To list or not list your prices on your website…that is the question.
Any photographer with a website has probably faced the pricing dilemma. No, not how to price your images. That’s a WHOLE other can of worms. The one about posting prices. Should you list your prices on your website? It’s one of those weird, polarizing topics in photography. Some people say yes. Others scream “NO!” so loudly when you mention it, you fear for your life. So who is right? Today we’ll talk about the pros and cons of listing prices. Then you can decide what’s best for your photography business.
You are not alone
Before we start, know you aren’t alone in this debate. Other photographers struggle with this question, as well as other artists, freelancers and coaches. Everyone from painters to graphic designers and personal trainers wonders if listing their prices publicly, especially on a website, is the right answer.
There is no one right answer
I don’t care what some woman on a photography site says…there is no one right answer to this question. (Yes, I realize the irony in that I am a woman on a photography site saying this.)
If there was a perfect answer, we’d all do it the same way and I wouldn’t need to write a post about it. And there are no studies or research I know demonstrating that either way is more effective. So don’t be bullied into doing something that doesn’t feel right to you because there is no right or wrong answer on this. Know that it’s a personal decision, it’s probably not as big of a deal as you think it is right now and that one answer is not right for everyone!
There, that’s out of the way.…now we can have some debate.
Why should you list your prices on your website?
We’ll start with the reasons why you might want to list your prices on your website.
Transparency creates trust
Clients may appreciate seeing your prices upfront and feel more inclined to trust you. The client feels you aren’t changing your prices based on what you think she can afford to pay. So she thinks you are honest and fair.
Transparency saves time
Listing your prices on your website saves you time by weeding out the bargain shoppers. If your sessions start at $500 and are all in-person sales, you’re not a good match for a customer who wants all the digitals for $50. For example, how many times have you had an inquiry go like this?
Customer: Oh my gosh, I so want to shoot with you. Your work is amazing. How much is a session?
You: Thank you for the kind compliments! The session investment depends on session length, how many family members are involved, location and what end products you want. If you can provide me with some information, I’d be happy to work up a custom quote for you. I’d love to visit with you on the phone so we can discuss your needs. What’s a good number to reach you at? Is now a good time to visit?
Customer: I don’t have time for a phone call. I just want to know how much for a session with me and my family. There will be four of us. I want to shoot at the beach. How much for an hour session?
You: I have a few different options available. Again, I’d love to visit with you on the phone about your needs specifically and tailor something to them.
Customer: I just need a price.
When you give up on having a conversation, it goes something like this…
You: My family beach sessions start at $500, depending on location and the specific package you get.
Customer: Does that include all the digitals?
You: I do offer all-inclusive pricing. My all-inclusive price for a family session starts at $700.
Customer: Seven hundred dollars? What happened to five hundred? You are too expensive. There’s a lady on Facebook that will give me all my images on a CD for $50. I really want to shoot with you, but I’m a single mom on a budget. There’s no way I can afford $700 for family pictures. That’s my rent payment. Go rip off someone else.
Conversations like these tax your time, patience and even your self-confidence. You can save yourself the time of responding to those inquiries and the effort of trying to justify your pricing by listing it right on your site.
Believe in Yourself
Posting your prices makes you know, commit to and believe in your own value. Be proud of your work and know and share your worth. Committing to your prices publicly may help you keep strong in the face of pressure to offer discounts. For example, when an acquaintance asks for a “Friend” discount, you can tell him something like, “The prices listed on my website are my prices for all clients right now. Giving you a discount would be unfair to other clients.”
Prices are non-negotiable
Some customers take unlisted prices as a sign that you want to negotiate. When deciding if you should list your prices on your website, be prepared for the negotiators. These souls thrive on scoring a great deal and will try to get you to come down on your price session. If you don’t have anything in black and white, it becomes easier for them to move you off-center.
Avoid sticker shock
What’s sticker shock? Let me tell you a little story.
A few months ago, I went into a craft store with a coupon for a custom framing job. The coupon was good for 70 percent off a custom job. I had hoped to get one of my landscape prints framed as a gift for my mom.
I tried to start the conversation by asking the clerk if I could see frames and mattes that fell in my budget, which was around $200. She ignored that request and told me instead to pick out some frames and mattes and we’d work it backward, but that she was sure we could get something in my budget. I asked what the prices of the frames were and if she could point me to something in my price range. She refused to give me any prices upfront. Instead, I spent 30 minutes picking out the frame, matte, and glass and her calculating the price. Including my coupon, the final price was more than $900.
I believe my exact words were “That’s with the coupon? Holy crap! I can’t pay that. It’s a $22 print.”
“You picked one of our most expensive frames,” the clerk told me, in a not entirely friendly tone. “What did you expect? Perhaps you need to shop our premade frames instead.”
“How am I supposed to freaking know the frame itself was $600? You don’t list any prices!” I argued back.
Definitely not my finest hour. But the point is, I was suffering from sticker shock. I had a budget in mind but with no prices listed I couldn’t determine that a custom frame job here was well out of my price range. When I was hit with the final price, I felt deceived and then pressured and then inferior because I couldn’t afford the product. Definitely not how you want any customer to feel! I’m also sure the clerk felt like I’d wasted her time.
When you list your prices on your website, you avoid shocking your clients and putting them on the defensive when you finally do reveal a price.
Customers don’t like pricing discussions
If you don’t list your prices, clients are forced to contact you and discuss price. Not only is it more work for the customer (thinking find an e-mail or phone number, writing the e-mail, sending a text or making a call), it starts price conversations and even negotiations. And some people will do ANYTHING to avoid price conversations, so they simply move on to another photographer. If you list your prices upfront, customers have the information they need to make a decision before they ever contact you. You can all avoid the pricing discussions.
The Downside of Listing Your Prices
There are some really good arguments to list your prices on your website. But before you fire up Word Press and start making changes, consider the following. There are indeed some drawbacks to having your prices listed. These arguments are legitimate. But you need to decide if they reflect your ideals, your client base and your personality.
Pricing needs to be flexible
Sometimes your pricing really does need to be flexible. A client might have very specific requests that fall outside of a typical session. For example, I would price a small backyard wedding with 50 people much differently than a downtown hotel wedding with 500 guests and 12 attendants on each side, even if both want me for the same amount of time. Why?
Because, based on my experience, one is going to be much more demanding and involved to shoot, edit and deliver.
Some services are also hard to give a one-size-fits-all price too, as well. Product and commercial photography jobs can vary wildly in terms of work and expectations. Custom quotes give the photographer the ability to build a price that makes sense for each job.
Listing prices can lead to clients price shopping photography services. The thought is, if the client can see your price, she will immediately begin comparing you to other photographers based on price alone. She won’t compare work or experience or style…just the bottom line. Some clients may even try to engage you in a price war.
I know, I know…I just made the case that you should list your prices to avoid sticker shock and here I’m telling you it’s a reason not to list your prices. These are confusing times my friend.
If you list your prices on your website, that might be the first thing a client sees…the price. If it’s much higher than he believed it would be he’ll have sticker shock and may just move on to another photographer without ever looking at your work or what he actually gets for that money.
However, if that same client has to call you for a quote, you have time to build a rapport with the client and explain what is included with the price. When you finally name the price, it doesn’t create sticker shock because he now understands the value.
You don’t have a chance to add value
You are your best asset. Your personality, your kindness, your warmth, your humor…all of that adds value to your services. But you’ll never get a chance to demonstrate any of that via a pricing list. Clients will see the prices, deem them too expensive and move on.
But if a client has to contact you for a price, you have a chance to begin adding value to your services during those initial conversations. You aren’t justifying your prices, exactly, but instead forging connections and building rapport before and even after you name a price. You don’t get a chance to do that if they never contact you.
Low prices equals low quality?
There are clients out there that might actually be put off by your low prices, believing they are indicative of low quality. Where you believe your pricing is fair and you actually bill yourself as a great value for the money, the client sees an inferior product.
This might sound crazy to you, but let me give you an example.
If you were looking at sofas, and saw four identical options (or at least close enough to identical to your mind) but one was half the price of the others, would you just snap that sofa up with no questions asked? Or would you eye that low price tag suspiciously and say “What’s wrong with it? Why is it so much cheaper than the others?”
Some photography customers think the same way. If your prices are lower than those of your competitors, what’s wrong with you? What don’t they know? Where’s the catch?
You enable the competition
When you list your prices on your website, your competition can easily find those prices as well and use them against you.
(For the record, your pricing should be based on your cost of doing business, your goals, your experience and your market. I never recommend pulling a price out of thin air or basing your prices on the competition. But it happens.)
A Hybrid Approach
One technique common among photographers and other service professionals is to list a price as a starting point, but leave room to adjust prices up as needed. Instead of saying a family session costs $500 and then give the parameters of your session (up to five people, 45 minutes, 1 location, no clothing change, etc.), you simply list your prices on your website as “Family sessions starting at $450.”
This approach lets clients know the general price point of working with you, but still allows you room to develop a custom quote based on the clients’ specific circumstances.
Again, this isn’t a perfect approach for everyone. But it’s something to consider!
Sales vs. Marketing
One of the best discussions I’ve read on should you list your prices on your website laid it out as a sales vs. marketing discussion.
By not listing or publishing your prices, you are turning every inquiry you into a sales pitch. Yes, you’ll have the opportunity to establish value and build personal connections. But ultimately, you are working to “close the sale” so to speak.
If you publish your prices, you avoid those uncomfortable price conversations. Instead, you know your client knows your prices and is ready to work with you and you can begin to immediately take care of their needs. You can also focus your attention not on selling one individual on your prices, but marketing your price point to the right audience.
As the author of the piece said, you need to decide if you want to work in sales or want to focus on marketing and let that be your driving factor.
Should you call it Pricing or Investment
There’s also some debate on what to call your pricing. Some photographers use the term “Investment.” I think the belief is that investment implies value. Clients aren’t getting a product, they are investing in the experience of shooting with you.
Similarly, I know photographers never use the words cost or price. Instead, they say things like “my sessions are valued at $XYZ.”
I’ll let you parse the psychological nuances of the language. Know that either term works just fine. Don’t get too hung up on it.
How to list your prices
Here are two little bits of psychology to employ if you do decide to list your prices on your site. First, list your prices from most expensive to least expensive. Why? The first price listed sets the baseline in the customers’ minds. That is their starting point and they’ll compare subsequent prices to that price point.
Finally, if you have three or more options, make your middle package the one you really want clients to book and the best value of the three.
These two steps psychologically soften up your client and lead them to your middle package.
There are many different pricing tricks, er, strategies, you can employ to direct people to pay what you want them to pay, as discussed in the video below.
To list or not to list
The issue of should you list your prices on your website isn’t only a tricky subject for photographers. Makeup artists, hairstylists, graphic designers, and other service professionals struggle with the subject, too.
The truth is, there are highly successful photographers (and other entrepreneurs) out there who list their prices. And there are highly successful photographers out there who don’t list their prices. Take some time to weigh the pros and cons of publishing your prices. Then make the decision that feels right for you and your business. If you’re operating from a place of authenticity, your decision will feel better and inspire confidence in you to abide by it moving forward.