I bet there aren’t many things that make you squirm more than the thought of charging your friends and family for your photography skills.
But what happens if you have a bigger family than The Waltons and more ‘friends’ than Charlie Sheen?
Do you charge a friend full price even though they once saved you from the clutches of a killer shark by punching it in the face?
Do you charge your mum?
What about that annoying step-mum?
How about your 500 ‘friends’ on Facebook?
Do you charge them full price, or a discount, or something else?
Half of your brain might be screaming…
“Charge full price – you’re not making enough money as it is!”;
…while the other half shouts back
“But I feel like such a money-grabbing douche charging someone I really care about for doing something I love.”
Let’s look at the 3 basic options:
- Do everything free of charge (only charging cost price for the printing, framing or albums)
- Offer a discount or bonus
- You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours
Should you ever photograph friends and family for free?
Let me start by saying there is no one perfect answer for everyone. We all have different situations. I just want to help you understand the issues and some of your options.
Remember, once you’ve set your policy it’s pretty hard to change it. You can’t really charge one close friend and not another without a good reason.
Here are the things to think about when considering offering free photography sessions.
How many people are likely to ask?
How many people are likely to want you to photograph them? Are you going to be drowning in free sessions if you offer them?
If you have a small family and only a couple of close friends who live nearby then you’re at less risk.
Limit the sessions
If you’re just starting your photography business and want to build your portfolio then friends and family are the perfect way to do it.
However, I would suggest you put a time limit or a quantity limit on the free sessions. For example, you could contact your closest friends and say you’re offering them 1 free photography session any time in the next 3 months. Or, you could offer a limited number of free sessions on a first come first served basis.
This gives you the chance to build your portfolio without being a slave to free sessions for ever.
When offering free sessions I would still show people the usual pricing so they can see what it would have cost. This will help them value you what you’re doing for them.
Delay until the quiet season
If you’re already busy, or don’t need to build a portfolio but don’t mind doing a free session for someone then say…
“No worries. I’m really busy right now as it’s the peak wedding season / Christmas rush etc.), but I’ll be happy to do it in the quieter winter months on a Monday morning….Remind me after Christmas and we’ll get it sorted.”
This leaves the ball in their court and if they’re really keen then they’ll remember. Of course if you’d really like to do it for them then you can put a reminder in your own calendar to get it booked in.
Free digital files or cost price products
When offering a free session you can either offer a CD or cost price products. I would urge you to offer cost price products.
Because if you want to be a successful photographer then selling wall portraits and albums is where the money is. Everything you do should be about offering beautiful, tangible products – even your free / cost price sessions. You don’t want to damage your brand by having people print your photographs cheaply on poor quality paper.
If you’re just starting out then cost price sessions enable you to practice in-personal sales without the pressure of a paying client.
Discounting photography for family and friends
The trouble is that most photographers don’t charge enough to survive as it is, so there’s nothing left to discount for friends and family.
This post isn’t about how to find high end clients or how to differentiate your photography business, but it’s critical to learn those skills if you want to survive in this hyper-competitive industry.
But let’s assume you can afford to discount. There are a bunch of ways you can do it.
If you have a session fee (that doesn’t go towards finished prints), you could discount or remove that altogether.
Or, you could keep the session fee and discount the products.
Another option is to offer a free session and one or two smaller prints, but if they want anything else then they have to pay.
The key is to always show them your normal price list so they can see how much you normally charge and how much you’re saving them. Since most family photographers aren’t charging enough to survive the perception of the general public is that a family session is only around £150 (at least in my low income city). However, my average this year is 4 times that amount, so I want people to know that even after a discount it’s still likely to cost them more than the average photographer.
So how much should you discount? There are so many variables as it depends on your existing profits, whether you sell packages or A la Carte and the sales process you go through.
However, these are the things you want to consider…
How much is the discounted job is stealing time away from paying clients?
For example you’d probably be attending a friend’s wedding anyway, so it doesn’t really matter if you photograph their wedding or not, you still wouldn’t be able to photograph any clients on that day. The retouching and album design would be impacting on your client time though. So you could either charge for that portion of the job, or make it a wedding gift. I’ve done that for two of my close cousins.
Similarly, with family portraits You’ll hang out with your friends from time to time anyway, it’s just this time you have a camera. The extra ‘work’ is the retouching and admin and ordering of products etc.
Another consideration is ‘what are they likely to end up spending?’
I’m fortunate in that the friends who’ve hired me for family photographs have invested above my average order value because they’re pretty affluent. So, I still made a decent amount despite offering a 50% discount.
The industry norm for friends and family discounts is around 20%. But again, look at your profits and the number of people likely to use the discount and make sure you’re not exposing your business too much. Or limit the number of discounted sessions as I mentioned earlier.
Family and friends day
A great way to offer a discount and still make a decent profit is to have a ‘family and friends day’. It can be at a park, in the woods, or at someone’s home. Photographing everyone on one day is much more efficient so you can still make the profit you need and still offer a nice discount. Everyone wins.
You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours
So, we’ve talked about free sessions and discounted sessions. The third option is to do a free session, but you want something in return!
There are a whole bunch of ways to do this:
- The session is free but it will be completely on your terms – you’re effectively treating them as hired models. You’ll do the photographs in the style, location and time you want so that it enhances your portfolio. This is a great way to try out new techniques and interesting locations. You could perhaps travel away for the day, or weekend to get images in an amazing location that you wouldn’t normally get to try.
- Ask them to get a business alliance for you. This is where a business who shares your target market helps promote you. We have a whole bunch of amazing information on how to easily get alliances on the membership site.
- Ask for a testimonial on Google Places and Facebook. Of course a friend or relative should do this for you anyway, but make sure you get them to do it.
- In return for a free session you want them to agree to being videoed afterwards in an interview where they talk about how great it was working with you. You could also do a video of the actual photography session. You then put these videos on your website and social media to show people how great you are to work with.
- Barter! For example, one of my friends does my taxes every year in exchange for a family photography session.
- Ask for referrals. Tell them that if they can get x number of people to hire you then you’ll do them a free session. You can give them vouchers to hand out. This tests how keen they are to help you in return for their free session.
- It’s a gift (birthday, wedding, etc.). But then you hopefully get something nice back!
Photographing friends and family can be a great boost to your business, or a huge drag. Set your policies, be upfront and clear, and do what feels right and sensible for your situation.
You don’t want to lose friends over it, but you don’t want to destroy your business by being too generous either.
Eventually you need to move past living off your friends. Ultimately being a photographer and having a job you love is all about having the time, freedom and money to enjoy life with the people you care about.
Being a Get Pro Photo Club member will ensure you earn enough to do that.