I recently read a post by a fellow photographer and friend on a Facebook page about a prospective client who had issues with his contract. This couple was planning a destination wedding out of the country, and was getting a great price from the photographer; but objected to the part of the contract stating that the images are the photographer’s property. Actually, I think this was a good thing… This “objection” gave the photographer a warning about other potential problems. The photographer explained that this was standard in most, if not all, wedding photography contracts, that he would never sell the images, etc. Apparently the couple still wanted the wording changed and the photographer wisely decided not to take this client on.
Of course, the vast majority of wedding clients are very reasonable, respect their photographers talent, are easy to work with and are willing to pay a fair price for our services and the images we produce for them. This is why we love our craft and always do our best to exceed our couples expectations. We’re very lucky to be able to make our living doing something we’re passionate about. The products we make are cherished by our clients and their families for generations. I couldn’t think of doing anything else.
Not too long ago, if a client was not happy with a vendor’s services they would tell their friends and not refer that vendor. Now it’s a completely different ball game. Enter, Wedding Wire, Project Wedding, Yelp and several other online review sites where newlyweds can write anything they want, be it true or not, and there’s very little we can do about it, unless we’re prepared. I know of couples that have threatened their vendors with bad reviews if they didn’t get extra products and services at no charge. I also know wedding coordinators that have received very nasty reviews and were blamed for things totally beyond their control. When brides-to-be start visiting wedding sites looking for vendors and ideas, they’re contacted by these forums who also advertise wedding services.
So… What can we do about this problem that can have such a negative impact on our business? Here are five important tips that will help you build good relationships with your wedding clients and avoid bad reviews online.
First, we don’t have to book every client. It needs to be a good fit. Mutual trust is absolutely necesary for a good client-photographer relationship. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver in price, style or level of customer service. We’re “married” to each of our wedding couples, sometimes for over a year, especially if we’re doing an engagement session and a wedding album. Be sure that clients doesn’t expect more of your time than you’re willing to give them. Every year we get more clients that book us online and on the phone and we don’t have the opportunity to meet with them until the e-session or the wedding. This growing type of client, especially, needs to be confident that they’ve made a good choice, that they can trust us, and most importantly they need to be aware of how the business relationship will unfold. If a client is difficult, distrusting, demanding, unappreciative of our art or thinks we’re too expensive in the beginning, they’re not going to magically change their opinion. It’s best to let them find someone they are more comfortable with.
Second, be sure to have a good contract that states clearly EVERYTHING your client will get, including length of engagement sessions, how many locations and clothing changes, how long the wedding coverage will be, what photographers and assistants are included, what kind of albums, prints, files and other deliverables they have coming. It’s also important to include in your contract how much time after the wedding they have to select their images and complete the album. Price of extra hours of coverage on wedding day and schedule of payment also need to be clearly stated. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of a good contract. If you need one, you can Google “wedding photography contract” and you’ll get a few resources. Also, our friend John Mireles sells a very good, inexpensive wedding contract in his Photographer’s Toolkit. Make sure your contract includes a good model release, your rights to the images and both the bride and groom’s signatures, even if you’re dealing with the parents.
Third, communication. You should state in your price list the cost for extra album images or sides and anything else a couple might want, not included in their package. If you’re going to present them with a larger album that is included in their contract, in the hope that they will purchase extra images, make very sure they’re aware of the process so they don’t think you’re using bait and switch tactics.
Fourth, be professional every step of the way. Always answer client’s emails and phone calls promptly, be accurate in your answers and don’t promise anything you’re not ready to deliver. I’m a big fan of speaking in person or on the phone as much as possible, but any communication having to do with important stuff, like changes to the agreement, etc. should be in writing. Save all your client correspondence. If there are any complaints from your clients or their families, get back to them quickly, listen to everything they have to say and fix the problem as fast as you can, even if it costs you a little money. That’s one of the best investments you can make in your business.
Fifth, have rules and stick to them, it’s the right thing to do for you and your clients. Your rules have to be clear and easy to understand. Clients often need to be reminded of them several times along the way. Every business has rules… You need an ID to rent a movie, you have to stand in line at the Super Market, you have to pay the rent or mortgage on time, and a Double Double at In-n-Out costs more than a cheeseburger. Most people would never ask the In-n-Out cashier in the paper hat for a free order of fries, but they may ask their wedding photographer for a free hour of coverage… What’s up with that!?… Create an environment where your clients will know that your prices are firm and that there are procedures to follow when they do business with you. That doesn’t mean that you can’t add value to a collection in order to seal a deal, but it needs to be on your terms. That’s a totally different, two hour topic that we cover in depth at our workshops, but I’ll just say that reducing the price of your services or giving “discounts” is never a good idea.
If by chance you do end up with a difficult or unreasonable client who posts a bad review about your business, you should have the documentation proving them wrong, (contract, emails, etc.) to submit to the Review Site. They will remove the client’s post.
Lastly, how can we make Wedding Wire, Project Wedding and Yelp work for us? Every time you have a satisfied wedding client, and that better be almost all of your couples if you want to stay in business, ask them to write a positive review for you. Most will gladly do it. In addition to asking, follow up soon with an email including the links to make it easy for them. That’s very important. Not only is it great to have past clients say nice things about us, but in the event you have a bad review, it will be among positive ones.
These are a few guidelines that have served us well, and have helped us create great relationships with our clients. Many of whom have become our friends. Please feel free to leave us your comments, especially, how you’ve resolved challenging client issues…