Your brand is essentially the character profile of your business.  Here are some "brands" that you may already have come across in your travels.  Before you read them there is a disclaimer: these are fictional companies, conglomerates made up from a number of things that those of us in the biz will recognize in ourselves as places we've been, where we are, or where we want to go.  Don't judge others, and don't feel judged if you recognize yourself below - building a business (and a brand) is a process.

Brand A claims to specialize in children and pet portraits but their Facebook page features little more than a collection of selfies and on-camera flash photos of their own kids and the neighbour's dog when it had puppies.  While you can see some evolution in the level of creativity over the last 18 months, their underdeveloped skill and style at this point could be best described as "Pinterest fails."  They aren't on Instagram or Twitter, the link to their domain is a 404, and what they lack in experience they make up for in enthusiasm - they belong to (and participate in) every photography group ever invented and offer to shoot every referral that shows up regardless of whether they have the requested skills or experience or not.  They write in texting shorthand and struggle with (or don't care about) spelling, punctuation, and grammar.  They brag about being self-taught and feel they know enough already, so they do not like getting advice or feedback even if they ask for it.  When they decide they're ready to expand into weddings, they invite you to Tim Horton's closest to their place for the consult, show up (late) in yoga pants, and then scroll through their outdated FB page on their cell phone with you because they do not have anything else for a portfolio.  They also carry basically every product ever invented from magnets to canvases to sippy cups, but they don't have a price list because signing up for their WHCC account and printing off the catalogue was what made them late.  When it is time to leave, they ask to split the bill.

Success source:; Pinterest fail source: unknown

Brand B has a functional (albeit free) website in addition to a Facebook page that has been recently updated with images from recent sessions.  Content on their blog, Instagram and Twitter accounts is well-written, their images show they are consistent with their style and skill, and they've been accepted for online publication from one small wedding blog.  They attend every conference and class they can and have an extensive network of colleagues with whom they interact daily, but often it's to argue about photographers who don't value themselves cutting into their profits with low prices and to complain about cheap clients.  They invite clients to Starbucks for a wedding consult and ask for the drink order ahead of time.  When the client arrives, their half sweet full fat decaf frappe are already on the table in the far back corner.  They pull out four albums to display their portfolio and when the client signs the contract they get to keep the branded pen, but the final price they agree on is less than half the photographer's list price on their website.  Also, they are usually right behind Brand A replying to every possible referral that gets listed, though most of their clients are referrals from previous clients who told everyone what a great deal they could get.  Ergo, brand B runs low-cost minis every other month (and for every holiday) just to make ends meet, not realizing that people aren't booking regular sessions because they know the minis will come if they just wait.

Brand C has a slick website with cool interactive thingamajiggers because their day job is web designer.  The banner on their personal Facebook profile is a picture of every piece of gear they own.  Their style, though dated, demonstrates proficiency and skill but lacks creativity and flow.  There's content added every couple of days, but more often than not it's recycled work from older sessions even when it's not #tbt.  They don't do Instagram on principle alone, and the primary thing they do in photography forums is brag about their gear and berate "the industry" for lacking technical knowledge and ruining the way things were by not honouring traditions and the good olds days when a photographer was a luxury.  They usually back up Brand B in an argument about the "newbs" but in the next conversation will attack Brand B as being a part of the problem, too.  Brand C has lots of advice to hand out but little to back up their self-professed expertise, and (though you're too nice to say anything) you can't help but wonder if they've ever actually been paid for a shoot.  The one thing that stands out about this company is how effectively they drive a fundraiser for a wonderful local charity, raising tens of thousands of dollars year in and year out.  This comes with what should be the "perk" of being a bit of a local celebrity to bolster business, but unfortunately due to a few questionable outbursts on social media, affiliation is sometimes more of a hindrance than a hot commodity.

Image of camera gear arranged neatly by Jim Golden via Petapixel

Brand D's website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are all the same font, colour, and design.  They are fully integrated and filled with a perfect balance of witty banter, beautiful images, and interesting news and events for both clients and colleagues.  Leading wedding blogs regularly feature their work.  Brand D belongs to many prestigious online communities and and is a member of the local elites, a small tight-knit group of A-list photographers who are viewed and treated as celebrities.  They are friendly, and while they are most certainly not accepting new members, they may host local events or run workshops during which they advocate for finding or creating a similar circle.  They freely share their expertise on marketing and branding, but not their contacts.  Regardless of their style, skill, education, or background, they post the "cheap" clients online for Brand A and B to fight over while sharing the juicy referrals for clients with high 4- and even 5-figure photography budgets with one another exclusively.  The consultation is at a hip foodie restaurant where the owner knows the photographer by name.  After the contract is signed, the photographer gives them the pen and then picks up the tab for appies and wine.  In two years' time, Brand D will be a keynote speaker at a major conference or get a gig on CreativeLive and spend the rest of their career earning most of their "photography" income from teaching and public appearances.  They remember to thank the "little" people even after they no longer associate with them in any meaningful way.

sample branding package via Shake

The above "brands" above feature a number of characteristics (good and bad) that are found throughout the industry, in varying degrees, in all genres.  And the point is, in order to attract people who can and will pay you what you want you need to make conscious decisions about the kind of customer experience you need to create, the way you want your company to be perceived, the reputation you want to build, and the kind of professional network you might want to work towards creating for yourself.  So let's look at what I believe are the three most important characteristics to be aware of in your potential client: how much they are actually able to spend, what they are willing to spend money on, and how much they value the service you're providing.

Pick any combo and you'll quickly learn that when it comes to serving clients, it isn't one size fits all.  You're as likely to come across someone with a middle class income willing to save up for a famous photographer or a low-income family who invests in skilled photography as you are to find an affluent person who will hire an unskilled photographer if they have the cheapest price available.  

The client is:
  • Affluent, high 6- to 7+ figure income
  • Middle class, high-5 to low 6-figure income
  • Low income, low 5-figure income

The photographer is:
  • Inexperienced, unskilled
  • Experienced, competent, skilled
  • Famous

The value placed on photography services is:
  • Photography is overpriced and overrated
  • Photography is valuable within reason
  • Photography is priceless

In many ways, we are not only business-coached but culturally trained to assume that the ideal client is affluent, thinks photography is priceless, and will help catapult us to fame and fortune if we're not already there.  It's pointless (and foolhardy) to focus on solely the high end (or the 1% if you prefer) of the spectrum but it's also important to know that as your prices rise, so will customer expectations of the level of service and expertise you are offering.  This means that you need to have a solid understanding of how each and every action you take shows them what they are paying for, and all of this becomes embedded in your brand.  From the moment a client learns of your existence, you are telling them a story about who you are, what your values are, your style, your skill, and in some cases even your intelligence and sense of humour, so building your brand needs to be done mindfully - right down to getting someone to proofread your car decals...

But, how do you decide what your corporate identity is going to be?

I have some simple things to help put you in brand-storming mode.

1) Write up a top 10 list of words you would like people to use when describing your brand.  Mine are: quirky, fun, passionate, creative, straightforward, reliable, intelligent, consistent, nerdy, and humourous.

2) When people have a session or view your work, name 5 things that you want them to see and feel.  Mine are: love, joy, happiness, connected, fun.  I want people to experience laughter, love, contentment, confidence, and inspiration but my ultimate goal is for them to sigh when it's done, be a little sad it's over, and be super excited to see the pictures.

3) What are your three favourite colours?  Go find the hex codes for them right now.  Don't worry about whether they go together or not.  Just grab them.

4) Do you have a charity or cause that you regularly support or speak passionately about?  Is there an organization you've always wanted to get involved with?  Is there a topic that always gets you riled up so much that you wish you could become an advocate?  Write down a few ways you can become active in your community.

5) Think of a symbol that has personal significance to you - maybe it's a piece of jewelry passed down from a relative, an emoji you use all the time, an animal or mystical creature you identify with - whatever your symbol is, write down what it is and why.  My personal symbol is the heart, which I adopted shortly after my father passed away of a heart attack, but for some reason the unicorn has developed organically as the "spirit" animal for me though I have yet to figure out how or if I want to incorporate that into my brand formally or leave it as part of what makes me "quirky."

We've now set the stage for you to start digging in deeper.  Your goal now is to is to start making mindful decisions that will ultimately steer your company in the direction you want it to go.

What's in a name?

Chanel.  WalMart.  Cristal.  Baby Duck.  Nike.  Skechers.  Red Lobster.  McDonald's.  Tim Horton's.  Starbucks.  Swarovski.  DeBeers.  Hilton.  Trump.  Ford.  Porsche.  Dove.  Palmolive.  Apple.  Microsoft.  Air Canada.  WestJet.  Each of those names instantly conjures up an image in our minds not just of their logo but of the type of quality and customer experience you are likely to expect.  Over time, as you build your company, people will learn to associate certain things with your brand the moment they hear your name.  So it's kind of important to pick a name that reflects the brand you're planning to build, right down to whether you are a .com or a .ca domain kind of company.

As a child, my nickname was Gunky.  I played hard, got dirty a lot as a toddler, and so Gunky was fitting despite the fact I eventually outgrew that phase.  (Sort of.)  I *could* have picked "Gunky Photos" as a name for my company when I first started shooting children's portraits, but in my case I don't think the "whimsy" of using my childhood nickname would translate as well as someone whose nickname was "Teeter Tot."  Likewise, when expanding the business to include weddings and boudoir, even "Teeter Tot" would not translate as well as if your nickname had been "Starshine."

If you want people to think of you as sophisticated and elegant, calling your boudoir company "Booty Call Boodwah" might send the wrong message.  Likewise, as tempting as it might be to buy a domain called for SEO purposes, you are probably doing yourself a disservice if you want to be working with the agents hiring for architectural photographs of the estates and mansions they are selling.  If you're stuck, ask a small test market of trusted friends and colleagues what the language you intend to use implies to them.  If it's intentional, it's one thing, but if you think you're being cheeky and others are just finding it offensive then you may want to re-evaluate.

If, like me, you decide that your own name is all you need, there are three things to consider.  First, if your name is John Smith you will probably need something more unique than "John Smith Photography" to differentiate yourself from the other John Smiths.  Adding a middle initial John Q Smith) or using your middle name instead of your last name (John Quentin) can help, as can using a word like "Imagery" or "Portraiture" instead of "Photography."  You can also try mixing up the order of the words (, including your city or town (johnsmithYEGphoto) or trying for a clever play on words (John the PhotoSmith).  As soon as you think you have the perfect name, google it and see if someone already beat you to it, and keep trying until you find one that is unique enough to be memorable and uses language aimed at your target market.

What your corporate identity should say.

This funeral company's "Come a Little Closer" train ad has been alternately bashed and praised.  Some say while the humour is a little dark it certainly made the company memorable, while others found it incredibly distasteful.  Personally, I thought this was brilliant, and if I was in the market to buy funeral services this place would top my list.  My assumption isn't that they are trying to put the "fun" back in "funerals" but merely make themselves memorable.  Mission accomplished.

Personally, I love dark humour and playful language.  My company slogan is, "I shoot people."  This is not out of line with my desired corporate identity traits.  If we go back to the 5 questions I asked you to answer, I believe I'm actually pretty cohesive staying inline with those directives.  (No official pictureLOVE unicorn yet though - my black, white and red colour scheme would make him look a bit too evil, I think...)

What your online presence says about you.

If you are a photographer, you've probably fantasized about one (or more) of your posts going organically viral.  (Don't lie - I have, too!)  But realistically, even if one of your images does garner you 15 minutes of internet fame it's unlikely that it will be enough to catapult you to a lasting state of stardom.  People with huge followings on social media have to work very hard at creating and maintaining their online presence, and once you've built up that following, there's no stopping or people lose interest and move on.

Your presence on social media, if it is public or if you've got leaks from the inside, may show a different picture of you than you hope to portray.  It's OK to be passionately outspoken about a particular topic as long as you are aware that there is no "undo" even if you delete even if you would prefer to pretend it never happened.  Alas, some photographers will get (and enjoy) their 15 minutes of internet fame for the wrong reasons but I strongly suggest not adopting a "no publicity is bad publicity" policy as part of your corporate identity.  If you are mocking colleagues or clients in forums rather than asking for and offering constructive feedback, if you belong to public groups that are politicized, if you are retweeting or sharing sexist or racist jokes, if you are making a case for or against religion, if you are talking about your feelings on shared bathrooms, if you are supporting adoptable rescue animals or promoting owner's rights to dock tails - once you put it on the internet, you are as likely to be praised as shunned.  It's therefore best to manage your online presence as if you are your own PR manager to ensure that your tweets and 'grams (including the occasional rant and vaguebook status) align with your brand.
See the complete article accompanying this image over at Buoyancy Media

There are so many places to be online, it's tough to decide where you need to be.  Remember mySpace?  Wonder what happened to Vine?  Ever heard of Meerkat?  Exactly.  Today's big players continue absorbing smaller companies an expanding their functionality, meaning that more platforms will offer more media (for example, you can livestream on multiple platforms now...) so rather than paying attention to how one-stop the media strives to be, you need to be aware of who is using what platform, for what purpose.  After you figure that out for your own brand, you can spend some time determining which social media platforms you will use for your different marketing campaigns, whether that's engaging with existing clients, cultivating new clients, or creating brand awareness.

Betty Gorham-Willer

I could write an entire post about nothing but social media, but there are tonnes of articles out there from social media gurus who track these sorts of things (like this 2017 one which is interesting to compare to this 2015 one).  You'll want to spend some quality time finding out where you're most likely to reach your ideal client and developing relevant content that will gain traction from users on that platform, rather than cross-posting the exact same message on multiple platforms, despite our urge to just be lazy about it, which can make managing multiple media accounts as tricky as spinning plates.  But I digress.  We were talking about branding, and my point is that regardless of how many online platforms you decide you want to tackle, your directive for your online presence is ensuring how and where you engage reflects your desired brand as you identified earlier.

Now, here's the final kicker about having an online presence.  Contrary to popular belief, while anywhere from 62% - 79% of people between the ages of 18 and 65 being on Facebook, you need a proper website - a clean, easy to navigate, professional-looking one that anticipates your consumer's FAQs while demonstrating your ability to meet their needs.  As this article claims, "It's better to own than rent!" because while you can curate your presence on social media, it is only on your own website where you ultimately control 100% of the content and context.  It is also where you are least likely to have your voice lost or misrepresented when the social media's brand fails to support or compliment yours (or they just cease to exist...)

Feelings matter.  Service matters more.

How you treat your customer and how they feel interacting with you, from the way you reply to their emails to the way you deliver their USB, is part of your brand.  If the list of traits you want clients to describe your company includes "professional" but your actions prove otherwise, "experienced" but your skills are not there, or you promise to deliver in 6-8 weeks but fail to deliver, the best case scenario might be that they just never hire you again.  The worst case scenario is of course that your reputation gets publicly slaughtered.  A good rule of thumb when you're trying to build and maintain your brand's reputation is to under-promise and over-deliver so that rather than you having to shout your corporate virtues from the treetops, your clients do it for you.  Advertise 20 images in 4 weeks, deliver 25 in 2.  When your clients feel like you are not only meeting but exceeding their expectations, they will openly and frequently endorse you and we all know that (with maybe the exception of pyramid schemes) there really is no substitute for word-of-mouth referrals from loyal customers.

Your call to action

Maybe you've got your brand in spades and this article was validation that you need to keep doing what you're doing.  But what if you've never considered what your brand is?  What if, after reading this, you realize you've outgrown your old brand?  What if you thought you were doing OK but now realize you've been making some mistakes in representing the brand you want to be?  Well, the good thing is, launching or rebranding doesn't have to be painful.  In fact, it can be a great opportunity for you to create buzz and interest!

Here are some ways you can put your brand-storming to use right away.

1) Pick a font you love for your company name and try it out in your favourite colours.

2) Start sketching up a logo (or get someone who can do it for you) that incorporates your meaningful symbol.  (Or, you can try this service even if only for inspiration.)

3) Get a slogan together.  Think different.  Just do it.  Because you're worth it.

4) Engage your clients and colleagues by asking them for feedback (which font do you like better?)

5) Figure out the most exciting or newsworthy aspect of your brand and start building a brand awareness campaign around that.  "Did you know that XYZ photos is moving to a new studio?"

I hope you're maybe a little bit excited about taking a conscious approach to your brand now.  Tune in next time when we are going to talk about... campaign development and management!  WHEE!

Photographing Toddlers

This week is a bit of a treat - I had an opportunity to contribute to Digital Photo Mentor talking a bit about my toddler technique.  Sorry that you have to wait another week for the post on branding, but I promise it will be worth the wait.  In the meantime, go read some Tips for Photographing Toddlers!

how do I price myself? Part 2: setting session fees

Before I begin, I'd like to thank everyone who has thanked me - I appreciate your feedback and support!  As much as I'd like to take credit for putting this information out there for free, I'm not actually the only one much less the first person to do so,  In fact, if you google pricing calculators, budget makers, budget tools, photography pricing tools, etc. you will find an abundance of support, so if there's something in my last post that you have a better tool for, I encourage you to use whatever works best as long as the outcome is coming up with an actual real number.

Like the last post, there's a lot crammed in - an entire weekend, actually - so make some more coffee and set aside several hours.  This post is about nuts and bolts of setting prices.  It is about taking into account how much you need to charge to meet or exceed your financial goals, not about whether you're "good enough" to charge that much or how to close the deal.  (Sue Bryce did a presentation on that particular topic at her keynote speech at the 2017 WPPI conference, which she has shared online here.   If you watch it (or already have) this blog post is ONLY about finding the number you need to know so you can check and see if you did in fact "add 70%" to your COGS.)

While it's true that self-limiting beliefs will taint your ability to succeed, delusions of grandeur won't help your cause either.  Even if, like The Little Mermaid, we want to be "Part of That World," for most of us success won't end up with us delivering the keynote speech at international wedding conferences but with the mortgage getting paid on time.  We are also often told that all we need to do to make the jump from 3-figure to 4- or 5-figure sales is "educate" our clients and they will magically start investing thousands instead of hundreds on our services.  This, too, is somewhat misleading - the best sales person in the world not only knows that he cannot sell a brand new fully loaded Porsche to a single mom with 4 kids living on an income of $25,000 a year, but he knows it's a waste of time trying.  (A kind and caring salesman would also be happy to assist her finding something in her price range instead of calling her "cheap" but that's another conversation altogether.)  It's enough to say that there's nothing wrong with dreaming big but first you need to set SMART goals, knowing that you can shatter them later.

As a precursor to digging into the actual mechanics of what you are going to put as prices on your website, we need to spend a moment talking about the customer experience your brand carries.  A wedding consult at the donut shop conducted by a person who shows up in gym shorts and asks to go Dutch on the bill is going to create a very different experience than someone being invited to the photographer's portrait studio and being served champagne and chocolate-dipped strawberries while watching emotive slideshows showcasing the photographer's work.  While you might fantasize about the latter, any number of life circumstances may prevent you from being there (yet!) but really, it's probably time to ditch the gym shorts.  (We will go into great detail on branding next week...)

You should already have calculated how much you need to earn to make "enough" in the last blog post.  (If you haven't, go now!)  I will use the same two examples (HB and studio) to walk you through this process, and I am going to use realistic but entirely fake numbers.  In the case of an HBB, we will put the operating costs at $6000/year and a studio at $24,000, and the target incomes will be set at $36,000 and $90,000.  Sue Bryce's suggestion in her video is that you take your operating costs and add 70%, but this is over-simplified.  In the case of the HBB, adding 70% would make the target income $24,000 and the studio $80,000, which means that only a studio with a target income of $36,000 is viable, so it's back to the drawing board we go.

As we figure out your work hours and your break-even numbers, give some thought in the background to what kind of "experience" you want to create.  Imagine your brand and what a consultation looks like under that brand, what the session itself entails, how you're going to take their order, what kind of packaging you'll use.  It's unlikely you will be making 5-figures off weddings when you aren't able (or willing) to wine and dine your clients.  For example, if you are a busy Mom, your husband works out of town most of the time, and you have limited access to childcare, "shoot and burn" might be your only viable option which simply means you need to think about ways you can create a valuable customer experience without being away from home a lot.  Likewise, if you are ineligible for a passport because of the one stupid thing you did in college, then you can't realistically offer destination wedding services.  Be mindful of these kinds of limitations as you work through the next part, but also keep in mind that these limitations may only be temporary and as your circumstances change, you can expand (or downsize) your business.

For simplicity's sake today, we are going to use $60,000 including all expenses and taxes, or about $5000/month, as our target income.  We need to break that down into some kind of reasonable working hours, so we are also going to assume you are OK working a 40-hour work week and will take 4 weeks of holidays throughout the year.  That sounds like a lot of weeks off, but if you are a wedding or family photographer that means you may in fact only have 4 weekends that you are not shooting at least one day, and will need to consider how this impacts your family life if you are married and have children whose lives revolve around weekends off.  Working 48 weeks per year at 40 hours per week, your rate  ($60,000/1920 hours) works out to be $31.25/hr.  (There's a calculator for this further down the page... don't panic!)

So now you need to understand how many hours you're actually working.  For whatever it's worth, there is tracking software you can install to track your work and get an accurate idea of your productivity but fair warning: you might be depressed how much time you waste on social media if you install it... haha!  As a general rule, though, for every hour you spend shooting it's safe to assume there are 3 spent doing everything else - emails, consults, marketing, uploading, backing up, post-processing, blogging, attending conferences, etc.  That means your average 1-hr family session will be worth 4 hours of work, and a 10-hour wedding will be 40 hours of work.  In other words, you are willing to put in the hours for an average of 4 weddings priced at $1250 each or about 10 family sessions valued at $500 each month.  This number represents the amount you need to make AFTER removing the COGS (cost of goods sold) from the calculation.  (Unless you are shoot-and-burn, in which case congratulations - you're done.  Go forth and be productive.)

For those who plan to carry goods, you may offer your services (sitting fee) and products (a la carte) separately but most people do some combination of both (packages.)  If you are straight-up shoot and burn, that's fine - we'll talk about how to jazz that up in the branding post coming up - but if you plan on providing products, let's keep going.

Most photographers offer 3 or 4 standard packages, regardless of what type of photography they do, and marketing psychology says most people will pick a middle package.  Common sense says that if you are a) consistently selling your top package or b) unable to keep up with the demand for your mid-range package, it's time to up your prices.

I'm going to do four "imaginary" packages for a generic photography company that needs to make $60,000/year not including COGS, with the bottom line being if you consistently sell the mid-range packages, you are priced to meet your income goal working a 40-hour week.  All the extra sales and upgrades would be additional profit in your pocket.  You can see a sample COGS markup calculator I have used here.  You're welcome to create a copy for your own use if you like - you will need to do your own research to source your costs and do a separate sheet for each package.  Generally, the mark-up will be 100% to 200%.  For items that require a single file uploaded there's no need to calculate "production" hours but for album construction you will need account for the extra hours it takes to do the design and layout if your supplier does not provide that service on your behalf (most don't.)

Package One Includes:

60 minutes of camera time only
no discount on additional a la carte pricing (all extra profit, if they buy anything)

The math:
COGS: $0
Retail Value of Goods: $0
Hours of work: 4
@ $31.25: $125
Price to charge per session (retail + hourly rate): $125
Earnings per session (session charge less COGS): $125

By shooting 40 sessions per month and charging $125 per session you will earn $60,000/year
After removing COGS you will earn $60,000/year
Your profit margin is 100%

Package Two Includes:

60 minutes of camera time
20 edited files delivered electronically
Set of 3 magnetic keepsake accordion books
3 - 8x10 desk prints
plus 10% discount on additional a la carte pricing (all extra profit, if they buy anything)

The math:
COGS: $50
Retail Value of Goods: $275
Profit: $225
Hours of work: 4
@ $31.25: $125
Price to charge per session (retail + hourly rate): $400
Earnings per session (session charge less COGS): $350

You will need to charge $400/session
You will need to shoot ~15 sessions
By charging $400 per session your gross income will be ~$74,000/year
After removing COGS you will make $60,000/year
Your profit margin is 81%

Package Three Includes:

up to 2 hours of camera time
20 edited files on USB in boutique packaging
Set of 6 magnetic keepsake accordion books
3 - 8x10 desk prints
1 - 36" x 36" canvas
plus 20% discount on additional a la carte pricing (all extra profit, if they buy anything)

The math:
Retail Value of Goods: $500.00
COGS: $200.00
Profit: $300
Hours of work: 8
@ $31.25: $250
Price to charge per session (retail + hourly rate): $750
Earnings per session (session charge less COGS): $550

By shooting ~9 sessions per month and charging $750 per session you will earn $72,500/year
After removing COGS you will earn $60,500/year
Your profit margin is 74%

Package Four (Wedding) Includes:

8 hours of camera time
250 edited files on USB in boutique packaging
2 - 36" x 36" canvases
1 - 48" x 60" canvas
8 hours of album design
1 - 12" x 12" album
2 - 8" x 8" albums
25% discount on additional a la carte pricing (all extra profit, if they buy anything)

The math:
COGS: $1250
Retail Value of Goods: $3000
Profit: $1750
Hours of work: 40
@ $31.25: $1250
Price to charge per session (retail + hourly rate): $4250
Earnings per session (session charge less COGS): $2500

By shooting ~2 weddings per month and charging $4,000 per session you will earn $87,000/year
After removing COGS you will earn $60,000/year
Your profit margin is 70%

Of course I have a profit margin and cost per session calculator you can use for this part, too.  You just need to transfer the information from the COGS calculator over and drop in how many hours you're spending shooting and it will do the rest.  If you're doing separate packages for weddings and family or boudoir and newborn, you'll want to do a separate spreadsheet for each one.

One last note for the commercial photographers out there who are selling camera time and delivering digital files - you're going to want to make sure that you're charging enough per hour or per file to cover your costs as you won't be able to cushion your profits with a lot of product.  You can set prices (and limits) based on how many websites or flyers will be printed and sell a license in addition to your time or files that prohibits them from using the files without paying an additional licensing fee.  For example, you can license your image for 10,000 book covers and when the book comes out on CD or they need to print another 10,000 they would need to pay for another license.  There are tonnes of resources for commercial photographers at CAPIC.

So there you have it folks.  Real math, real numbers.  The next article will go into greater depth about how you can create perceived value by developing a clear corporate identity and ramping up your branding game.  Have a great week!

how do I price myself? part 1: set a financial target

Pricing workshops cost hundreds of dollars.  They cost hundreds of dollars for a good reason: it is a complicated process.  It's not enough to just say, "I want to make $100,000 a year!" and then say you're going to do 100 sessions for $1000.  That's not quite how it works.

Since I often get vocal about how important it is to set your prices to reach your own very real and personal financial goals, I thought I'd take the opportunity to create some practical, self-guided instructions on how to come up with an an actual number so that you're not just plucking a random rate out of thin air (or off someone else's website) and thinking it has to work for you.  I'm warning you, though - this is a full day workshop packed into a single blog post, so brew up some coffee or tea and get yourself comfortable for the long haul. By the end of this post you will have been given tools and instructions to:

Calculate your pre-tax Target Income
Calculate your Cost of Doing Business
Factor in your estimated annual Income Tax
Know your actual Financial Goal

First, you need to know that there is no one single "right" answer for how much you need to charge, and as far as I can tell, the only "wrong" price is one that doesn't meet (or exceed) your financial goals.  If it is costing you money to do this, you're doing it wrong.  That being said, I am going to identify specific income goals, and you will need to put in the work to calculate the one that most accurately reflects your situation, including those looking to break even by making your hobby pay for itself.

For the purpose of this exercise, we are going to assume that you have already gone through the process of setting your company up and are just wanting to know how much you have to charge to meet your financial goals. (If not, here is an older post that covers the basic steps for getting yourself set up as a legal business.)

The first step is to determine your (actual) pre-tax TARGET INCOME, which won't just be a random round number (like $100,000) but will be a calculation of your cost of living, cost of doing business, and cost of goods sold. If you want to make a $100,000 profit, that number will be included over and above your target income. This number will be the same regardless of what kind of creative profession you are working in.

1a) IF PHOTOGRAPHY IS OR WILL BE YOUR SOLE SOURCE OF INCOME then you need to first figure out how much money you require to cover your bills, pay off your car loan, and sock something away for savings.  Completing this exercise will take you several hours (and perhaps days) to complete as it requires you gather up every bit of financial information you have from rent and utilities to consumer debts and retirement savings to childcare costs to your clothing and junk food budget.  The Government of Canada has created a useful tool that you can use to figure out your budget.  You can use the online version here or download the excel version of the calculator here. You will leave the field where you input your "income" blank until the end, at which time you will put in the net (after tax) amount you need to make to ensure that you are flush and that will be your pre-tax target income.

NOTE: If you and your partner currently share expenses in a way other than 50%-50%, you will need to complete a separate calculation for each of you that reflects this.  For example, you may split the expenses 35%-65% or your partner may cover the rent and utilities while you take care of groceries and car payments.  To ensure accuracy, this is a necessary step even though doing it may be more work.  (I did warn you it might take hours, perhaps days, to complete this portion...)

1b) IF PHOTOGRAPHY IS A SOURCE OF SUPPLEMENTARY INCOME because you already have another source of income, then you need to identify the amount of shortfall your income from photography is intended to cover.  To figure this amount out, complete the budget worksheet as in Step 1, but put your current income into the calculator.  The deficit showing will be your pre-tax target income.

2) IF PHOTOGRAPHY INCOME IS STRICTLY TO MAKE FUN MONEY because you already have you financial obligations covered, then you need to identify that number.  Perhaps your photography income is intended specifically to pay for your kids' extra extracurricular activities, to offset (or augment) the cost of your family vacations, or to top up your retirement savings.  You can set this number to whatever it happens to be and it will stand alone as a pre-tax target income.

NOTE: A number only gets entered in this category if it is 100% disposable.  If your child would be missing all extracurricular activity as opposed to not getting to take 5 classes instead of 3 because this income was eliminated, then it is not strictly "fun money" and you need to complete 1a) or 1b) above.

3) Regardless of your pretax target income, YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY INCOME ALWAYS HAS TO COVER THE COST OF DOING BUSINESS (CODB).  This applies to everyone, including HOBBY PHOTOGRAPHERS who, if they accept any amount of payment for their services, are required by law to have a business license and pay taxes.  There are several simple calculators available online including this one from the National Photographers' Association of Canada, but in order to get accurate numbers there is a lot more work involved. I know. ~heavy sigh~

There are several factors that you need to take into consideration when calculating the cost of doing business, the first one being OPERATING COSTS.  Your costs will be slightly different depending on your industry (knitting, sewing, pattern-making, etc.) and you need to adapt this list to reflect that.
Operating costs refer to expenses that you generally pay regardless of whether you had any clients or not.  Operating costs vary greatly from one company to the next based on a number of factors but we are going to specifically focus on whether you operate as an on-location home-based business (HBB) or out of a studio or office.  In both cases, the fixed operating expenses will be similar regardless of your corporate structure (sole proprietorship or incorporated entity), but it is imperative to exclude amounts for eligible use-of-home tax write-offs such as your cell phone and internet if those amounts were already included in your household budget in 1a, 1b, or 2.

Standard operating costs for both HBB and studio might include:
  • business licenses
  • liability, equipment and business insurance
  • memberships and dues
  • software subscriptions
  • office supplies (stationery, stamps, paper, toner, etc.)
  • accounting and legal fees
  • cell or land phone, internet, security system and monitoring ONLY if it is used exclusively for your business and you would disconnect it if you stopped working
  • web hosting/site maintenance
  • advertising
  • equipment maintenance and repair
  • attire/shoe allowance
  • consumables such as paper backdrops

If you operate from a space (studio or office) outside of your home your additional operating costs might include:
  • rent or mortgage on commercial space
  • building insurance
  • utilities
  • security system/monitoring
  • internet and additional phone
  • toilet paper and cleaning supplies

Next are your CAPITAL COSTS which are physical goods that you use to operate your business such as computer and photography equipment (here is where you include repayment of business loans or your leasing costs) and props, reusable backdrops, costumes, etc.  These are one-time expenses that you will depreciate or can re-sell.

If your company owns your vehicle and you use it exclusively for work, you can include your vehicle insurance, fuel, loan payment, and maintenance in your operating costs.  If you use your personal vehicle, you can include an estimated amount ($/km or fuel receipts plus a defensible % of vehicle expenses) here.

Other VARIABLE COSTS that you may want to budget for are things that you could reasonably eliminate yet remain fully operational.  Examples of this might be coffee, professional development, magazine subscriptions, and so forth. We will deal with the Cost of Goods Sold in a little bit...

Of course I am not going to leave you high and dry - here is a calculator you can use (just save a copy to your own Google Drive or message me via the contact form on this site and request an email copy!)

4) After putting in your OPERATING COSTS, enter the pre-tax target income you calculated in 1a, 1b, or 2 at the bottom of the calculator.   It will automatically add them together so you can add 25% - 35% for income taxes.  This.  THIS will be the actual "magic" number you seek, the true and very real amount you need to earn to reach your own personal, individual financial goals.

You are now ready to start looking at how to price your products and services!  

If you are only providing digital files, you can skip this part and join us later, but if you are selling or including products such as USBs, prints, and albums whether by in-person sales or a service such as SmugMug, in preparation for setting prices you need to factor in the COST OF GOODS SOLD (COGS) COGS are expenses that are directly related to product sales.  You can easily identify products and services that are related to the cost of goods sold by determining if you would not have to spend money on that product or service if you did not have a client needing it.  You will need to make two lists, one of expenses that you will be passing along directly to your client, and one of expenses that you will be calculating into your pricing.  Here's a starter list of common photography expenses under Cost of Goods Sold:

  • USB keys
  • prints, canvases, albums, etc.
  • specialty packaging
  • shipping and duty
  • short-term (daily or hourly) studio rental
  • food and refreshments (ie) champagne for engagement session or cake for cake smash, etc.)
  • hair and make-up artists
  • keepsake costumes or props
  • extraordinary travel expenses (destination weddings)

If you are a graphic designer or videographer, you will need to make this list reflect your specific expenses. Now. You've earned it, so go have a glass of wine or a pint while you mull this list over and start brainstorming to complete your own.

I'll see you in a few days for Part 2: setting prices, in which we will figure out how much you need to charge per session, how many hours of work you will likely be putting in each week, and what you should be charging for products (if you are carrying any.) We will also touch a bit on how the products and services you include form a part of your corporate identity or "brand" and how to build in a growth plan for your company!