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The Photographer's Pricing System: The Ideal Client and Your Marketplace

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In this chapter from The Photographer's Pricing System: Get paid what you're worth for portraits and weddings, Alicia Caine discusses designing your ideal-client avatar, the price point of affordability, prequalifying clients, pricing on your website, and the courage to turn away.
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Designing your ideal-client avatar

Marketing courses often recommend that you design your ideal-client avatar, specifying the person’s name, age, religion, income, lifestyle, and so on. All of this is important information to know so that you can visualize and humanize the person you are trying to reach. If you just try to market to someone who “values your art and wants to pay you,” it’s really hard to know where to go find that person, how to talk to him or her, what he or she values, what he or she already spent money on, and more. So for you to have an idea where to focus your marketing energy, you need to get in the head of your ideal client by designing a hypothetical lifestyle for him or her. (Doing so will also help you avoid the pronoun gymnastics seen here. For simplicity moving forward, I’ll alternate between referring to our unknown ideal as “him” or “her” by section.)

The price point of affordability

In creating the ideal-client avatar, the element that is always missing is the answer to this all-important question: “Can he afford you?” Note that this is not the same as his income level. Some of my lowest-paying clients were millionaires, and some of my highest-paying ones couldn’t even be considered middle class. Although someone’s income level does play a role, it’s still not a determining factor in whether that person can afford you. Look beyond elements like household income; focus more on the price point of affordability—how much is the client willing to spend to get what he wants?

Have you ever looked at something that you couldn’t afford at the time but logged it into your memory bank with a plan to buy it as soon as you had the funds? That was something that fit into your price point of affordability.

If someone was trying to sell that product and looked at you only if you currently had the finances, then technically you wouldn’t be an ideal client, right? But, if someone looked at you as a potential client because you had that price point of affordability in your mind—that willingness to spend the money if you had it—you would be an ideal client. It would be worthwhile to continue marketing energy toward you so that you could continually be reminded of how much you want that thing and could make it a priority to either save for it or jump on the opportunity as soon as you had the finances.

When reaching out to your ideal client, marketing efforts aren’t always going to yield instant results. The ideal client has long-term value. I’ve purchased several things in my lifetime that I first purchased mentally, letting them simmer in my mind for a few years before I actually invested the money and owned the things. If you have an Amazon wish list, you know what I’m talking about.

That is what marketing to an ideal client looks like: The person may not be the right fit right now, but he would like to be someday. What someone is willing to pay you may be completely different than what someone can currently afford.

Market to clients, not budgets

When you market to your ideal clients, they can instantly see the value of paying you $1500. These are the type of people who swoon over your work and generally say “I wish I could afford you” in a way that doesn’t come across as “You’re too expensive.”

Unfortunately, these people are not in the financial place to be able to pay you right now. But their price points of affordability are still ideal because they see the value in you. They are comfortable with that number, and they will log you into their memory banks as being a “someday I hope I can have that.” Even though right now they can’t pay you, it does not mean that you have lost them as clients. You can still market to them, as they are still a match for the price point of affordability. Don’t completely rule them out.

To understand why, consider a handbag analogy. Almost every woman owns a handbag, but what the purchaser is willing to pay can vary hugely from one woman to the next. Let’s say someone predetermines that she would never, ever spend $5000 on a Louis Vuitton bag because she feels that’s a ridiculous price to pay for a handbag. Even if her income increased dramatically, she has already determined that she cannot afford that bag because she doesn’t see the value—she has a lower price point of affordability. When her income increases, she isn’t going to go Louis Vuitton shopping because her ability to pay for the bag doesn’t change her value of it. It doesn’t change her price point of affordability.

Now consider someone who is struggling financially and swoons over the idea of toting that logo around someday. Even if she can’t afford it currently, the bag is still within her price point of affordability. As soon as her financial situation changes and she can pay the asking price, she is going to see the handbag as affordable—and she’s going to buy it.

The point is that you still want to attract people who may not be able to pay you right now. If you continue to market to them and foster a relationship with them over the years, as soon as they do have the finances, they will hire you—and your marketing efforts will pay off. The income situation for most people generally shifts and changes, and rarely does anyone stay in one place. That’s why you want to market to the price point of affordability, not the income level.

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