As a photographer, it is pretty much guaranteed that you will come across a bad client at some point in your career. This is the kind of client that you should avoid at all costs, and who will in fact be detrimental to your business if you do take them on. Dealing with a bad client promises a lot of hassle and stress, not much reward at all, and a feeling of wanting to give it all up if they keep coming back. The problem is that we can sometimes have the tendency to want to say “yes” to everything – after all, that shoot will put food on the table and allow you to continue with your business. But there are times when we have to take a deep breath, summon up our courage, and say “no”. Here’s why – and how.
What is a bad client?
A bad client can fall into a number of different categories, and it is important that you are able to identify them. Put simply, it is someone who is going to be more hassle than they are worth, or who will not help you to continue to grow your business.
One of the strongest examples is someone who is looking for a photographer on a smaller budget than your fees allow. This person will try to haggle with you or cut corners to get a lower price. They may even tell you that your fees are too high and that they are only willing to pay X amount for your services. You are most likely to come into contact with this kind of client if you offer a special discount or deal, as they are looking for ways to get your work as cheaply as possible. This is a bad client because they are not sustainable: they will not book you again in the future, they are not likely to recommend you to other people who will pay your full amount, and you are not likely to be able to upsell them prints or other extras. You may also find that they are slow to pay, argue about the pay, or try not to pay at all. You may only spot this client once you are already waiting for their payment, but you might be able to pick them out if they start asking about price right away or trying to get it lower.
Another bad client is one that is very fussy. This client will ask you to re-edit the images five times in five different ways, and will never add on any extra prints or edits because they are not even happy with the ones they have got. They might not even buy prints at all, and might argue about the direction of the shoot and demand that you do things differently. This kind of client is bad because they take up a lot more of your time than others for the same fee, and they might end up forcing you to create something which is not in line with your vision. That is bad marketing for your business and might make you very stressed out – especially if others come to you looking for the same thing!
While there are many other types of bad client, our last example is the canceller or delayer. They are always cancelling or trying to reschedule shoots, which plays havoc with your schedule and could leave you with big gaps at too short a notice to refill them. This kind of client will waste your time. They might take a long time to get back to you via email or over the phone, and will want to change things at the last minute without expecting any repercussions. This could lose you money as you miss out on paid bookings.
Can you convert them to a good client?
Many photographers try to hang on to these clients, thinking that they may be able to convert them. The sad truth is, this is not likely to be possible. If your client is worried about money, then they will not be swayed by the quality of your work – they will simply say “Oh, we could book with that studio next time, but then it was so expensive…”. This leaves you struggling to get bookings, as the bad clients very rarely rebook or give you referrals.
The same is true for the fussy clients and those who cancel often. You are not likely to be able to change their ways, even if you put in deterrents like cancellation fees (which are only a small consolation) or limit the number of edits. All you will have on your hands are unhappy clients who will go elsewhere next time they need a photoshoot, and who may even badmouth you to their friends. That’s not a good way to build a business, and you would have been better off not dealing with them in the first place.
How can you tell them “no”?
If you can already see that someone is going to be a bad client – perhaps because they are giving you clear signs, or perhaps even because you have worked with them before – then you need to say no. If you are a bit shy about telling them exactly why you want to avoid working with them, then you can politely create an excuse or euphemism that will get the message across. Try examples like these:
- I’m sorry, we’re fully booked at the moment. I’ll let you know when we have space available for you.
- We are not able to offer discounted prices; perhaps you could try [competitor] instead?
- At this time, we are not offering new bookings to those who have previously cancelled.
By far the best option, however, is to learn how to tell someone outright that you do not want to work with them, and to tell them why. You do not have to be rude or make it a personal attack: simply explain calmly and clearly that you are unable to offer your services, and that you hope they have luck with finding another photographer who can take care of their needs.
This is best done as early in the process as possible. Don’t let them get carried away and almost booked – tell them as soon as you can that you do not want to offer them a photoshoot. You may feel as though you are throwing money away, but instead think of the stress that you are saving yourself. That should make it a lot easier to bear!