I have had essentially one piece of advice from a fellow professional photographer since I put out my shingle. After looking over my Web site, my would-be mentor simply said "raise your prices."
Naturally I was hesitant. I had just started up this business in the middle of summer (really not the best time to get into wedding photography) and was struggling to find clients willing to take a chance since one or two weddings on a Web site can't be all that reassuring. At the beginning of September I changed my mind on that.
I've been very lucky with the brides I've had approach me. They've all been great to work with and in the end we made some great photos and had a good time, but there are a few that have fallen away. Mostly it's with a little note that they've found a friend or family member that would love to shoot the wedding for free and will sure do a great job. If the news were delivered in person then I would just smile and nod, by e-mail I simply wish them the best of luck and watch them vanish into the ether.
The problem when you're starting out is that when you don't value your photography, it's quite possible that your customers won't either. After all, once you start competing on price you're in league with people doing this to support their photography habit or friends willing to shoot for free. How can anyone compete with that?
The key is to let clients know that photography is not a commodity where one person with a camera is as good as the next. It should be easy after all is said and done, a wedding is an incredibly special day and the soon-to-be bride and groom and they've spent countless hours looking at cakes and caterers with much the same message. For most people the difference between a well done wedding cake and something from Stop & Shop, or between good catering and a six foot sub from Subway, is glaringly obvious and within reason they're willing to pay more for better products. But with photography it's a little harder since for most people expectations are fairly low after years of family snap shots, awkward family photos and endless vacation slides.
One way to start is to bump up your prices, telling people that you're not competing with Uncle Bob. It also helps reach the break even point every month.