Let's Talk About Money
Let's Talk About Money
Talking about money is tricky. The more I talk to fellow creative business owners, the more I realise how many of us find it so difficult. When you start earning a living doing work that you love, there’s that transition time when you’re learning how to grow a passion into a business. And it’s quite a learning curve. One of the hardest things I hear other creative freelancers and business owners point out is pricing their services & time. Or sticking to those prices, when potential clients are haggling for a discount, or their dream client asks them to work for free. The truth is, pricing what you do is actually quite simple. It’s just a bit of fairly straightforward math. It’s the value that we perceive in our work, our own self-worth and our relationship with money in general that makes it into such a difficult process.
When I started building this business, I was working full time at a minimum-wage job. As I was so used to my ‘broke’ lifestyle and money worries, my needs were humble and every penny earnt through photography was put straight back into business expenses & investment in kit, education & tools. Whilst I still paid some basic expenses out of my own paycheck. I spent most of my free time working on my own business, learning everything I could about how to run one: marketing, tax, finances, photography, you name it. And I only really gave myself a day off when I was totally burnt out. But now that I’ve committed to my business full-time, it needs to pay for the overheads, the expenses, tax, my bills and basic necessities, and still leave money to invest into my education, equipment, medical expenses, holidays, debts, savings and so on. It's a different ball-game and it took me a long time to realise that I shouldn’t just be aiming to substitute a minimum or beginner income. And that I’m actually allowed to, and deserve to earn a good living. And if I want my business to be successful and sustainable, I need to make profit. Running a business and delivering a quality service takes a lot of energy, time, investment, skills, talent, practice and if I was looking to spend a lot of time and earn next to nothing, I could go back to bar work and not have all the extra worry and responsibility that working for myself comes with.
Siobhan Watts, an Instagram friend of mine, a photographer and woman I hugely admire, put it so well in her interview on a podcast “Work Like A Mother” about how a baby and a new business are so much alike. In those initial days, both a baby and a business require a lot of work, a lot of changing nappies, crying, sleepless nights and huge chunks of time spent working hard and not gaining much in return. It’s this beautiful little thing that requires a lot of attention and cannot take care of itself yet. People don’t raise children so they could provide for them, they do because it’s fulfilling, it’s meaningful and it makes them feel good to give life and care for someone they love. But we don’t start businesses in the same way. No matter how passionate we are about what we do. At the end of the day, we start businesses so we can make a living doing what we love and have a life that we desire.
When your business grows, the hard work starts to pay off and can perhaps finally put food on your table and pay your bills. But only if you price your time right. Otherwise, you risk running yourself into the ground, never having time to spend with your family & dedicating every breathing moment to your client's needs. And sometimes those clients might not even see the value in what you do. Is it worth continually burning your own valuable time for that? And believe me, your dream clients are out there! And whilst there's a million 'dream client' profile questionaires out there, the one very important thing they often miss out is this characteristic: 'one that believes in your talent, vision and value. And pays you what you deserve!.' Yes, that's the dream client. Those are the people that are a gift to work with and a delight to serve.
As I sat down to do some actual math and figure out how much it really costs to run the business I want to run, I had some big realisations. On one hand, I realised that things needed to change. On the other, I was left with a lot more confidence and belief in the prices of the services that I offer. Both of these are a good thing. When you figure out how much your working day is actually worth, it really helps to hold your ground. You are left with a clear amount of money that you need to charge at the very least, or you will basically be paying to work for other people rather than the other way round. And yet it can be so tricky to really understand your value and to stick to your prices when there's the pressure of landing that gig or booking that client so we can make rent. So my hope, primarily, in writing this is to give courage to other creatives and business owners to believe in themselves and their own worth. And an insight into the industry and why photography and other creative work costs so much for those of you who are shopping around and looking to hire someone to help with your own endeavours.
You Want to Run Your Business From a Place of Inspiration.
Creating and delivering a service that is inspired, visionary, full of heart, requires time, resources, access to culture and education, and an overall quality of life.
As I said earlier, simply pricing for your work isn’t difficult. You’ve got to know your overheads & expenses, your desired income, how many hours you will be working every year on your business, and how many clients you can realistically serve without burning out. I’ve been told by a financial advisor, that 65% of your work time should be exchanging money (i.e. doing client work). The rest is for admin, marketing, etc. If you’re spending more than that, you’re undercharging for your time and your business is unsustainable. If you’re spending less than that, then you simply don’t have enough clients yet. But when you’re doing work that is creative, requires inspiration, a vision and putting your heart into what you do, you also need to factor that in. If you’re spending all your time serving clients, doing admin and you’re not giving yourself any time to breathe, get inspired, educate yourself, come up with new ideas, products, services, then you’re just running an engine until fuel runs out. If you want to stay inspired and keep growing, you need to invest time and money into your own education and skills, and visiting your watering holes. Maybe you’re inspired by time in nature, films, museums and galleries, music, workshops, or simply time spent with your own friends and family, going on adventures and camping under stars? Whatever it is, it’s time and resources that your business needs to provide you with if you are to stay inspired and keep growing as a creative and deliver a quality service. If you’re just working all the time and never see the light of day, the quality of your work will suffer, you won’t sustain your inspiration or have the same energy to offer to each client. So yes, taking care of yourself and your inspiration is a necessary business investment. You’ve got to work that into your cost, whatever form that takes. Whether that’s being able to put money aside for holidays, investing into your education, subscribing to inspiring magazines, trips to art galleries, or only working x days/weeks/hours per year. You have to do what’s right for you & your creativity. Your business relies on it.
You want to run a business that you can be proud of.
I want to run a business I love, value and respect. My business plan cannot be a survival strategy, it has to be a path towards growth. I have plans and ideas for how to keep growing and improving. And it all requires time, effort and investment. But this is the only way to become the professionals that we all desire to become or compare ourselves to. If you don't earn enough from your business to invest in the improvement of your services, your packaging, delivery methods, client experience, better quality equipment, your own business & creative education, or outsourcing so you can focus on what you do best, then you will never feel confident in your business. Or have time, energy or resources to deliver the service that you believe in and can be proud of. And what's the point of that? We start a creative business, because we have a vision and believe in the value of our ideas and the potential of what we and our businesses can develop into. And every step of the way, we need to be working towards that vision. And perhaps your clients won't always understand why business investment is part of what it costs to hire you, but if they want a professional who's on top of their game, then they have to understand that funding the continuous improvement of your skills and services is just part of the deal. If they worked with a big company or hired employees, then they'd also be funding the education (or university debts) and training of the company's employees or that intern they hired through the price or salary they'd pay. So why would that be any different when someone is paying for time and skills of a sole-trader?
That saying "You get what you pay for" Is true
When you look for a bargain, you get what you pay for. It’s true, and it's a choice. It's a choice we all make sometimes. How often do you end up buying that dress or that shirt on sale to only wear it once and realise that it's so uncomfortable and itchy we never want to wear it again. So when it comes to photography, let's take a wedding as an example. Professional wedding photography costs a lot of money these days. And there are many good reasons why that is so. But couples are often shocked by the price, and feeling constrained by their budget decide to go for their friend’s kid who just got a DSLR and has a ‘keen interest’ in learning photography. I thoroughly believe, that there’s nothing wrong with giving those gigs to people who are beginners - how else do people get a chance to learn and gain experience? And I'd never judge people for having a tight budget and making those tough choices. But weddings in general are an expensive ordeal and it's a choice whether to have one at all. So sure, when it comes to that special day, you can get someone to do a slapdash kind of job for you and save a buck by paying them nothing, or you can invest in the time and vision of someone who will pour their talent and their heart into the your big day, because they want you to come away from your wedding with photographs that you will cherish forever and that your children and grandchilden will always look to with awe. But you have to offer a fair exchange. I completely agree with the idea that an exchange of money is an exchange of energy. If you hire me to photograph your wedding, I will put care, energy and love into making sure that I've captured the magical moments, the heart-felt emotions, the beauty and deep happiness of the couple, and your guests & family. And I will go home absolutely exhausted, because I've put all I've got into a long and emotionally and mentally demanding day.
Good, timeless photography is so much more than having a good camera. It’s knowing how to use light, how to get people to feel comfortable with you around them, knowing how to edit and enhance the images. And last, but not least - it's about pouring in your talent & your heart. So when people look for a bargain, the trade off is that they receive something that will lack either skill, quality, talent or heart. And as a photographer, if you want to always give that whole package to your clients, make sure you're receiving a fair exchange of energy, or you will be depleting your own resources and be left unable to create the brilliant work you desire and have the potential to create.
'We're on an Tight Budget'
You know those inquiries... "We're a small business, so we're on a tight budget, but we need _____". Insert a feeling of guilt an those samaritan feelings of wanting to help everyone. Hang on, you're also a small business. If anyone should understand that you have to charge what you charge, and you don't have time or employees you can give all this extra work for nothing to, is another small business.
I wear a million hats in my own business. I created my own branding, my logo, my copy, built my website. I do my marketing, my accounting, my tax return, my business plan and every little thing that my business requires. And I've been lucky enough to meet other creatives & small business owners that were keen to trade services with me and occationally help me with some aspects of my life or business in exchange for my photography services. And I have done tons of work for free, some for magazines, some for friends so I could build my initial porfolio or test out new ideas I'm not yet confident with. When we workd for free, it has to be under our own rules. Remember, that every moment spent working without pay is time spent away from your business and your paying clients. Can you afford that time? It’s also time spent not resting, preventing a burn-out or spending time with your loved ones, your family. Is it worth it? You’ve got to make yourself a priority.
What people who ask for discounts do not realise is that small businesses cannot afford discounts, big corporations can. The best business advice that I've received when I started, was: "You're not Wallmart". It applies both to my prices & the value of my work, but also the type of work I do and the clients I work with. My goal with my photography is not to serve everyone and be accessible to everyone 24/7. My brand slogan is not to offer the best bargain out there. I create soulful photography for big-hearted & free-spirited people. I'm can only serve a handful of people each year and my goal is to give that time to people who believe in what I create. If I spend my precious time serving people who do not believe in the value of what I deliver, who don't pay a worthy price for my work, and in the end are still not happy with the result, I am wasting my time & resources on clients who won't return to me for more, and won't create the genuine word-of-mouth that creative businesses hugely rely on.
Your skills and talents are valuable
Of course you want to help your clients realise their businesses, reach their own dreams and live the lives & have the memories they desire. But you are helping them by delivering the service that you do. They are simply reimbursing you for the expertise, time and energy you spend helping them. We need to rememeber, that whatever it is we offer our clients, is a valuable investment and essential to growing their business, but it’s not a ‘need’ like shelter, food, water. Photography, brand design, website design, illustration, coaching - those are all luxury services & products. They’re not essentials your clients won’t survive without, they’re worthy investments they are willing to make, because they believe in the value it will provide their businesses. Now, your income isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity, because it covers your expenses and brings food to your table. Yes, parting with a big chunk of money is difficult and costly, especially when you’re starting out. But if you’re asking a small business owner, a creative to offer you a discount, work for free or work for exposure*, because you cannot afford to pay a full price, they are just asking you to sacrifice your time & money to serve their business & financial goals. And the truth is, they are saving money by paying you whatever it is you charge, because they're not having to hire someone else full-time or part time to do it for them, or taking their own precious time to learn how to do it themselves. If their time is precious enough to ask you for help, remember just how precious your time is to you and how much you could help your business and paying clients instead.
*spoiler: exposure really doesn't pay the bills or brings the clientele that people who offer such gigs imagine it would.
Your clients pay you for the value you bring to their lives and businesses
Your client's brand is the face of their business. It creates and fosters connection with their customer and sells their product. Good quality, artistic & soulful photography creates a connection that brings their ideal customer to them and keeps them loyal. Professional photography makes their business look like the real deal. It creates a professional look, a desirable aesthetic and leaves them feeling proud of their business. It’s an important investment, just the same as a great and memorable logo, beautiful brand design and a great website. Poor quality branding & bad photography puts people off. We all say ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’, but we all do. Well, photography is a huge part of a brand. And your brand is the cover of your book. It makes a huge difference in terms of the success of your business. As photographers, we've got that covered, and we know to put our best work out there. So we spend a long time crafting our skill, honing down a style and an aesthetic we are proud of. So when clients hire us to create photography for their brand, they are investing in increasing the value & power of their own brand.
And when it comes to personal photogaphy, I'm just going to ask - how much are memories worth? Can you put a price on the photographs of your family? And what would you want to save first, if your house was set on fire? And I'll add that there is no thing I own that is more importrant to me, than the photographs from my childhood & those of my parents and grandparents, and the photographs I have created. And I'm just going to leave it here.
A list of some things that we, photographers, have to spend money on.
I know many people struggle to understand why they're paying someone so much "to press a shutter". But besides all the time & work that goes into a photography business, there are some basic expenses that we cover in the price of our time, and they vary from tens to thousands of pounds each or every few years.
Some of these expenses are non-negotiable for us to deliver any kind of service, others are necessary if we want to deliver a service to a standard we believe in & want to provide to our clients:
- Equipment - cameras, lenses, tripods, lights, reflectors, backdrops, batteries, chargers, the list could go on.
- Software - laptops, pcs, lightroom, photoshop, etc.
- Education & development - workshops, books, classes, online courses, business coaches, etc.
- Tools - editing presets, accounting templates, business planners, subscriptions to appointment booking systems, galleries we deliver photographs through, cloud storage, etc.
- Travel: to meetings, to networking events, to photoshoots. That's public transport or car & all the expenses that come with that.
- Overheads: rent (office space & a home), bills (energy, internet)
- Storage - hard drives, memory cards
- Other investment: hiring videographers, other photographers to take our own portraits, website design & templates, business coaching, accountants, business & networking events & conferences, etc.
Changes in my prices & Some resources below!
I'm sure that this blog makes it clear how much I believe in the value of photography. And I hope that it reminds you of the value of your work, whether you're a photographer or a different kind of ceative, freelancer, small business owner. And I hope this clarifies to all of our clients why they come to us in the first place, and why we charge what we charge for our time.
As I've mentioned, I've had to do some thinking about the pricing of my own work and make some changes if I am to sustain myself and what I do. As it stands, I have made some changes to the way my packages are structured, what I deliver and I've made a decition & a commitment to myself to raise the prices of my work in 3 months, and then every 6 months by an amount or percentage I am yet to decide is best. I need to do this to reflect the growth of my business & quality of my services, and my own growth as a creative, photographer and business owner. So if you're on a smaller budget, now is the time to get in touch for my current prices. I am also currently offering a small 'headshot' package that I will most likely be dropping in 3 months, as I believe in deeper, longer Portrait sessions. So now is the time to book that. You can find all my prices & packages here: Portraits, Weddings & Elopements, Couples. And get in touch for Brand Photography rates.
Find below some resources that can help you to further improve your relationship with your money, understand how to price your time & work, and build yourself a better life!
Here's a list of resources from other wonderful people in the industry, all about money, pricing and knowing your worth!:
EASY VAT - Julia Day is a financial coach, and her blog & podcast are full of useful & easy to digest resources all about money, pricing and taxes.
Why Freelancers Can't Work For Free - by Anna Considine
Dear Olivia, Why Do Photographers Cost So Much? by Olivia Bossert
Why I Don’t Offer Mini Photography Sessions by Lindsey Roman
Being a Business Owner, Not a Freelancer Podcast Interview with Fiona Barrows on Jen Carrington's Make it Happen
Creativity, Money & The Myth of a Starving Artist Podcast Interview with Kerstin Pressler on The Courage Makers
Profitability & Cashflow - A Foundation to a Healthy Business - Audacious Babe Podcast
Interview with Nadia Meli About Destination Wedding Photography (she talks a bit about the value of the work we create as photographers & pricing yourself right) - Audacious Babe Podcast
Mini Episode on Pricing for Creative Enterpreneurs - Being Boss Podcast
What You Pay for When You Buy Wedding Photography by Cat Hepple
How Not to Pick Your Wedding Photographer by Nadia Meli
You Are Worthy of Investing in Yourself (And Your Business) - One Girld Band Podcast
Profit First a book by Mike Michalowicz
You're a Badass at Making Money a book by Jen Sincero
And this is just the beginning of all the resources and help available out there to kickstart you on your journey to money confidence!