Underearning as a photographer is real. I see so much of it. And I completely understand because I was an under earner for a lot of my life.
Underearning has very little to do with how much money you make but is more about earning less than what your potential is.
Many photographers that I speak with struggle with underearning and may not even realize it. So many photographers are worried about what to charge, what others are charging, how much their packages are, what they charge for mini sessions, wedding packages, etc that they never dive in deep and examine that the main struggle is understanding their sense of value.
✅ Do you defend / rationalize your pricing with arguments like: I don’t have enough experience. My market can only handle this (low) pricing. My clients can’t afford more. I don’t think I can charge (insert $) more for what I do. One day I’ll charge more. They don’t want to pay more. It’s only a few hours of my time.
✅ Do you ‘blame’ or make excuses? I hear thoughts from clients like this all the time: There are so many other photographers out there doing what I do, that’s why I’m not successful / working with my ideal clients / able to charge what I should. Or maybe you constantly say you don’t have ‘enough time’ to work on your business, website, pricing, systems. Or it’s the bad economy or not enough people like what you do or you don’t know where to start.
✅ Do you wish you made more money or had ‘better clients’ but you continue to give away your time, your work, undervalue what you charge? You struggle with believing that you are worth more yet you may not even realize that this is the underlying thought that is keeping you in ‘underearning’ status?
✅ Do you prefer to stay in your comfort zone rather than changing things up? It scares you to take a chance at charging more, saying no more, letting a client go. For some photographers that I work with I see this pattern – they sabotage the long term success of their business rather than make lasting changes (and this may be done unconsciously) but the result is more of the same. The stress and turmoil of charging too little, working too much has become what they know – and it is easier to stay here than put themselves out there.
I have a photographer friend that has held onto a client for more than 5 years. This client pays her about $100 per shoot. And she does about 35 shoots per month. Under earners out there will argue that having $3500 month guaranteed is awesome, wow that is great, consistent income. But I would argue that she hangs onto this client because she is too afraid to put herself out there, that she is more comfortable staying in her comfort zone than spreading her wings and diversifying her income.
Because I am not her, I see her opportunities as endless. She could be making money with other clients, more in line with the value she provides in as little as one or two shoots per month – compared to what she makes doing 35. But she doesn’t see this. She clings to this client because it gives her comfort and consistent income. But she yearns for more – she wants to spread her wings and she knows she is being massively underpaid and overworked. She is outstanding at what she does, yet she can’t let it go, she can’t move on. She occasionally dips a toe in another direction but invariable clings to the ‘life preserver’ this client provides her.
How many of you can resonate with this? I know I can. It can be hard as an under earner to take that leap.
You might recognize the potential out there but can’t quite pull the trigger. Can’t let go of the sure thing, what keeps you safe. It can be daunting to take a step off the ledge and try something new, testing the waters, obtaining new clients that pay you what you are worth – and work a lot less for a lot more money.
Staying small, continuously under earning hurts no one but you. The client is gleeful because they have an outstanding, reliable photographer that they can continue to underpay. The photographer knows that she will be replaced in a second if she gives them any sort of flack. And there is this ‘jealousy’ of being replaced that also keeps her here. What is going on? It is so obvious to the outsider but not to the under earner. She is sabotaging herself.
✅ Do you self sabotage? (I am the queen of self sabotage!) Do you constantly help others before helping yourself? Or maybe you are about to have a profitable month / year yet you decide you need to buy that several thousand dollar camera body / lens even though you don’t really need it. Debt, overspending, undercharging, giving away your time and money to your detriment are all forms of self sabotage. Being generous, giving and empathetic is wonderful but not when it comes at the expense of you going into debt, accepting jobs that make you compromise and demean your value or not being able to pay your bills.
✅ Do you live in financial chaos? Don’t have any business systems in place so you have no idea how much money you make or how much money you keep? You are always working yet feel like you have nothing to show for it? As a photographer you have no idea how much you make per hour? How many hours a job actually takes you? You have no business plan? You chase jobs because you need to make money to pay your bills? You don’t save for the future because you are too busy dealing with the present.
✅ Do you avoid understanding your financial story? Similar to the last paragraph – you avoid understanding the numbers of your business and your personal life. You don’t know how much you make, how much you owe. Sometimes I see photographers with a little chip on their shoulder when it comes to understanding numbers. They are creatives after all (yes there is a little sarcasm in this sentence) they don’t want to know their numbers or don’t have the time or desire because they are too busy creating. When in reality they are too afraid of success. When you know and understand your numbers you will be amazed how much easier life becomes.
✅ Do you think that making money is for others? There’s a lot wrapped up in this question. So many of us have a limiting belief when it comes to money. We have never lived from a place of abundance so it is impossible for us to believe that there is another way. That we can dream big, earn big, have no debt and live a financially independent life. Yet we choose to believe that this sort of life is for others, not us.
✅ Do you fear being successful? Or maybe you fear taking chances? The common thread that I have found with photographers that under earn is that they are afraid. There is a level of fear with putting yourself out there, creating a business that thrives. It is easier to hide and not stand out. Undercharge so you feel comfortable. Underearn so that you stay in your comfort zone.
But if you truly want a successful, sustainable business then you have to address and overcome your fears and stop under earning! Trust me, it is your key to living a more satisfied life. When you stop under earning your business and your life will be unstoppable.
I know first hand!