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.