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Why "cheap to compete" fails

There is one customer dreaded by most. The cheap client fixated on prices and determined to bring your price down. In my experience, they often want more for less and are hard to satisfy.

It's understandable why this leads people to think that being cheaper will secure more clients. In this blog, I will be taking you through some of my learning processes and providing some useful tips on how to navigate cheapskates.

For service-based businesses bringing the cost down to be the cheapest is doomed to fail. But often many do this in order to secure a gig. Let's go over some basics. If you value your time to be worth as £15 pounds per hour and charged that rate you would be accepted a pay decrease. Just think about the background resources needed for any job;

  1. Travel

  2. Insurance

  3. Equipment acquisition

  4. Equipment maintenance

  5. Customer service

  6. Marketing

  7. Development

  8. Staff

  9. Taxes to name a few

Running a business has to consider these resources when it comes to planning a sales strategy. Most importantly it is good to have money set aside for rainy days.

What are some of the barriers that stop us from charging our worth


When I started taking photographs, I was completely ignorant of these basic principles. I honestly was not aware that I was earning less than minimum wage. I would recommend taking time to consider all the processes your business uses in order to see a customer from interest (lead) to delivery. Consider all the hats you wear and how much hiring a person for those roles would cost. It is essential to know your value!


As a Croydon photographer, I found that a client would fixate on the time they see you as the only time worked. This is unreasonable. For example, a one hour shoot would be worth £15. This rate would negate the travel time, planning, editing and customer service. Imagine spending 30 minutes answering questions or selling the service, 3 hours travelling, 4 hours editing and 1-hour planning. Before you know it you are working for £2 per hour.

Common pressure tactics used would be to threaten to consider another service. This caused me to doubt my value many times. But eventually, I woke up, dusted myself off and became to believe in myself.

Here are some typical lines used to apply pressure

  • Implying that it would be good for your portfolio to do it for free or cheap.

  • Claims that the budget does not stretch.

  • Suggesting to cut corners to save.

For sensitive people such as myself, pressure can be very intimidating. It can cause you to cave in if you lack the backbone and resilience that comes with experience and knowledge. I would recommend thorough market research and a supportive network to assist you if this is an area of weakness. As information is power!

How psychology can benefit you to charge your worth

Though customers say that want cheaper. What they usually want is something of value. Here are some useful examples

Car wash

Researchers did an experiment. They set up two sets of loyalty cards for a car washing service. They both offered a free wash after 8 stamps. The difference was one card had ten slots with two prestamped sections while the other just had 8 blank spots.

The customers with 10 slots with 2 pre-stamped slots spent 35% more whereas the group with the empty 8 slots only had an increase of 19% when compared to the control group with no cards. The researchers concluded that the customer's perception of progress was strong enough to motivate them to use the service more. The researchers argued that a perceived artificial advancement is enough to increase the selling power. (The Endowed Progress Effect: How Artificial Advancement Increases Effort 2006 by JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH, Inc. ● Vol. 32 ● March 2006).

If we can learn to show our clients progress towards a goal this can be enough according to research to persuade clients to do repeated business with us. The clients focus moves away from the cost and they focus on a reward.

Personalised service

Waiters were able to increase their tips by 23% by providing personalised service. What they did was simple. When handing over the bill they gave away mints for free. The most successful results happened when this was done with the bill and again shortly after. Essentially the customers felt the service was looking out for them and rewarded it financially.

You may not get tips, but word of mouth is powerful. Excellent customer service improves perceived value and increases the likelihood of recommendations. In my experience when your brand has trust, the client is happier to part with their cash compared to a cold lead.

A mint is a cheap way of making someone feel special. What can you do to give a buzz to your service? You may find that a little extra effort will go a long way. (Sweetening the Till: The Use of Candy to Increase Restaurant Tipping David B. Strohmetz, Bruce Rind, Reed Fisher, Michael Lynn First published: 31 July 2006).

Believe in your value

What is the difference between a Lamborghini and a Fiat? They are both cars, they both have four wheels, it could be argued that the average Fiat 500 has more useful features than the Lambo (Larger boot, better in-car features etc). However, the Lambo has a much higher value. I am certain that the Fiat is more practical, however, the cars serve different purposes.

The Lambo cannot sell the volumes the Fiat does. It is clear that Fiat makes more money selling their cars than Lambo does for its models. Lamborghini made $1,000 million compared to the $99 Billion Fiat made in 2020. Arguably you could say that Fiat is more valuable, however emotionally the Lamborgini communicates, luxury, status and performance. It knows that other brands sell cars more useful but cheaper, but it does not care.

This sports car has successfully conveyed its value by careful product placement in films, music videos and by implanting emotions of excitement and status into our minds. By doing so the average person won't question its value. You may be unaware that the luxury sports care started off by selling tractors and only sold cars due to an alleged dispute over a faulty Ferrari purchased. Though they still make tractors, we don't associate the brand with slow agricultural vehicles. Lamborghini believes in their value and as long as they convey this, their clients buy into that brand.

In the same manner, you have to be aware of your value. Just like successful brands you have to make your clients not question your rates. By demonstrating your value, clients will be less likely to attempt to undercut you regardless of other similar services.

Lessons I've learned

Being the cheapest does not pay! I have learned that clients prefer a reliable service that can produce something of value. This value begins with me, I need to recognise what I have in order to persuade someone else to value it.

I took the time out to understand the use of photographs. Photos for businesses literally pay for themselves. When you and I purchase a product, we tend to be drawn by a photograph. A photo tells us quickly what the product is, how it works, what it is made from. A study by Wei DI explored "whether a picture was worth a thousand words" and concluded that images help conversion rates. Because of this knowledge, I am fine with standing my ground when dealing with clients.

The same thing with portraits, a well-taken portrait can form a strong connection over time especially when printed and displayed. Unfortunately, the value can increase after a passing, when that photo becomes the best reminder of that person. I can think of the times I have gone to loved one's houses and viewed well taken old pictures and been in awe of the image. I often consider a wealth of things, such as trying to figure how the person was like during this period of life. The photo becomes a window into the past and an item that may benefit generations to come. (As you can tell, I am passionate about this topic! But you get the point, it is key to understand the value you bring)

I have also learned that if a client does not value you, it does not mean they won't pay the sum you are requesting. Business sometimes requires ruthlessness and you have to be confident in your brand and the value it brings. Understand the problem you solve and the benefit it brings your client. A client not willing to pay your fee, may take on another for higher simply on their association of the value to that brand.

I have learned I am great at what I do, and I am sure you have greatness within you too. Believe in yourself and don't "cheap" your way into despair. Do what you do, do it well and get the money you deserve.

Croydon photography service

If you would like some images to help with your brand, click the button below and let me know how I can be of assistance. I specialise in portraits and would love to hear from you. Our service is based in Croydon, South London.

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