Stop Bartering Me!

You and your product are awesome. You feel you have set a fair price for what you offer and in the words of our Cheryl “You’re Worth It” Then what’s with all the potential clients wanting to barter with you? It can be utterly soul destroying to be repeatedly asked to lower your rates because somebody else up the road is doing the same thing as you for less.

There are some vendors who love to haggle over prices and don’t ever expect anyone to pay their full rates. If this is you then I wish you well but most of us set a price that we actually want to achieve and feel disheartened when asked to take something off. Interestingly, the most haggling happens at the lower and upper ends of the market. The couple with around £1800 or less to spend on photography often feel that because this end of the market is so overly saturated that they have the power… and quite frankly they do. They have a huge amount of choice and there any many wedding photographers out there willing to compete on price to get the work. If you are somewhere around this price bracket, and find yourself repeatedly asked to take off 10-20% as ‘that is all they have budgeted for photography’ you will quite often get to the wedding and find that the bride is in a £3000 dress or they have a Choccywoccydoodah cake that cost more than you. What that couple actually meant when they said they were on a budget is that they didn’t value your services above some of the other things at their wedding. Sadly these are usually the things that are only there for the day.

It also happens a lot at the top end of the market. I went to see the hugely inspirational Elizabeth Messina talk at WPPI in Las Vegas and she tackled this very subject. Even though she is one of the highest profile wedding photographers in the world and had just shown us images from a 3 day wedding in Venice where Shakira was the entertainment, she says she very often gets asked to reduce her rates. And you know what? She actually does. She said that the very wealthy are used to cutting deals and though she won’t flatly give them money off, she will reduce what she gives them to arrive at an agreed price.

But I’m assuming that you are not in Elizabeth’s price range as then you definitely wouldn’t need any advice from me! So what should you do when a great sounding wedding comes your way but they want you to lower your rates? Chances are that you could really do without it. Taking or turning down this wedding is not doing to make or break your career. If they are comparing you to someone else then let them book that other person. You don’t want to be booking clients who are only choosing you because you gave them the best deal. What you really want is a client who respects your services and pays you a decent price for them. I have tackled how to set your rates before in the Green Room and firmly believe in sticking to them.

A few years ago, this situation hardly ever happened but when the recession kicked in, a lot of wedding venues would offer deals just to get the bookings and that kind of set a precedent. Couples start their wedding planning by choosing a venue and if that was merrily slashing prices then why not ask some other suppliers for your wedding to do the same? Also for photographers in particular, the perceived value of what we do can sometimes be quite low. After all you can pick up a DSLR and lens for less than a grand these days and you don’t have to buy or process film so you have no costs, right? It’s just a few hours of your time on a Saturday… Yeah right! It’s an expensive, time consuming and highly skilled profession and you should be paid accordingly. There are plenty of horror stories of couples who don’t put value on photography who end up being let down… Thanks to the Daily Mail for keeping us up to date with these. So stick to your guns, be confident that you are fulfilling a very important role on that wedding day. Rubbish photography may not show the delicate lace detail on that £3000 dress or just how yummy looking that Choccywoccydoodah cake looked before it was portioned up.

As a wedding photographer you have to not only record the events of a wedding day but also capture the emotions. This can mean being on your feet for 10 hours straight, negotiating better than the UN with a strict vicar, reviving a wilted bouquet in iced lemonade before leaving for church, sewing a bridesmaid into her dress in the back of a car, knowing how to tie a cravat, lace a corset, give the bride a lift to church in my car when her vintage one failed to arrive, video the ceremony for them as the videographer got stuck in traffic… Sound far fetched? These are all things I have done in the last two months and all so that when I actually take the photos, my couples are centred, happy and in that moment. I know that I am worth my rates and by sticking to them, I mostly work with couples that appreciate photography and that want to be creative. They will give me time to take those lovely images even if it means putting back speeches or skipping pudding as the sunset light is so glorious. They will trudge through muddy garlic fields in borrowed wellies that are two sizes too big or climb over old wooden fences in their wedding clothes to go where the light is best because they trust me and value what I can do. After sending quotes, I do get a few people coming back to me saying that they can’t afford me so I do my best to recommend a photographer that I think they will like but charges less than me.

If you are often being asked to give a discount then think about the following…

Are you truly worth what you are asking? It can be a sign that you are getting your pricing wrong if client expectation is always that you rates are lower. So maybe have a good honest look at your place in the market. If you are sure you are getting it right and only sometimes get asked to reduce prices and you feel awkward about responding then…

♥ Put clear prices on your website so that its not a shock to them when they get in touch.

♥ If bookings are slow and you feel you do need to negotiate then always make sure that you put a value on each part of your service and offer to reduce what you will include.

♥ Remember they may well just be trying to shave a little bit off every supplier so its okay to say “Sorry but this is my final price.”

So next time a potential client asks you to take money off stay firm and see if they come back. It’s usually just because they read somewhere that bartering is to be expected so don’t be offended. Instead see the bigger picture. It is always better to fill your calendar with bookings for clients that truly appreciate your services and are genuinely excited to work with you rather than bargain hunters. Aim not to be ‘just another supplier’ ticked off their list but the first thing they book as soon as they set the date. I’ve even had a couple of bookings from girls before they were officially engaged!

About the Author

Lisa Devlin is a wedding photographer from Brighton and a regular contributor to The Green Room as well as Photo Professional Magazine. She hosts workshops on all areas of wedding photography as well as the 3-day long Photography Farm on a regular basis. If you are interested in attending The Photography Farm (food and accommodation included), the next event will be taking place from the 16th – 18th July. If you can’t make this date then the event after this will be from September 18th-20th (both with guest speaker & stylist yours truly!) For enquiries or bookings email Lisa on lisa@devlinphotos.co.uk or call 01273231047.

28 comments

  1. Brilliant post Lisa! thanks for your fab advice.. i have yet to shoot a wedding at the price i set because i always feel the niggling of guilt when they say they cant afford it. i am an idiot! when i get to the wedding, a drunk mother of the bride often spill the beans that they spent double the price of my package on the cake/makeup or dj. Grr! Im slowly learning to grow a of balls and stick to my guns.. after all i need to charge what i think im worth. x

  2. Emma Lucy

    Love this! Find it so difficult to not get bartered down – I get so many enquiries through the form on my site even though prices are clearly displayed asking how much and when I refer to the page they say ‘that’s out of my budget’. Or a ‘we love your work so much but another photographer who we don’t like so much has quoted us £400 less, can you match that?’ It’s rough saying no especially when their wedding sounds so amazing but as you say, it’s unlikely to halt my career by not doing it. Not only that, have found when I do do a discount, their friends come to me and want the same price for thier wedding. I’m a huge bargain hunter so don’t blame them at all but it’s just having the confidence to say no and hope they’ll value that and book anyway!

  3. Enjoyed reading this, and had been looking forward to it since Kat mentioned it was coming earlier this week! Really useful advice. I am a musician and also find there is a lot of pressure to reduce my prices. I’ve got much better at resisting – when I have charged too little before, I have found I felt quite sorry for myself on the actual day of the gig, like I have let myself down and allowed myself to be taken advantage of.

    I am much more confident now, but I am also lucky in that I am a bit of a niche in that there aren’t many people playing my instrument (harp) in my area. I can justify my prices and have gradually developed a few charming yet to the point responses when someone makes a smart remark about how much I charge (which is very reasonable and I have had many happy customers). The advice to work on taking something out of the package to meet the price is a good compromise if required, and I am using this if I have to.

    Yes these are tough times for everyone so I can understand the need to haggle, but costs rise for us too and these can’t always be passed on/incorporated into our fees in the way we would like.

    Thanks Lisa!

  4. This is such a valid discussion! Approximately a third of our clients ask for some sort of discount, and it’s getting that balance between getting the work in and charging a fair price for what you do.

    We recently provided a quote for catering, and then we were asked to match another supplier who had quoted half of our price. Yes half! Firstly we weren’t quite sure how on earth someone had quoted so low – for us to match it would have meant using much lessor quality ingredients and we just couldn’t match the price. Actually in the end we decided we didn’t want to. As a supplier you decide where to position your product or service in the market – and it’s a dangerous thing to start moving those goals as then you loose your identity and end up doing something and being something you really didn’t want to do.

  5. I LOVE this post, I shared it on my facebook because I think alot of people SHOULD read it and hopefully think about actually booking a photographer because they want them and love their work!

    I am finding it difficult at the moment to receive emails from people that would pay the full amount because they love my work. I don’t even charge that much at the moment because I don’t think I have done enough weddings to do so, for a full day i charge £950 and they get all of the photos edited on a CD and a complimentary engagement shoot.

    I have had a few that think it’s brilliant value for money but hardly any and it really gets me down because I work really had to capture their day.

    Thanks for posting this Lisa, it’s brilliant.. I hope one day I get more people that appreciate my work.

    xx

  6. I used to work as a sales trainer and came across clients who asked for help with this issue all the time – including a wedding photographer. If asked to shave some money off we always suggested that you look them in the eye, nod understandingly and politely but firmly say, “Ok, no problem. Which bit of the service would you like me to leave out?” Particularly with the potential clients where you think that, actually, they are perfectly capable of paying your price, this gets the message across! They should be buying your services because your style is perfect for their wedding, and that’s worth paying what you’re worth for.

  7. Brilliant post! And it did make me giggle out loud at what we do around the photos, I’ve got two brides into their dresses/shoes/jewellery, had bouquet deliveries, fitted button holes this year so far…. The list goes on ha ha!

    On bartering though, I had one couple try to knock £25 of the price, which just seemed weird and more of a show of power than they actually needed to save 25 quid if you know what I mean!? I’m always happy to tailor packages, but your services should always have a value and not be undervalued xxx

  8. Love it. I really really value my customers who can see what I put into each and every product and pay me what I ask, and sometimes even more! It makes me light up inside when they tell me they can see how hard I have worked and the dont ‘trust’ anyone else to do the job. I feel like all that hard work I put in really pays of. I havent had anyone try to knock money off, but I have had alot of people ‘price checking’. Someone once told me something that has always stuck. ‘The locals arent always your customers, if people want you they will travel to you’ and boy do they! I often wonder why people will travel 200 miles to me, yet the person down the road deosnt want to know – and thats because those people CARE about your product, the others are just price checking for the best deal, which sometimes the cheapest isnt always the best!
    I love the entire post…but :
    ‘you will quite often get to the wedding and find that the bride is in a £3000 dress or they have a Choccywoccydoodah cake that cost more than you – Sadly these are usually the things that are only there for the day.’

    Cakes are only there for the day – but they are still important too! :( xx

  9. Well said Lisa!!! absolutely stick to your guns. Its better to say no, turn it away and get another at full price. If its a deal breaker or if the wedding is one you really really want to do, then id think about it. Best example of late is the couple wanted a £100 knocking off so I agreed subject to getting the full balance right away and it worked!
    Keep up the fab work too!

  10. Great post! I agree wholeheartedly. Sometimes it amazes me, that though my prices are stated quite clearly, some couples contact me and say, “We are going to pay “X” amount for this, and that’s final.” Usually, that list of what they want includes any number of large prints and albums that actually cost me, the photographer, more to produce than they are willing to spend. I simply tell them that those are not my rates, which are based upon my expertise, ability, and my charming demeanor, and I wish them good luck finding someone who is most likely going to give them a terrible product in order to make some money on the wedding.

  11. A great post it really is about valuing yourself and what you do, I often see special offers from suppliers on a one off product and this totally de-values what you do and the market place…. it is a combination of lots of elements of a business which creates it’s value and takes time to build and grow as and when it can. x

  12. What a brilliant post! I’m not a photographer but I experience this a lot too and I completely agree with you.

    Being a stationer I quite often get asked for discounts and it can get me down when I feel I have to justify my worth. It’s difficult because I completely understand that couples have a budget and I suggest the best options to achieve what they want while fitting their budget. The bit I struggle with is when I’m contacted with a huge list of requirements and all the trimmings but tell me they only have a budget for the standard designs (or less)! I had an enquiry recently that listed everything they wanted and the amount they wanted to spend, knowing my prices, and it basically worked out at a 60% discount! I hate that feeling when I’m asked to slash my prices because ‘they had a quote elsewhere that was cheaper than me’.

    Bridal magazines quite often set really unrealistic budget suggestions for stationery too, which doesn’t help either. Stationery can get treated as a less important part of the wedding and the area to save money, which I have no problems with, not everyone cares about the invites. But some couples have this same idea while asking for the works – weeks of bespoke designing and printing and I’m the one who feels bad!

    I’ve made a huge effort recently to stick to my prices, I just can’t work til all hours for free and I much more enjoy working with couples who love my work and value it!

    This post has made me feel so much better, thank you Lisa and Kat! xx

  13. Lisa, I couldn’t have put it better. I think you’ve covered most points.

    I too don’t go reducing my prices, but I let the couple shop around. It’s up to them. I prefer they see other photographers, sometimes they come back as the quality reflects the cost. However if they want I shave off some of what I’m offering which in turn reduces the price. I call it a ‘nip & tuck’.
    There are other photographers I know that have under cut the market massively. Not good for business in general, their work isn’t bad either, it bothers me but I’m not stooping to bad tactics.
    I appreciate your post and am glad I’m not the only one sticking to their guns.
    :0)

  14. Fabulous article. I love The Green Room!

    “It is always better to fill your calendar with bookings for clients that truly appreciate your services and are genuinely excited to work with you rather than bargain hunters.”

    Flippin Amen! xx

  15. Really useful post – I have been really guilty of discounts for the first few weddings I booked. The last three have all been at my full price – I offered to take things away from the package when they talked about having a small budget and also offered an option to pay in smaller installments which one couple took me up on but the rest booked. It does mean you have to be brave though and stick to your guns which is quite hard when you’re a sensitive soul like me – but I felt really proud of myself afterwards and made me value my work more. Fab post.

  16. ahhhhhh so many points that I completely 100%, whole heartedly agree with you on Lisa!! A fantastic post indeed!!
    I’ve had many an experience with clients (I’m a wedding and events florist by the way) that say they are on a tight budget and I respect that, I price accordingly and give them options only to have my quote nit picked and then when the day comes, if they’ve booked me it’s exactly like you say….£3000 wedding dress….choccywoccydoodah cake in the corner…Shakira doing a warm up with her backing dancers. Ok maybe not the last one but it gets you down, especially when you have those that don’t reply to emails for a while to then tell you they went on a last minute 2 week break to Morroco…WTF your getting married in 3 months and you wanted to haggle me down on your bouquet!!
    It unfortunately happens frequently with Flowers but people don’t see the skill and the time and effort that a florist puts in. It’s not an easy glamourous job at all. On average a small wedding will take up at least on the week before 2 days work, and then there’s setup on the day of the wedding, travel costs, meetings, phone chats, supplier meetings, rising stock prices, last minute changes and add ons to deal with, calculations that take a while believe me….it ain’t simple….plus it’s early morning back breaking work to…and you want a £95.00 bouquet to cost you £40.00 and look exactly the same??!!…*sighs heavily* oh well like you pointed out Lisa it seems to be the norm now, but I am firm and if people don’t appreciate the hard work I put in then I’m happy for them to book another florist, but if they’ve confirmed booking and still think they can waste my time and try and push me to say they’ve booked another when they have an outsatanding invoice (or 2) then they will be getting a bill for my time, and if that doesn’t see payment a nice letter from my Solicitor will be arriving on their doorstep. Our time as wedding professionals, and people is important and no client should disrespect that, not even one on a ‘tight’ budget!
    *gets down from soap box*
    Can you tell this has touched a nerve ;) ahhhh Happy weekend everyone and may your clients appreciate our hard efforts and have a fabulous day! xx

  17. All great advice Lisa.

    I’ve shaved up to 20% off wedding prices in the past when people have requested discounts, but I won’t be doing it again. It gets the whole experience off to the wrong start, with the photographer feeling slightly cheapened or undervalued before they even start the job – not a great feeling!
    More often than not, if you turn down the bargain hunters, someone else will fill the booking – hold your nerve!

  18. Emma Robinson

    This is great advice to photographers Lisa. I am a business consultant and this does come up quite a bit and not just in photography. Many business owners have not thought through their marketing strategy and thus as a result have not been able to position their services to the chosen target market. Know what you are offering….what are the BENEFITS to the customer by using your services…what makes you different? Once you have gone through these thought processes you are better able to take you offering to your target market and be confident in your offering and stick to it. Good luck!

  19. Emma

    Ugh Lisa you hit the nail on the head! Thanks for taking the time to write this post. It’s definitely a topic which can leave many people of all business types stuck for what to do or say when they get asked to do a deal.

    I think that it’s also very difficult for the wedding peeps because as brides talk to each other about their bartering success, it starts a chain reaction with other couples. Couples who would not have thought about bartering before just go all out and ask “Would you be able to take off £X?” simply because it doesn’t hurt to ask. And it doesn’t hurt to ask, like you said, some vendors do discount and deal but it makes it a little hard for those who don’t because of this.

    I really do believe the more we can educate brides into the hard laborious work and money that it takes to make a cake, arrange flowers, shoot a wedding, cater to 100 people all at once etc., then there will be harmony between vendors and consumers :) So thanks to blogs like RNRB that actually do help bridge the communication gap.

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