According to one survey from a few years back, freelancers working in creative fields lose a whopping £5,394 annually by working for clients for free (or for “exposure”). A separate study of creative workers in the UK found that 60% of those under the age of 30 had not been paid for all the hours they worked for the previous month. Further research suggests that there’s a pay gap in the creative freelance market, with women paid less than men doing the same job.
In other words: freelancers in creative industries are often overworked and underpaid. While raising your rates can be daunting, it’s a fundamental step to building a sustainable business, and it’s something you’ll have to do throughout the lifetime of your business. Let’s dig into some of the reasons why (and when) you should consider raising your prices and how to do it without losing clients.
It’s time to raise your prices if…
Your cost of doing business has increased
Buying new gear, renting equipment, and acquiring studio space are all potential reasons to reevaluate your pricing. If you’re outsourcing retouching, that’s something else to consider. You need to earn more than you spend in order to be sustainable, so if the costs associated with entrepreneurship increase, so should your prices. It’s good practice to go over your costs at least once a year and then adjust your rates accordingly.
You’ve gained skills and experience
Relatedly, if you’ve acquired experience, that’s likely a reason to charge more. Attending workshops, taking classes, and continuing your education are also part of your cost of doing business, so they should be factored into the equation as well. Adding more skills to your repertoire, such as advanced retouching or video work, can also significantly boost your rates.
You’re booking up too quickly and feeling burnt out
If you’re overbooked, you might not be charging enough. Consider taking fewer jobs that pay better, rather than filling your plate with too much work. Be selective, and only accept jobs that fit the level you’re at in your career. You photograph because you love it, but you also do it to make money, just as you would with any other job.
Another way to know if it’s time to raise your prices is through a bit of trial and error. Test the waters. If you’re giving newer clients higher rates, and they’re agreeing, that’s evidence that you’re in high demand and clients are willing to pay more for your services. And that’s reason enough to raise your prices.
Finally, while going through these tips, keep in mind that you can tailor them to suit your needs and your relationship with your clients. If you’re passionate about a project and the client simply can’t afford your rate, it’s okay to negotiate and meet them closer to where they are. It’s also okay to walk away. A compromise would be to negotiate on deliverables; you can keep the price the same, but maybe you offer slightly fewer extras, such as prints or retouching. Choose what’s best for your business.
Give plenty of notice
Transparency goes a long way in the photographer/client relationship, so keep the lines of communication open, and let your clients know in advance (ideally, months in advance) that your prices will change at a specific date. A polite, professional email will suffice in most cases. You can easily find templates online designed for this very purpose; if you go with one of those, just remember to tailor it to your client and your relationship!
If you list your prices on your website, you can add a note that prices are “valid through” a specific date; that way, clients won’t feel blindsided if you change your rates.
Note: Perhaps it goes without saying, but never apologize for raising your prices. Part of being a professional photographer is being confident in your value, and professionals raise their prices over time.
Understand why you’re raising your rates—and be able to articulate that
If a freelance photography client asks why you’re changing a certain amount, feel free to break it down for them. Show them why it’s worth making the investment; maybe you have a unique skill set that other photographers/creative entrepreneurs in your area don’t, or perhaps you offer extra services as part of your packages.
You aren’t under any obligation to “justify” your increased pricing, but people are usually more willing to pay when they understand what they’re paying for. Remind them of the value you’ve already contributed and let them know you’d love to continue to provide that high level of work for them in the future.
Consider charging for “extras”
Extra work should mean extra pay, but too often, photographers end up doing add-ons for free. Services like retouching, delivering extra photos or print-ready files, or making prints or albums all justify an increase in price. Your basic package price doesn’t have to cost a fortune, but you should always get paid for those kinds of add-ons, so make it very clear in your pricing what costs extra.
Market to the clients you want
Some clients always opt for the cheapest product, no matter the quality, but chances are, these aren’t the clients you want. As you grow your freelance photography business, it’s worth tailoring your portfolio to suit the clients you want to attract. It might be worth doing test shoots to show potential new clients what you’re capable of and then reaching out to them with a pitch.
In other words: aim high. If you want to shoot for your favorite brand, for instance, maybe you set up a shoot with their products and bring on a team of stylists to help bring your vision to life. Send out newsletters with recent shoots, and stay in touch.
Make a schedule
Finally, set yourself up for success by scheduling price increases at regular intervals, and let your clients know how and when this will happen. (If you’re unsure of when to raise your rates, the start of a new fiscal year is a good start.)
Tell new clients upfront that this is how you operate. For example: “My rate increases by ___ [percentage] every ___ [six months, year, and so on].” Even better, put it in your contract so there’s no confusion. As the cost of living grows, your income should grow to meet your needs. If you do this annually or quarterly, your clients will know exactly what to expect.
In creative industries, money can feel like a taboo, but that needs to change. Businesses must raise their prices in order to continue delivering great service. Go into the discussion with confidence, and think about the unique benefits you can offer your clients. The clients you want will understand that top-quality work is worth the investment.
If you’re looking for more freelance photography tips, check out our guide to starting your own business.
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