I would bet that you are constantly being asked for donations to charity events, free rentals for styled shoots, and industry discounts. Rental pros respond to these requests with a range of emotions; excitement, guilt, pressure, anger, resentment... Especially as you get busy, the request to offer your services and products for free can even become offensive to you.
So, what do you do?
I think the answer lies in Policies and Budgets. Set aside an hour or two to think through these three areas (Discounts, Donations, and Marketing Opportunities) to decide when (if ever) you'll offer them.
Before we dive into the actual policies you'll put in place, let's take a step back and think about your brand, your core values, and your goals. I find it helpful to think about the big picture apart from any specific circumstances at first. Start by asking yourself some questions:
- What do discounts say about my brand?
- Even if discounts (especially industry discounts) are the norm in my region, do they help me achieve my goals?
- What freebies/donations, marketing opportunities, and discounts line up with my company's core values?
- What do I give up if you offer these things?
- Do I need to increase my regular pricing in order to account for possible discounts and in-kind donations?
- Are there other ways to support causes I believe in, incentivize my customers, or market my business that don't involve giving away my product for free?
- How can I leverage promotions and incentives to get people to do what I want them to do (buy during a certain season, book early, rent a particular piece, increase their rental order, etc.)?
- Will discounts, donations, or these marketing opportunities lead to more of the kind of business I want? Or just more requests for discounts and freebies?
Once you've had a chance to think through the big picture, it is time to write your policies. Think about who, when, and why you'll offer discounts, donations, or participate in marketing opportunities. Be as specific as possible.
Here are some sample policies you might want to consider:
- I never offer discounts.
- I only offer discounts to people in the “industry.” I verify they are part of the industry by reviewing their website, getting referrals, seeing a copy of their business license, etc. My standard industry discount is always M%.
- I offer a discount of X% for anyone who has done $Y business with me in the past Z months. Pick REAL numbers for X, Y, and Z ahead of time.
- I don't offer discounts but I do send an annual “credit” to businesses at the end of the year that equals N% of the business they referred to me this year. They can use their credit for any new bookings for next year or give the credit to a client.
- I support charities involved in this kind of work: ___________.
- I am willing to make donations of free rentals / discounted rentals / free rentals but they have to pay for labor / free rentals by they can't pick them out until 4 days before the event (if they want to reserve pieces more than 4 days before the event, they must pay full price)...
- I can only donate to events occurring Monday to Friday or January to March.
- I participate in marketing opportunities that get me exposure in at least 5 outlets (print magazine, blog, aligned vendor's blog, Instagram post to 2K+ followers, Pinterest gallery of vendor with 1K+ followers, access to photos for my own marketing purposes, etc.).
- The target audience (end-users / aka brides, industry professionals, potential corporate clients, etc.) for marketing opportunities must include: _________________.
- I must be credited as “specialty rentals” and “stylist.”
- My company must be credited as “XYZ Rentals” and link to my website at www.xyzrentals.com or “@XYZRentals”
- Organizer will be responsible for all delivery fees and damages.
- Set an internal goal for the return on investment. As you evaluate the opportunity, if you don't expect it to meet this goal, you can say “no.”
Set a specific budget for each of the above categories.
Perhaps you're willing to offer discounts of up to $1000 per month or unlimited as long as it is no larger than 5% per rental order.
For donations, you can set yourself a budget of $500 per quarter or $2000 per month or anything in between. Pick a number you are comfortable with and one that is related to your revenue goals.
Set a marketing budget on a monthly basis. A good rule of thumb is to spend no more than 5% of your revenue on all marketing expenses so you'll want your styled shoot or marketing event budget to be in line with this. You may spend more than 5% when you're just starting out but you need to seriously evaluate your ROI if you're spending 20% on marketing in year 4 of your business.
Once you have a policy written down and a budget set for each of these areas, make yourself some questionnaires for each (Discount Requests, Donation Requests, Marketing Opportunity Requests).
Download our sample questionnaires for Discount Requests, Donation Requests, and Marketing Opportunity Requests here:
Your questionnaire should make the requester explicitly tell you the details of the event, how, where, and how often they will credit you, and you should ask for a reason why you should offer them a discount. You can also choose to list (all or some of) your policy at the top of the form so people know your expectations. If they agree to your policy, fill out the application, and you have money in your budget for it this month, you can evaluate the request.
When responding to submitted questionaires, be sure to let requestors know that you evaluate all opportunities on one day per week (say, Thursdays) and you'll get back to them when you've been able to look over their request. Having a set day frees you up from having to answer right away and also gives you the opportunity to evaluate options side-by-side.
If you think it will have a great return on your investment, you can say yes. If not, or if you want to save your money for other, potentially better, opportunities that may come along, you can pass with no regrets.
If they don't agree to your policy, if you don't have the money, or you simply don't want to do it, you can say no. I suggest that you have a set of “canned” statements like,
“Thanks so much for thinking of us for this opportunity. Unfortunately we don't have this in our marketing budget this month. I hope we'll be able to work together on another project soon.”
“Thank you for requesting that we be part of your event. While we would love to, unfortunately, we are going to have to pass this time around. We've already spent our budget for charity donations this month. If you would like to pay for the rentals, I'd be happy to put together a proposal for you but we can't make a donation at this time.”
Standardizing your responses to these kinds of emails (so you can cut-and-past) will significant decrease the amount of time you have to spend on requests. It also takes the emotion (and hopefully the guilt) out of having to say no.
I'd also suggest that you take a look at this article about asking your clients “why?” when they ask you for a discount.
I also recommend that you have an agreement drawn up by your attorney specifically for marketing opportunities. Making sure your expectations are clear before the event or shoot takes place can save everyone a lot of heartache in the long run. If you don't have one already, check out Annette Stepanian's Product Loan Agreement for Photoshoots Contract Template.
Along the way, remember that these statements are lies:
- “I have to offer discounts or people won't buy from me.”
- “Everyone in my region expects an industry discount / commission / referral fee / kickback. If I don't do it, no one will rent from me.”
- “If I don't say yes, my competitor will. And then they'll get all the business.”
I've seen many boutique event rental businesses succeed without believing they “have to” do any of the above.
I'm not saying you shouldn't ever offer discounts, participate in marketing opportunities (like styled shoots, event industry networking events, etc.), or make donations. But if you do, you need to make sure you're saying yes for the right reasons and planning for these in your original pricing. Also, consider that if you offer discounts to one person for no particular reason, they'll likely refer other people to you who expect the same discount for themselves.
Be thoughtful and deliberate about who, when, and why you offer discounts, donations, and participate in marketing opportunities. If you aren't, you'll be busy before you know it. But won't have any revenue to show for it.