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Pricing, Sales & How to help your Photography Business during Covid-19 | Interview with Sam Jacobson

Pricing has always been a hot topic for any business owner. How should you set your pricing? Is there a magic formula? Are you charging enough? Are your prices too high? Should you offer discounts? How many pricing packages? Should you have an Investment page or share details privately with those who inquire? And now, with Covid-19 and an upcoming financial crisis, even more questions arise – What should you do? Do you pivot? Sell prints and albums? Offer gift certificate? Quit photography and do something else?

These are not easy questions. Hence, we approached the Yoda of Business Consulting and Sales Funnels – Sam Jacobson.

Sam, is the mastermind behind Ideaction Consulting and the Obi-Wan Kenobi for many creative entrepreneurs who struggle with sales, marketing, making money and growing their business. His blog is full of fun, useful resources, his newsletters are thought-provoking, his Instagram Live sessions are on point and full of constructive recommendations, AND he also offers mentorship, online courses and free group coaching for wedding professionals.

We’ve asked Sam to share his insights and recommendations on pricing and helping your photography business survive during Covid-19. Here’s what’s included in this interview:

[1:18- 3:06] – Sam Jacobson’s background and area of expertise
[6:13 – 9:27] – Pricing, creating desire and value
[9:29 – 11:48] – Testing and adjusting your rates. Indicators that it’s time to change your pricing.
[12:06 – 15:12] – Mistakes photographers make in terms of pricing and selling to a client.
[16:00 – 20:22] – Recommendations for photographers during Covid-19

Dima: My name is Dima Dimov, I am a cinematographer and creative lead at DD Visual, a wedding and commercial film studio in Romania. Today, on behalf of Flothemes, I’ll be interviewing Sam Jacobson, the mastermind behind Ideaction Consulting. Hi Sam!

Sam: Hi, Dima! Thank you for having me, I appreciate being here. 

Dima: We’re happy to have you! We’ve been following Sam’s work and enjoying his really knowledgeable newsletters for a while now, and now it’s time to introduce you, guys, to his work, expertise, and resources. We have an important topic to discuss today, which too many photographers, videographers, or other creative business owners struggle with – PRICING.

First things first, Sam, can you tell us a little bit about your background? Where do you draw all your brilliant ideas from? 

Sam: Yeah, absolutely! My name is Sam, I’m with Ideaction Consulting, a company that I started up in late 2016 – early 2017. We work exclusively with event professionals and we focus on marketing and sales. We help people make more money through tactics and how tos. I do a lot of one-on-one coaching and a lot of copywriting for websites, which is a great natural fit for Flothemes clients. 

I have a background in events, sales and operations. All of that comes together with a combination of the hands-on work that I’ve done while selling to couples over the years, and leading teams. I know what it’s like rolling my sleeves up and getting down to the work of doing sales. I also know what it’s like to lead other people. What I’ve found over the 15 or so years that I’ve been in the events world is that a lot of people need a wingman. They need some direction on where they should be going and how they should be doing things. 

Especially as a solopreneur, as somebody who doesn’t have a big team helping them and supporting them, a lot of wedding professionals need that temporary leadership or direction, and that’s what I do. 

We’ve had success with a lot of clients all over the country, even internationally. We worked with a lot of photographers and videographers, to help them get going in the right direction and see the type of growth they want for their business. 

Dima: You have an active blog, mailing list, and Instagram channel with tons of resources and great advice for photographers. Are there any particular topics you enjoy speaking more about, and why?

Sam: I do keep a pretty active newsletter and blog going. One of the things I’ve decided over a year ago was how important it is to provide free information for people to help solve the little problems that are going on in their business. So many things that photographers and videographers deal with are things that other photographers and videographers deal with. But because you work by yourself most of the time, you don’t know about other people having the same problems. The newsletter that I write and the blog that I maintain on our website is really filled with common problems that people who are in the wedding industry run into. They are mostly sales related. There are also things related to websites, content, and the copywriting that goes on to the website. 

We work with people who are interested in solving the problems that they know they have, whether it’s pricing, discovery calls, sales proposals, or negotiations. We also work with people on problems that they don’t know they have. That’s one of the things that we’ve found a lot of value in: most people don’t know what they don’t know. If you’ve never run a business before or you’ve been in business for a while, but you haven’t worked with a lot of different types of clients or partners, you don’t know what questions they ask. We help people ask the right questions so that they can get the right answers and achieve the kind of success they want. 

Dima: Let’s talk a bit about pricing, shall we? Pricing has always been a topic that many photographers struggle with, including myself. I’m wondering whether I need to change my prices about 3 times per year. It’s hard to accurately evaluate the price of a creative service, and this is a struggle for a lot of us. 

Many photographers have to constantly battle messages coming from clients, saying that the price is too expensive, or asking for a discount. As creatives, we also have those ups and downs and we struggle with second thoughts: “what if our work is not as valuable? Should we charge more for our services? Are we overpriced?” What are your recommendations in this case? How should a photographer or videographer set prices and which factors or criteria should they take into consideration? 

Sam: You know, pricing is such a rich topic, Dima. One of the things that I really want to make sure that everybody is aware of is that pricing is the output of the work that you do before people think about buying your services. 

I like to explain it like this: imagine you want to lose weight and you set a goal to do it. When you step on the scale and you see how much weight you’ve lost, you don’t blame the scale or congratulate the scale for either reaching the number you wanted or not. You have to go back and look at all the things you did, or didn’t do, before you stepped on the scale. Were you eating healthy? Were you exercising? or some combination of both. And if you do those things, if you eat healthy and exercise, you will get the result that you want. 

I think that the challenge with creative professionals is that they look at price as an indicator of success. And if they move that price up and down, they will then get the results they want: more bookings or more money. But the price is like the number on the scale: it’s not the most important thing to look at. You have to focus on what you do to try and get people to pay that price. 

For instance, the most important criteria for determining whether or not you are going to be paid a high amount is if you provide a lot of value. If you want to get paid a higher price, you have to provide more value, and the way to provide more value is to do more for whoever it is that you’re providing this service for. If they are going to want you to do more, you have to create more of a need in their mind. Really, if you want to charge more – create more value and provide more services. To do that you have to get them to want more of what you have.

When going through and thinking about pricing, I do think it’s important for people to try and find the right price, but it’s more important to find ways to create desire for what you do. If you’re in photo or video, a lot of that is going to come from the actual photos or the videos that you produce. That’s a huge part of it. But we also know that it’s really important for you to be able to connect with the person who wants your services, in order to convince them that you are the best choice. That you are going to create a great experience on all the days leading up to the wedding, and not just on the actual big day. You need to think about more than just the images or videos that you provide. 

Look at what others, who do similar things, are charging and come up with a price that’s kind of in the middle. I always like this when you’re first starting out. Once you get going, what I would recommend is being flexible with your pricing and adjusting it every 3-4 bookings. 

Let’s say I charge $3000 for my photography services. If I book 3 or 4 people in a row (or in a short period of time) at a $3000 package for the same thing, then maybe it’s time to raise rates a little bit. Because I just got those 3 or 4 people to pay, I’m going to try and go to $3100 or $3200 or maybe even $3300. When I book another 3 – 4 clients at that rate, I’ll raise it by another couple hundred dollars and try to book 3 or 4 more people at that new rate. And at some point, as you keep raising your rate, you will find it harder for people to say “yes”. That’s when you know that you’re getting to that ceiling of what you might be able to charge, given how you’re selling it at the moment and what the product quality looks like. 

It will be different for everybody, but I recommend looking at your conversion rate: if you convert a lot of people it’s time to raise your rates. If you’re filling in your calendar and you don’t have many dates left to sell, or if you book several people in a row, it’s time to look at raising your rates. And if, for some reason, you’re not converting at a higher rate and you’re not filling in your calendar, and a lot of people are saying “no”, then it might be time to look at lowering your rates a little bit back down to where they were saying “yes”. 

So, a couple of things in this kind of long answer: 

1. The price is really just a reflection of how big the demand is and how much people want what it is that you have to sell. If you want to charge more, you have to increase their wants, you have to find more needs, you have to make yourself more valuable. 

2. Make sure that when you think about your pricing you don’t have just one price. You need to have a bunch of different prices and they can go up and down depending on how much people are saying “yes” to what it is that you offer. 

Dima: Are there any widely-spread mistakes that photographers make when it comes to sharing pricing?

Sam: I do think that there are a lot of mistakes that people make in pricing. Here are a few of them: 

1. Never share specific pricing with people until you have told them what it is that you do and you know what it is that they need. Don’t share pricing with people before they know what you do and you know what they need. Those things are way more important than what your number is. 

2. Another mistake that people make is that they not only send pricing right away, but they send pricing with a ton of other information in a pricing PDF. I’m not a fan of PDFs in general for sending and sharing information. It’s kind of like if Flothemes didn’t have a mobile friendly website. Who would look at their website? That’s what a PDF is, it’s not mobile friendly. I think you need to make sure that you’re sharing your pricing information in a phone friendly format, and a lot of people don’t do that. 

3. Another series of pricing mistakes that people make is that they provide just 1 price. I recommend providing 3 different prices for 3 different packages when you send out a proposal. This gives people the option to choose preferably the middle one. You use effects like framing, anchoring, and decoy pricing, to try and stir them into the middle option. If you offer just one price, you’re not getting as much out of the proposal as you could. 

4. Another mistake that people make with pricing is that they offer just one rate. It doesn’t go up or down based on the day of the week or the time of the year. This is called “dynamic pricing”. I know a lot of people say that dynamic pricing can only be used with airline companies, hotels, or movie theatres, etc. But the basic assumption with dynamic pricing, and moving your rates up and down, is that you have a fixed supply of Saturdays in your peak time period and those limited Saturdays that you have are more valuable than, say, a Tuesday in the slowest time period. 

If you’re in the northern hemisphere and most weddings are going to be between May and October, a Saturday in September is way more valuable than a Tuesday in January. Most people don’t have much of a price difference between a Tuesday in January and a Saturday in September. I would absolutely make sure that you’re looking at your calendar and seeing how you can take advantage of those peak dates and also try to generate some income on those non-peak dates by being flexible with your pricing.

Dima: Given the COVID-19 crisis and the tremendous impact it’s having on many businesses, when so many photographers and videographers are staying in the limbo, they don’t know what will happen, what advice do you have for them to help keep their businesses afloat? 

Sam: It’s a great question. I’ve spent so much time doing this, even before we got on this interview I was on the phone for several hours in a row with different clients, all photographers, talking about how they should be responding to the Covid-19 outbreak. 

There are probably 2 camps, 2 ways of looking at this. One way of looking at it is pivot. Pivot to something else, like e-commerce, etc. There’s also a group of people who are trying to focus on how you can continue to sell more things, like albums, prints, to past clients or upsell them to current clients. I wouldn’t really put the focus on that right now, as often people are discounting that. What I would do instead is focus on what you need to do to retain your current clients who are paying you full rates for events that they had booked, and maybe need to postpone. I would absolutely make sure that you are preparing for any future cancellation interest that people have based on what happens in the future. Make sure that you are letting people know what dates are open and available for rescheduling and make sure that you’re keeping up conversations with people who are already on the books. That would absolutely be a huge priority right now: keep the clients that you have, don’t lose them. 

I would also make sure that you are putting your availability out there for dates that are coming up in the summer or the fall, or next year, in 2021. Planners and venues need to recommend photographers or videographers to their clients, because the original photographer or videographer had to cancel or couldn’t do the date that they rescheduled to. So make sure that people are aware of what your availability is.

I would also be making it easy for people to buy your services right now, not by lowering your rates, but by coming up with terms and conditions for payments, cancellations and refunds that actually make sense and are approachable for people. I would be developing content and putting it on my website, on my social media and on my blog that has relevant information to what people want to hear about right now. Content that’s addressing their big concerns, so that they see you as an expert, as a resource, and as somebody who is helping out. 

Lastly, I would be creating content for later this summer, into the fall, or even next year. That’s either evergreen content or something specific for that time of the year that you can post on social media and put up on your website for SEO and blog purposes. When things do normalise and get back to usual with your events, you’re likely going to see a condensed version of your 6 – 8 months of peak season. Which means that if you are normally busy during peak season, you’re going to be even busier now, because you’re cramming in all of those dates that you needed to reschedule and you didn’t want to cancel. The risk that you may run into – is that you are so busy taking care of this year’s clients that you don’t have any time to sell for next year’s clients. Start creating blog content that delivers people through SEO, create right now your Instagram posts and your Pinterest pins for July, August, September, and even October. You can prepare all the images and captions right now, and then just schedule it for that time period. You’ll save yourself 5-10-15-20 hours a week when you’re really busy and you don’t have time to do it. 

Sure, now you can spend the time going through and saying “yes” to more clients who are inquiring. The question to ask yourself is will you have time set aside with the peaking schedule that you will run into?

Dima: So it’s a good time to work out our bodies and our minds?

Sam: It is, you’re absolutely right. You know, on our morning show on Instagram, my wife and I talk a lot about how important it is to keep your head and your body in good shape right now. 

In the US, at least, we’re into our fifth week now of no events and we don’t know when that’s going to end. At the earliest, it’ll be 3 weeks from now, and it’s likely to be much longer than that, depending where you live. It’s not enough to just go through and binge watch all the TV shows that you want, or screw around on Instagram or Facebook or TikTok or whatever it is. Now is the time that if you do things to prepare your business while all of your competition is watching Tiger King and doing TikTok dances, you are going to leap ahead of them. This, right now, is the opportunity for people who are truly ambitious and motivated to see their businesses succeed. This is the time when you will succeed. 

Dima: If any of our clients want to contact you for a 1:1 consultation for their business, what’s the best way for them to do that? 

I would absolutely recommend following us on Instagram and then I would head up to our website for more information on the types of services that we offer and how to get in contact. There is information on there about 1:1 consulting work that I do, coaching work, sales. 

We also do brand communication strategies, which is great for trying to come up with content for your brand messaging and how you can connect with people. We do copywriting for website services, so if you’re thinking about upgrading your website, which would be a great thing to do right now, you want to make sure that the copy is a big part of what you’re putting out in front of your clients and your site visitors. 

We also have workshops that we will resume in the summer or the fall, depending on when we can. I do offer 30-minute phone calls for everybody who’s interested in doing some 1:1. We also have online courses that are available right now. 

We are currently doing free group coaching. You can also sign up on our website to get 2-3 hours every week of Q&A with me about what to do during the covid-19 outbreak and how to make sure that you’re doing everything you can to stay on top of your business. 

Join the free coaching, that’s a great way to get good work right down and if you’re interested in 1:1 consulting, reach out through our website.

***

Was this helpful? Loved every bit of this interview? Here are a few ways to connect with Sam and keep following his tips and recommendations:

Website: ideactionconsulting.com
Blog: ideactionconsulting.com/3minute-ideas
Instagram: instagram.com/ideactionconsulting
Facebook: facebook.com/ideactionconsulting

Huge thank you to our dear friend and talented cinematographer Dima Dimov, for conducting this interview and helping us bring all this knowledge to you guys! Stay tuned, as we have more fun interviews coming up!

Flothemes Team,
Empowering You.

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