Some people are just plain unpleasant to deal with. No matter how many hoops you jump through or how hard you try, you can’t please them.
Unfortunately, when you work for yourself as a photographer, it’s likely you’ll run across one of these bad apples a time or two. However, you can protect yourself from the misunderstandings that are often at the root of these troubles.
Let’s look at a few simple guidelines you should follow with every one of your customers.
The most common reason photographers run into problems with clients is unclear expectations. The client had one thing in mind and you didn’t deliver — at least from their perspective. You might have had no idea that they were expecting such a thing.
For example, most people have no idea how long it takes to process and edit photos. They think you’re taking pictures with a digital camera, how hard can it be to email them over real quick? Why wouldn’t you be able to send them their photos the next day?
You’re the professional, you know the work and time that goes into editing and putting together a gallery. You have to communicate this to your customers. What happens when the customer knows ahead of time that they’ll have to wait two weeks for their pictures? They will be much more patient with that time frame than one who is expecting them in 24 hours.
What are some things you should set expectations about? The short answer is everything. But, since we’re all learning here, let’s dive in a little deeper.
What They’ll Receive
The client needs to know what they’re getting. Only digitals? Only web resolution files with an option to purchase high-resolution for printing?
Maybe they don’t get any images at all. Maybe you charge a session fee and they buy the photos later at your post-session meeting.
Whatever business model you use, make sure they understand how it works beforehand. Anyone would be surprised and a little upset to find out they have to pay extra to get their images if they were expecting them to be included!
How Long it Will Take
As we mentioned earlier, most people have no idea how long it takes to edit photos. If you deliver proofs first, you need to communicate a time frame.
Do the clients get to pick a certain number of images? How long will the gallery remain open for them to decide?
Do you offer prints or albums? How long do those take to design and arrive?
Don’t make your clients guess about timeframes or allow them to assume. Tell them about it upfront to avoid misunderstandings later.
How Much Will it Cost?
Price is a big deal and many beginning photographers struggle with this. In a digital age where everybody is snapping really nice pictures on their smartphones, many people don’t understand the value of professional photography.
When they hear your prices, they might be blown away. If that number comes up too far into the discussion, they might feel that you were “leading them on” even though you obviously weren’t.
Having a price list on your website can help ensure that the people who contact you are already willing to pay your prices. But keep in mind that not everyone will have read it first.
However, some photographers prefer not to advertise their prices so they don’t drive away potential clients. Making contact with the potential client gives them the opportunity to educate the client and convince them their prices are worth it.
You can decide how you want to handle things and much of it depends on your comfort level with sales. However, you never want customers to feel like you were “leading them on” or even being downright deceptive. So be clear.
When You Are Available
Another important expectation to set is when you are available. This doesn’t mean just your session times, it includes when you are available to respond to customer concerns.
You might always take Wednesdays off for family obligations. If your client doesn’t know this, they will think you are ignoring their Tuesday night email all day Wednesday and may get upset.
Specifics of the Shoot
Plan your shoots beforehand and communicate with the client. How much time are they booking? What time will the shoot start? Where is it happening? How many people will be involved? What happens if the clients are late/don’t show up? What happens if you’re late (God forbid).
Even if you don’t use a contract (as we’ll talk about next) you should at the very least write down these specifics. It’s invaluable to have something to come back to later if you need it.
The Importance of Contracts
Wow. This seems like a lot of information to convey to your clients! How do you do this efficiently?
A contract is your best bet. With everything written down, you won’t forget something important. Plus, when they sign, they are acknowledging they have read your terms and agree to them. If there is ever a disagreement, you can point back to what it says in the contract.
The vast majority of customer disputes can be warded off with a well-written contract.
Beyond the communication aspect, contracts provide both parties with legal protection. If your clients fail to keep up their end of the bargain, you are not obligated to return their deposit and will receive some recompense for the time you invested.
Likewise, if you don’t meet your obligations, the client has a recourse to get what they’ve paid for.
Keep in mind that contracts should be written in such a way that both parties are equally protected. If it is too lopsided in your favor, it may not hold up in court.
Easy Ways to Implement Contracts
But you’re not a lawyer, contracts seem so scary! They are full of legalese and terms like “heretofore” that you barely understand how to use in a sentence.
How are you supposed to write one of these?
You aren’t! It is 100% in your best interest to have your contract written by a lawyer (or at least approved by one).
But that sounds expensive!
It can be. However, so is dealing with unhappy clients. Not to mention the stress of it all.
Thankfully, there are simple ways that make it easy for new (or veteran) photographers to handle their contracts. For example, some gallery delivery services like Shootproof have contract services built into their software.
You can purchase lawyer-drafted contracts and tweak them slightly to fit your business. With this document in place, all you have to do is add the client’s name and specifics of the shoot and email it off. Shootproof handles the electronic signing and delivers the contract back to you when the client signs.
It’s all automated, easy, and avoids so many potential problems.
Another option is to check out the LawTog. This service offers lawyer-created, photographer-approved contracts specific to types of photography such as wedding, pet, or real estate photography.
These contracts are a little more expensive upfront but come with a lot of features and support.
Sign A Contract With Every Client!
Newer photographers might feel nervous about asking people to sign contracts. They also might feel nervous about stating policies (and sticking to them) or setting boundaries.
In reality, contracts make everything so much easier. Instead of having to tell clients your policies, everything is written out in black and white. If there is ever an issue, you can point back to the contract instead of getting stuck in a “their word against yours” scenario.
Plus, you seem so much more professional with a contract in place.
You Are Now A Business!
Once you start accepting money to take photographs, you’re not just an amateur with a camera. You are telling people that you can provide a professional service and you must have the professional attitude to match.
This is hard for many new photographers. They are often eager to please and are easily excited by the prospect of “exposure.” It isn’t until later on that you start to realize how much people take advantage of that.
But what happens when you start out your interaction with clear expectations and put a contract in place? You’re communicating without words that you are a professional. You know what you’re doing and what it takes to run your business.
You have policies in place for a reason. Just as customers wouldn’t expect a department store to bend the rules for them, they shouldn’t expect you to bend anything either.
How is your photography business journey going? Do you have questions about photography contracts? Let us know in the comments!