Requests for discounts can be a pain in the backside! We’ve all been there… You’ve spent countless hours honing your craft, working out your packages and pricing, spreading the word about what you do, and then hooray – someone gets in touch wanting you to take some photos for them! But before you can rejoice in the booking, here come the dreaded words… “Can you do a discount?”
It’s so soul destroying and can feel like a real kick in the teeth after all the hard work you’ve put in to your business, and how much you need, want and deserve the income. It can bring up all sorts of difficult emotions and can feel so hard to navigate, especially for those of us who have money mindset issues (*raises own hand!*) and especially when you’re in the early days of your business when you’re desperate for any work you can get and might not feel as confident in your own value.
These requests for discounts will come from one of two camps, and each can be dealt with slightly differently:
a) Potential clients (telling you that another photographer is cheaper, they only have £x to spend etc)
b) Friends and family (asking for you to do it for free or at ‘mates rates’ etc)
In this blog post I’ll cover the first one – potential clients asking for discounts – and in next week’s blog post I’ll cover the thorny issue of friends and family requests for discounts 🙂
So, here are my 10 top tips for responding to regular enquiries who send you requests for discounts…
1) Take out the emotion
You may be feeling a whole load of emotions, but try not to let those bleed into your response. Staying emotion-free will help you stay calm as you won’t rile yourself up while responding – we’ve all done angry/resentful typing at some point and it can actually make you feel worse not better! It will also help to keep the client’s response emotion-free as an emotional response from you can easily trigger a more emotional response from them, making things escalate and becoming more unpleasant for you both.
Respond in the same way as you would any other simple, non-emotional request, such as, ‘Can you travel to X location?’ or ‘Do you use flash?’ Keep it calm and respectful, state the facts, and that’s it.
2) You’re not responsible for what people can and can’t afford
It is not your responsibility to ensure that everyone everywhere can afford what you’re selling. People don’t have a god-given right to be able to buy whatever they want. Of course it’s different when it comes to essentials like gas and electricity – we all need them and have the right to be able to afford them and complain when they’re priced too high, as they are at the moment. But professional photography is optional – it’s a ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘must’.
There are loads of optional things I’d love to have but that I can’t afford. That doesn’t mean that they should be cheaper. It just means that either I have to a) save up for them, b) accept that I can’t have them and move on, or c) find a more affordable alternative. What I can and can’t afford is my responsibility, no-one else’s.
3) Some people will always ask everyone for discounts
Just because someone asks you for a discount, you still don’t really know what they actually can and can’t afford, so don’t assume they can’t afford you. There are some people who always by default try to haggle people down and get a ‘bargain’ – it’s just something they always do as standard, thinking, ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get.’
I’ve met lots of people who say they always do this automatically just incase they can actually get it for cheaper. I’ve seen this evidenced by many people who have asked me if I can discount but have still immediately booked with no complaints when I’ve said no.
4) What people can ‘afford’ is usually totally subjective
Of course sometimes people simply don’t have any or much disposable income so absolutely can’t afford any optional purchases or luxuries – but when this is the case, do remember that people in this position are unlikely to be enquiring with a professional photographer in the first place. Those who do have some disposable income will allocate that according to their own personal priorities and preferences – what they can ‘afford’ depends on what the item is and how much they value it.
For example, with wedding photography, I’ve heard people say they can only afford to spend £500 on a wedding photographer, but they are spending £2k on flowers and £2k on a dress. It isn’t that they can’t afford to spend more on wedding photography, it’s that they VALUE the dress and the flowers more. Someone else will spend £3.5k on photography but £500 on flowers and £500 on a dress, because it’s the photography that they really value the most. Both people have exactly the same £4.5k budget, but the first person would say that they couldn’t remotely afford to spend £2.5k on photography, and the second person would say that they couldn’t remotely afford to spend £2k on flowers.
‘Afford’ is subjective, and based on how highly people value/prioritise that thing. Don’t reduce your prices for someone who simply doesn’t value what you do – price yourself for those who value it.
5) Decide when you are ARE willing to discount
Discounts in themselves aren’t always bad. Sometimes it’s a good idea to discount, and it can benefit you too. The key thing to remember is to discount in a mindful, proactive way, not in an ad hoc, reactive way. For example, sometimes people offer discounts for weekday and/or off-season shoots because those spots are harder to fill and actually offering discounts for these helps everyone involved. Sometimes people offer discounts if people block-book multiple shoots, or if they buddy up with a friend and both book shoots at the same time because that benefits everyone, including you. Similarly, it’s totally fine to run special offers where people can snap up your shoots at reduced prices for a limited time. You can also offer rewards and discounts for referrals and repeat clients.
The difference between these things and responding to a random request for a discount is that it is YOU who are in control of this, and it’s a mindful decision you’ve made that will benefit your business. You can always tell people to pop themselves on your mailing list so they’re the first to hear when special offers are available and/or let them know about your referral/loyalty schemes and which types of shoots and options are cheaper. That way, you’re helping them locate cheaper prices whilst not compromising your integrity or discounting your regular shoots.
6) Be wary of offers of ‘good publicity’ in exchange for discounts
In my experience this rarely generates enough benefit, if any, to compensate you for the money you lose by discounting. You’re relying on the other person sharing your work or name in a way that genuinely benefits you and sadly, a credit or a brief mention on social media rarely does this.
If you do want to discount your work in exchange for publicity, be really specific about exactly what you want them to do in return, get it in writing and get them to sign it so it’s an official agreement rather than a vague promise. I have a detailed training in The Shutterhood to help you map out and execute well-planned and mutually beneficial collaborations.
7) Put your prices in a well-designed brochure
When your prices are listed in a professional and slick brochure, people are a lot less likely to ask for discounts as the prices appear much more ‘fixed’ than when you’re simply listing them in an email or similar. Sending a brochure also removes any conversations about pricing that can feel emotional or difficult – you simply present them with a document that lays it all out in black and white.
8) Have a stock phrase to send out to requests for discounts
Most email software allows you to create canned responses – make sure you have one in there relating to discount requests – this will again help to remove any emotion from the conversation. Personally I say, “In the interests of fairness to all my existing clients who have paid full price and due to high demand for dates, I don’t offer discounts.”
9) Have a stock phrase to send out to, “Photographer X is cheaper”
It can be extra frustrating when a request for a discount is exacerbated by them pointing out that someone else charges less. Similarly, take the emotion out of your response to this by having a set, canned phrase that you can send out. Don’t let any bitterness or justification creep in – again, keep it positive and factual.
Personally I say, “Photography is no different to any other industry, product or service, in that prices vary considerably depending on a whole variety of factors including talent, skill, demand and experience. I can’t comment on the quality of the work or the experience, talent or demand for the other photographers you’ve seen, but if you like their pictures as much as mine and they are a lot cheaper then by all means, it sounds like you’ve found a bargain, so please do snap them up!” I find that some people still go on to book after I’ve sent this email and by sending a positive and friendly email like this, we’re still able to work together on great terms from the outset.
10) Never complain, never explain.
To draw together all of the previous points, this is a fantastic well-known phrase to apply to your business. You don’t need to explain or justify your prices to anyone. You have priced your work at a figure that makes sense to you and your business, that allows you to continue working as a photographer, and it’s no one else’s business to question it or ask you to change it. You aren’t forcing anyone to pay it, they can take it or leave it.
Similarly however, you can’t expect everyone to be totally on board with your prices – people are allowed to feel however they feel about them, and it’s fine for them to disagree with you about what is ‘reasonable’. It’s not your business to try to change their minds or to get annoyed with them for wanting you to be cheaper. When you start to complain in your response (e.g. listing all photographers’ expenses, telling them how much time and money it took to get to where you are now, trying to justify why we charge what we do), you start to sound emotional and resentful and it can come across as whiny and patronising, even though what you’re saying may be totally true and justified.
Stay positive, don’t lecture them, just state your prices and let them respond in whatever way they wish – you just keep holding your head high and move forward. They might not appreciate your value but others will and it is those people on whom you want to focus your energies.
I hope this has been helpful to you in navigating requests for discounts from clients – do feel free to check out my other blog post containing advice regarding friends and family discounts!
Do you have any of your own strategies to respond to requests like these? I’d love to hear them.
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