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How I Deal with Price Haggling as a Photographer

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hagglehead

People are always on the lookout for bargains. Everyone wants to spend as little money as possible while getting as much as possible in return. After all, the more money you save, the more you can do with the same budget. There’s nothing wrong with this at first glance. However, in practice things often get out of hand when people start to get motivated by greed and when there’s a lack of trust.

We live in a very hostile world right now that’s filled with deception and where honesty is hard to find. There are many sociopaths out there who are only concerned about themselves and who will try to squeeze out every advantage they can for themselves in any given situation, even at the expense of others — and I’d argue that most of the time it’s at the expense of others. And because of this, people are always skeptical of one another, constantly checking if they aren’t getting ripped off.

On one side you have people constantly complaining about the price of products and services, haggling and trying to get the biggest discounts possible, while on the other side you have people purposely pricing their products and services a lot higher than needed because they expect clients to negotiate about the price.

It’s a lot like the above Monty Python sketch taken from the movie “Life of Brian.” It’s really as stupid as it is portrayed in the sketch. But this is the situation I find myself in every day. And it gets a lot more difficult to function in such a situation the more you want to be honest to yourself and to everyone else.

If I can base myself on the feedback I often get from people, then I’m known for being one of the more expensive options in my areas of expertise, while simultaneously also being known to be highly dependable and delivering quality work. Of course I don’t consider my work to be expensive; I’d say you simply get what you pay for, as usual.

In general there’s a lot of knowledge, time, energy and other resources that you need to invest in your work in order to be able to guarantee a certain level of quality, a certain level of responsiveness and dedication to your clients, and also to be able to guarantee continuity. And I don’t like to make any compromises when it comes to those things; I’ve declined many opportunities in the past where I detected that I would have to make too many compromises in those areas, even when clients specifically asked for it. This is no doubt one of the reasons why people sometimes remark that I can be difficult to deal with; from my perspective it’s for their own good (and mine, of course).

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For example, if the client’s budget is too low to be able to guarantee a certain level of quality, I honestly say so and decline to work on their project. Likewise, if the client asks for way too much to be done in too little time, I also honestly say that the timeframe is unrealistic and decline to do it. Quite often others will initially agree to such unrealistic expectations to get clients on board, and then surprise them later with requests for more time and/or money. That’s very misleading and is not how I choose to work.

Because I place a very high importance on trust and honesty, I also like to keep my prices lean and mean. This means that I never charge more than I really need and never more than I think my work is worth compared to other available options on the market that I know of. Think about it: what kind of message do you send to a potential client when, for example, you’re able to give them a discount where you eventually end up charging them $1,000 instead of your initial price of $1,500? Even if you’re able to give a discount of just $100, it means you were essentially overcharging them by $100 and weren’t exactly being honest about the true costs of your work. Either that, or, it means you’re doing work for that client at a loss or at your own expense (“donating” your time and other resources). I’ve given clients “discounts” in the past, but it always meant that I was doing part of the work for them at my own expense.

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I’m not doing the work I do because I want to get rich; in fact I don’t want to get rich. When you become rich, you become a slave of your lifestyle; you have to keep working harder and harder to maintain your expensive lifestyle. Much like the famous Uruguayan president Jose Mujica once remarked, I want to travel through life with a light suitcase. I want to live a balanced life, and not take more than I need to guarantee my basic needs as a human being in order to live a comfortable life. People who know me better will be able to attest to the fact that I live a frugal life; the only things I really spend a lot of money on are on things related to my work (such as knowledge and equipment), so that I can deliver the best work possible to my clients.

The truth is that I’m doing the work I do because I truly love it. If we lived in a different kind of society where all our basic needs were guaranteed for free (such as the Venus Project, as described by the brilliant futurist and social engineer Jacque Fresco in his book “The Best That Money Can’t Buy”), I wouldn’t mind doing the things that I do for free. In fact, when I was much younger (age 16 – 23) I used to work for free much of the time. My parents would often get angry at me and give me lectures telling me that I shouldn’t share my knowledge for free and that I should start charging for my work. I knew they meant well, but I mostly ignored them. At that time I didn’t care about money that much.

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What I cared about was being able to do what I loved doing while learning as much as I could in the process, and making people happy with my work. But things change once you get older and start to realize that you have to become more independent and have to start taking care of yourself. You realize that you have to start thinking more commercially in order to be able to survive. So although I would love to work for free and help people as much as possible, I have to charge enough for my work in order to be able to take care of myself and be able to offer quality, reliability and continuity to my clients.

The simple fact of that matter is that if I don’t do that I’ll end up homeless in no time. If I don’t look after myself and see to it that I get paid enough for my work so that I can survive, nobody else is going to do it for me. If I don’t value my work and charge for it what I need and deserve, nobody is going to correctly value my work and pay for it. Especially in the current anti-social system that we live in, it’s everyone for himself. Like I explained in the past, this system forces people to develop predatory behavior; people mostly care only about themselves and will gladly benefit from exploiting someone else, whether they realize what they’re doing or not. Most people will gladly drive down your price and pay you as little as possible, and not care at all about whether you’ll survive or not.

I think that everyone should begin to realize that they have to be more responsible when doing business. I often get complaints from people about competitors who were either very unreliable or didn’t deliver the (quality of) work they promised. But quite often these people fail to realize that they’re also to blame for choosing the cheaper option and for driving the price down. If you continue to push for lower prices and bigger discounts, what else do you expect will happen? As the saying goes, “if you pay peanuts you’ll get monkeys.” You have to realize that if you pay too little I’m not going to be able to guarantee my time, I won’t be able to invest in knowledge and good equipment to deliver quality work, and eventually may not be around anymore in the future to be of service to you.

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I apply this same reasoning to myself when I’m someone else’s client, and this is also why I never ask for discounts and never haggle over the price. If I get an estimate from someone all I do is decide for myself if I can afford it or not. When I’m convinced of the quality and reliability I can expect from someone, and when I can also afford their products and services, I never hesitate to do business with them no matter how expensive they may be. This is why, for example, I spend a lot of money on the best equipment that I can afford. But when I do spend so much, I expect to get good value for my money, and if I don’t, I will make it known.

So when I charge a certain amount for my work, you can safely assume that I’ve done my (market) research, I’ve made my calculations, I’ve thought about it a lot, and that I’m doing it for good and honest reasons. If you can’t trust that I really need the money I’m charging for my work, it means there’s a lack of trust from the very beginning and we shouldn’t be working together.

With all of the above in mind, I’ve recently adopted a policy of non-negotiation when it comes to my prices and estimates. It’s take it or leave it. I try not to waste time and energy anymore with price negotiations as much as possible. It’s not worth it, and people rarely truly appreciate it. It can be as tiring and stupid as the Monty Python sketch above.

If you ever receive a link to this post from me, this is the best I’m willing to do when it comes to price negotiations, and I hope it’s enough and that you understand my position. You can now either trust me that I’m not overcharging you, convinced of the fact that my time and work are worth the price I’m asking, or, you can go elsewhere.


About the author: Karel Donk is a freelance photographer, software engineer, and designer based in Paramaribo, Suriname. This article was also published here.


Image credits: Sale photo by Alan Cleaver, Piggy Bank photo by 401(K) 2012, Monkey photo by Marcus Södervall

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