By now you know I am passionate about pricing, sales and charging what you’re worth.
Unfortunately, not everyone is.
Some people are happy working for free or making negative money when all is said and done. Some people are comfortable charging a number they pulled out of the sky without knowing if it’s covering their costs and time. Some people think that charging a lot of money for photography is outrageous and even “unfair” to clients.
While value and worth differ from person to person, one fact remains when it comes to pricing: you MUST figure out your costs (of goods, time, talent, opportunity cost etc.) and make enough to cover ALL of that.
And if this is a real business for you, you need to make enough to cover ALL of that AND more.
If you’re not, then you are not in business. You are in debt.
If you have guessed at your pricing (which, according to my surveys, most of you have) you are most likely NOT running a profitable business. You have an expensive hobby.
Think of it this way, if my doctor doesn’t charge me what he needs to cover his time, talent, costs of rent, equipment, insurance etc, he will quickly go out of business. Can he take care of the sick for free? Sure, but then he has an expensive hobby, or a charity, not a business.
It is the same with you. If you want to call yourself a professional photographer, run your photography business legitimately. Figure out your pricing, your costs, your value. Buy insurance to cover your equipment and liability. Take yourself seriously.
Now that you’ve got those costs figured out, you need to price yourself to cover them, and then make a profit on top of that. This is your business, your career, maybe even your family’s income.
Just like any business, your goal should be to make a profit, not just cover your costs.
Making a profit is not greedy. It is a necessary way of life and honestly, it’s wonderful! Making enough money to cover your costs AND save money, give money and spend money on the things you need and want is the beauty of running a profitable business!
If you see other photographers charging a lot more than you and turn up your nose at them, you need to work on some money mindset exercises. Because even though you may not be charging as much as them now, your goal should be to grow your business financially every year!
So back to the title of this post, when is it ok to work for free?
My answer is this: when you are just starting out and have no idea what you’re doing and are still calling your photography a hobby, then you can do shoots for free.
I recommend those free shoots be of people YOU approach and ask to model for you while you practice. NOT acquaintances who need photos asking you to do it for free.
Likewise, you can ask a more seasoned photographer if you can tag along for experience. I recommend you always offer to pay them or trade with them in some way. Their time is valuable, so don’t just assume they will let you follow them around for free.
When I wanted to learn how to shoot weddings, I third shot a wedding for no pay, then I second shot 3 weddings for a few hundred dollars each. Then I was ready to charge and I charged $1800 for my first wedding because I was confident in my abilities and knew I would do a great job.
When I wanted to learn boudoir, I asked 5 of my friends if they would come pose for me so I could practice. Then I began charging and worked my way up to where I am now.
Mind you, this period of free shoots should not last long. I got my first camera in March of 2010 and by May I was charging. In between there I shot a LOT of friends for practice.
You should not still be shooting for free a year or two after starting photography. If you are, call it a hobby and take down your FB business page.
After you’ve got your free practice shoots down, move on to charging a little bit. Your time, talent and costs will be different in the beginning so you can charge less than you will in a few years.
This time period should also be short. Because even though you’re charging a little, often times when you figure out your cost of doing business, you’re actually making negative money.
Once you move over to the actual business stage of things, you need to be sure you have your insurance in place and the proper equipment etc. This is the time you need to begin charging enough to cover all of the expenses and make a profit!
Don’t ask your friends and family what you should be charging! Sit down and run the actual numbers. There are countless sites on the web that will help you list out every possible cost. (There’s even this amazing course by my friend Brittany that will walk you through it step by step!)
Do those numbers scare you? Good! You should be a little bit scared to charge what you’re worth.
But guess what? When you price yourself correctly and begin making a real profit, you can GIFT away sessions for free any time you want! It is such a great feeling to be able to give a session to someone you love or someone in need.
But you can only afford to do that because your BUSINESS is running PROFITABLY. You can also afford to do things like concept shoots and stylized sessions!
One more thing I want to address, if you are someone who hasn’t crunched the numbers and who honestly doesn’t know if you are making a profit every year, please do 2 things:
1. Sit down and crunch your numbers, then price accordingly.
2. Stop giving pricing and business advice to other photographers. That’s the blind leading the blind. (A new stock broker taking advice from another stock broker who isn’t turning a profit is bad news all around.)
The good news is, all you have to do to turn your love of photography into a real, profitable business is crunch those numbers, revamp that pricing and go out there and kick butt!