When a client doesn't have a budget vs he doesn't want to spend.

As a freelancer, we often come across clients who either have genuine budget limitations or they literally don't want to spend. Such calls will not end up being your potential client but they are practically different, let me explain to you how.


Hi, I am Shovona Karmakar, a freelance commercial portrait, food and product photographer, and a product stylist based out of Mumbai India. This is my second series of Booty call 1, these are a part of the real-life conversation with altered names to keep the privacy intact. The agenda is to let you know the red flags for many not to do the mistakes I did. Well, still there is no guarantee people will not try to have a new way to fish you.


Have you ever got a call from a client who gives you a verbal temptation of giving you regular work in exchange for your service at half the price because all it is seeing is its own profit? This technique is pretty old and many who are just starting in their career are prone to fall in the net, it is indeed not their fault because all they are looking for is some kind of opportunity to prove themselves and even sustain themselves. The following is a lesson down the line as you grow in your career.



Sam: Hii, am I speaking to Shovona?


Myself: Hii, yes I am shovona, wondering whom I am talking to?


Sam: Hey Shovona! I am Sam, an owner of an upcoming e-commerce brand, we deal with baby and toddler garments age from a month till 8 years old. We are presently based out of Mumbai and we are looking for a photographer and a product stylist for our upcoming shoots.


Myself: Hey Sam! Thanks for calling, it sounds great, wondering if you can tell me more about what exactly you are looking for?


Sam: Shovona! We are an upcoming brand and we are planning to do shoots once every week as we have around 100 products and more coming every month and we wanted to shoot all of them for our social media precisely Instagram. As we are a startup we wanted to do it as pocket friendly as possible yet we are looking for quality output. We have been doing all the shoots to date by ourselves but presently we feel we need someone of your calibre to come onboard and help us along the way.

I came across your work online and do liked your sense of aesthetics and hence thought to approach you.


Myself: Thanks for the consideration. 100 garments sound a lot. I was wondering how many products do you want to cover precisely and what kind of budget do you have and what kind of styling do you have in mind.


Sam: I don't have any budget in mind but wondering if we cover 40 products a day to start with and what kind of fees do you charge, do you charge per product or per day basis?


(Conversation to date does talk a lot about client psychology, and you have to understand it is not wrong on its parts, they are simply trying to either understand the market or trying to find someone who fits their bills. They do have a basic budget in mind if you ask me how? It's India, we all have a budget in mind. Every small and big brand is there to make money and it is going to be very weird to understand that they don't have an upper limit to what they will like to spend on their marketing ventures. Even you have a budget in mind when you look for a house to rent it out keeping your priorities in mind or when you go to a mall looking for a nice music system.

There is always a budget limit, the space for exceptions is less but there is their existence.)


Let's move on...


Myself: Hey Sam! 40 products a day with styling is a little unpractical keeping in mind the amount of time it will require to light and do the other needed to set the composition ready. At an average, we limit ourselves to shoot not more than 6-8 images a day with styling as one still shoot shift consist of only 8 hours, we can extend the shift with an additional cost.


Sam: Shovona, wondering do you charge per day or per-product basis and what all your fees will include?


Myself: Sam, I am a freelance advertising photographer and few of my brands are Samsung, Morning Star, Cadbury and more, and we charge on per day basis, my fees don't include any of the needed equipment, everything we need for the shoot from the studio, lights, styling products/props, and more are charged individually and on per day basis. My fees just include my creative service needed for your imagery requirement.


(You will be wondering why the person is asking for "per product charges", it is because there are people in the industry who do full-time e-commerce shoot and they calculate their estimate based on the number of products as they don't provide anything additional quality service than just shooting them against a white background.)


Sam: Oh! I understand now, sadly I don't want to spend more than 40k INR for 40 products and I am open to buying the props and equipment down the line if needed.


(Voila! he just told you his budget, as I said everyone has a budget especially in India. He is looking to spend 1k INR per product which includes everything from props, equipment, studio space, digital correction. Honestly, It's a tough-luck if he gets someone.)


Myself: Hey Sam! I am glad you connected me and I am happy to be a part of your venture, sadly I can't help you much in the given budget, in-case you wish to rethink both in the aspect of the number of images and your budget we can connect further.


Sam: Oh! ok... as I am going to use the images only on Instagram and the shelf life is not much I don't find any sense in spending such a huge amount. We have been shooting all these while and I am pretty sure it is not going to be as exhaustive as you are saying. I cannot pay you what you charge but can you suggest someone who can give us the same output and not bill us the same amount.


Personally, these are not my target clients, and these are definitely not a client I wanna work on a regular basis, you see he is simply interested in his profit, he has money as he has expressed his interest in buying props and equipment down the line but he is not ready to pay you your fees. His other query of suggesting someone within his budget strongly states how precise he is about his expense.


Myself: Sam, I wish I can suggest someone but keeping your budget in mind I can't help you much.


Sam: What you think what should be a decent budget for such shoots?


Myself: (I was a little awestruck, this question does irritate me a bit keeping in mind he just expressed his desire not to spend much.) Sam, I don't know as I have no idea what kind of styling and visual expression you are looking for, things can go from lakhs to corers and there is no limit to creativity.


Sam: (he finally gave up) Hey, thanks for your time, have a good day.


Sam was either looking for someone who fits his bills or he was just trying to understand the market, people do give random calls to understand aspects like work style, fees and more for future consideration. It is going to be tricky to come to any conclusion of what exactly he is looking for but nevertheless he was not able to crack his deal with me, frankly, it was not a deal at all. He does challenge my working style which I have simply followed of what other professionals do at a standard was little itchy but you see that is how people tend to provoke you to see any possibility to bend you according to their ways.

The biggest challenge in freelancing is finding a midway to do the job and to do justice to it. It takes a lot of rejection and errors on ones part to understand what works for one and how to make it work for one.


There are different kinds of people, good people, kind people, clingy, generous, and smart. As a freelancer, your service is as good as your personal investment in terms of upgrading your skills and psychology about the subject you wish to master on. Alike any job we deserve a promotion and sadly as we are our own boss hence we need to leave things down the line to crave better opportunities and payscale. You cannot cling to the same client forever who doesn't respect your skills and style of working. As they proportionally use our service for their profit we need to do the same and it's entirely ethical. There was a time I have worked for a client as low as 2.5k INR a day all-inclusive against a work which helped me build my initial portfolio, down the line, they refused to pay me any more than that and I gradually shifted towards better opportunities. Well, that's is freelancing.


Clients who have genuine budget limitations do comes back to you if they really see value in your service and hence they are worth to chase for.

Clients who don't want to pay at all is not worth any run or bargain.

The business has various aspects and everyone is right in their space, we humans are selfish and this aspect helps us to keep us alive. Similarly, you are running a business and you too indeed have a right to say NO! if they don't fit your profit margin.


The only thing I learnt from this conversation is it is good at times to tell people where you stand and what you are worth of. It is not about blowing your own horn, it is more about letting people know how much your journey is worth it.

Stay tuned for a more real-life conversation to understand the red and green flags in freelance life.


Feel free to connect me for any queries and questions you have and any portrait, food, and product-related photography and styling. I am presently based out of Mumbai, India and have a cross-functional company production still and video content for various marketing needs.


#foodphotographer #mumbaicommercialphotographer #femalephotograppher




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