There’s a vibrant photographer community on Facebook and I’m in a lot of different photography groups. The issue of pricing comes up a lot. And there’s always one person who says ‘You should never discount’. Without fail that bugs me. Mainly because I don’t like it when I see other people make general comments about what other people should and shouldn’t do without knowing the ins and outs of their business but also because I actually don’t actually agree with it.
In our industry, it’s seems as though ‘discounting’ is seen as a bit of a dirty word. It has negative connotations, it suggests failure or desperation. It implies that the photographer can’t get bookings at full price. People are ashamed of offering discounts. They try and justify it or just don’t even talk about it all. I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t think discounting is something we should be ashamed of. Is John Lewis ashamed of it’s January sales? No. It’s identified an business need and responded to it.
So does that mean I think you should be discounting? Well no actually it doesn’t. I see lots of photographers offering discounts and I just think WHY?! I know they are getting enquiries. I know they are getting bookings. I’m confident if they were brave and confident in their prices that they wouldn’t need to offer discounts. I also know from experience that they are probably going to really regret booking that wedding two years in advance with a whopping discount.
Discounting is just another marketing tool. Like any other marketing tool. Tools are meant to improve your business, build your brand and make you more successful. And if used properly they can do all those things. But if they aren’t used properly, they can actually slow your progress or even cause damage. The key to deciding if and when to discount lies within understanding your business and your needs.
Case Study Time!
In 2015 my business really started to do well. Lots of enquiries, lots of couples booking their 2016 and 2017 weddings. I was really happy with my progress, I increased my prices throughout the year and I was sending a lot of referrals to other photographers for dates I was already booked. Brilliant. BUT my winter months were looking really quiet. I’m not sure why but I had significantly less bookings for winter 2015/2016 than I had had for winter 2014/2015. This might have been because I’d increased my prices quite a lot, it might have been because I’d changed tactics on marketing, it might have just been that it was a quiet year for winter weddings in general. At the time I didn’t know what the issue was, I only knew I wasn’t happy with the income I had coming in for those winter months. I had four options…
a) Get through winter on my savings and the few weddings I had booked in. Totally do-able, I’d put aside enough money to cover me for a few months. But once money’s in my savings account I’d rather spend it on exciting things like new lenses than paying bills!
b) Advertise other kinds of photography – such as studio sessions, commercial or newborn shoots. Again do-able, but I don’t really enjoy these types of photography nearly as much as weddings and it would involve a completely different direction in marketing so that would be a lot of effort. Plus financially they aren’t as lucrative as weddings meaning I’d have to shoot a lot of them to even compare to shooting one wedding.
c) Spend more money on advertising in the hopes that it would bring in full price bookings – Do-able. Most of my bookings by that point came as a result of organic Google searches but there are lots of different advertising avenues I wasn’t utilising. I could increase my spending in other areas but this wouldn’t necessarily lead to more bookings, particularly if it was a case of a general quiet period for winter weddings. Meaning I might be outlaying a lot of money without seeing a return.
d) Offer a discount on my usual prices – Do-able. I’d risk being associated with discounted weddings which might affect the brand I was building but I could use my existing marketing strategy or tweak it very slightly.
I chose D. I discounted. I created a bespoke winter wedding package – less hours and without a second shooter, at discounted price to my normal prices. I tweaked my marketing strategy very slightly and within a few weeks I booked 6 winter weddings. That was all I needed. I stopped the discount after that. I booked enough weddings to see my through winter. I didn’t need to dip into my savings or offer any other forms of photography. I only had to put the slightest effort into tweaking my marketing, I spent less than £30 on advertising my winter packages.
I shot 6 lovely extra weddings that I probably wouldn’t have booked without the discount. I photographed weddings in new venues that I’d been wanting to work at for a while – meaning I’m more likely to book weddings there in the future. Two of the weddings have subsequently been featured on wedding blogs – which is a big and ongoing boost to my Google rankings. I sold albums and therefore made even more income. I’ve had referrals from those weddings which have led to more bookings. In short, I identified that offering a discount at this stage of my business was beneficial and I used it in the same way as I would any marketing tool. Was I a failure because I had discounted? I certainly didn’t feel like it. Should other photographers pity me because I resorted to discounting my normal prices? Well, they can if they like but I wont be paying them much attention.
My conclusion – discounts can work very well for your business but they should be a thought out and determined part of your marketing strategy. Be clear on the reason you’re discounting and how long you need to do it for.
When not to use discounts…..
I rarely offer discounts any more. I don’t really need to. But I’m still very pragmatic about my pricing. If a client comes to me with an enquiry for a Tuesday in December but their on a tight budget you bet I’ll try and work something out for them. But I don’t NEED to discount at the moment. That doesn’t mean I won’t do it again in the future.
So whilst I would never dream of telling you what you should and shouldn’t do (heaven forbid) here’s a few situations where I think discounting is not the way forward….
Don’t let fear be the basis to offer a discount – if you’re getting a decent number of enquiries then learn to hold your nerve. The likely situation is – you’ll book a discounted wedding, you’ll get an enquiry for the same date from someone willing to pay full price, you’ll have to turn them away, you’ll be pissed off, you’ll resent shooting the discounted wedding. If you do seem to be getting a lot of people coming back to you to say you’re too expensive, have a fresh look at your marketing strategy – there might be something you’re overlooking. You’re only too expensive for them. There are people out there who’ll happily pay your prices – you just have to get in front of them.
Don’t let your inability to say no determine if you offer a discount – customers will sometimes ask if you can offer a discount. Here a few reasons I’ve been given by people asking for a discount – it’s a midweek wedding, it’s a small wedding so therefore ‘easier’ to photograph (not actually true), they were aspiring models and would look great on my portfolio (seriously) or more commonly, I’m out of their budget. All perfectly valid reasons (well maybe not the aspiring model one) but that doesn’t mean I’m obligated to say yes to them. I’ve found that more often than not, even when I politely but firmly refuse to discount, those people still come back to book.
Don’t use discounts as a safety blanket – if discounts are the only way you’re booking customers then perhaps you need to take a look at your marketing strategy as a whole and find out what’s missing. I’m not saying you’re in the wrong. Perhaps you discount every wedding but you spend nothing on advertising at all. Does that make you a worse photographer or business owner than the guy who books full price weddings but spends a fortune on advertising? Nope. Definitely not. But if you’re relying on discounting to make bookings that might end up getting you in trouble – there’s always someone willing to discount more!
Don’t discount without a plan – think about why you’re offering a discount. Do you need to build your portfolio, increase your bookings for a certain month or secure a certain number of bookings so you can leave your full time job? Whatever the reason, don’t discount for the sake of it. Have a timeline in mind – I wanted 6 winter bookings, after that I removed my discount. Maybe you need 10 secure bookings for next year before you leave work? Once you’ve achieved that number rethink you discount. Avoid offering discounts for weddings too far away – your filling your diary up prematurely and will probably regret it.
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