Why Undercharging Can Lead to Burnout

Undercharging in your food photography business can only go on for so long.

Here’s the thing: constantly undercharging for your services can (and likely will) lead to burnout. Why? The answer is in the numbers.

I’m sure you’ve heard fellow food photographers say that undercharging hurts the industry. We’ve preached again and again about not accepting free work or rates that fall below industry standards. Believe it or not, burnout is a huge reason why. If you’re a business owner, the primary goal is to run a viable business, one that sustains itself as well as offers enough income to cover your own cost of living. That’s the bare minimum, friends. Read it again: the #1 goal of your business is to cover the basic costs of operation and your living wages. This bottom line can’t be achieved unless you are charging appropriately. You are not a non-for-profit. You own a business and if you want to make a real go at it, it’s time to start treating it like one.

What happens when we as creative business owners agree to rates that fall below our bottom line? Simply put, we have to work more in order to stay afloat. So instead of working a 40 hour week at your base rate, you may have to work 70 hours in order to make the same income just to survive. While it happens now and then to pull longer hours due to deadlines or busy seasons (the holidays are always crazy), this isn’t a sustainable business model long term for most. Working at this pace for too long will leave you feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and possibly wanting to quit the business entirely.

This type of unsustainable working schedule ultimately doesn’t serve your clients either. It’s unlikely that you’ll be producing your best work if you’re burnt out. On the flip side, if you accept projects below your base rate and stick to your regular working hours, your business will eventually go bully-up. Ultimately, the numbers don’t lie: if you aren’t charging clients what it takes for your business to survive, you’ll either have to work more hours to make up for it or you’ll run out of money. Your talents will be useless to your clients if you can’t afford to keep offering your services.

How do we avoid burnout as creative business owners? The first thing that I recommend doing is to take a good hard look at your numbers and understand HOW to price your rates. These numbers aren’t plucked from the sky, there’s an actual science behind them, and it’s impossible to know whether or not you’re running a sustainable business without them. If you’ve already confidently calculated your rates, fantastic. You’ve gotten step one out of the way. If you aren’t sure how to accurately price your services yet (no shame – we’ve all been there), I have a pricing guide available HERE to help get you started. The second thing that I recommend is not accepting client projects that fall below your base rates. This will help avoid working overly long hours in order to make ends meat, allowing you to produce better work for your clients and feel fulfilled within your creative field.

While pricing for profit isn’t the end-all be-all when it comes to preventing burnout, it’s definitely a top contender. Understanding the true cost of running your business and setting your prices accordingly will make it much easier for you to say no to projects that fall below your bottom line. By pricing for profit, you’re much less likely to feel overworked.

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Content you may also like:

Article on the importance of a licensing agreementTop 3 Things to Establish before taking on clients article thumbnailULTIMATE PRICING GUIDE LINK



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Hey there! I’m Jennifer, the human behind Cashmere & Cocktails. I’m a food, product and travel photographer from New-Brunswick, Canada. For business inquiries, please email me at: cashmereandcocktailsblog@gmail.com

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