Negotating With Wedding Vendors (achem, Elves)

I’ve been asked several times if I could write a post about negotiating with your wedding vendors, and I haven’t, because in the end it was something I didn’t feel qualified to write. I don’t provide wedding services as part of my livelihood, so I didn’t want to recommend ways to negotiate the cost of that service. But, into that void has stepped Jocelyn Mathewes at Studio Mathewes Photography. She’s written two very informative articles, one about what to do if you can’t hire a professional wedding photographer, and one, excerpted here, about negotiating with wedding vendors.

I have a few words of advice to add. David and I have done some negotiating and bartering with some of our wedding elves, and there are a few things that I think are important:

  • Listen to what your vendors need, and respect that. Maybe there is a price they can’t go below. Maybe there is something they are not willing to add to a package in trade. That’s fine. Remember that they, like you, have to pay their bills this month, and this is how they do it. But at the same time, communicate with them clearly. Maybe it’s not that you want a much better deal, but you want access to all of your jpg files after the wedding (we did). If you tell people clearly what you need, they often will work to accommodate you.
  • Just like you should NEVER hire a vendor who you feel is ripping you off, you should never offer something in trade where you feel like you are ripping off your vendor, or getting a deal that is ‘too good to be true.’ Likewise, if someone is totally out of your price range (a photographer who’s packages start at $10K, and you want to pay $2K), skip it. Remember, if you are doing this right, you’ve got collaborative wedding elves, not icky WIC vendors, and you should never, ever, mistreat an elf. (Right? We all know how well that turns out.)
  • Try to stay emotionally uninvolved with the negotiating process. This bit can be hard for me, but, remember, this is a business transaction. If they can’t afford to give you the price you can afford to take, it’s not that they don’t like you, it’s that they have bills to pay and a business to run.

And with that, I offer up a portion of Jocelyn Mathewes’ article on negotiating with wedding photographers:

Lately, everyone’s been tightening their belts, even when it comes to once-in-a-lifetime events, like a wedding. In the past month or so a number of hopeful couples have contacted me, only to discover that I am outside their budget. When we discover this, two things can happen: negotiation, or we part ways.

It’s painful for me when we’re forced to part ways. One of the most charming things about each couple who contacts me is that they all have a wonderful story, and they all absolutely deserve to have their event photographed beautifully. I’m frustrated when economic realities prevent this from happening, since I absolutely love what I do.

If negotiation opens up, fun, fruitful, frustrating, and futile things can result. Both sides suggest possible solutions, with varying success. Admittedly, I have spent very little time on the couples’ end of the negotiating table. When I first realized this I paused to think: was there something that I knew, something about the way I worked, that might help couples find good compromises with the photographer they want to hire?

So here I am, offering what little nuggets of advice I have. Please keep in mind that I speak as a professional photographer, from my own experience and perspective; my opinion is decidedly shaped by being on “the other side of the table.” Also, I am only one photographer; most likely my opinion and approach differ from that of others.

Things To Try: Cutting Back & Bartering

This is tricky, even if you put it nicely. I personally love the idea of negotiation, but some photographers see it as a threat to their professionalism. Even with photographers who are open to a little negotiation, it’s important to communicate to them that you think their services are worth what they’re asking. I love to be told that I’m valuable; don’t you?

Offering to cut back or barter right off the bat, or simply saying “I don’t want to pay the full amount,” can sound an awful lot like “I don’t think your work is worthwhile.” In which case, I start to wonder if you enjoyed my work in the first place and why you would want to hire me; perhaps I’m not for you!

A good way to start is by saying, “You do wonderful work, and I’d love to be able to hire you, but I can’t afford $____. Is there any way you would consider ____?” As with all communication, the how you ask is as important as what you’re asking.

1. Cutting Back: Ask to reduce package options, or go a la carte

If the photographer you’re looking at has packages with lots of extra do-dads that you could personally do without, it can’t hurt to ask politely if they’d be willing to scale down a package for you.

Be aware that some photographers won’t budge on this, as they consider the packages they offer as an integral part of their client experience. Even though it may seem superfluous to you, those packages are carefully thought out, and are a part of the attractive image they work hard to maintain.

But some photographers will be willing to trim things a bit for you, and that’s great! And while I offer several scaled-down options there are still a few things I provide that I just won’t cut back on, because to me it feels like I wouldn’t really be doing justice to my clients.

2. Bartering: Trade your skills or trade your stuff

If I need brake work, a new couch, or someone to design a website for me, I will (and have) bartered photography for those necessary things! The art of bartering is a lost one, and I’d love to see this come back into play. It can’t hut to ask politely and generally about bartering as an option for payment, and find out if it’s even a possibility.

You can read the rest of the article at Studio Mathewes Photography. Maryland couples, keep Studio Mathewes in mind!

Your tips on negotiating with Vendors (or being negotiated with, if you are a Vendor/Elf) are welcomed in the comments. And keep in mind, as my friend East Side Bride told me, “Sometimes it is easier to just pay full price,” which is 100% true.

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