In my previous blog post I shared my 10 top tips for dealing with discount requests from potential clients, and this time, as promised, I’m covering the similar thorny issue of friends and family discounts or requests for free shoots.
Personally as a chronic people-pleaser I find this a LOT harder to deal with than potential client requests. In my other blog post relating to client work, I advised you to take the emotion out of your response when clients ask for discounts – but this is so much easier when you don’t know the person asking you! When it’s someone you have a personal relationship with, and especially if it’s someone you love, taking the emotion out can be really tricky, if not impossible!
Conflicting feelings often arise – on one hand, desire to do something nice for them and/or guilt and worry that you should be giving them more… and on the other hand, resentment and/or anguish that you really can’t afford to be working for free or discounted rates. It can be so hard to know what to do and to find a solution that keeps everyone, including yourself, happy.
So, whilst I can’t promise to offer you a pain-free solution, here are my 10 top tips for friends and family discounts – hopefully these will ease things a little for all involved if you’re ever asked by friends and family to work for free or at a discounted rate…
1) Try not to be offended
Certain friends and family can sometimes forget that being a photographer, whilst of course being a very fun job, is still a job. Because lots of people enjoy photography and often take photos themselves, they can fall into the trap of thinking that it’s no more hassle for you to ‘bring your camera along and take a few photos’ than it is for them to whip out their phones or instant cameras and snap away. They think that the only difference is that your photos will be better than theirs because you have a talent for it, and don’t often realise how much additional hard work goes into producing images of a professional quality.
So whilst it’s natural to feel a little offended or aggrieved by requests for friends and family discounts, do try to remember that most likely their request comes more from ignorance of the amount of work involved, rather than from being entitled or uncaring.
2) Remember it IS your job, and it IS hard work
On the other hand, whilst THEY might have a tendency to forget that photography is actually a job, YOU must not. Don’t let yourself be pushed into doing work for free or at a discounted rate when you don’t want to for whatever reason. This is what pays your bills and supports your family. As with any work, you need and want time off from it. Yes, it might be your dream job, but it is still your job, and it requires preparation, concentration, focus, effort and energy, both during and after the event.
Very few people would ask a painter & decorator or an accountant to come to a party and then ask them to paint their bathroom or take a look at their accounts for free while they’re round. You have the same right to relax and enjoy social occasions as anyone else, and the same right to be paid appropriately for the work you undertake.
3) Don’t let your perfectionism get in the way
One of the most common ways that friends and family requests for free photos can land on your doorstep is the old chestnut of asking you to ‘bring your camera along’ to an event you’re already going to be attending. It’s very hard to refuse point blank to ‘bring your camera along’ when it’s been directly requested by someone with whom you have a close personal relationship. Especially with things like family gatherings or important milestones, we also understand the deeper importance of these occasions ourselves and why it’s so valuable for everyone involved to have them documented. Especially if it’s a close family occasion, you may understandably feel that there’s no way you could or would want to refuse.
If it’s a quiet period work-wise and you have the inclination, by all means go to town – give them your usual ‘client treatment’ – shoot and deliver hundreds of images, edit them in your usual style, create a slideshow – whatever you like. However, if you’re really pushed for time and energy, or if you understandably want to be able to relax and enjoy the event yourself, remember you don’t have to deliver what you’d usually give to paying clients – and most likely your loved ones won’t expect this anyway. Don’t let your perfectionism create loads of extra work for yourself.
You don’t have to shoot the whole event, you can decide in advance during which limited time-slots you’ll be working and which you won’t. You can deliver 50 amazing images rather than 300. You can shoot in JPEG rather than RAW, not bother with presets and not spend hours editing your images. You don’t always have to hold yourself to professional standards when you’re not working professionally. You’re still helping out with some wonderful images.
4) Decide in advance those friends & family for whom you ARE prepared to work for free
There’s nothing wrong with working for free – personally I’ve derived so much joy and pleasure from gifting my photography to my absolute nearest and dearest. As mentioned in my last email, though, the key to it feeling positive is for it to be an active decision on your part, rather than a reactive decision in the face of an unexpected request. Think what you usually earn per shoot. This is what you would be gifting them. Very few people would give a £1500 wedding gift or a £500 birthday or ‘new baby’ present. That is what you’ll be doing, so decide who those people are for whom you’d gladly do this with no resentment.
For me, this is a small number of my absolute closest family and friends, the ones I most cherish, those people with whom I talk most frequently or spend a lot of time with, those with whom I share precious memories and a profound bond, people who I love deeply, who have a piece of my heart. For them, I would walk over hot coals, so gifting them photography completely for free causes me no resentment – to the contrary it brings me joy. Decide who these people are for you.
5) Create some ‘working for free’ parameters
Just because you’ve decided you’ll happily work for free for someone doesn’t mean that you then have to give up your prime working slots to do it. If you do this, then not only are you working all those hours for free, but you’re also potentially losing out on the income from another shoot that you could have booked in during that time – so you’re effectively losing out on payment for TWO shoots, not just one. What you’re giving is already very generous, so it’s totally fine to create some boundaries around it.
You could give shorter coverage than your paid shoots. You could give these shoots as Christmas or birthday gifts – they are already extremely generous gifts, so it’s totally reasonable for them to replace a gift that you would have otherwise purchased. You can suggest specific shoot dates that work for you, rather than the other way around. You could do the shoot at a time when you’d be spending time with them anyway, so it’s not using up time that you could have been working and earning income. You could ask them to cover any travel expenses if they aren’t local, so that you’re not out of pocket yourself. If you’re editing the photos, you can let them know the editing will not be done quickly and will have to fit in around paid client work. You could do the shoot in off-season so you’re not running yourself into the ground trying to fit it in during peak season when you’re already running on empty.
6) Decide what other perks/discounts you could give
Chances are, the people above for whom you’d gladly work completely for free are a relatively small group of people. Of course you’ll still have lots of other family and friends who you really do care for but with whom you don’t share the same kind of deep closeness, and most likely this group is quite big! It’s really not reasonable or feasible for you to work for free for all these people. However, you may well want to give them some kind of preferential treatment and work out some kind of friends and family discount system.
Again, decide in advance what this could be when you’re calm and have time to mull it over, don’t let it be a reactive decision made with emotion or urgency. The key is to ensure that you wouldn’t feel any resentment when gifting it – that’s not good for you, or for your relationship with this person, which is more important than money or work. Think through different options and sit with how they feel to you emotionally and energetically.
Of course you could offer a discount, on either session fees or packages, either a fixed amount or a percentage, but this isn’t the only option. You could also offer free printed products, extra time on the shoot, a weekend shoot for the price of a weekday, a larger package for the price of a smaller one, travel expenses waived, two shoots for the price of one etc. Depending on what they do for a living, you could suggest some kind of skill-swap. Brain-dump all the options and get together a list of possibilities that feel ok to you.
Then, when you’re faced with sending prices for a family member or friend, you can consult this list and see which option(s) feels right for that particular situation and that particular person. Choose something that is generous but that you wouldn’t resent – you might not make as much money as you would usually, or might give a lot more of your time, but it still feels positive and worth your while doing it.
7) Send them your brochure
Sometimes resentment can occur because you feel that they don’t appreciate how much you’re actually gifting them. Remember that this is often not their fault! You know how much you usually charge but they may well not do. A good idea is to send them your brochure, ask them to have a read through so they can see how you work, what you usually charge etc. Then you can offer them whatever friends and family discount or bonus you’d like to offer them.
This is a good idea anyway as it’s important they understand your approach, style etc to avoid any potential mismatch of expectations and to help the shoot to run more smoothly, but also it allows them to see in black and white what you’re actually gifting them financially, so they’re more likely to appreciate and not gloss over it.
8) Ask them to recommend you to others and give you a testimonial
You’re giving them preferential treatment because you have a relationship with them, but this works both ways. They can help you too. Ask them to share your work with their network – you can give them copy and paste text and/or an image or Canva graphic to share. It’s more than reasonable to ask people this under any circumstances, but especially when you’ve kindly donated your time and skills to them. Likewise make sure you ask them for a testimonial.
9) Full price is still an option
Remember that you don’t actually have to do ‘mates rates’ at all. Personally whenever I use the services of friends or family I always insist on paying them full whack. The way I see it, it makes me happier to pay one of my loved ones than pay a stranger. Being self-employed myself I know how tough it can be keeping afloat, and how much time, heart and soul gets poured into the work we do, so I always try to respect that and pay full price. Many of your friends and family may well feel the same and may not even ask for a discount in the first place, so don’t feel obliged to offer one if you’ve not been asked.
Similarly, just because you’ve been asked, it doesn’t mean you have to say yes. You can let them know as much as you’d love to be able to offer them a discount, that it’s not feasible for you to do that right now, as you don’t have the financial and/or energetic capacity to manage the loss of income and/or time. Anyone reasonable will accept this.
10) Never complain, sometimes explain
In my other blog post about discounts, I advised adopting the ‘never complain, never explain’ ethos to potential clients asking for discounts – that you don’t owe them an explanation for your prices and shouldn’t start justifying them by listing all your expenses, time involved etc – as this can come across as emotional and patronising, when you need to keep that relationship with them professional. However, sometimes friends and family are the exception to this, because you DO have a personal bond with them and ARE going to have a continuing relationship with them that you want to be amicable and positive.
If they are demonstrating any pressure, unpleasantness or resentment in this matter (thinking you should be discounting more than you’re comfortable with, pushing back on boundaries, getting stroppy etc) then they may actually benefit from hearing your explanations as to why it’s just not possible to discount your work. Just be completely honest. Tell them exactly what you’d be telling me or another photography colleague as to why you don’t feel able to do this work for free or reduced rates for them. You can show them this email, or parts of it, if that helps.
As mentioned in point 1, they may simply not be aware of exactly how much work is involved or exactly how much this would negatively impact you, and if they are reasonable, hearing your explanation might really clarify this and they will accept it so that you can move forward from it in a positive way. If they are not reasonable, then that is another matter altogether – but certainly nothing to do with you, your photography, your business or your pricing.
I hope this has been helpful to you in navigating friends and family discount / freebie requests.
Do you have any of your own strategies to respond to these? I’d love to hear them.
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