Before we can dive into the steps for determining your base price, I’m going to tell you what a base price IS! A base price is the lowest amount of money you will charge for a session or wedding. It’s not only what you want to make but also what you need to make in order to reach your financial goals. Your base price can change over time as your bills and expenses change. Most importantly, if you earn your “base price” for x number of sessions and/or weddings, you will be able to cover your bills and expenses.
In this article we’re going to go over the steps you need to take to determine your base price. Pricing as a whole is incredibly complex, so if that’s something you’re interested in walking through in its entirety (i.e. coming up with your entire pricing setup), please reach out! It’s one of my favorite things to do but does take some time and detailed information to tackle.
By laying out the steps to determine your base price, this guide will be helpful in establishing a complete pricing structure. In my mentoring sessions, one of the biggest mistakes I see is photographers not charging enough. Instead of taking the time to really understand WHY they are charging what they are, they create an arbitrary number based solely on other photographers...often charging less and not making enough to cover their time, efforts, and most importantly, their bills!
If you haven’t already (even if it costs a little more), I suggest switching all of your bills to monthly. It’s really hard to keep track of bills that pop up every few months or once a year! But if you have all of your bills repeating every single month, it simple to create a consistent goal you need to reach over and over again. It’s SO much easier to monitor. Also, you won’t have any unexpected lump sum surprises, AND it’ll remind you of what bills you’re paying each month. This gives you the opportunity to continuously evaluate if you’re actually still using that company or service. If not, cancel it!
The first part of determining your base price is coming up with what you want/need to make! But as mentioned previously, this isn’t an arbitrary number.
Your Base Price is built on multiple factors, one of the most important being your expenses. In order to determine what you need to charge for your base price, you must consider your expenses.
This is where a little bit of work comes in on your end. Determining your expenses does take a little bit of time, as you’ll have to sit with your statement if you’re not familiar with your bills already.
Ideally, you can break down an entire year of expenses at this step, especially when you haven’t yet switched from annual to monthly billing for some charges. If you know you’re billed monthly for everything, you can just sample the past three months of bank statements to determine an accurate average!
In the expense category, focus on which bills you are responsible for paying. We’ll dive more into what it looks like if you share expenses with your significant other in the next section, but for now, make a list of the bills YOU are responsible for paying.
Examples include groceries, mortgage, insurances (car, health, business, home), programs to run your business (internet, cell phone, virtual assistance), electricity, subscriptions (Amazon, Netflix, Hulu), clothing, even entertainment. This is LITERALLY everything you are responsible for paying every month once you’ve switched your billing from annual to monthly.
These numbers may fluctuate slightly in categories like clothing or entertainment, so you may just want to come up with a “budget” in these categories and stick to it!
THIS is a HUGE part of what you’re charging. If you’re not making enough money to pay your bills, you’re going to go out of business and will not survive in your field no matter how passionate or good you are at what you do! This seems so obvious but so few people actually take the time to determine how much they are spending in order to determine what they need to make!
I don’t want you getting discouraged by the amount of words in this document because this stuff is SUPER important to the health of your business. So, do your best to stay focused here!
Basically, knowing your financial situation means knowing your PERSONAL situation. This is something I wouldn’t know unless you sat and told me something like:
Do you see where I’m going with this? In section one we talked about knowing your expenses. But once you know your expenses, you also must know your personal situation:
You may be 100% responsible or only 50% responsible or maybe it’s just important for you to KNOW your expenses but your spouse’s income covers the bills. In addition, outside of your expenses you may be saving for your child’s education, a vehicle, a home, or a project.
Knowing your personal financial situation will help you decide exactly what you need to make in order to achieve your own personal financial goals. I hope this exercise has helped you to figure that out!
**for the sake of this lesson, we’ll say you are
100% responsible for your income and expenses.
I know, I know taxes are NO fun to talk about! But they’re a necessity, so I’m going to help you on this one!
Everyone is responsible for annual federal income taxes and how much you owe is based on your tax bracket. In other words, how much you or you + your spouse (depending on how you file) make each year determines which tax bracket you fall into.
For example, below is the 2019 tax bracket.
Please note that I am not responsible for determining your expenses or which tax bracket you are in.
This is only a guide to help you determine your own pricing and goals! Also, these tax brackets are subject to change, so always be familiar with the current one so you know what you will pay.
The reason why this is SO important is because it comes out of your calculations:
For example, your expenses are approximately $4,000/month so you decide to bring in $50,000/year…
Well, that’s not enough! You HAVE to consider taxes! To do so, take your “gross income” of $50,000 and subtract your BUSINESS (not PERSONAL) expenses to determine your “net” income.
Ex: $50,000 minus $20,000 business expenses = $30,000 net income
If you fall in the 12% tax bracket, you will need to make $50,000 plus that 12%! Are you surprised? Some are!
Your goal has to consider everything including what you’ll be paying in taxes.
So far, you’ve figured out your expenses and become aware of your personal financial situation. You’ve come to understand your tax bracket and the additional amount you need to make to cover income taxes. Lastly, you should have a number in mind that you need to make each year (or month depending on how you look at it)!
Now, you’re going to need to apply that number toward your work!
The amount that you charge is now going to be based on how many sessions or weddings you will be photographing.
Say for instance you’re divorced and have two weekends away from the kids each month! That gives you two Fridays and two Saturdays each month you are available to photograph a wedding AND edit (don’t forget about the editing days...everyone forgets about the editing days! LOL). You are going to take the amount you want to/need to make and divide it by the amount of sessions or weddings you'll be shooting to determine the base price!
**With this calculation you will need to charge $3,575 minimum for 15 weddings
in order to reach your annual goal of $53,600 (covering your taxes and expenses)!
Here’s another topic that doesn’t get talked about nearly enough! I’m not going to dive into specifics here for legal reasons. However, I DO want to mention that if you are operating your business legally (as you should be) and you are selling product, even if that product is digital files only, you should check with your local/state government regarding sales tax rates.
I personally collect sales tax on all photography jobs unless the client is located out of state. In that case, according to my local government, I am not obligated to collect or remit sales tax for them here in Louisiana (and they should check with their own local/state government as well).
This situation could be different based on where you are. A voluntary self-audit is a great way to get information from the tax office without penalty.
For all other clients, I charge them sales tax based on their location and remit it once a month. This does not come out of my base price but rather is added onto that.
So, base price PLUS sales tax
If you are taking sales tax OUT of your base price profits...you are making less than you will need for your living and expenses.
Of course, you HAVE to pay your bills! That’s a no brainer! But once you know those numbers, you may be tempted to make MORE! And I encourage you to surely try. My goal for this guide is to, of course, make sure you’re paying your bills … but once you meet your base price and goal, everything else is pure profit!!
**TIP: If you’re selling a product, make sure to charge 3x’s the cost of the product to ensure you’re covering the cost of the item, the sales tax, and, of course, your profit.
Did you know it’s SO much easier to sell to a client you already have than to go out and find a new one?
That means if you can book your base package with a client and then encourage them to add a book or additional coverage, it will be MUCH easier than going out and sourcing an entirely new client!
Just to reiterate what we’re going over in this guide: We’re trying to meet the goals of your livelihood and what you need to turn your passion into a full time career. However, if you meet those goals and are ready to take on more…. I am SO happy for you! Great job and keep going! The sky's the limit with entrepreneurship!!
So for this particular example if you booked all 15 weddings at $3,575 + tax PLUS 5 sessions and 3 albums...guess what?
ALL of those extras are profit. So, take a vacation or treat yourself to something nice!
Market rate depends on a couple of things: The first is what others are charging and the second is what clients in the area are willing to pay.
The reason it’s important to have conversations with your colleagues about pricing is because one major factor that determines a client’s perception of pricing is the amount of a second quote.
You don’t want to undercharge, and you don’t want your colleagues to do so either...otherwise it undervalues the entire industry.
If photographers continuously base prices SOLELY on charging less than their colleagues, it becomes a pricing war until the industry requires such low rates that no one can make ends meet.
...OR you have to work SO many jobs to make ends meet that it results in burnout. Neither of these are good things.
It’s important to have regular conversations with your colleagues about the market: what they’re charging, which clients are booking, expenses, the amount they’re shooting…. basically, everything we’re going over in this guide.
Honestly, I encourage you to set up a group meet up with your four closest photographer friends to go through this guide together!
In person conversations really help spark those conversations, and both you and your market will benefit from this sort of environment.
I hope this guide was able to bring you some clarity and help you in the process of determining your base rate! I know we dove into quite a bit of detailed information, but I’m always here to help if you have more questions!!
Now that you’ve finished reading this guide, I hope you are ready and able to determine your base price for hire! I know creating a pricing list can be very scary! My desire was to help you understand this pricing strategy, so you can have confidence in your conversations and delivery.
Should you be interested in working with me one-on-one so we can create your pricing together, please don’t hesitate to reach out via the contact form! I am happy learn about your business specifically and dive into details we didn’t here in order to create your full pricing guide!
Also, my podcast “Mistakes Make Magic” is completely free, available on iTunes, and answers SO many of the often asked questions around entrepreneurship! And if you want to follow along on my personal journey you can find me Instagram @catherineguidry
In one afternoon with Catherine, I learned so many valuable lessons both about my business and life. I think the reason I got so much out of our session was because of how easy and open she was when it came to any of my questions. Since the mentorship I feel like my whole business is in a much better state and I know it all stemmed from the afternoon spent learning from Catherine! Being mentored by Catherine was the greatest thing I have done for my business!
- Malise Gardiner
I learned tips on posing, marketing my work, and how to be more
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During our mentoring session we tackled so much. We went over so much in regards to my photography skill set and business model... Since working with her as my mentor, I made so many changes to my pricing model and to my client interactions. I now have a strong and consistent workflow and am charging for the value I provide for my clients. I have learned so much from her and will forever be grateful for her help!
- Lindsey Rogers
I especially appreciated Catherine's direct, open and honest approach!
Her company and business is built on tenacity and integrity that makes her the perfect person for you to work with, learn from or spend time with. You know that she is going to get the job done and have your back all along the way!
- Sarah Love, Former Photo Editor at The Knot
You know that she is GOING TO have your back all along the way!
When I first met Cat, we immediately connected because we were both passionate about business and life. I was looking for advice on overcoming my struggles in business and direction on how to grow. Cat helped me learn from past mistakes... If you are looking for a mentor/business coach, or you are struggling getting more clients, I highly recommend you reach out to Catherine. My business has grown tremendously this past year and I'm excited about what the future holds.
- Ben Tone
Cat really helped me set goals and improve my client experience!
Choosing to be a part of Catherine's mentoring program was the best educational resource! As soon as we sat down I felt like I was hanging out with an old friend. The biggest things she helped me with were confidence, direction and posing, and the motivation to re-vamp my brand identity. Since participating in her mentorship I have made big changes to my session flow, editing style, and I'm currently working on my new website!
- Megan Crawford
She is very kind, helpful and experienced...truly a gem in this market!
The number one thing that I took away from her was the power of communicating with clients (even addressing them by name!) We talked a ton about composition, gear, shooting and how she runs the business! I especially loved observing her interact with clients... I created a list of questions before the mentoring session and we covered so much!! Catherine's willingness to help others is very contagious and it was honestly refreshing to know that there are people out there willing to share their knowledge to help others grow.
- Ashley Serpas
I was able to gain confidence and experience behind the camera as a result of her guidance!
Not only is she personal and relatable, she is open with all of her business secrets and willing to share with others for their own growth and success. In just our first session, we came up with actionable steps and a plan for growth in moving forward. Catherine encouraged me to reach a realistic timeline and held me accountable - which was something I really needed. I have made huge changes in a short amount of time and seen growth as a result.
- Cairre Wiley
She truly invested in me, supported my vision, and cheered me on every
step of the way.
I was able to let my guard down and let her truly see all of my weaknesses without feeling like she was totally judging me! It was a great day!!! :) My brain was a little sore by the end of it all: I haven’t had that much info fed to me in a while. I am grateful for the time with her; sometimes we all just need a little (or a big) push. I am so thankful for my mentoring session with Catherine!
- Chelsie Hebert
i am grateful for the encouraging words!
In addition to being a photographer, I am also an educator and podcaster in the creative and photo industry. As host of the podcast "Mistakes Make Magic," I have become unafraid and willing to share my streamlined processes, successes and failures with others who are passionate and struggling, but ready to grow! Sometimes we all just need a little positive push and creative guidance to help establish confidence in a world full of comparison and self doubt.
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