How to deal with difficult photography clients? “This is the way it should be done!”, “This is the way I want it. Hugo always did it this way”. As a photographer in active business, I am quite sure you can relate or reflect on clients that proved difficult or posed troublesome situations to your standard mode of operation. Clients will try to tell you how to do your job (especially those who googled a few things on photography and wanted to display knowledge). They will try to force you to compromise on your professional standards, revise an already executed contract. Even something silly as them jumping off a plane in Egypt while you photoshoot them for a ridiculous amount like $100 and still felt like they were gifting you the pay!
This is not to mention the troubles of the wedding photographer and the bridal ego! (laughs). It is really funny looking back at those situations now, but it certainly was not funny at the time. Photographers have to go through this stress at one time or the other because the job involves human interaction, social networking and feedback. And experience, they say, is life’s best teacher.
This is why I am going to be addressing how to deal with difficult clients or how to avoid them altogether in this write-up. There is no hard and fast rule but I can assure you that these are basic tips that can be applied across the board in almost every situation and you can get positive results.
Let’s get to it!
How to Deal with Difficult Photography Clients – Everything You Need to Know
This is likely not the first thing you wanted to see. It probably isn’t fun either but it is one of the most effective ways to deal with a difficult client. This is the perspective: to get the client to feel at home and get her talking. For instance, if you give out pre-appointment or pre-contract forms to fill out, you could include a section such as: “What is your love story?” (maybe for wedding photography) or “Tell us about your best adventure”.
These questions either orally asked or written or electronic give them an opportunity to be expressive. This way, they feel they have your attention. They feel they can communicate and rely on you to get the best out of their money since you now know some things about them. On the other hand, it gives you a prior look and a survey into the needs and possible requests they could ask you to do.
Down into the real interview or negotiations, you should learn to listen. Everybody loves to be listened to. You should even take notes. This is usually a better starting point than arguing or quickly assuming that you know what they want. Sometimes, in the actual sense, why they are being difficult is because they are having a hard time effectively communicating their requests to you in understandable terms or you have not been paying attention to their exact needs.
Listening and showing that you are paying a great deal of attention actually makes clients feel more at ease. They will be less aggressive or confrontational. It does not completely wave off disputes or the client’s troublesome attitude but it greatly reduces friction.
2. Client Education Is a Big Deal
This is the way I see it. The greatest problem or the major reason clients are difficult is ineffective communication. This can be worse when the client knows nothing about the scientific, artistic or professional implications of his or her demands. This is why you need to share some technical information with the client and make them know photography is much more than having a great iPhone or pressing the shutter button of a camera. For instance, you could break it down in simple terms. What it means to shoot and export in RAW and the software implications. Explain the use of natural light and flash light or artificial lighting techniques.
This way, they can not only understand your motives but coordinate themselves to help you achieve the best photos. Another good aspect to educate clients on is photo editing. Some clients think everything is possible with Photoshop. It is ridiculous that some may actually think you can make them ‘smile’ in the final photo using “Photoshop”. You hear remarks or questions such as “Can’t you just edit/correct it with Photoshop?”
Thus, educating your clients can be a big deal. It could be the difference between a difficult client and an understanding one.
3. Know and Show Your Stuff
If you are having a new client making inquiries or ‘trying’ your handiwork for the first time, it may be necessary to show them that you know your stuff. The manner of speaking, usage of terms and mode of explanation can go a long way to make the client to either trust you or become skeptical. This may be a cheap walkover for established photography brands but a serious challenge for upcoming ones. The client needs to trust you can handle the gig.
The in-person ordering session cannot be the right place or moment to start searching for the different sizes of photo frames online or to check for the trending shots. It is the same as discovering that your nurse does not know the difference between the blood groups. You will certainly disappear from sight. You are to be the master of your trade in the eyes of your clients. The focus should be to communicate your depth of knowledge in the simplest way. Avoid talking too much or going off-topic.
Asides from knowing your stuff, you also need to show it. It sounds kind of absurd right? Or prideful? Well, if it means to show off your previous clients and works, by all means, show off. I mean, if you were one of the official photographers at Prince Harry and Meghan Merkel’s wedding, why in the world would you keep it a secret? Let me tell you what it does. It humbles your client and also makes him want to listen to you.
It passes off the impression that you are good at what you do. They will realize you are experienced, that you can handle it and they will reduce the pressure on you. Of course, this should not come first when meeting up with a client. Listening to her should come first. This may probably not work like magic on old and difficult clients but it will certainly ease them off as they will respect you more.
4. Giving Them Time
It is always an excellent idea to follow up on a client. People can get stuck up with a very hectic schedule and completely forget the arrangements they made with you. Don’t get upset because your clients did not respond within the agreed time frame. Getting in touch without being pushy could show the client that you actually have their interests in mind. This can make them soften their hard stances, realize their hard lines and impossible requests. You would be amazed at how little things can change people’s minds. However, if they do not respond within a reasonable time, it is time to move on.
5. Saying No
If you never imagined it, you can take my word for it. The word “NO” is a very important word and can be crucial in the scheme of things when dealing with a client. For starters in photography, this might be a little difficult but as you keep advancing in your career, you will find out that some client’s demands are either impossible or too demeaning. Sometimes, they are asking too much for the amount they paid. Most clients after having an agreement, they like to put in additional requests or add-ons. If you continually surrender to them, you will find out you are losing out both financially and professionally. If the word is used appropriately in the right circumstances, it will draw the necessary boundaries and prevent the clients from been too demanding.
6. Introduce Other Options
As a great follow-up to the word ‘’no’’, you can offer other feasible solutions to such requests or alternative options. Clients may have a single choice in their minds without being aware of other available options. As a professional, you can offer other options. Sometimes, the reasons behind their numerous requests are a limited budget or want to beat competition between friends – the galore and glory. You could start by saying nice statements such as “I really understand why you want it done this way. However, this would be the result and it would not be favorable/it was not included in the package you signed up for. But for you, we could work something out that can be a better deal for both parties and everyone would be happy”.
This does not mean you have accepted the demands. It simply means that you have listened and you are willing to proffer solutions. Seek to understand their motives and then proffer unconsidered solutions. Also, if it was your fault, then it is up to you to fix it. The way it works in the business world is the way it works in the photographer-client business relationship. Rest assured that if you do not deal with it appropriately and on time, the unhappy clients will readily spread their negativity much more and faster than the happy ones will spread their good impressions. So, make it right while you can.
7. Screening Your Clients
If you want to avoid difficult clients altogether, you need to be able to screen them without them knowing. In preparing forms or exchanging emails, I try to ask as many questions as possible. With this I understand what kind of client I am dealing with, the kind of budget, taste and services they will possibly need or request. If you begin by accepting tough contracts that are long distance (e.g. a wedding with 400 guests across the country), on a limited or small budget, you are setting yourself up for failure and frustration.
You need to disqualify some clients or more appropriately, some contracts to save yourself the whole stress. Also, do not be carried away by a large amount of money the client is bringing to the table just yet. Get a hold of the requests and assimilate them first. You do not want to get halfway into the job and then begin to regret you took it or feel you could have charged better. Assess the client, your business policies and the worth of the contract. With these principles, you have great chances off landing the ideal client and avoiding the difficult ones.
8. Put It on the Paper
One of the ways to lose an argument against a client is when all you have is your word against theirs. Prospective clients, the jury and general onlookers often look at business agreement with empathy towards the customer. This is usually based on the psychology that “the customer is always right”. No matter how nice your client seems, don’t just take their word for it. Reduce it to a written and signed agreement. This is business and not a hook up from a dating site. Even dating sites have site policies and couples sign prenups. Please, don’t be naive.
Another option to consider is creating a set of policies and incorporating them into your contracts. A signed agreement will surely protect you in the future from problems and will help to secure your rights from been ripped off or taken advantage of.
9. Making Sure They Know What to Expect
I can bet with all my life as a photographer that the personal policy of revising the contractual terms with the client and making sure they know exactly what they will get after execution or the photo session can never go wrong. Nothing breaks a customer like when their expectations are not met. They get unhappy, moody or mad at you even when it is not your fault. This happens most of the time when they assume they are going to get a particular service but they never bothered to ask because they felt “all photographers offer this service!”. This is exactly why you need to clear the air as to what you offer and what you don’t. Or better still, what their payment covers for and what they won’t get at the end of it all.
This excludes future arguments based on their assumptions. A good example will be the general assumption of the delivery of digital images along with their photos. If you do not deliver digital images unless they are specially paid for, then it is best if you quickly disclose this detail to avoid future disputes. Remember, when clients are unhappy and get cranky, you have no idea how much bad business they can bring to your career. Photographers and their businesses are always at the receiving end. Learn to deal with it beforehand by revising the contractual terms with them. Also, your contract should spell out in clear and simple terms. The services they should expect of you and those they should not fantasize about.
As said earlier, there is no hard and fast rule to this. But these principles will greatly help in your dealings with clients.