February 6, 2023
Welcome to part two of our series, Help! My Client Said THIS – What Should I Do?
Basically, we’re taking your client horror stories, your client questions, and we’ll share how we (Lydia and I) would handle this situation.
Lydia: Hi, I’m Lydia. I am a coach in Marketing School and Tavia’s sidekick. I’ve been in business for about seven and a half years, and I am super excited to dig into these dilemmas with her!
Tavia: Okay, so if you’re listening to this and you have a client situation that you need help with, you can quickly fill out this form, let us know what’s going on so that we can feature you on the next episode, or shoot me a voice message on Instagram @taviaredburn.
“Help! I need advice on how to handle the situation next time, but hopefully there is never a next time. I am a lifestyle newborn photographer, and I’m very established. I’ve been in business over 10 years and I average $1,500 a session.
I booked a brand new client and money seemed to be no issue for them. They booked my highest package and paid in full. I sent the client all the information to prepare like I send every client, things like what to expect, what to wear, how to prepare for the session, what we’re going to do, the signed contract.
When I arrived for the session, she handed me a printed list of photos of all of the shots that she wanted. The problem is the shots that she listed were all very clearly done in studio, very posed, backdrops, props, et cetera. That is not my style or my brand at all and she never mentioned any shots like this in her questionnaire.
I was stunned when she handed me the list and told her that this is outside of my normal style, but I’ll do my best. Well, when she got the images, I wasn’t too surprised to hear that she didn’t love a lot of them. Now she’s asking for a reshoot or a refund. What should I do?”
Lydia: Ooh, that’s a hard one.
Tavia: I know. Clearly it wasn’t a communication issue because they communicated everything ahead of time. But also, I would say maybe it was a communication issue. Like even though you’re established, even though you’ve been in business a long time, I might be looking at myself and going, “What about this didn’t communicate something,” because maybe there was something that wasn’t communicated properly.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Figure out if you need to overhaul your system
Lydia: Yeah, I think I would take a look at myself. I mean, she’s definitely doing that by saying ‘how can I prevent this next time?’ But if you’ve been doing it for years and years and years and it’s not been a pattern, I think it’s very possible that this is a fluke thing. I wouldn’t go completely overhauling any systems over one fluke thing if you’ve done many, many, many, many sessions.
So I think there’s kind of two issues here – one is how to proceed now with this unhappy client and one is how to prevent it in the future. I don’t know that at this stage in the game, I’m going to be trying to prevent it in the future. I’m going to note this in the back of my mind. But it’s probably a process that’s mostly working at this point. If it’s your first time seeing this issue.
If you’re not seeing this issue for the first time, you’ve seen hints of it elsewhere, then yes, it’s time to re-evaluate.
Know how your client found your business
Lydia: I also think it’s interesting to think maybe where this client came from because maybe they’re not seeing your work beforehand. Maybe they haven’t been following you on social media. I think that’s kind of something I would be thinking about, ‘Where did this break down?’ I would think…
But I don’t think I would dive too far into cleaning up the process on a singular issue at this stage in business.
Refund the client partially
Tavia: That’s so hard because obviously you don’t want to refund, you just did all of this work and you delivered something that you know is what you normally do. But if this client isn’t happy, you want to make them happy.
Lydia: I mean, this one has to be stumped. I don’t know that there’s a wrong answer here, which I think is good and bad, right?
Tavia: Yeah. Like you’re doing a lot of things right. I think that sometimes I look at things in a sense of how much energy is this costing me? Not just time and money, but how much energy is this taking? Because we’ve all had those clients that you’re just like, ‘I don’t even care what you’re paying me. The effort it takes to please you and to meet you where you’re at is exhausting and it’s not worth it to me.’
So that part of me might be like, ‘Actually, I do just want to refund you,’ and maybe subtract a little bit. And this depends on your contract, obviously, too, but maybe it turns into like, ‘Hey, minus these fees that I incurred, I’ll give you a refund.’
Find a photographer who meets your client’s desired style to shoot for you
Tavia: The only other thing I could think would be to potentially try to find a photographer who meets their style and work out something to where that photographer can shoot for you and you work it out with them, because I’ve done stuff like that before too, where I have like close relationships with other photographers and we just help each other out in that way.
But man, we’re kicking it off with a toughie here. That’s really, really hard.
Lydia: That is a really hard one. And I don’t think you’re obligated to refund or reshoot. You can certainly stick to your guns if you want to. But I do think it’s going to take a little bit of strength and willpower to go that route and some confidence to be like, ‘No, this is not okay. Here’s what I did to make sure that we communicated this up front.’ That’s tough.
Review your contract (and update if needed)
Tavia: I also might be looking back on…does your contract say anything about what qualifies for a refund or a reshoot? And if not, potentially consider adding something like that. What are the reasons that I’ll refund or reshoot for a portrait session?
That way you can fall back on that for now and in the future. And if you have something like that in your contract, use it in this situation.
“I recently had a session where the grandma wants to gift the mom and her daughter (so her daughter and the granddaughter) a newborn session. So she paid the session fee and ordered a large package, but hasn’t paid yet. The mom is asking if she can get a few photos for social media, but the grandma technically hasn’t paid for the images yet. So would you give the mom the images? Would you talk to the grandma? Would you tell the client to talk to the grandma? I feel so awkward.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Approach who you are in contract with directly
Lydia: I probably talk to the grandma myself. That is awkward, if the grandma initially opened up the communication, I would probably reach out to her and be like, “Oh my gosh, these photos turned out so cute. I cannot wait to share them on social media. I cannot wait to show you them. They are beautiful. What a beautiful family you have. I just want to make sure that you saw that I sent over the invoice. If you’re having any trouble accessing it, let me know and I can help walk you through it.”
Tavia: Yeah, I love that. Just assume that maybe they didn’t see, that she just missed it, or something like that, assuming the best. Have you ever had a client like this? I know you work with brides a lot where the mom pays. Does that bring up any awkwardness?
Lydia: It’s not unusual for parents to pay, but if it comes up in conversation, I do clarify who my contract is with.
Tavia: That’s probably important here too, for this person to make that distinction because it’s less common I think, for baby photography, but it’s not uncommon to have somebody else in the family gifting this or paying this. So I think that that’s an important distinction too, as like who the client is. But in this situation, it’s mostly just payment, so I think what you said is great.
“What do you do if your client signs a contract, but doesn’t pay the deposit even after multiple emails and saying she would? Do I still show up for the shoot and make her pay before I start working or do I not show up at all?”
Lydia: That’s tricky. And I’ve seen this a bit in the wedding world where people have struggled with this and they’re like, you know, it’s a wedding. Do I just not show up? If there’s a contract in place, what do I do here? And it is tricky to navigate. I am probably more inclined to cover my butt and show up for things and if it’s portraits, probably not.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Update your system
Lydia: But if it’s something like a birth or a wedding, I’m probably more inclined to just cover my butt and show up. Even though I don’t feel like there would be an obligation there, but really more importantly, I’d probably be looking at your system moving forward and setting it up where the contract and the invoice are tied together and not separate things necessarily.
Example: I use Honey Book and it’s all set up as kind of one document moving forward. So I guess technically they could like backout of one before they finish the other. But I’ve never had it happen when they’re set up as one click-through thing instead of separate.
Just show up (depending on the type of session!)
Lydia: So if it’s a once in a lifetime thing, I’d probably show up, cover my butt, but I would make it clear like, “Hey, we need to get this handled quickly because I’m not going to start on anything.” That’s hard though for portraits.
Tavia: I agree. I wouldn’t show up (for portraits).
Well, I don’t know with a birth, I’ve had people who have good intentions and don’t, man, that’s tough.
Lydia: Technically, in my contract, it says like this payment schedule is this. So if they’re not doing it, the contract would be null and void for me. Well, not that I’m a lawyer, but in my opinion, it would be violated by them not paying, they wouldn’t have held up their end of the deal. So I don’t feel like you’re in the wrong. I would probably just do it, but I don’t know.
Make sure you’re not being ghosted!
Lydia: Is there any other client communication happening? If it’s a birth, I feel like it’s pretty rare for you to not be talking through other elements as well. So I think if they’ve basically ghosted you and are not having any communication, that’s something to factor in as well.
Tavia: Yeah, and I think I might also at some point say like, “Hey, I haven’t heard from you in . I know that your duty is coming up or your wedding day is coming up. If I don’t hear from you by , I won’t be there.”
And she said, do I still show up for the shoot? So I think this particular person is asking for a portrait session, just the way that she phrased it. And so, like Lydia said, for a portrait session, I’m way more likely to be like, “Hey, you didn’t pay. I’m not going,” because that’s rescuable, right? A wedding and a birth obviously are not, but it’s always been my rule, my system, my process that there has to be money paid before I’m going to show up.
Try other ways to contact your client
Lydia: She said multiple emails. I’d be interested to know if you are tracking, if you can see if the emails have been opened. If you’ve had any responses to the emails and if you’ve tried shooting a text or making a phone call to be like, “Hey, I just really wanted to check in. Sometimes things go to spam. Wanted to make sure you saw this. We need to get this taken care of.”
Tavia: Even if I see that they read it, I’ll still sometimes be like, “Hey, just wanted to make sure you got this.” I literally can see with Honey Book, you read it on January 12th at 8:00 PM, but I’m not going to come in like I’ll accusatory like that.
“I’m curious to know how you would’ve handled the situation. I recently had a client bring her two kids, ages three and six months for a session at my studio. The three-year-old was the wildest I’ve ever had. I mean, knocking things over, wouldn’t listen at all to anything, wouldn’t sit or stand or do anything that we asked him to do. He would intentionally hide his face from the camera or spit at me. We got zero usable images.
I tried to get mom involved, but she didn’t want to be photographed. We tried to go outside, but he would just run towards the street. I did the best I could, but really there are no good images and I don’t really want to reshoot with this family, but also don’t want to offer a refund because I spent so much time and energy on this family. How do you handle kids like this who will not take any photos or listen at all?”
Lydia: So when I hear this story, actually what comes to mind is hearing from, and this may not be the case here, is hearing from special needs families that they have struggled with this kind of behavior out of their kids when they’ve tried to do family sessions. And like hearing that from their perspective, them being, “It’s so important to me to get photos, I know it’s going to be really difficult, but I also understand that we should have these photos,” so what’s usable to you could potentially be different from what the mom is hoping for.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Talk to your client about their experience
Lydia: I mean, she was there, she probably understands, so I think maybe it’s worth chatting with her and trying to figure out if this was a particularly challenging day for their kid and if so, how can we meet them where they are, how can we serve them and say like, “Hey, I know that was really hard for everybody. What can we do to make it a little easier? How can we adapt to make this easier for your family? That’s my personal thought.
And maybe it was just a difficult day, you know? But maybe this is their normal and they’re just going to be okay with getting what they get. I think it’s worth digging into a little bit.
Show the client your photos and hear what they would say
Tavia: I totally agree. And I think that sometimes we get ideas in our head of like these Pinterest images where these twin 18 month olds are like posed perfectly with a newborn, you know? And that is so rare for what actually happens. And I think that we get it in our heads as photographers, if that’s what needs to happen. Families get to get it in their heads if that’s what needs to happen. And then people are disappointed.
But in the reality like Lydia said, she was there too. She saw all of that happen. She might actually be pleasantly surprised with what you were able to get. To you it felt chaotic and maybe frustrating, and you maybe didn’t get the type of shots that you normally get for families, but she might actually be pleasantly surprised with what you were able to get. And so I think that she’s saying the mom hasn’t even seen the photos yet. She just knows there are no usable ones without having seen the images.
I would maybe challenge that a little bit and encourage you to show the mom anyway and just sort of see what she says. She might be happy with them.
“How do you go about friendship discounts for birth photography? I currently am or trying anyway, to take only one birth photography client a month. So if I were to take a discounted friend that would be a huge bummer to have to turn down a full-paying client later. What do you do in these situations? How close of a friend is close enough for a discount on quite possibly one of the hardest sessions to document?”
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Add value than give discounts
Lydia: Okay, so there’s two things that I have done in the past: one, the way I judge how close a friend is if they were close enough for me to call them when I’m on call and be like, “Hey, I need to drop my kids off,” then I’m like, “Okay. I would consider giving you a bit of a discount.”
However, I wouldn’t always lean toward a discount. Sometimes I would say like, “We’re close friends. I’ll add on x, y, z. I’ll give you this.” So they still feel valued and they’re getting something special, but you’re not necessarily losing the income that you would normally get. And honestly, a lot of friends are just glad to support you. They may not even be wanting a discount.
I support my friends’ businesses all the time and I don’t walk in asking for a discount or expecting a discount. I walk in because I’m excited to support my friend. So, I wouldn’t say that you necessarily need to offer a discount, but if you feel like you want to do something nice as a sweet gift, I’m sure they would appreciate an add-on maybe an album or extra images in their packages. For me, it was maybe an add-on of a film or something like that, where it’s not necessarily going to be a whole new thing for them where I’m giving them a discount, still makes them feel valued as a close friend.
A tip on qualifying friends
Tavia: I love that qualifying the friend piece, because I think that, especially in the earlier years of my business, I would get a lot of people who knew me and they’re like, “Hey, I saw you’re doing photography now. What does it cost to get _________.” And you kind of know them and they’re kind of a friend.
And to me it was the same kind of barometer of like, “Is this somebody that I would call if I was having a really hard day and I needed a friend to talk to?” It really is a very small group of people that I am considering a discount.
For me personally, I never did discounts for friends. It was free or full price. I just didn’t want to mess with, “Well you’re a good friend so you get 50% off and you’re a medium friend, so you get 10% off,” you know what I mean? And I just didn’t want to deal with that. So it’s like, you’re either like top five people in my life and you get it for free or you’re paying full price.
And you know, medium level friends are happy to pay full price. They’re happy, like Lydia said, to support your business. And the full friends are too. But there’s just people that I would just be like, “I just want to do it for free now.” I understand that this person is saying they’re only taking one client a month, and so they’re going to have to like replace that income.
This is fun! Good questions you guys! Thank you for submitting these. If you have a client story, something that you want to share, a question about how to handle a client, head over to taviaredburn.com/wwyd. I always want to say DM and shoot me a voice message on Instagram if you’d rather just chat it out and we’ll share your voice clip.
So as always, friends, remember, if you have a passion, it is not an accident because not everyone loves the thing that you love. So whatever your passion is, I hope that you know it’s there for a reason and you are meant to get out there and make it happen. Have a great week!