I was put in a dilemma. I hate being put in a dilemma, or at least one that I can’t find an easy way out of. I’m a business, after all, and I have rent and bills to pay, but... I had a feeling like maybe, just this one time, I could make an exception. I HATE being put in a dilemma.
I was shooting one of my first weddings, which involved very good friends of mine. They had put together the wedding themselves, making all of the details and decorations by their own crafty, creative hands, and even took other workarounds to achieve a delightful and pleasant wedding without breaking the bank. And they had asked me to shoot their wedding. And I hadn’t even been a pro for more than a couple of months.
After the initial shock and nerves wore off, I was focused and excited to capture the wonderful and special day of my two good friends. They were getting married at a beautiful New England church with a typical, gothic-style that was photogenic from every angle. But every now and then leading up to the wedding day, the reoccurring anxiety would appear. “What do I charge my friends? After all, they’re MY FRIENDS!”
It bothered me tremendously. I wanted to be taken seriously as a photographer, and I have charged according to my level of expertise and experience with other weddings that led up to their wedding date. However, this was a different situation entirely. I somehow felt guilty charging them the same rate I was charging couples whom I had only met months prior. I was charging them as if they were STRANGERS!
It’s not easy working with friends and family. There are photographers I know who refuse to work for their loved ones, and while I feel this is a bit of an extreme policy to have, I can’t blame them. The nervousness you experience, the nagging they can bring upon you... “really? You’re going to charge me THAT? Can’t you cut a little bit off the price?” All the bargaining you have to do with a client is one thing, but that these people can hold the fact they’re friends or family above your head and use that at the negotiating table is, well... just flat-out rude and inconsiderate.
So, what do you do? Do you keep the cold stance and say “my rates are my rates”? Or do you cut them a deal? Just this once? Or do you have an abstinence policy?
It’s certainly not easy when you work with those whom you’ve grown up with, but right out of the gate, there are a few bonuses to working with them. They know you and you know them, making them easier to work with. They don’t hassle you or have high demands because of their close association to you, and if you do a good job, they will give you glowing reviews to all of their friends and associates. It certainly makes the working aspect easy.
Oh, but there are cons, too. Trouble always comes at the price point, and if you stick to your guns, they will complain and holler about how you won’t even hook up your own friends or family. This could even cause a disturbance amongst your other family members or circle of friends. And who needs THAT drama - they’re supposed to help you THROUGH the tough times, not create them!
However, the answer is pretty simple: it depends. Don’t you love that answer?
It really does depend, though. Often times, I simply state that this is my rent or my car payment, or my insurance payment, or my next meal. And when you get them to visualize it that way, they quickly see that you’re not trying to slight them and you’re not being mean; you’re being a business. And not to seem mean, but asking for a discount at the expense of your ability to run a successful and profitable business is quite rude on their part. They’re taking from your plate simply to benefit themselves, and that doesn’t seem like a friendly thing to do.
With any client, mentioning how you wouldn’t try to ask the same kinds of things from your doctor or mechanic or plumber always puts into perspective that we, as photographers, are a business. We have costs and budgets to be met, bills and rent and insurance due, and if we gave everyone a discount just because we liked them, we’d be out of business in the blink of an eye! That’s not exactly the kind of business model you should have!
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cut them a break at all, however. If you really want to help out your family, there are a multitude of ways you can provide them with a discount of sorts without cutting into your profits. You could always give them an extra hour or two “on the house”. Or you could maybe gift them a book of the photos or send a treat or gift along with a disc of the images to show that you appreciate them respecting your business. You can still give them some kind of monetary discount, as long as it doesn’t hurt your ability to pay your bills, but do so responsibly - you don’t want to make a habit of this and create an expectation that you will ALWAYS give them a discount.
Eventually, I got the nerve to discuss money with my friends and figure out the details. By the end of the day, everybody was happy, and we were able to walk away with fantastic images without hurting one another’s wallets, getting a fair price and enjoy the day as friends. As it should be.
Until next time,