How much should I charge? Part 3

You need to understand what you need for each category over a year.

Knowing the costs of doing business is step two of knowing how to quote a price to someone when they ask you, “How much do you charge?”

In step one, you should have come up with an annual figure of what your yearly living expenses are for you. For example, if you live in a gated community and drive a premium vehicle, you can already see that what you have to charge to pay your bills will impact your prices for your clients.

The other extreme I often encounter when teaching folks how to figure their prices is if they are in college or live at home. If they use their actual expenses for their annual salary, they will have to remain living with Mommy and Daddy for the rest of their lives. If you are one of these folks, then take some time and research what it would cost you to be alone. A few things will significantly change for those under 25 if they are on their own and not with their parents.

  1. Housing costs
  2. Car Insurance
  3. Health Insurance

These three items will be much more expensive if you do this on your own.

NPPA put this on their website to help you

I highly suggest going to the NPPA website and plugging in your figures. However, there is a better reason to go to the website than just using it as a calculator. Beside each item, there is an i-button.

These coaching tips give you some idea of how to figure out this annual expense. As you can see from this box, I have copied the one for the “Office or Studio” item, and you can see it gives you an explanation about this item.

Your “Desired Salary” will change.

At some point, you will need to sit down with an accountant to help you know what you can do that will make a big difference in what you pay in taxes.

What happens when you run your own business is that some of your expenses for your home can be moved to your company, primarily if you work out of your home.

While not all these expenses will move over to your business at 100%, transferring some items could be part of your home budget.

  1. Telephone
  2. Utilities
  3. Internet Connection
  4. Auto expenses
  5. Computer
Adjust your home budget

You will need to revisit your “Annual Salary” and most likely realize you can now take home less for your home budget because some of this shifted to your “Business Expenses.”  Revisiting your budget items will slightly affect the rates that you must charge.

A little guessing

You will need to figure out the average job or assignment you will be doing with your business. I found this difficult, but you can change this later if you need. It is the most challenging thing to approximate for several reasons. For example, here are some types of photo shoots I might do in a year.

  • Headshots
  • College recruiting
  • Corporate events
  • NGO editorial coverage
  • Magazine features
  • News coverage for wire service

The prices for each of these are different for various reasons. First, they don’t all take the same amount of time. But, more importantly, some of these I am an expert in, and my competitors cannot compete for head to head with me with all my clients.

The basic idea is once you have figured out how many of these types of assignments you will do a year, you will guess what an average job entails. Next, take the same list and indicate how many you will do in a year. Besides that, how long it takes you to complete the work on average?

  • Headshots (100) x [2 hours] = 200
  • College recruiting (15) x [20 hours] = 300
  • Corporate events (12) x [20 hours] = 240
  • NGO editorial coverage (10) x [30 hours] = 300
  • Magazine features (15) x [8 hours] = 120
  • News coverage for wire service (20) x [3 hours] = 60

Total “billable” hours a year of 1220 divided by 8 hours a day gives you 152.5 days of “billable” time.

Now, this is a figure when you are starting maybe 30 days that you can find work in a year. RED ALERT!!!

You will need to assume that you either 1) have saved enough money to offset your lack of jobs until you get enough jobs or 2) have another job.

A successful photographer will likely have around 100 “billable days” of work in a year.

Using the 152.5 days of work a year will give you a $ 589.18-day rate if you use the default numbers in the NPPA calculator–DON’T DO THIS–use your numbers. For illustration, this would give you a $73.65 per “AVERAGE” hour rate that you “MUST” charge at the minimum, or your business model will be upside down.

I say average because, on some jobs, you will be able to charge more since you might have no competition or very little competition, or the going rates in the market allow for the higher rate.

Don’t Quote Hourly Rates

This exercise is to help you know your costs, not to give you the rate to quote.

Combine it all

Now that you know your “Cost-of-doing-business,” you will combine this with actual expenses associated with a job. Here are some of those expenses you will add to your base:

  1. Travel Expenses
  2. Prints/CDs/Online Fees
  3. Shipping Costs
  4. Photo assistants
  5. Makeup artists
  6. Food costs (snacks for day-long shoots, for example)

These expenses are not an exhaustive list, but this will go on top of your $589.18 if it is a day-long shoot.

Usage Fees

I discussed how to calculate these earlier, and this will go on top of the $589.18 + Expenses that will give you some idea of what to quote.


While you have everything to quote a job and are ready, some things are now negotiable.   For example, if a client gives you 50 copies of the coffee table book you did for their organization, you could trade this out for a lower price because you can now offset some advertising costs. You can then give these books out to potential customers helping you land a new client.

I know some photographers who trade out the retail value of their services, say with a restaurant. They give them $2,000 worth of photography for $2,000 worth of food. It is a win-win for both because the cost of doing the business may be $1,000 for the photographer and only $1,000 for the restaurant. The photographer takes potential clients out for dinner at the fine dining restaurant, and it helps them seal the deal. The photographer just saved $1,000 in expenses for overhead.


If you know these figures, you will feel confident when you are quoting prices that you can pay your bills doing the job. You also will feel that you did the right thing when they offer you less than your rates for a job, and you turn them down. Finally, realize once you have the numbers, you can still be creative to come up with solutions that make you the right fit for a job.