So, Lets Talk Negotiating With Clients

I don’t usually shoot for the corporate market. I mainly shoot family portraits so I don’t negotiate a lot. There is a fixed price per session and that’s about it. Very simple. Sometimes, someone will ask for a discount, and I either give it or not.

But a few days ago I got a call from a corporation who wanted a set of head shots. We estimated the work at about 5-6 hours of shooting as folk will trickle in as time goes by. The other technical details are really not that crucial this discussion.

I got neck deep in negotiating. It was not a pleasant experience and I had just about every cliche thrown at me. I wanted to share their comments, my answers and what went through my mind as we were talking. Of course, this is totally me, so other, more corporation-savvy photographers may have dealt with this whole situation way better. Still I think there is a good deal of info, and even if you don’t like my answers if a good thing to know the comments so you can prepare your own answers.

We went a few time back and forward with mails, sending a brief, some questions and finally a quote. (I did some research and between that research and my estimation of the work, the quote was kinda in the middle range. Not too high, not too low) Then they asked to call to finalize the shoot.

In bold, is the comment that I got. In Italic is what I thought about the comment and in regular font again is my answer. This is not a word for word transcript of the call, but it pretty much captures the spirit of that discussion.

They: Hi Udi, this is gonna-hire-you-guy, so everything looks real great, but we need you to put a final squeeze in so we can fit this into our budget.

Thought: This is OK, everyone is allowed to negotiate. Everyone is allowed to ask for a discount. When I buy stuff I sometimes ask for a discount. I actually kinda consider this as a place where I have three options to respond: I can add value by offering a complementary service (make up, an extra location, retouching) for a reduced fee so more work for me, less expense for the client, everybody wins. I can provide a discount if I really want the job, I can do nothing and stand ground.

Said: Hi hiring-guy, it would be hard for me to offer a discount, but if you were gonna go through a retoucher, I can provide a bundle that includes retouching which will save you on the overall cost.

They: Na, we were thinking you’ll do just very basic retouching and still need that squeeze.

Thought: Hmm.. do I want this job? Yes. Is there margins for a discount? Yes, a small one. Here is the catch, the first offer was not just a number I pulled of a hat. It includes my time, travel, editing time and so on. Simply reducing the cost, is simply unprofessional. It also looks random.

Said: You think that we can get everybody to be on location on a more condensed time frame instead of trickling down? If we can cut off some of the dead time , I can provide a discount.

They: We are big so you’ll get exposure, it’ll pay yo to work with us.

Thought: Oh really, Last time I checked the gas station did not accept credit for gas.

said: Hey gonan-hire-me-guy, I really appreciate the opportunity to work with you guys and would love to work together. If the format allows I would love to have credit present, but for what you are asking, it is not really mandatory. Sadly I cant provide any further discount for credits.

They: Did I tell you that our other quote is really cheaper than the one you have provided?

Thought 1: Oh really?! Go ahead with the other guy then! Thought 2: Hmmm, I wonder if the other tog and I are making the same offer, lets make sure?

Said: Hi Hiring guy, I understand that other photographers may quote a lower number, let me go through what I provide for that kind of shoot so the numbers make more sense:

I would talk to your designer and understand what they need. I will than arrive about an 1-2 hours prior to the shoot, scout for location and set up my lighting. I will, of course, photograph every one who shows up in the time slot giving everyone their deserved attention. After everyone have been photographed I will take the setup down and drive home. Later I will go over the photographs and send you a selection where you can choose which is the final head-shot for each person and I will do some basic retouching for those photographs.

So, we are looking at a more than a day of work here ,and I think that the numbers makes sense.

They: You know, if you can provide a significant discount we have a lot of work we can do together. it’s hard to find clients like us.

Thought 1: Great! more work at rates that I can not allows myself to work at. Vain thought 2:It’s also hard to find decent photographers.

Said: As I said, hiring-man, I would love to work together, but I can only work at rates that allow me to sustain my business. Even if things wont work out for this time, I understand, and not hard feelings, I would love to bid on future projects.

I ended up being booked for the job. And it was a great one indeed. When meeting the guys there were friendly and informal. Really different approach from how the phone call went. For me it was a lesson not to cut rates quickly.

And to seal this post here is another one of Aaron Johnson remarkable What The Duck strips