Real Talk: Investment and Style or "Am I Gordon Gekko?"

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I’ve thought about doing this post for awhile, but it wasn’t until I started looking at some of the paperwork I have been sending out to clients that I felt it was time to actually sit down and write it—it’s a touchy subject, but something that has been on my mind lately, so I might as well blog about it:  style.  And more specifically, my photography style and money, money, money. 

On the paperwork I send out to my potential clients it states, in the FAQ: “I work specifically to ensure I only accept weddings that fit my style (photojournalistic, editorial) and my aesthetic (DIY, small, community-esque, backyard, rustic, Michigan venues, etc).”  Now, this is true.  I work very hard to only accept weddings that are appropriate to my style.  But, now that I am going full-time, turning down a wedding (read: money needed for paying bills and keeping the electricity on) seems super counterintuitive.  When I started this business, I never really thought I would ever be in a position to be turning down work—I honestly believed that I would have maybe 7 or 8 weddings a year, they would all be my perfect style and that would be it—it never crossed my mind that I would perhaps be in a situation where 2 or 3 couples wanted me to work with them on the exact same date.  But that happened, about a month ago, and man, let me tell you, it was not an easy thing for me to handle.

First, each of the 3 weddings that were inquiring about the 2014 date sounded awesome.  I am a HUGE sucker for a good story, specifically a good love story, so sometimes I am able to decide on a couple based on their story—nope, not with these 3.  They all had this lovely little tale of how they had gotten together.  So then I figured I would narrow it down by aesthetic—whose wedding sounded the most “me” and who would be the happiest with my style of shooting?  Well…they all sounded like “me”—they all had that laid back, DIY, backyard/beach/national park feel (seriously—it was a choice between 1) a beach 2) a backyard at a private school or 3) a national lakeshore park—are you kidding me?! So then I figured I would go by general vibe I had with the couple—who did I like the best, basically.  Yeah, not working either—all 6 of them were just awesome—super excited about getting married, super kind, super passionate about one another and their photography…seriously, nothing was working here.  So this is where I had to cringingly go to my very last option, and I honestly feel embarrassed writing this, but I will just put it out there because I’m all about honesty these days—I had to break it down by who wanted to pay the most.

 

Ugggg, who am I?! Gordon Gekko?!

 

That is how I felt. And I was wracked with guilt about the decisions for several days, even to the point of trying to figure out if maybe I could shoot one and then (yes, this is true), get on an airplane and get to the next one in time.  It was a period of about 4 hours and I honestly thought maybe I could do it....obviously that was unrealistic.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t feeling that way because I thought they ONLY could work with me or my photography was the ONLY way to go (again, I swear I’m not Gordon!)—I was feeling that way because I just hate letting people down. And I hate that decisions in this business sometimes end up coming down to money and investment.  But it’s true they do.

 

I do almost all of my business currently through 3 markets:  A Practical Wedding, Offbeat Bride and word of mouth. 

 

Word of mouth is great—I get awesome referrals from fabulous couples.  And I’m seeing some super creative, fun brides come out of Offbeat Bride, but where I see almost 80% of my bookings is A Practical Wedding—and I LOVE this site. Like, I am so unbelieveably stoked to meet Maddie, Emily and Meg when we Airstream it out to the West Coast this winter--they are like...my heroes.  And I love the couples, I love the feelings of these weddings, I love the families—everything about what Meg, Emily and Maddie are doing on this site is right and it’s right for my business—but what I’m noticing too, naturally, is that the brides who get in touch with me here are…well, practical.  They aren’t ever going to want to spend $10,000 on wedding photography and that’s great.  But it also means, that sometimes my prices shock and awe folks and sometimes I feel massively guilty that I need to stick firm to my prices. 

 

I know if I keep dropping my investment options I’ll be out on the street…and I also know very well that I am priced far below other photographers in the area….yet I don’t want to lose that awesome client base from APW. 

 

Today I was talking to a potential client on the phone (and she was awesome, by the way) and we were talking about pricing, and (as usual), I was underselling myself and she finally stopped me and said, “No, how is your pricing so low?  Should I be worried?” And I kind of laughed and we talked about it and I explained that I feel like sometimes I scare people off with my pricing and she went on to say how inexpensive it is compared to other people (which I KNOW is true)…and I found myself wondering why it always takes a stranger or at least someone else to remind me that my work is worth more….Maybe other photographers are experiencing this as well—I’m almost sure they are.  It’s hard to talk to clients about investment and try to explain the true and vast quality difference they will see between a $1200 photographer and a $3500 photographer, but it’s true—it’s there.

 

Going along with this conundrum about investment, is the constant fear I have that my work isn’t good enough to compete.  Now, this is probably me just being, well, me, but it’s true.  I was at a wedding recently, shooting, and a friend of the bride came up to me and started gushing about my work, telling me she had been on my website and reads my blog and loved my stuff and was so excited to see what I came up with for their wedding and I honestly stood there thinking to myself, “There is NO possible way this chica is talking about me.  She must be confused. Bless her heart.”  But then, obviously, it sunk it that she WAS talking about me and it WAS my work she liked.  And I was floored and flattered and flabbergasted and all the other F words you can think of that are appropriate to mean “happy”.  People like my work…and they want to book me? I mean, I know I probably sounds stilted, but this blows me away each and every time I get an email from a happy couple or a potential client that starts with something to the effect of “OH MY GOD, YOUR STUFF IS AWESOME.”  I honestly think I must just have the best clients in the whole world. 

 

So where does all of this rambling get me?  Well, not very far.  It’s just something that’s been on my mind lately—how to keep my pricing competitive while at the same time ensuring I can live?  How to ensure I don’t have to turn down rock solidly awesome weddings because of limited investment from the couple?  How to ensure I’m not underselling myself? How to ensure I don’t accept weddings that just aren’t “me”?  There aren’t any easy answers to any of this—it’s just ideas I’ve been rolling around in my head and wanted to share it with all of you.  Because I don’t have all the answers—nowhere near it.  But maybe if anything you take from this blog post, take that I am SO grateful to have folks out there who are loving on my work and supporting me and are excited about what I’m putting out there—it means the absolute WORLD to know that you like me.  Ok, I’m starting to sound like Sally Field, but it’s true.  It means the world.  Thank you.