We’re living in the “day of the deal.” Many photography clients are eager to negotiate.

Even high-end brides are looking for a “good deal.” Everyone wants to save a buck. It’s human nature; we feel good knowing we’re smart with our money.

As small business owners, we shy away from negotiations because we assume it means someone doesn’t value what we do, or that we could lose out on a lot of profit. Sometimes, that’s not the case. It may simply be a client who wants to make sure they get the best bang for their buck, or they just like to negotiate in general.

If you do your homework, you won’t lose out financially.

First, decide whether or not you’re willing to negotiate.

There are reasons why you might not want to negotiate. If you are fully booked, or have more work than you can handle or want, then it’s a great time to say, “I’m sorry, these rates are firm and we have limited availability remaining.”

Then, decide what to do when your clients want to negotiate (and you do too!)

    • Build in “wiggle-room.” If you’ve done your homework, know your cost of sales, understand your costs of doing business, and are priced right, then this part is simple! Most photographers need to mark their product or service up by three to four times the cost of sales (“cost of sales” here includes the tangible things AND the labor involved in anything you sell). If you mark your prices up by 4.5 times or 5 times instead, you’ve created some wiggle-room – or margin – in your prices. You can AFFORD to give discounts and negotiate deals at this point.
    • Identify products or services that are interchangeable. Often a client wishes to simply negotiate changes in their wedding photography or portrait package, versus an actual price reduction. If I can identify items upfront that I’m willing to “swap out,” then it make negotiations painless and your clients will be happier with their new “custom” package. Plus, they feel like you were flexible for them! For example, I include an engagement session in all of my wedding photography packages. Every year, I have a handful of clients who are unable to do the engagement session. I’m happy to swap out something of equal value for them. I’ll come to their wedding 45 minutes early, or do a post-wedding portrait session instead.
    • Let them make the first move. Since I personally am open to negotiations when it comes to building wedding photography packages, I let clients know in a subtle way that I’m open to building a custom package for them, yet also let them make the first move. Here is an example of how I might do this via email response to a bride’s inquiries. If she’s happy with one of my Wedding Photography Packages and wants to book without negotiating, great! If she’s looking for something different, or needs to build a package that suits her better, then she will let me know what she is looking for and her approximat price tolerance, so we can help her.

  • Give them a “bonus item” rather than reducing your rates. If a product or service is something that does not have a high “Cost of Sale” associated with it, then it may be more beneficial to throw in something extra (especially if it leads to additional sales) versus lowering the price.
  • Practice the Art of Negotiation…and read up on it too. A “must-read” book on this topic is Roger Dawson’s “Secret of Power Negotiating.” I am always negotiating on a personal level too. My husband calls me “the negotiator.” He encourages me do all the selling & buying on Craigslist and even ask for discounts in retail situations when applicable! We got a 52” LED TV for 40% off retail because I asked if we could buy the floor model and negotiated a deal.
  • Make it a Win-Win. One critical thing to remember when you’re negotiating is that it must be advantageous for BOTH parties. You don’t want to make a deal but feel taken advantage of, and you certainly don’t want your client to feel like they lost out either. Ensure that the agreement is mututally-beneficial and sets you up to have a great relationship and experience going forward!

I have gone many places, met incredible people and have experiences I would not trade for anything thanks to successful negotiations with clients. Almost all of my destination weddings involved a series of negotiations to create a custom wedding photography package. Many clients have told us that they booked us versus our competitors because we “listened to what they wanted and were willing to work with them.”

About Liana Hall

Liana loves her life and career! She is honored to spend her time shooting destination weddings in the US and abroad and speaking at major industry conventions such as WPPI, Imaging USA, Chicks that Click, and other regional events. Liana is proud to be a Certified Professional Photographer (CPP) of which less than 8% of all professional photographers qualify for. In 2011 she received the prestigious Photographic Craftsmen degree in recognition of her service to the photographic profession as an orator, author and mentor. Seven-time award-winning photographer for the Wedding Photojournalist Association. Featured in Professional Photographer and American Photo Magazines, The KNOT, Style Me Pretty, Modern Wedding Photography Book by Amherst Media, and on NBC! Liana is one of the only working professional photographers certified and willing to teach managerial accounting and business planning to other wedding and portrait photographers. Her website received PPA’s ANNE award for Website of the Year and she was also featured on NBC. 

A third-generation entrepreneur and graduate of an exclusive program in Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management and Marketing, Liana has been bestowed with knowledge that she desires to share with others. She believes in helping others achieve the impossible, that photography and business should be FUN, and in telling stories through pictures and numbers!

Liana and her husband Mike recently welcomed their first born son, Atticus, into the world. Her latest business adventure is figuring out how to balance working from home with a caring for a newborn!

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