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Don’t Sell Yourself Short.

I read this post that someone shared in a photography group on Facebook about a new trend in high school seniors taking their own portraits using a self timer…and they asked (the news station that made the original post) if it was a good idea, or if a pro was worth it? Some of the comments were mind-blowing. And many of the comments on the shared post in this group were pessimistic, and sad. People that are judging their success and their worth, by comparing themselves to the guy down the street.

Just because the photographer down the street advertises as being “booked solid” 6 months out, doesn’t mean they are more successful than you. DOESN’T mean you are lesser of a talent! I see talented photographers compare themselves to others all the time, and it’s always the same story- the person they are comparing themselves to is charging $75 for a session and including ALL digital files, while they are charging $750. Or the person they are comparing themselves to has a full time job and only takes sessions on the weekend. Two days of availability a week- 8 a month- as opposed to your 20-30 days. Of course they will be booked months in advance in these cases! Don’t sell yourself short and get down on yourself by comparing yourself to someone with a business model that’s absolutely nothing like yours.

I used to be that cheap shoot and burn photographer. I was booked 5-6 months in advance all the time. I thought I was hot crap. But I was also not making a dime by the time I figured in any expenses to maintain my business, took out the additional 35% in income tax, and figured up a sad, nonexistent hourly rate at the end. I was shooting 35-50 sessions a month and thought that made me a hot shot. I didn’t know any better at the time, because I DIDN’T start out the right way and price my business as a craft, and not just “fun money.” As a career. A legit, thriving business.

When I finally almost quit- and did the research, and got a shocking revelation about what I was doing and how I was harming myself, my passion, and the industry standard, and raised my prices after VERY careful calculating, bookings slowed down. WAY down. But they still came in, here and there. Instead of 10 inquiries a week, I dropped down to 1 or 2. Many didn’t book because of my pricing. And I wasn’t surprised. For some I was out of budget, understandably. I went from $100 including digital files, up to $200 session fee alone + a la carte images or files. My minimum order requirement to make it worth my time/investment/effort was $300. Others didn’t book because they just thought it was too expensive. They were so used to the devalued shoot and burn market, that in a region surrounded by $50-100 photographers, I was “crazy” priced.

But the thing I had to keep in mind, is that I WANTED to work less. I wanted to take 2-3 sessions a week, not 8-10. And booking slowed down to that rate. It was just such a drastic change, that it felt like I was heading to failure, when it all reality, I had changed my model to what I wanted and needed, and to actually have a profitable business. I had to remember that while I was only shooting the 2-3 sessions a week now, I was making just as much in 2 weeks, shooting 4-6 sessions, as the photographer that I used to be, who shot 40 sessions in a month. But I made that in 2 weeks. Was I rolling in dough? No. Running a business of any kind is EXPENSIVE. But if I wasn’t rolling in dough, but was finally working manageable hours and doing just fine, what does that say about the money I was making shooting 10 sessions a week? It says something really, really bad. I never had time to hone my craft, or God forbid, spend time with my husband or kids. My middle was just a baby and I missed all of her firsts because all I did was shoot, edit, burn and mail cd’s. All day, every day. And I couldn’t even make enough money to upgrade my equipment, buy the props I wanted or needed, and barely pay insurance costs etc, let alone actually make a profit for myself! Why was I neglecting the ones I loved the most, for a job that didn’t even take care of them?

It amazes me all of the comments I see in passing about people who comment on $200 photographers, saying they are too expensive. They are shocked. This FLOORS me, because they don’t even realize they are expecting the person they want to hire, to work for poverty wages. They want a professional, but they don’t want to pay for a professional. They want to pay Portrait Innovation prices, but they expect a custom photographer who DOESN’T work on 50 sessions/day VOLUME, to give them a BIGGER experience, but for the same amount of money as the chain store. It’s not the same thing, folks. You can’t go to Red Lobster and expect them to give you pasta for the same price as Fazoli’s! You can’t go to Olive Garden and order spaghetti for what you can make it for at home. YES YOU CAN MAKE IT AT HOME! But you are paying a business to seat you, provide electricity and temperature control in your dining environment- a server to wait on you hand and foot- paper and ink to print your receipts on- cooks to craft your meal- the cost of the food, and the building you are sitting in! You’re not paying for a box of spaghetti and some cheap sauce. If you can make it on your own and don’t want to pay the price, then either order something else, or GO HOME.

I don’t say the above to be rude, it’s just a truth. I get just as irritated as the next gal when I take my kids out to eat and a bowl of KRAFT macaroni and cheese is $5. I can pay that for a 5-pack! But if I wanted to do that, I would go home and make it, not relax and pay someone else to cook, AND clean up our mess.

This post was also not made to talk down to cheaper photographers, but as encouragement to those who charge more, but are “outbooked” by their cheaper competitors. It’s not your fault. You DON’T suck. You’re just in a different model and a different market. Value the clients that you DO bring in, and treat them like gold. You never know when someone might become a convert from the cheaper/low service photographer down the street, or Portrait Innovations high-volume/crappy customer service customer, to your most loyal client. One of my biggest sales recently was from an AMAZING family that knew nothing other than Sears in the past. But not only did they find me by luck on Google (woo!) but we had an amazing session, they TRUSTED me, and were one of my top sales of the year. I changed her views on photography, and introduced her to the world of custom photography outside of the rushed portrait studio. I still remember when my oldest was little, we too, used to go to Portrait Innovations. I didn’t know anything different. One session, I only wanted two different shots (which sounds like a good reason to go to a quick portrait studio, yes?) and expressed that on the phone AND when I got there. They still held me over longer than I wanted to be there, took 50 shots, and were pissed when I didn’t want to buy more than the two poses I got (one of her, and one of us together. They were presents for my husband’s birthday). They weren’t concerned with the customer’s desires, but only about making money- because unfortunately, they are so cheap for a reason. They’re high volume. 5 rooms shooting at a time, new customer in each room every 15 minutes. To sit here and expect the same pricing out of a custom photographer who runs a legit business all on their own with the array of expenses that includes, spends 1-2 hours of 1:1 time with you, (not including emails/texts/posting your sneak peeks, driving to and from, etc!) and custom edits your images (yeah, your chain stores don’t do that, or it comes at a HIGH price) is just insanity.

So my whole point is this, is just don’t sell yourself short, and don’t let situations beyond your control, discourage you. You can’t compare yourself to the photographer down the street that charges 1/5th what you do…or let a potential client make you feel bad because they think you are “too expensive” compared to a generic portrait studio. Stand strong, and be your own person. Those precious angels pictured above (and one on the way) are 4 of the many reasons I treated my business as a must-profit business, and not a “just for fun” hobby. My time away from them has to be worth it- and the money I make HAS to provide for my family! Sorry for the long winded post. It started as a facebook status, and just spiraled out of control:)This is what happens I suppose when my thoughts make it onto “paper”, 1500 words later!

If you liked this post, feel free to share it if you know someone it may help. Come visit me on Facebook too! It’s a lot of fun over there  :)

Lots of love,
Amy Cook