít even think about it because the client usually has no idea that their request could even be taken as an insult. Theyíve never hired a photographer before so they just donít know any better.
The reality is that for the vast majority of folks getting married hiring a wedding photographer represents a lot of money. Case in point: when my wife and I got married a few years ago, weíd just purchased and remodeled a house in overpriced San Diego. (Where else can you spend way more than you can afford yet not even get a working kitchen?)
We paid for the entire wedding ourselves so even even a thousand bucks was a lot of money (which is what we paid). Just because I was charging $$$ for wedding photography didnít mean that I could afford it myself.
Let the Client Decide
The bottom line is that you shouldnít take an unreasonably low offer personally. It has nothing to do with your work or the value that the potential client places on it. When you get a lowball offer, just respond as courteously as you normally would. Provide a friendly response with your pricing and then let the client decide whether they can afford you or not.
Donít try and make the decision for them however. Just because the client comes in with unrealistically low expectations doesnít mean that they canít or wonít buy. If they donít have the money, you wonít hear from them again. But, sometimes they do. Iíve had the clientís mom tell me that she was expecting to pay $500 for her daughterís wedding since thatís what she paid 25 years ago at her wedding. This as sheís writing a check for eight grand!
Often, thereís sticker shock at what good photography costs so you have be prepared to get past that. If you donít respond or respond with a snide retort, you may miss out on either a potential booking or a referral to other folks with more realistic expectations. Just because the inquirer may not have the budget for all her desires doesnít mean that he/she doesnít know someone who does.
Keep It Professional
Bottom line: Always be professional and friendly with every single person who inquires with your business. Itís never appropriate to be condescending with anyone no matter how cathartic it might feel.
A common response to the low-baller is to try and educate that person about the value of professional photography. Iíve seen long-winded emails that photographers have sent that goes into great detail about all the work that the photographer will do, how they have insurance which the other guy doesnít and yadda, yadda, yadda. You may as well burp out a response for all the good that expenditure of effort is going to do you. (Seriously.)
Clients know the value of a professional - thatís why theyíre inquiring with you! Donít bother trying to tell them how important it is to have a professional who will document the day and then be there to deliver the goods afterward. Donít tell the client about how much time you spend working on the images and how much your equipment costs. Nobody cares!
Think of What the Client Wants
The only thing that clients care about is what you are going to do for them. So, in any response to any client, including the low-ball client, always focus on the unique value that you provide. The value you in your work doesnít lie in all the time you spend or your super-duper equipment, it lies in your ability to create emotionally powerful images that the client will love.
Instead of talking about your costs of goods to deliver their wedding images, talk about how youíre going to do an awesome job of getting shots of the brideís mother crying as the bride walks down the aisle. How youíll get bride and groom portraits so beautiful that the client will want to hang them on the wall forever. When you communicate your abilities and the passion you bring to your work, clients will spend - budgets be damned.
Go Unique or Go Home
Itís important to share your abilities from the standpoint of uniqueness. If you can offer something no one else does, the client has no choice to come back to you if they want what youíre offering. Anybody can deliver a gallery wrap print; only you can deliver one that will make the client laugh or cry.
If the potential client ends up booking someone off of Craiglist or that friend who's got a camera, it's not because they don't value professional photography. The reason lies with the fact that you didn't do a good enough job in distinguishing your work from the amateur. Who's fault is that?
So forget about talking up the importance of hiring a professional. Focus on the importance of hiring YOU. What you going to do for THIS client? Focus on how your work will uniquely meet the emotional needs of the client. Once you convince the client that no one else will get those photos that the client will love forever, whatever price it is that you charge then becomes cheap!
Of course, as I pointed out in the beginning, there is the reality of budget. If the client doesnít have the cash, what can you do? Well, hereís where some old fashioned horse-trading comes in. If, after all your passionate salesmanship the client really is interested, see what kind of deal you can work out.
Don't Make it Easy to Say No
Iím not suggesting that you lower your prices or just bend over for the client - sometimes itís a matter of bringing the client back to Earth with their expectations of deliverables. What does the client want more: all the stuff or great photography that only you can provide?
Once you have the client on your side, see if you can work out a custom package with fewer deliverables. Throw in a little extra to get the booking if you have to. You shouldnít have to negotiate or customize packages with every client. If you do, thereís something wrong. Every once in awhile is okay especially if business is slow (and Iím hearing that it is from a lot of folks).
Every potential client that comes to you represents an opportunity. Granted, not all may be a good fit for you, however you just donít know. No matter how insulting a clientís requirements may seem up front, it never hurts to give each and every client the professional treatment they deserve. At a minimum, youíll generate goodwill and no business can have too much of that.
For more info on booking wedding clients, check out my new video "How to Book Weddings." It's 20% off until September 30.
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