Let’s face it, freelance photography is a tough nut to crack before you even take into account the crazy amount of competition out there. In such a saturated market, it’s hard to know where to even start when trying to set a sensible and competitive day rate as a photographer. But there are always going to be obstacles in creating your own dream job, fortunately this one has a straightforward solution.
First Impressions – How much should I charge?
The first important question to ask yourself is how you want to appear to your potential clients—an elite, upmarket service, or a more affordable, accessible one? Of course with the former there is the risk of losing work to cheaper rivals, but on the other hand, pricing yourself too low could mean you’ll need to work yourself to the bone, long into the night, and through the weekend to achieve a decent income.
Although the first instinct of many beginning freelancing may be to divide the amount they want to earn in a year by the amount of working days, this can be a very flawed technique. Once you’ve worked out how much you want to be earning, you absolutely cannot forget to consider—among other foreseeable costs—your expenses and tax payments you need to make.
For example, in the very optimistic scenario that sees you working a full 250 days in your first year, a $280 day rate would give you revenue of $70,000. But after taking deductions for equipment, travel, tax, insurance, and all the rest of the inevitable expenses into account, you’ll be in for quite the shock when you realize you’re not making nearly as much as you had hoped.
So how do you avoid falling into this trap? Well, the best bet is to work backwards. If your takehome target is $70,000 a year, simply add 20% on top for tax ($84,000), another sum (let’s say, $20,000) for travel and expenses and divide the total ($104,000) by 250 working days. This gives you a much better deliberated day rate of $416. Don’t forget to include pension payments as well if you’re truly a forward thinker.
Once you’ve worked out your day rate, don’t forget to add it to your ImageBrief Portfolio so buyers know your ballpark figure when getting in touch about shooting on assignment. You can access and adjust your day rate in the settings of your ImageBrief Portfolio.
A little tip—clients love getting a good deal. Add ten percent on top of the day rate you’ve worked out when you give a quote, then if you need to negotiate, taking this off will still leave you with the rate you’re looking for. Be sure not to let anyone drag your rate any further down though, unless you’re convinced the job will benefit you in the long term, i.e. looking great on your portfolio.
Anyone who works as a freelancer—no matter the industry—will tell you that you can’t rely on hours being the same every day and that’s probably one of the main reasons you opted for this lifestyle in the first place. Some days you’ll be working when the sun comes up, and others you’ll spend watching Netflix in your pajamas. But the price to pay for this lack of monotony can often be an uncertain financial lifestyle.
Perhaps with this in mind you might prefer to charge per project rather than per hour, with a pre-prepared rate—don’t forget to include costs for retouching and prints—for professional headshots, wedding photography, PR/commercial shoots, or whatever your most common bookings are.
How to Increase Your Day Rate
It’s inevitable that at some point in your career you’ll be looking for a pay rise, just like any full-time worker. Maybe costs have risen since you started out, or you’re just setting your sights a bit higher. Or if you’ve got a solid client base, perhaps you’re taking steps to build a little more time to spend relaxing. As a freelancer, there’s no boss or HR department to make the judgement for you, so you have to be the one to make the call.
If you want to move into a higher league for fees, see what your more upmarket competitors have to offer and where you differ. If you’re offering a similar level of quality, it may be the case that you need to position yourself as an industry expert. Your online presence is your shop window, so keep active on Instagram and Facebook, start a blog and make sure your website is attractive.
Money talks, so if you are asking for more of it, you need to explain why it makes sense for your client to increase your pay. Your justification for wanting more money might be because you’re saving up for a holiday, but your clients will be more concerned as to what’s in it for them. There’s no need to bleat on, but do remind them of the benefits that you bring and explain what sets you apart from those charging less. Be bold—confidence in your own business will win you far more clients than trying to please everybody.