True story: many years ago, at least 20, I got a call from a client who I had never worked with and who was looking for a stock photo. At the time I was in Portland Oregon and known as a local stock photographer with a large library of images.
This client requested a selection of images for which I do not recall just what the subject was, but we sent a selection over and sometime thereafter she called to negotiate a price.
After describing her usage I did as I always do: told her I would call her back. This is an important strategy because it gives you time to think about the usage for it the specific market instead of having to name a price immediately while on the phone.
As I always did, I pulled out my Pickerell Pricing Guide and looked up the usage to establish a price and then I called her back.
I quoted her, as best I recall, about $1500 for the usage, a price not that hard to get 20 years ago. Her response was quick and set me back: (a loud laugh and then) “are you kidding me?”
I was taken aback!
And I had no response.
She quickly responded again “I don’t have that kind of budget and I will give you $500.”
Since I still didn’t know what to say, I just said: “okay.”
After finalizing our deal and getting an address where to send an invoice, we ended our conversation.
Who’s the Fool?
I immediately felt like the biggest fool in the world! In fact, I am sure I looked like an idiot that didn’t know what he was doing. I had quoted a price out of the book and then made no effort to stand by it. Obviously I didn’t believe in the price I quoted her.
In fact, in hindsight this situation is one business lesson I never forgot. I quoted a price I was hoping to get and while I felt it was the going rate, I apparently was not that confident because I made no effort to defend it.
Any business that sets prices based on what they hope to get over what they believe the true value of their product should be, is doomed to failure.
I never made that mistake again! Even if I didn’t believe I could get the price listed in the book, I made an effort to establish a price that seemed fair to me and fair to the customer based on their intended usage. She felt otherwise. What I did was use the book as a crutch to tell me what the going rate was without any consideration to the clients budget.
Establish your prices ahead of time
While this book was and still is a valuable tool in helping establish a price and then negotiate it, there is no such thing as the correct price or going rate. There is only the best price that you can negotiate which you feel is fair to you and the customer feels is fair to them.
For you to avoid making the same mistake I did, consider creating a pricing schedule now that you can then draw upon later and as needed. List all the potential uses you can think a client might use your images for and then set a price that you believe in.
Consider Jim Pickerell’s Pricing Guide, which is still available. Although it is 10 years old and the prices listed, in my opinion are almost impossible to get these days, they can be used as a starting point to set rates you believe will work in this market. And it is full of strategies and responses for negotiating. Take a look at Fotoquote as well.
Add to your pricing schedule a few negotiating statements and responses you can refer to should the client state some objections to your price. This will help in your response.
It all depends on what you sell and how you sell it. But if your sales are all conducted person-to-person then you might find value in creating a script for reference. That way when a client responds to you like they did to me with “are you kidding?” you will have a response.
Believe in what you ask for
While most photographers not only want but very much need to make the most money these days, it’s very easy to fall into the mindset that any sale is a good sale no matter how much or how little it is. However, you are still better off to at least make an effort to negotiate a price that you feel good about and works for your client.
My strategy of 20 years ago was a poor strategy and I’ve never made that mistake again. So with a little effort and preparation you can create a pricing schedule that is relevant in today’s market.
If you believe in what you’re asking for you stand a much better chance of getting it.