The Plateau

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I don’t know about you, but I always do my best thinking in the bath. I’m sure it’s something to do with switching off, being away from technology and allowing my mind to wonder. Regardless, as I soaked in the tub one day last week I started to think about business plateaus, or more specifically, what to do about them.

The first few years of running a business are a super exciting. You’re pushing yourself, growing and learning, all while (hopefully!) having a lot of fun as you go. Yes, it’s a scary time but it’s also a super satisfying one. If you’re doing all the right things, you’ll be into a steady flow of getting enquiries, booking clients, then getting too many bookings so putting your prices up a little bit, getting back to a steady flow… and so on and so forth.

But then, and likely around the two or three year mark, something different starts to happen. You, as usual, put your prices up a little bit more to stem the flow (you can only take on so many clients after all and no one wants to work on loads of weddings getting paid a pittance for each one) but the result is different… zilch… nadda… nothing. Suddenly it’s not so easy to get bookings. You ramp up your marketing and you’re still getting enquiries, but after sending out your price list people aren’t immediately coming back to you with the same joyful exuberance about confirming you for their wedding. They’re either trying to haggle or you simply never hear from them again.

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I was chatting to a wedding photographer recently who has put her prices up to what some may consider the top end of the UK market in the last few months. She noted that with the price increase, this year she is shooting about half the number of weddings than she was in 2012. Of course this is not necessarily a bad thing, after all who wouldn’t want to do half the work for the same amount of money? But I caution you, resting on your laurels here is a dangerous game and a sure-fire way to be overtaken by a much more eager and proactive competitorWe all want to be progressing our businesses, right? And if making as big a profit as possible is a goal for you, sticking with 50% of the work for the same money isn’t moving forwards at all, you’re just standing still… with more free time.

This is obviously going to be really frustrating. You feel that you’re at a price that you’re worth but it’s getting harder and harder to confirm those bookings. You’re staring at a crossroads because you still want to be working with the fun and creative couples, but it seems that all the creative couples also have creative budgets…  So how do you stick to your guns and charge what you feel your skills and time are worth without going under in the process?

If I’m being honest, I don’t have a concrete answer for you right now, but as my bath started to get a little chilly, I did begin to think about what you could do. Firstly, you could put your prices back down, or offer discounts to encourage people to book you. It might not be the most thrilling idea but it is viable option, one that many choose to take. While this may initially get you back into the swing of booking clients, it’s never going to be feel good only doing so because you’ve put your prices down. An alternative might be to look at other products that you could offer your existing client base. If you’re a photographer you could work on pushing your album and print sales or offering anniversary or baby photo sessions. A dress designer could start a bridesmaid’s range and a stationer could design greetings cards that, once people are already aware of and love your work, they’d be likely to purchase instead of popping down to Paperchase.

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Another idea is to diversify your income by adding more strings to your bow. This is probably why we’ve seen such an influx of industry professionals hosting workshops, running independent weddings fairs and selling products in the UK recently. Are they all doing these things because they have a strong internal desire to teach/ host events/ create Photoshop actions, or are some people just looking for new ways to earn more money?

At The Blogcademy we talk at length about the importance of diversifying your income as a blogger (and all the different ways to do it!), and I completely believe that other professionals should think about the idea too. Hitting a pricing plateau is often the catalyst, but if you’re not there yet, why wait!? Give yourself a head start and begin thinking of other things you can do to avoid that dreaded slump in bookings having such a detrimental affect on your bottom line.

Obviously this is all going to be hard work and diversifying your income is never easy. Why? Well you’ll probably have to learn a completely new skill set and to start pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, just like when you started out the first time. You’re pressing the restart button and at some point you’re likely to feel the fear all over again too.

So, are you up for a new challenge?

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13 comments

  1. Great article, I know a lot of folk are feeling like this right now so it’s good to see some positive advice. Ace pics again, damn those Made u Look girls….. so good!

  2. Such a helpful article! I too have my best ideas either in the bath, or at ridiculously early times in the morning (4am), and am constantly trying to think of new ways to keep my business fresh. This article has motivated me even more, thank you!
    Pin-Up kisses,
    Jenny Frantic About Frances x

  3. This is an issue effecting many photographers but it was bound to happen as there are so many more photographers out there now. I don’t think dropping your price is a good call. Most of us have slowly built our price and have finally (after being far too cheap for too long) come to a price that is in line with the work we do. We are totally happy with our price bracket and after making many mistakes in the past (being too soft and subsequently paying for it).. we now feel confident to stick to our guns when it comes to our price.

    But after nearly four years we would like to maybe start shooting a few less weddings a year purely to give ourselves a bit more of a life.. (especially through the summer months).. we’re excited about possible other avenues.. travelling more, connecting with other photographers, maybe developing the blog more.. and we also want to make sure that we are able to give the time that each couple deserves..

    It’s so true that when you first start you are pretty much on full throttle.. shooting as many weddings as possible, getting out there as much as possible.. getting bookings however possible.. not really making enough money but you’re establishing yourself.. building your business.. I suppose that’s kind of like your apprenticeship in a way.. you then come out of it with the experience and the knowledge of what works best.. what’s sustainable.. what you will and won’t do.. and also that you need to live.. financially and emotionally.. you realise what’s important and that’s when you start making changes..

  4. Kat this is a great piece and so reassuring to read. I do agree with Emma that dropping your price is not necessarily the best way to go, but perhaps looking more to promotions and getting added value rather is a better way. That is how the food / retail industry works. In all my time in retail and marketing I never saw a brand go backwards in price, but they did look to promotions and offers.

    I think diversity is a brilliant way to also approach your business. For both your own personal growth as well as growing your business.

    A great piece! x

  5. Emma is absolutely on the money on this one and pretty much said everything I was thinking. We are 3 years in and after having struggled for ages with pricing and starting out waaay too cheap (and paying the price for our mistakes) we are at a price point that we’re happy with. This does mean that we’re booking less weddings and making the same income, but instead of “standing still” with a lot of time on our hands, we’re using that time to travel, to work on personal projects, to get our heads in another creative space altogether. Because if everything is wedding-related 24/7 we’re going to burn out and get sick of this industry pretty quickly, and by having the time to devote to personal work, I find I bring a whole new level of creativity to our wedding work… which is a win for us (because what artistic person finds fulfillment in churning out the same thing years in a row?) and a win for our clients. Perhaps this is another way of diversifying, without immediate financial returns, but I think, for us at least, it pays off in the long run.

    I don’t comment very often but I think the Green Room posts are some of my favourite business advice posts on the web… right up there with Seth Godin and Think Splendid, I really love reading them and they’re always so full of such good advice and well-thought out opinions, thanks Kat… you’re a smart cookie. 🙂

  6. melissa

    “Why is a relaxed state of mind so important for creative insights? When our minds are at ease–when those alpha waves are rippling through the brain–we’re more likely to direct the spotlight of attention inward, toward that stream of remote associations emanating from the right hemisphere. In contrast, when we are diligently focused, our attention tends to be directed outward, toward the details of the problems we’re trying to solve. While this pattern of attention is necessary when solving problems analytically, it actually prevents us from detecting the connections that lead to insights. ‘That’s why so many insights happen during warm showers,’ Bhattacharya says. ‘For many people, it’s the most relaxing part of the day.’ It’s not until we’re being massaged by warm water, unable to check our e-mail, that we’re finally able to hear the quiet voices in the backs of our heads telling us about the insight. The answers have been their all along–we just weren’t listening.” – Jonah Lehrer

    So it’s a fact! We do think clearer in the shower (that’s my excuse for long showers in winter anyway!)

  7. We too have settled on a price point which we are happy with.

    Warm enquiries this year (for 2014) have increased and are constant. Our bookings for 2013 versus 2012 was approximately 50% less. This allowed me personally to spend more time thinking about our business direction rather than just going about my business.

    We have also begun offering brides and grooms ‘add-on options’ to see if there is a direct coloration between budget versus requirements. Providing the option of striping down/building up wedding photography requirements, is allowing me to see if all that is offered and marketed as great and trendy in the wedding world, is in fact wanted!

  8. Great article, Kat!

    I agree with Emma, dropping prices isn’t a smart long term move. Having been going for just over 4 years, I’m right around the time that you’re talking about. What I’ve done, which is working really well, is to change what I offer so I’m offering less for a bit less money (taking out albums for the short day package) and offering more for the standard price (I feel clients should be able to feel and hold their photos, so I’m including prints in the package); I’m also diversifying into boudoir photography, it’s been a passion for a few years but this year I’m really pushing it harder than before and working on getting that business model working.

    I’m feeling really fired up right now, and excited about what this year may bring 🙂

  9. Brilliant article Kat, just what I needed to hear! Pricing is something I think every new business struggles with and as you grow as a business, with experience & skills your value to your clients increases & so should your prices. I think with so many photographers out there is really is worth setting yourself apart from others and focusing in on what it is that makes you different & standing out from the crowd.

    I think your advise to diversify is spot on & I think that can really help to develop a business and to stop it becoming stagnant. I do think you can price yourself out of your market, with so much competition out there, so the more added value to your business the better.

  10. I put up prices at the back end of last year to where I wanted to be, after a few years of growing the business. Whilst bookings this year aren’t yet where 2012 was, 2014 is looking better than where I was twelve months back. I’ve seen a trend recently of many people holding back and booking late, which I think is a reflection of where we are economically right now; people don’t want to commit to a budget until they know it’s in the bank.

    I do believe in being upfront with your pricing on your website, as I think as pricing is so key for many people, it’s wasting your time (and theirs) to deal with enquiries where the budgets are going to be way out of whack with your pricing. Of course, there are always going to be some people who want to negotiate a discount, which is fine if you’ve built that into your pricing structure, and they’ll still contact you. But, offering wholesale pricing discounts as a promotion isn’t something I feel is the way forward. Add value, rather than reduce pricing 🙂

  11. Great article. I’v always had {more by luck and lack of focus rather than strategic judgement!} varied revenue streams – wedding design, graphic design, brand and id, collaborations, greetings cards and long term projects so that if one area of the business is quiet for a while – I don’t have to worry. xo

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