From Price Wars to Creative Success: How to Differentiate Your Photography Business

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With all the education that is available on the business of photography, photographers still seem to struggle with the concept of “competing on price.” They say they’re constantly dealing with inquiries trying to low-ball, price-shop or “haggle” their prices.

This article is a direct, highly actionable and incredibly specific guide to not competing on price. First, let’s explore the opposite, and assume that everyone does want to compete on price.

Competing on price

If you wanted to compete on price, how would you?

The word “compete” by definition means to “win by defeat”, so in the context of competing on price, it literally means to win by defeating everyone else’s price.

Competing on price means you must defeat every other photographer’s prices.

In order to defeat every other photographer’s prices, you must have the lowest prices in your market. The average market has at least 100 photographers, and so there’s only 1% of photographers who can actually compete on price, because only one photographer can be the lowest, right?

If you are that 1% and you can compete on price, then your best strategy would be to make everything you do about your price, since that’s what makes you competitive. Here are 4 steps to compete on price:

  1. Talk exclusively about price.
  2. Discount often to show that your price is always the best.
  3. Give away pricing information up front because that’s what makes you different.
  4. Make it a transaction. Don’t waste time building a relationship – just give the prices, do the work and get out.

Well, that was easy! If you are the 1%, then the conversation is over. I’ve just given you a roadmap on exactly how to compete on price and you can stop reading the rest of the article now.

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… If you’re still with me, I’m guessing that you’re not that 1% and you don’t want to compete on price. After all, you did click an article titled “How to not compete on price”, right?

Learning from the 1% of photographer’s who do compete on price

If the photographer who is competing on price is making it “all about the price”, then the photographer who is not competing on price needs to make it not about the price. You need to do the opposite of what the 1% is doing, so let’s look at the opposite of the 4 steps we outlined above:

The best way to NOT compete on price is to NOT make it about price!

  • Don’t talk about price exclusively.
  • Don’t discount.
  • Don’t give away all pricing information before building value.
  • Don’t treat clients as just a transaction.

There we have it – 4 foundations to not competing on price. Print them out, hang them by your computer and follow them every day. It’s a great first step in the right direction.

Most clients aren’t actually price shopping

If you want to be type of photographer who doesn’t compete on price, and you’ve adapted the four basic foundations of not competing on price above, then let’s give you some actionable, concrete, “how-to” ways to do so.

First, let’s have a quick mindset discussion.

What if I told you that your clients aren’t actually constantly trying to low-ball, price shop or “haggle” your prices? What if I told you to your clients really aren’t just interested in price? What if I told you that this is just a story you’re making up in your head?

You might say “well Bryan, whenever I get an inquiry, I’m asked how much a portrait session is, and that’s because they only care about the price.” Or perhaps you’ll say “the first thing a potential client asks me in a consultation is how much my prints are, so that’s all they care about.”

Sure, they call and ask about price, but think about it for a moment, though. Last time you called a mechanic to get a new set of tires, did you say “Can you explain the line-up of tires you have, and the distinct benefits that each of them offers me? What will be the best tire for my driving habits and lifestyle?”

No! You probably called and asked “How much are tires for my car?”, didn’t you? Does that mean that you were low-balling, price-shopping or “haggling” their prices? Not necessarily. It just means you didn’t know what else to ask and you were hoping that the salesperson on the other end of the line would go into a “discovery” process with you, assess your needs, educate you and properly recommend a set of tires.

Why we ask about price

We only ask about price because we don’t know what else to ask about.

Therefore, we can understand that a clients calls and asks us about price because they don’t know what else to ask about. They wouldn’t call and say “I am really busy with my job, and I want to have a portrait that captures the essence of my family to hang on my wall so that I can be reminded every day that all the hard work is worth it.” That may be what they want out of their experience with us, but it’s not what they’ll call telling us about.

A client calls you or inquires with you because they are interested in what you do and what you can provide for them. They only ask about price because they don’t know any better. It’s up to us to guide that conversation and make a connection.

Most clients aren’t price-shopping, they just don’t know what else to ask about. We have to help.

If we agree that most prospects aren’t calling to price-shop, then we can adopt the right mindset when we pick up the phone and start the conversation. There’s nothing worse than answering the phone, assuming that the prospect is “price shopping” and then go into “justification” mode. When you do this, you’re starting out on the wrong foot.

Instead, know that your clients are really just wanting to have a conversation, and it’s up to you to guide that conversation. Instead of simply answering their “default” questions about price and closing the conversation there, open up a dialog with them and find out more about what they’re hoping to get out of the session.

How to not compete on price

There is a 6 step process you must follow to successfully not compete on price in your photography business.

Let’s get real specific here.

There is a 6 step process you must follow to successfully not compete on price in your photography business. This process happens twice for every client you book – once without your direct involvement, which I call the pre-inquiry process, and once with your direct involvement, which I call the inquiry process.

The first time through the process (the pre-inquiry process) is when the prospect is researching, looking at options, asking around, Googl’ing you, visiting your website, reading testimonials, checking out your work, following you on social media, and so on. The second time through the process (the inquiry process) is once they inquire and then you are more directly involved in the process.

Whether you like it or not and whether you know it or not, this process is happening twice. When you aren’t intentionally optimizing this process, you’re leaving your bookings up to fate and based on conditions outside of your control. Be purposeful and design a business that is guaranteed to not only have a steady flow of inquiries, but also a steady stream of bookings, all of which are based on not competing on price.

The 6 steps are as follows:

  1. Experience
  2. Relationship
  3. Differentiation
  4. Proof
  5. Expectations
  6. Language

Here are 31 ways to not compete on price, as it relates to these 6 steps.

Step #1 – Experience

  • Have a killer website
  • Respond quickly
  • Create value up front
  • Follow-up on inquiries
  • Have a great studio and meeting space
  • Give great service

Step #2 – Relationships

  • Meet with them – don’t just give everything over the phone
  • Develop a relationship and create a connection
  • Make it about more than just the photography
  • Connect on social media

Step #3 – Differentiate

  • Make sure your photography is different and unique – why you?
  • Be the best photographer you can possibly be
  • Understand why you do what you do, and communicate that clearly
  • Be memorable and have something remarkably different to offer

Step #4 – Proof

  • Show Testimonials
  • Encourage referrals
  • Build credibility
  • Utilize social proof through social media
  • Get on referral lists
  • Blog often – success breeds success
  • Seek positive PR opportunities – be seen as the expert
  • Win awards and be proud to show them off
  • Show behind-the-scenes photos and/or videos of you working

Step #5 – Expectations

  • Exceed expectations at every point
  • Set boundaries and policies
  • Educate your prospects and potential clients

Step #6 – Language

  • Tell stories
  • Have options
  • Don’t discount – EVER
  • Be confident
  • Be professional

Action item

What to do next

Implement one item from the list above into your business for the next month. If you do, in 1 month (31 days), you’ll have a business that will be 100x better than where it is today, and you will no longer be competing on price.

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