How to tell a potential client you don’t want to photograph their session?

Discussion in 'Business of Photography' started by gilsonphotography, Dec 11, 2020.

  1. Hi,

    I’ve just recently started doing photography for more than just family. I work a full time job M-F, so only do scheduled sessions on the weekends.
    So, I have a potential client issue. Let’s call her A.
    A reached out to me and we were discussing dates to do a session. She offered a Thursday, I explained I only do sessions on the weekends because of my actual full time job. She never answered me after that. A few weeks go by, she reaches out again and we schedule a session. The morning of, literally 10 minutes before I left my house to go to said session, she texts me and cancels. She asks about another date, I kindly remind her again I have a full time job and do not do sessions during the week. She never replied to me.
    Now, a few weeks later, she messages me AGAIN asking to schedule a session. To give her the benefit of the doubt and to help lengthen my portfolio, I asked her what day or time she had in mind.
    As of now, no answer. Obviously, this isn’t working out. I’m trying to figure out 1) If I should even say no and 2) If I do, how do I say it?
    I don’t want to lose a potential client and the chance to add to my new portfolio, but it’s incredibly annoying to go back and forth constantly with her.

  2. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    You might politely ask for a cash deposit in advance of the session which she would forfeit on short notice cancellation, but which otherwise would be deducted from final fee. Rationale - other jobs refused and missed if a client cancels with short notice. Depending on the estimated cost - a percentage, but not less than ($50-$100?) don't know your prices - needs to be enough that someone won't just write it off.
    oscar_h. and William Michael like this.
  3. AJG


    Some clients have difficult lives and may have legitimate excuses for this kind of behavior, but others are simply not worth the bother. One way to deal with this is to get a deposit when the session is scheduled. Square, for example, allows you to send invoices to a client that they pay with a credit/debit card and you are notified when they have paid. If people have paid you something down they are usually more committed to to showing up and following through with the added bonus of taking you more seriously as a professional rather than a hobbyist. If your goal is to do this as a business then you need to treat it like one and get paid for your work. If someone blows off a session repeatedly then you may have turned down another client who would have shown up and paid you, so you have potentially lost something. And sometimes you have to "fire" a client when they are annoying and won't pay you enough to make up for the aggravation.
    William Michael and mikemorrell like this.
  4. You're just starting out. As important, and maybe more so, than your photographic skills, is a building of good will. Since her behavior has NOT caused you to turn down other work, that's not an earnest consideration for you. I understand it's a bother and an inconvenience, but it's not the end of the world. At this point, you obviously want her business more than she's desperate to give it to you. That dynamic is important to be realistic about when you're starting out. Keep being nice, polite, understanding and you'll eventually know whether she was serious to begin with or just a complete flake. When you're more established and busier, you'll have the luxury to impose deposits and even to turn down work for various reasons. In the meantime, patience and giving clients the benefit of the doubt is likely to serve you well. I doubt you'll let yourself get to the point of being abused. It's usually clear when a client is doing that. From your story, I don't think you're there yet. Remember, she's got friends and they've got friends. Right now, each person you deal with is worth dealing with as if she were the most pivotal and networked person alive.
    William Michael likes this.
  5. I like Sandy's suggestion myself.
  6. And so do i. Ask a deposit.
  7. Give her--or anyone else--times and dates that you're available. Ask for a deposit after you've settled on a rate(25% minimum). You need to nail commitment on their part. The client you've described? Forget about it. Think about opportunity cost and decide for yourself.

    Don't be shy. Remember that art without commerce is just a hobby.
    mikemorrell likes this.
  8. My gut feeling is that - with your full-time job - you're not the right photographer for 'A'

    We can discuss 'A's mercurial behavior but my guess is that full-time professional photographers have more flexibility in assignments than you do. Why not jus refer her to photographers who have more flexibility than you do. Focus on customers who can schedule on weekends.
  9. A deposit makes it about you. Right now, especially when you're starting out, I'd make it as much about the client as you can. Humility over hubris at this stage. It's ok to defer to your clients and especially to your potential clients. So far, A's behavior has only caused you emotional annoyance, no financial or physical inconvenience. Let it go and hope that you can still have a good working relationship with her. Think how she may respond to a request for deposit at this stage, considering you didn't ask for one before. I know how I would react, given what's already occurred. I'd take it as punitive and probably look for another photographer out of discomfort. (Given that I wouldn't act this way toward a photographer to begin with, of course, but I learned in business that clients are not all equally conscious and caring.)
  10. She sounds like the kind of customer that after you finally do the pictures, she isn't going to like them or give you a hard time for something else. You may not even want her as a customer or as a reference. She sounds fickle and like trouble.
  12. This person is, simply put, a "crock," a would-be customer who enjoys wasting others' time as their non-functional routine suggests. There's no "working" relationship here to lose. Find some new prospects and move on. As Alan rightly observed, clients like this are never satisfied and often ultimately try to get something for nothing.
  13. So many assumptions here, it's hard to tackle them all. You're getting a second-hand story and judging the would-be client without foundation. Unless someone here bothers to ask the woman why she acted as she did, not one of us will ever know what she "enjoys" or doesn't.

    In any case, regardless of how we armchair psychologists want to judge others through the eyes of a photographer we don't know on the Internet, this is a business question. My experience in running a graphic arts business for 30+ years was that I dealt with plenty of people who I knew rather well and determined were at least "crock-ish." I guess I liked to be flexible enough and appreciated the income enough that I learned my own coping mechanisms to deal with all sorts of behaviors I didn't consider ideal. Even the "crocks" wound up adding to the success of my business and gave me good stories to tell at home. I didn't take my working life terribly personally and knew that many working relationships I had would not be social relationships I'd necessarily choose in life.

    I drew the line at non-payment. If a client didn't pay, I would not do work for them again. But odd behavior before a job started never swayed me from pursuing the potential opportunity. That kind of investment paid off.
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2020
  14. A business question, indeed. Not quite sure how running a psychological consultancy dovetails profitably with the OP's ambitions. Maybe it did with yours.
  15. One of the mistakes I think a lot of people entering a business-whether full time or as a way to supplement their hobby/make money is drastically underselling themselves.

    No matter what your level, run your business like a business. In this case, deposits and/or cancellation fees are a pretty standard practice. After all, even if this is part time gig for you, you still blocked out time on a Saturday morning. What you would have used that time for-whether you turned down another paid job or were going to sleep in and spend the rest of the morning laying on your couch watching TV, you still planned a morning around it.

    Being too flexible early on can set you up to being taken advantage of in the future.
    William Michael and AJG like this.
  16. Too bad you missed my point, which is that I didn't attempt to psychoanalyze potential clients as you have done in this thread. I merely adjusted to their behaviors and tried to do my best to get them to be paying clients. I didn't try to manipulate their behavior through deposits, especially at the beginning when I didn't have other business waiting in the wings. What part of this don't you understand?
  17. Not if you're wise about it. Being flexible early on is about the most important quality you can develop. Being flexible doesn't mean being stupid, but it does mean being open to the many different personalities and even whims that come with public service. If you start out thinking you can dictate or manipulate the behavior of all your potential clients, good luck having success in business.
  18. I've been in the situation before where I thought I was being "friendly" and "easy to work with" when I went over and above what was agreed to on a service. To an extent it's not a bad thing, but at the same time if you set that expectation early on it's hard to break away from it. In fact I had to "fire" one of my first customers(non-photography related sideline business) not too long ago because I made the mistake of letting them push early on and dealing with them became unstainable for what they asked vs. what I charged them.
    William Michael likes this.
  19. What I get from your post is that achieving some sort of balance between flexibility and prudence is the purview of a good small business.
    Right. I agree. And you want to be somewhat vigilant so as not to be taken advantage of.

    I'm going on the info I have, that this is one of the OP's first business experiences. In my very early client encounters, I was mostly inclined to see how things played out before pre-judging them. That didn't involve investments in months of time or thousands of dollars, where I would have been much more cautious. The OP is not talking about such an investment of months or thousands. I'd be more inclined to let it play out and see where it goes, hoping for a good outcome. If it doesn't pan out, I wouldn't even see it as much of a lesson, because the next seemingly flaky client might just pay off.

    There's nothing like where a good gut feeling can take you in business. If you can't trust your gut, might be worth working for someone else, which is no crime or shame.
    William Michael likes this.
  20. The client's behavior as described by the OP--not you or drawn from your experience--is the basis of my opinion. He never got around to discussing rates or what the "client" wanted--and I suspect raising those matters earlier would have concluded this quickly with a deal or a walk.
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2020

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