Five Tips for Dealing with Unreasonable Client Requests

I met recently with a prospective wedding client who was on a very tight budget. The groom, an art director, asked if I would allow him to help with the photo editing in order to save some money. I had to tell him no. I operate a full-service studio, and letting the wedding couple do their own editing just isn’t an option for me.

I’m guessing you can relate to this story if you are a freelance photographer. Which means you can also relate to this YouTube video, a hilarious riff on the outrageous demands clients too often make on their vendors. Watch it:

In the each scene of the video, customers overstep clearly defined boundaries for the businesses they are patronizing. The couple having dinner wants to negotiate the bill and have the chef show them how their meals were prepared. The woman at the salon wants the hairdresser to give her highlights for free. The man at the video store insists he should pay less than the clearly marked price on the video.

I’ve been there before, and I’m sure you have, too. The clip also offers an answer: to stand firm behind the boundaries of your business. Here are five tips for helping you do this in your photography business.

1. Just say no. In my experience with the groom/art director, I simply said no. “No” is a word that isn’t used often enough in our conversations with customers. Used appropriately, this word draws boundaries that otherwise might not be apparent to the client. Being mealy-mouthed when you should just say no is an invitation to a negotiation.

2. Offer an unconsidered option. Customers are often single-minded when it comes to telling you what they want. But if you understand the reason behind their demands (e.g., they have a limited budget), you may be able to offer an alternative that works for you and still makes them happy. This is a great followup to the word “no”!

3. Pre-qualify your clients. In my initial phone calls or e-mail correspondence with prospective clients, I ask them almost as many questions as they ask me. I want to find out if the couple places a priority on their wedding photography. I want to understand their budget. If they value photography and have a workable budget, I’m in. If not, I refer them to another photographer who might be a better fit. Pre-qualifying your customers saves everyone a lot of wasted time and effort.

4. Create a set of policies and include it in your contract. Sometimes problems arise after you’ve already taken on the client. The best way to combat this is to create a list of policies and include them in your contract. Our company’s standard contract is a direct reflection of our previous client experiences. Clients who waited years before fulfilling album orders, for instance, generated a new policy: a time limit of one year from the wedding date. Every time I get the client to sign off on a policy beforehand, it helps me to avoid future problems.

5. Maintain your professionalism. When working with a client who is being unreasonable, stay professional. Some customers think that the harder they push, the more they will squeeze out of us. While it can be frustrating to work with this type of client, you should never take things personally. In the YouTube clip, the waiter, the hairdresser and the video clerk object to their customers’ demands — but don’t take them personally. They simply stand firm. Patience and professionalism are the best response when clients overstep their boundaries.

11 Responses to “Five Tips for Dealing with Unreasonable Client Requests”

  1. Excellent post. I've seen this video several times; it really does show how unreasonable requests can be.

    I'm not a professional photographer, but I am a writer and a helicopter pilot. It's the flying business where customers are constantly trying to squeeze as much out of me as they can. My favorite: the people who want me to do 2 hours of flying work over an hour from my base -- and not pay for the time to get there and back. That's the equivalent of cutting my rates in half, but they don't see it that way.

    My point is, your post and its great list of tips, applies to any service professional.

    The tip I already use quite often: Just say no. I'd rather have no client and let the helicopter sit in its hangar than deal with cheapskates that'll frustrate and annoy me for skinny profit margins.

  2. Having been in the corporate executive role for many years, I'm a little embarrassed to say I am guilty of some of these negotiating techniques. But karma is a you-know-what ... now I have to deal with the same techniques from the other side.

  3. Thanks for this article. After having a few bad clients I'll have to start applying #3.

  4. Thanks a ton. Hearing these is going to help me say "no" when I should.

  5. I loved this article. I am one of those people who find it difficult to just say "no". I try to skirt the issue and in the end this provides an opening for them to try to negotiate terms with me.

    This article helped me realize that saying "no" to unreasonable requests is perfectly acceptable and in the end, saves headaches.

  6. I love this video, I recommend anyone watch it who has ever talked to a tradesperson or artist and tried to haggle a fee based on their limited knowledge of the work being done.

    Sure it costs nothing but labor to change a tire at the side of the road, but a mechanic charges 200$ for a call-out and then there's labour and gas to pay for on his side. The same goes for photographers. "I can print this for 19 cents"

    I tell people; feel free, but it won't be my work you're printing for 19 cents.

  7. Love the video. I've seen it going around on Facebook too. Thank you so much for these tips. I'm finding right now that asking them more questions results in less negotiations. I think lowering your price while giving the same service is a disservice to our industry. It's our job to show our couples the value we bring. As a Wedding Planner I always give them the vision with and without a Wedding Planner. We can take many things out and customize so that it will work with their budget. No, usually means they need more information.

  8. I'm a wedding officiant and owner of a wedding officiating company. It's not just photographers who get these types of clients. Officiants get them to. Thanks for some great tips!

  9. Actually,
    It's REALLY funny and sad at the same time that someone is posting an ad for a $595 wedding at the bottom of the video viewer.Considering any real pro charges $3000-$5000 to start, that's kind of ironic considering your article topic.
    (Which I do totally support!)

  10. I ran a marketing company for 10+ years and I heard all the excuses and reasons why I should basically work for free for just this one client or give this client a great deal etc. I'll admit that I've fallen for it more than I should have. The biggest thing I've learned from doing that is that the people who haggle the most over the money in the beginning are always without exception the ones that want the most work done, the ones that complain the most about what they are getting, and the ones that never generated another sale.

    When doing a website design for one client we basically gave them the single page "basic info" style site price but they demanded a shopping cart for their entire catalog, custom scripting that would have eaten up several days of two programmers, photo shoot for their products, and on and on. When we told them the quoted price gets you this and the add ons they requested would be an additional $6000 I thought we was going to have to call the police to have them removed. Seeing as they only paid $400 to start with for $800 worth of agreed work we refunded them $250 (minus our $150 deposit) and all we got for our trouble was a lot of harassing calls and threats of lawsuits.

    I'm all in favor of working with people on their budgets and my services but you can believe after that day we drastically changed our contracts. Just my input.

  11. Havn't we all been in this situation. As everyone else says, itemise the cost, sell the benefits, and if all else fails, SAY NO. I seem to have had a lot of these recently.

    All I would add is that in the case of where a client looks like they are going to be trouble, get them to pay a good proportion of the fee in advance. For a real trouble maker, it may scare them off, and even if they do go ahead, you have at least some protection if the fee goes bad.

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