Operating a photography business can be so much fun. You fill up your bags with the latest photography equipment, bring in the best clients, and showcase work you truly love and are proud of.
And for the most part, its all good. Things move along smoothly, and you learn how to improve day to day.
But on occasion, you hit a rough spot. You have a day where something goes wrong – terribly wrong in some cases – and you’re just not sure if its all worth it.
While the unexpected will always happen, and there is little you can do to prepare for it, there are certain things you can plan for today. What are your policies on the following?
Have you ever noticed how people love to dish out advice when it doesn’t affect them? They hold down 9 to 5 jobs, live in the rat race every day, and yet they become an “expert” in running a small business when you mention your ideas.
And in some cases, it can be hard NOT to take their advice. Especially when its family.
“Here’s the $1,000 you asked for. Don’t worry about paying me back right away; just make sure you use it wisely. Don’t put it towards that ad in the magazine you talked about – that sure was expensive. And …” The advice goes on and on.
And while your loved one means well, if they’ve never run a small business, they don’t have a clue as to what to do.
Smile. Take in their advice. Thank them. And move on.
In some cases they may have valid concerns. Use them when making your final decision. But if their line of thinking is way off base, don’t let that influence you. You’re the boss; you get the final say.
This will invariably happen throughout the life of your business. And it will happen at all levels of business.
Some people will pay the initial fee, and you’ll never see them again. Some won’t be able to make the final payment. And of course everything in between.
Make sure your policies are ready for any situation.
Before you do any work whatsoever, at the minimum require a fee up front to cover your initial costs. If it’s a portrait, your portrait sitting fee should cover time and costs. To book a wedding and hold the date, you should require a high enough percentage of the final package as a fee. For commercial work, your fee should cover time and any expenses you will incur while planning the photo shoot.
For weddings and other shoots that are planned for some time in the future, make the fee non-refundable. As the date gets closer, you’ll be less likely to replace it with a paying customer is a cancellation occurs. The non-refundable fee protects you and allows you to get paid for your time no matter what happens.
And in some cases, a client will place a final order, and have trouble paying the balance off. With our wedding clients, we required one half down on all balances due at the time of the final order. The final half was due before they picked up the order. Never release an order until final payment has been made. And never place an order without some type of payment made towards the amount owed. Both will ensure you receive the funds you are entitled to.
When you run thousands of images through your cameras, and use lens interchangeably throughout your busy days, something will eventually go wrong. Are you prepared for the “just in case” situations?
At a minimum, have two camera bodies with you at all times on a shoot. Bodies can fall off tripods, fall off ledges, or be stepped on by an energetic client. You can leave a body alone while you set up for the next image, only to come back and find it missing. You can pack up your equipment in your bag and head off to your next location, only to find you left your bag back at the original place.
Yep, things like that happen all the time.
When equipment matters, when you use it all the time, have backups of everything. You may even consider having two cases filled each with complete systems.
You should also put together a system to make sure you don’t leave something behind. If you have a case with individual compartments, is every space filled before you close up the bag? Taking a few extra seconds for inventory can save a lot of heartache at the other end.
Just like there is always a possibility of having your camera equipment break down at the least opportune time, your computer equipment can malfunction as well.
If you need a laptop on the job, to present an order to a client, a backup may be necessary. While you may not need two identical MacBook Pros in your bag, having a spare can be of benefit. Invest in a second hand computer or a older model PC without the bells and whistles.
If you use a computer non-stop in your studio for production work, consider having two. A desktop/laptop may be the perfect combination to allow you to work from your office on a larger screen, and take your work on the go when you need to.
Also have a backup plan. Instead of relying on your capabilities for fixing the computer, can you find an IT specialist that you can call at a moments notice? Many IT experts can work remotely and access your computer via the Internet. And if you have a connection with someone before a problem occurs, you’ll be ready when one actually does.
While our main goal for being in business is to make our customers happy, occasionally we won’t. Sometimes no matter what you do, you simply won’t be able to please someone. And while you can try different things, you’ll eventually reach a moment when you know you’ll be fighting this battle for a long time.
That’s the moment when you stop the negotiations and offer a refund.
In order to do that, you first have to decide how you’ll approach that with a client. You can offer a guarantee up front, offering 100 percent refund if the client doesn’t love your work. Or you can use it selectively when you have a customer you simply can’t agree with.
You will also need policies when someone doesn’t like a final product.
The biggest mistake you can make is to jump in and start offering things before you learn what the real problem is. In one case we had a client that loved her wedding photographs, but hated the images of the cake cutting. She wanted us to retake them or compensate for them – which was almost impossible. We couldn’t figure out why, because they were beautiful. So we kept asking questions. And we finally discovered her step mom was in every photo in a bright pink dress and she really didn’t like her step mom. We offered to soften the color of the dress so it wasn’t as noticeable, and crop when we could to eliminate her. Problem solved and she was happy.
You have to know how to read what your clients are really looking for, and what you can offer to diffuse the situation.
Breach of Contract
The reason you have a contract is to protect you from problems down the road. And while you may start out with a generic contract up front, you’ll eventually add clauses to protect you as you learn along the way.
For instance, a clause stating you are the sole professional photographer taking formals at a wedding can be a life saver. Charge a fee if you are interrupted too many times by amateurs. A simple reminder to the bride and groom will have them playing “bad guy” to their family and friends who are disrupting the event.
Your contract is there to protect you and your client. Clients take photographers to court all the time for breach of contract. If they don’t follow through and provide everything listed in the contract, they have the right to do so. Likewise, don’t be afraid to press issues with your own clients. Sometimes a friendly reminder can diffuse a situation immediately.