If offering discounts seems like the fast-track to going broke, think again! Used properly, discounts are an important part of your photography pricing strategy. We’ve identified smart discount moves that can attract new clients and carry you through your slow seasons! (Photos by BARETT HENRY, CIVIC PHOTOS)
Newer photographers often use discounts to attract their first clients, while more experienced photographers have learned to leverage discounts as booking incentives during their slow seasons.
Refresh your photography pricing strategy with these smart discount moves, and watch your business thrive!
Reject These Discount Myths & Revitalize Your Photography Pricing
You don’t just want your photography pricing to look pretty. You want it to work! Smartly customized discounts draw clients you love, and boost your bottom line!
Myth #1: “Discounts exist to save your clients money.”
Contrary to common believe, discounts exist to help you MAKE money!
Remember, your clients buy two things: solutions to problems and good feelings. A well-crafted discount addresses any photography pricing hesitations your clients may harbor, and makes them feel good about their decision to invest!
Myth #2: “Good discounts are BIG, and bring in lots of business!”
A discount doesn’t have to be big to be valuable to your clients. And you don’t need “lots of business;” you just need the right number of clients for you.
If you haven’t already, get comfortable with your business’ profits and losses – the costs of doing business. This will indicate the number of bookings you need and how much you have to sell to sustain your business.
Once you know your numbers, you can craft a smart discount that serves your unique growth goals!
Myth #3: “Offering a discount will devalue your brand.”
Any discount that devalues your brand is a poorly-crafted, poorly-marketed discount. The best discounts are all:
- Intentional. Intentional discounts are well-thought out. You know exactly what the discount is costing you, and exactly what you stand to earn from it.
- Goal-oriented. Goal-oriented discounts are limited-time-only offers, intended to assist you in achieving a specific booking or portfolio goal.
- Mutually beneficial. Mutually beneficial discounts make your new clients happy, bring your existing clients back for more, and enhance your brand’s value by building your profits and expanding your client base.
The 3 Types of Smart Discounts That WORK!
You’re ready to test the waters and incorporate a discount or two into your photography pricing strategy. But what should your discount look like?
We’ve defined three smart discount approaches that can work for any photographer!
#1: The Introductory Discount
Your Goal: To book your first clients in this new genre, and build a portfolio that will attract future business.
Your Offer: A percentage off all bookings during a specified time frame.
Why It Works: Introductory discounts carry a big impact, because they run for a limited time with an offer too good to pass up! When you’re building your business, you don’t have time to waste, and an introductory discount gets people in the door fast. Introductory discounts may generate little-to-no profit in the short term, but done right, they offer huge long-term returns on your investment.
Build A Successful Introductory Discount!
Because your end-goal is always to run a profitable, sustainable business, you must first determine the price you should be charging for your service or package – the full, non-discounted price.
Let’s say you’re beginning to book weddings, and you’ve calculated that you’ll need to charge $3000 for Wedding Package A.
A quick study of your profit margins will tell you what size discount you can offer without losing money. For example, if after your expenses, you profit $1500 off of a $3000 wedding package, your profit margin is 50%. Offering a 50% discount on Wedding Package A means you will break even, and a larger discount will cause you to lose money.
“Lowering your rate doesn’t lower your expenses. Your expenses will stay the same, so it’s important to know those numbers – what you pay in bills, what you pay in taxes, and what you pay yourself – or you could wind up offering a discount that causes you to lose money. A 10% discount may look less glamorous than a 50% discount, but with the right marketing, it will be every bit as exciting to your new clients!” – Courtney Zerizef, Creative Homeroom
Breaking Even & Losing Money: It’s Not Bad If It’s On Purpose!
Offering a big discount may mean you break even (don’t actually make a profit) on the sale; or it could even cost you money.
If you choose to break even or take a loss, make sure you can afford the lapse in earnings – and that the move will truly benefit your business.
- Offer 20% off spring weddings for the upcoming season – but end the offer once you’ve booked 3 weddings!
- Discount the next month’s portrait session fees by 50% – but only accept 5 families at this rate!
Once your goal is met (“shoot 3 weddings,” or “photograph 5 families”), the discount offer ends. Now it’s time to charge your full rate!
You may not have earned much (or any) money with your introductory discount, but you have earned a wonderful new client base, and a portfolio that will support your marketing efforts for months (and years) to come.
“Maybe you decide to photograph a well-connected client for free because you know you’ll get priceless exposure from the job. That’s an up-front loss that’s worthwhile, because the long-term benefits more than make up for it! Just make sure you understand the full magnitude and impact of any loss before you commit.” – Courtney Zerizef, Creative Homeroom
#2: The Special Session Offer
Your Goal: To book clients who have expressed interest in your work, but aren’t yet ready to commit to a full-priced session.
Your Offer: A day of special sessions offered at a more accessible rate.
Why It Works: Specials sessions (such as mini sessions or holiday shoots) work because you book several of them back-to-back on the same day, at a single location. While it wouldn’t make sense to photograph a single 15-minute mini session in the middle of your Saturday, it’s highly lucrative to photograph 10 mini sessions in a row on a Saturday morning!
Pro Tip: Avoid the word “affordable.” “Affordable” is relative. It depends on each client’s income and financial values. You can never assume what one client considers “affordable.” Instead, use the word “accessible” – if it must be mentioned at all! Better yet, avoid referring to your rates as “expensive” or “inexpensive,” “high” or “low.” Your rates are what they are, period. Instead, focus on the value you offer your clients: your wonderful service, art, creativity, and connection! Never apologize for the rate you must charge to run a successful, sustainable business!
Create A Day of Special Sessions That Will Sell Out!
Send an email announcing your special sessions four to eight weeks before your shoot date. Tell your email recipients:
- You’ve chosen them to receive this invitation to your limited edition special sessions!
- Give them permission to share the deal with their trusted friends and family.
- Incentivize them with the special’s limitations: e.g., you only offer this once per year, there are only ten openings, first-come first-served, etc.
- Let them know you’ll be announcing these sessions on your blog and social media the following week. This gives your legacy clients first dibs on this special offer!
Pro Tip: Use MailChimp to curate a “Special Sessions Mailing List,” and craft beautiful marketing emails! Populate it with existing clients most likely to be interested in your offer. (They can always unsubscribe.) Then add a signup link (available for free through MailChimp) to your website so other interested individuals can be added to your mailing list!
#3: The Value-Added Discount
Your Goal: To incentivize booking by packaging desirable services and/or products together.
Your Offer: Instead of reducing your rate, attach a service or product bonus to your regularly-priced photography options.
Why It Works: If a client loves your work, but they’re wavering a bit on price, you may not want (or be able) to reduce your rate. But including a simple product or service can add tremendous value to your clients – and transition them from uncertain to signed!
Create A Value-Added Discount People Won’t Want To Miss!
Consider the simple, small incentives that motivate us to spend money every day:
- Get a free beauty bag when you make a minimum purchase at the makeup counter!
- Score free cocktails when you upgrade your airline seat!
- Receive 10 punches on your coffee card and earn a free latte!
None of these incentives represent a high cost to the business owner, but they’re hugely motivating to us, the consumers!
Photography Pricing Value Add-Ons Your Clients Will Love
- Extend their ShootProof gallery expiration so they can view, share, and order their images for even longer! Do your portrait clients usually receive two-week galleries? Make it two months – and add-on a Mobile App of their Favorites!
- Offer wedding clients a complimentary Mini Engagement Session! Some couples aren’t terribly interested in spending money on engagement photos, but you know the value of that pre-wedding portrait experience! Meet your clients for a beer, some timeline planning, and 20 minutes of photography. It’s a win all-around for a signed wedding contract!
- Include a product credit, valid toward a print or product purchase! This works especially well with an In-Person Sales business model, because you know a product purchase is already in your clients’ future! And while a $100 purchase credit will feel like a lot to them, you know they’ll ultimately invest much, much more. (Also, that $100 credit only costs you a fraction of that value!)
- Give your wedding clients an extra hour of photography at no additional charge. When they’re looking at your per-hour rate, your clients will feel that this is a huge add-on. But you know you’ll likely stay a little bit late anyway. Make it official, and your clients will love you for the timeline guarantee!
Bonus Tip: The In-Person Sales Incentive
In-Person Sales aren’t a discount type, but they do motivate purchasing!
“The small up-front session fee charged by In-Person Sales photographers is known as a ‘sunk cost.’ Behavioral economics shows that clients will ignore that sunk cost, almost as if they never paid it. So when they spend $800 at their Viewing and Ordering Session, they don’t calculate the $800 in product plus the $250 session fee. They only look at the $800 they just spent. Dividing up the payment process can eliminate the pain-reaction a client experiences when writing a single big check. Instead of mentally processing a $1050 purchase, most clients experience two wholly separate, unconnected costs. This approach is more comfortable for your client, but every bit as lucrative for you as if you’d billed them $1050 up front.” – Courtney Zerizef, Creative Homeroom
A Payment Plan That Feels Like A Discount
If you’re a die-hard Shoot and Share photographer, you can still capitalize on this “sunk cost” psychology by emphasizing the cost of each payment rather than the total price. “Wedding photography payments begin at $500!”
A payment structure of $500/month for six months will still land $3000 in your bank account, but may feel less intimidating to your client than a larger up-front payment.
Pro Tip: ShootProof’s Invoices feature allows your client to securely store their credit card into a multi-payment invoice and enable automated payments every time a new balance is due! Never pester your clients for a check again!
Craft Your Photography Pricing With Discounts In Mind
If you know you’ll be using discounts to incentivize purchasing, build your photography pricing to allow for those discounts!
For example, if you want the flexibility to offer a 10% discount to any client at any time, begin with photography rates that are 10% higher than you need them to be.
Some clients will gladly pay you this higher rate, and never balk! But the ones who hesitate will receive your built-in 10% discount, bringing you back to your goal price. Now your clients feel valued, and you haven’t given up a dime!
“Discounts can help people rationalize that good feeling of getting the thing they want – the thing you know they’re going to have hanging in their house for generations. A discount might just motivate them to BUY it.” – Courtney Zerizef, Creative Homeroom
Always Highlight Your Full Rate First!
When you’re launching a discount, always highlight your full price along with the discounted rate!
For example, your clients should see a $1000 package being offered for 25% off, not a $750 package that usually costs 25% more.
You want your clients to immediately perceive your true value and appreciate the fantastic deal you’re offering them!
“Always tell your clients how much they would pay without the discount. List both your full price and your discounted price in their proposals, contracts, and invoices. Make it clear that they’re receiving a very special deal, and that future clients will pay your full rate. You don’t want your clients telling their friends, ‘We hired this photographer; she was so cheap!’ You want them to say, ‘We hired this photographer; she’s worth every penny!’ You want every client to become a repeat client – and you want them to return at your full rate!” – Courtney Zerizef, Creative Homeroom
Pro Tip: Limit the number of discounted bookings you’ll accept. If you over-commit and burn out, the quality of your services and products will suffer, and your clients will be unhappy. Don’t take on more than you can successfully accomplish, or your hard work will be wasted!
Know Your Numbers
We’re at the end of this article, but it’s only the beginning of your new photography pricing strategy! Before you begin offering discounts left and right, it’s time to make sure you know your numbers, inside and out!
You need a solid understanding of what you must to earn to pay your taxes, pay your bills, pay yourself, and pay your retirement fund. (Whew! That’s a lot of paying, isn’t it?) Then you can craft a photography pricing structure that suits your market and sustains your business.
- Begin with market research. Don’t focus too much on what other photographers are charging. Instead, familiarize yourself with the average income of your target clients. What can they afford? How must you present your work so they’ll see the value in what you offer? How will you make yourself attractive to the people you want as clients?
- Outline the products and services you’ll offer. Detail every single cost associated with your business.
- Talk to an accountant or a financial planner if you need help getting your business budget on track! (No, you don’t need to have lots of money to consult a financial planner!)
- Consider Creative Homeroom, a financial consulting solution and series of workshops developed for creative entrepreneurs who want to build long-term financial security.
Now you’re ready to dole out discounts and win new work – all while keeping your wallet happy!
Share your own photography pricing tips in the comments below!