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“People who are entrepreneurial work really, really hard and they bring in a lot of money, but they can spend more bringing it in than they actually take in. That’s called a loss. And a business that breaks even is called a hobby. A successful business makes a profit.” – Dave Ramsey

When I first started my photography business, I never in a million years could have anticipated all the tough decisions I would need to make. So many questions came up that I have had to find answers for.

One of the most uncomfortable questions I’ve faced is how to handle discounts for friends and family.

I love my friends and family and I wish I could do free shoots for them anytime they want. However, from a business perspective (as well as a physical and mental one) it’s simply not something I can do. But it seemed like the busier I got, the more friends asked for shoots and eventually I knew I’d have to develop some sort of friends discount policy that I’d feel comfortable with.

One thing I knew for sure was that I still wanted to give my friends and family a bit of break, but I had a hard time deciding where to draw the line.

I asked myself these three questions (almost compulsively) until I finally came up with my Friends Discount Policy.

  1. What is the friends discount and who do I offer it to? (After all, I feel like I’ve actually become friends with lots of my photography clients!)
  2. Is there anyone I will do free photo sessions for?
  3. Will my friends and family be mad at me for charging them? Could I even lose them as clients?

I formulated answers to these questions, second-guessed those answers, and made up new ones. I went back and forth, running through different scenarios and after much consideration; here are the answers I finally feel good about:

What is the friends discount and who do I offer it to?

Friends and family who book a session with me will receive a 50% discount of whatever my current price is. “Friends” in this particular context means only the people I had friendships with prior to starting my photography business and also includes extended family members. (When you’ve got an Irish Catholic side that part is important to consider.)

Is there anyone I will do free photo sessions for?

Nowadays there are only a few people I will do free shoots for. Those people include my immediate family and about two other people who, to me, are basically that.  I might also do free shoots if it’s for a good cause or if I need a model for a particular idea I want to implement.

Will my friends and family be mad at me for charging them and could I possibly lose them as clients?

Well, I’m no Miss Cleo so I probably won’t ever know the answer to this one for sure. But here’s what I have to say about it to any fellow photographer who may have asked herself the same thing. If my friends and family are mad at me, and I truly doubt they ever would be (even though I think like a paranoid freak about it sometimes), I’m ok with that. I’d hate for anyone to be mad at me, but at the end of the day photography is more than a hobby to me. It is a business and in order for it to succeed as a business it must make a profit.

It’s often our friends who are rooting for us the loudest so I doubt it would be an issue for them to pay for a session. But it does feel awkward to tell people who you’ve gone to the mall with, fought with, cried with, partied the night away with, etc. to pay you for a shoot. Still, it’s better than getting yourself into a situation you might resent later.

Photographers provide a valuable service and the people who hire us get that. So there’s no reason to feel weird about charging anyone, including friends and family.

If someone doesn’t like it, they don’t have to book you.

That’s the amazing thing about the U.S. of A, baby. Freedom of choice in a competitive economy filled with thriving small businesses. If someone won’t pay your price, it just means you aren’t a good fit for each other. And it’s best for both parties to just walk away from a deal like that rather than try to force it. That way you can leave room for the amazing new client who you were completely meant to work with.

So if you’re in the process of developing your own photography business my advice is to stay true to yourself when creating your own Friends Discount Policy. It doesn’t have to look like mine or anyone else’s but it’s important to have one you’re comfortable with. That way you will know how to handle it when the question comes up, and it will come up.

At the end of the day, a business transaction is a spiritual one. It has to feel good for both parties. I want more than anything for my clients to feel happy with me and fulfilled by my product but it’s important to remember that I should also feel the same way. And when that happens, a truly perfect relationship exists.