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Thread: How to screen and choose clients

  1. #1

    Default How to screen and choose clients

    One of the many romances I heard working as a young photographer in the early 90s was of wedding photographers who keep raising prices every two months until a point of time they are so expensive and yet so popular, that its them who chose the clients instead of clients choosing them. Undoubtedly these are the stories that mislead people to believe photography as a highly lucrative market and made everyone with a camera wants to get in. It was true for some individual but not for most. As I said before, photography calls out to many, but chose only a few. It was hard back then, it is even harder today with the advent of technology (easier entry) and popularity of the camera hobby (more supply than demand).

    So new and young professional photographers, hungry for jobs, takes any and all jobs. They believe they are not in the position to choose clients, and that privilege was something aloft and reserved only for the big time successful photographers. Not entirely true. Little do you know that, what clients you chose in the early part of your career, actually results in what kind of photographer you will end up becoming. It is not hard to imagine why. First is referrals, if you shoot for budget blog shops, other budget blog shops owners will be looking for your services, your portfolio will be budget blog shop pictures. If you shoot a lawyer cousin's wedding for free, do an amazing job, get your work out in front of his lawyer friends, you might land another wedding, lawyer marrying a banker, etc, and then you get a banker's wedding, etc. If you do a free shoot for a NGO charity event, knowing that event guest list consist of many big business, and on event day a few executives and secretaries asked for your business cards, weeks later you might be shooting a corporate or commercial job for them.

    Birds of feathers, flock together. At the start of your new bird career, eagle or cuckoo bird, you choose.

    Here are some personal guidelines, final decision is of course your choice:

    Bad - Clients who ask what equipment you use. They are measuring your abilities by your equipment, totally have no respect for your skills as a photographer. The problem could them - some just picked up a camera hobby and *thinks* they know more than you. The problem could be you - you never gave them any confidence to start with, could be your presentation, very possibly could be your very low pricing.

    Good - Clients who ask what equipment you use - if they are also industry players hiring you not a a consumer, but as a business hiring a sub-contractor. Common scenario wedding photogs wants their second shooter to have same RAW files readability. Advertising client wants to know if your product can be printed big, ie medium format vs small format... etc.

    Bad - Clients who ask for your price. Its bad when its at the lower segment price market because clients are not considering your photography, they are price shopping for the cheapest deal. If you are cheap, there will always someone that will be cheaper or free. Why lower yourself to compete in that segment that only tired you out and discourage you in the long run? If they don't need quality for that job, what makes you think that portfolio or exposure will help or further your photography business? Remember if you are a good deal for being cheap, you are going to be very cheaply popular, filled with cheap jobs that saps your energy, your creativity, and keep you busy from getting better jobs. Why you are busy serving nasty cheap clients, other photographers are booking better jobs because they have time you don't.

    Good - Clients who ask for your price. Its good when you are decently priced to be profitable, competitive and market-healthy. Clients ask because they want to know if they can afford you. If they cannot, they either don't waste your time, or they find means to afford you. Or they negotiate for a mid ground. Either way is good.

    Bad - Clients who ask you to shoot for free in the name of charity and exposure. As Hart mentioned in another thread, decide what kind of exposures you are getting, from what kind of people, are those kind of people the type you want to attract? Most likely not. And how many of them? And is the client capable of paying you in the first place but don't want to, and just making use of you?

    Good - Clients who ask you to shoot for free in the name of charity and exposure. I think I mentioned somewhere that I had volunteered to shoot for free for a NGO but ended up they insist on paying my full rates because as a reputable NGO with big time sponsors from big companies, they don't believe in short changing a humble working photographer earning a photographer's pay. The point is - choose wisely.

    Bad - Clients who don't know what they want, beat around the bush and wants you to start work, yet ignore your terms and don't sign your agreement. Run. Run away from them. They want you work first, if they like, then they pay, and they will try to pay peanuts. If they don't like, they just played you round and round in circles like a monkey.

    Good - Clients who don't know what they want, but wants you to lead them. Take it - this is where you have creativity freedom and maybe your big break if is a big client, - but have a solidly written agreement for contingencies and payment in case of the work not suitable or not used, so that you won't work for nothing - or look like a fool.

    What kind of clients you chose could very well determine what kind of photographer you will end up being.

    Please feel free to add your insights to the list.
    Last edited by JasonB; 15th January 2012 at 11:39 AM. Reason: Restructure for clarity and add points.

  2. #2
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    Very insightful. What might had look like the same can be so different after looking deeper into the details.
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  3. #3

    Default Re: How to screen and choose clients

    When one is starting out, it is hard to stay firm and not get tempted by any jobs that come your way, paying, cheapo or otherwise. But this has been truly insightful. Thanks Jason.
    Alpha
    Want to get back to photography

  4. #4

    Default Re: How to screen and choose clients

    Very insightful post...

    I guess, many, including myself, did the wrong thing when I first started because I think it was the "priority" to get more assignment. But I was wrong. Nobody tell me what to do.... so I created series of post and free business talk to help people who want to help themselves... and hoping one day, they will help someone else in return.

    Screening level of clientele is needed because ultimately, apart from running the business like a business, photography is unfortunately, a very personal business. Because it is personal, people do get hurt by having wrong type of clients. There isn't really a bad clients to be honest, there will be just clients who do fit in the way how one run their business.

    By screening clients, I don't mean that you try to apple polish people who you think "have money" and don't serve people who appear to be "normal people". You will get it wrong every time, so don't try to classify your clients this way.

    Here are steps what I do to screen my potential clients:
    1. Charge a creative fee
    What this mean is, I will charge a fee for me to do my work, it will cover my cost in running my business.

    Clients who is looking for a "package" naturally will turn to someone else as it is difficult for them to understand why a photographer charge to do his/her work.

    However, what it means to me is that, I am not force in a state where I need to "cover" my loses by selling more products later, hence the typical "hard-selling" is eliminated. This will in turn, give clients who appreciate the flexibility in selecting product of their choice at the comfort of their own home. With charging a fee to do my work, it also give me the leverage in spending all necessary time to do my work so I can produce the best work that I could produce and continue to push myself to the next level.

    2. Price list on my website
    This is important to me as I do get quite a lot of emails a day everyday and most of them just want to know how I charge. By putting the price up on the website, it gives the clients a chance to read, understand and ask further questions if they are ok with your pricing structure as well as your work. Of course, this will turn some potential clients off, because they really don't know what they will be getting by just looking at the price.

    I used to sit down for at least 3-4 hours a day, just replying emails and mostly to do with charge, and I could hit a staggering 20-30 enquiries a day but my take up rates perhaps about 50% or less. However, with the pricing up on my website, I received 30-40 enquiries a month and generally results in over 95% booking rate. So I save time replying to the right clients who is interested with my service.

    Also, there were quite a lot of "competitors" who pose as clients who want to know how I charge, so I just put it up so they don't have to ask.... hahaha... They do exist and some actually ask me honestly... I don't mind it at all.

    3. Don't take last minute job, unless it is existing clients who already know how I work, some exception apply.
    By not taking the last minute job, you have time to answer any queries and explains how you work so you don't get caught out because clients assume they know and you think they know... this can potentially a problematic, just because, you don't match the right service to the right audience.

    Some might flock to my website and download my price list, but please make sure you don't blindly copying my price list and reduce it by a percentage and then use it as yours... this is a sure fail methods, sure you can have a think why I do certain thing.. but to be effectively make up a price list of your own, you need to understand your business strength and weaknesses as well as your competitors' and also the general economic situation. You need to understand this by research and gut feeling and with taking some calculated risk, you will make a right price list that fit your work and service as well as your clientele.

    I hope this give you some ideas on how I do my things to match my service to the right clientele. However, finding the "right audience" is another case.

    Regards,

    Hart

  5. #5

    Default Re: How to screen and choose clients

    Thanx for the very insightful follow up post Hart.

    I wish to add some views about copying others price list or even trying to undercut.

    It won't work this way unless you as a person and your business is exactly the same as the person you copied - which is not possible, and especially if his pricing is not based on being cheap - people don't book him due to price. You can undercut but he still get the cake!

    Also people run their business differently and even the originator might take several months or years to fine tune so blindly copying and undercutting could be suicidal for the person copying.

    How many of those threads in Services Wanted hiring budget wedding photographers are actually budget shooters themselves posing as wedding couples - in attempt to undercut each other? Answer is A LOT. For each such thread, there is probably 100 response - all very cheap, many free. In that segment you really have to be free, experienced, good and have no dignity in order to win. Porfolio wise none of them can make it. Don't waste your time there.

    I did not made up those figures. My videographer's niece placed such an ad some months ago, he asked me help choose and shared the email password, fresh new email for the wedding purpose. Damn! 120+ inbox, 90+ unread.

    Too overwhelmed by the sheer number of cheap photogs, worried about the free ones, unsure about the cheap ones - all CMI...

    In the end she went with bridal studio $800 shooter. Result so so but why they still got business day after day for past 20 years? Brand name. Reliability. Or sense of.

    The same reason you buy macdonalds. But if you duplicate Macdonald price and product structure without being a real macdonald branch, you most probably loss the business within 3 months.
    Last edited by JasonB; 16th January 2012 at 03:53 PM.

  6. #6

    Default

    Thanks for the sharing, Hart and Jason.

    I do not deny that I've been to some of the photographer's site to look at pricing. In fact, I've openly told Hart that I've been to his. (At this point I must clarify that it's not just business, I truly have the intention to look at prices and photos for my own wedding sometime next year.)

    Copying and undercuting prices is a sure fail in terms of business as this is often the beginning of pice wars. However, looking at prices would give an indication of what region your price should be. For example, if someone charges $200 - 300 for a simple studio shoot and you charge $88 or $500, you know that you are obviously too low or too high (which may or may not be a bad thing). You could redo your sums and fine-tune your pricing if you so desire.

    I have not tried posing as potential clients to get prices, nor will I in future. I do suspect that some might be wanting to get fellow CS-ers prices and I still respond anyway. For all I know, it might really be business and if it's just photographers getting prices, I don't mind letting them have mine. If they use it wrongly, it will be to their detriment instead of benefit.

    I'm also appalled at how low some can charge. I've heard of people who does studio shooting for $50 per hour (not sure if this can cover the rental and equipment). I don't think many of them know, nor am I sure if I should mention here, but I'm going to do it anyway. According to the Companies Act, failure to register a business with ACRA carries a fine of up to $50000. I'm sure many of the budget photogs are not registered, and I think they really should for their own safety. It also saves you from people who hire you and threatens to report to police (at this point, I'm sure many would offer their services and photos for free. Ultimately, they rather lose that $50 than pay $50000, and the client pays $3.90 to check with ACRA instead of that $50. Lose-win situation.

    Note: Sorry for a long posting, and if any content is not suitable, please PM me and I will remove that part as soon as i can.
    Last edited by Prince Photogenic; 16th January 2012 at 06:49 PM.
    Alpha
    Want to get back to photography

  7. #7

    Default Re: How to screen and choose clients

    OT a little...

    One thing about pricing is, it is sensitive according to the general clientele that you already have. So at any level, there is always a challenge and it is always difficult to really put price on everything unless you understand your business and your clientele fully. There is always some level of risk involved when putting your price out, it is minimise with understanding of the above.

    I am doing my new prices for this year, actually, this will be the 5th revision on this particular price list, as there are a lot to consider, so I thought, since the ideas are still fresh, I will write it.

    and one more thing... I screen my clientele to people who are buying my work but I don't choose my clients. If they appreciate what I do, I am happy to offer them my service.

    Regards,

    Hart
    Last edited by Agetan; 17th January 2012 at 12:19 PM.

  8. #8

    Default Re: How to screen and choose clients

    Quote Originally Posted by Agetan View Post
    OT a little...

    One thing about pricing is, it is sensitive according to the general clientele that you already have. So at any level, there is always a challenge and it is always difficult to really put price on everything unless you understand your business and your clientele fully. There is always some level of risk involved when putting your price out, it is minimise with understanding of the above.

    I am doing my new prices for this year, actually, this will be the 5th revision on this particular price list, as there are a lot to consider, so I thought, since the ideas are still fresh, I will write it.

    and one more thing... I screen my clientele to people who are buying my work but I don't choose my clients. If they appreciate what I do, I am happy to offer them my service.

    Regards,

    Hart
    How should a new photog, who just started out with zero portfolio to show, price his/her services? We often see newbie photogs who slash prices to rockbottom or often free to get their portfolio. In this respect, the clients you serve is likely to be that range if it comes from reccomendation, i think Hart and Jason covered this earlier.

    What if you have an idea of what you are going to charge and display it. Have a little promotion period and state the usual price against the discounted price? Would that work? Hypothetical example: AD Wedding Photography Services - Promotional Price: $400 (U.P. $2500).

    Can the mods sticky this thread? The value that Jason and Hart chip in should be a must-read for any photographer starting out..
    Alpha
    Want to get back to photography

  9. #9
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    Bro, your promotional price sounds like a groupon deal.
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  10. #10

    Default Re: How to screen and choose clients

    Quote Originally Posted by Cowseye View Post
    Bro, your promotional price sounds like a groupon deal.
    LOL.. Bro, hypothetical example mah.. the $400 is actually taken from the HWZ case..
    Alpha
    Want to get back to photography

  11. #11

    Default Re: How to screen and choose clients

    Quote Originally Posted by Prince Photogenic View Post
    How should a new photog, who just started out with zero portfolio to show, price his/her services? We often see newbie photogs who slash prices to rockbottom or often free to get their portfolio. In this respect, the clients you serve is likely to be that range if it comes from reccomendation, i think Hart and Jason covered this earlier.

    What if you have an idea of what you are going to charge and display it. Have a little promotion period and state the usual price against the discounted price? Would that work? Hypothetical example: AD Wedding Photography Services - Promotional Price: $400 (U.P. $2500).

    Can the mods sticky this thread? The value that Jason and Hart chip in should be a must-read for any photographer starting out..
    I think we swift too far from the actual topic.

    My next business talk on 19 Jan is specifically talking about pricing. So if you want to find out how, come and join the talk... hahahaha... shameless self-promotion. But truthfully, it will be beneficial for those who want to understand pricing structure.

    Regards,

    Hart

  12. #12
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    Looking forward to that session Hart
    Equipment: D800|D700|11-16|28-75|105 Micro VR|50 F1.4G|85 F1.8G
    Through the Lens of Cowseye

  13. #13

    Default

    Thanks to your "advertisment" on top, i cancelled by kickboxing class, so that i could attend =P

    Looking forward to your sagely guidance, Hart..
    Alpha
    Want to get back to photography

  14. #14

    Default Re: How to screen and choose clients

    Thx and see you.

  15. #15

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Agetan
    Thx and see you.
    how shall we prepare ourselves?
    Alpha
    Want to get back to photography

  16. #16

    Default Re: How to screen and choose clients

    It's okay to sway a bit off topic as long as the question is good and related.

    Using macdonald as case study again; did macdonald ever worry about their burgers not good enough? No. For that's not the way they get customers. Other things comes into play; location - macdonald business is real estate primary and selling burgers secondary, branding, marketing, advertising, consistency in fulfilling a need. Then think about the product after that.

    Back to photogy, seen the work from budget AD wedding shooters from JB assigned by the bridal studios? Nothing amazing right? But they are shooting 2 weddings every week.

    Share a story.

    Years ago I shot my first editorial work for a high end mag, no relevant portfolio, I shot it in a state of daze, don't know what I was doing. You might be a master in your genre but a baby in another. I got the job from a existing client who thought I am a specialist in that field and referred my number to the editor. The job was actually concluded by their usual photog but due to last minute request by someone important up there, they had to add another pic. She asked for my quote. I really don't know what's market rate so I just whacked a number which I think should be reasonably low but fair. Since i dont want them to think I was preying upon their urgent need. Results of the shoot was terrible. Like any snapshot anyone can take with a compact cam. I feel embarrassed and when the issue goes to print, I felt shame when they gave me a photo credit. I really wished they dont mention my name at all so u can let this blunder be buried and forgotten. My only consolation was that lucky I did not charge them too high.

    I later learned that I had actually charged them nearly 50% more than what they usually pay for a full page, and mine was just a small photo. Seriously I lost sleep. No more calls from them for the next few months and suddenly bam! They want me to shoot for the whole next year (then) column which I done six sessions rotating with another photog.

    Life, is that strange. Of course, I made sure I don't suck anymore and gave my best efforts. I continued to do occasional work for then till they closed the local base and moved the Asian hq to HK.

    Do you need a relevant portfolio to price fairly? Yes, usually, but maybe no. Life is more complicated than 1+1=2.

    Quote Originally Posted by Prince Photogenic View Post
    How should a new photog, who just started out with zero portfolio to show, price his/her services? We often see newbie photogs who slash prices to rockbottom or often free to get their portfolio. In this respect, the clients you serve is likely to be that range if it comes from reccomendation, i think Hart and Jason covered this earlier.

    What if you have an idea of what you are going to charge and display it. Have a little promotion period and state the usual price against the discounted price? Would that work? Hypothetical example: AD Wedding Photography Services - Promotional Price: $400 (U.P. $2500).

    Can the mods sticky this thread? The value that Jason and Hart chip in should be a must-read for any photographer starting out..
    Last edited by JasonB; 19th January 2012 at 10:26 PM.

  17. #17

    Default Re: How to screen and choose clients

    Quote Originally Posted by JasonB View Post

    Do you need a relevant portfolio to price fairly? Yes, usually, but maybe no. Life is more complicated than 1+1=2.
    This has a lot of truth in it... think people who were at the talk last Thursday will know similar thing that I shared with them.

    Take care.

    Regards,

    Hart

  18. #18

    Default Re: How to screen and choose clients

    thank you for the really great insights!

  19. #19
    Moderator ed9119's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to screen and choose clients

    this thread is featured in the Clubsnap Photography Community FB page for more eyeballs

    Thanks Jason

    ClubSNAP Photography Community | Facebook
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  20. #20

    Default Re: How to screen and choose clients

    Many thanx Ed. Happy CNY!

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