The Blog

Photographers: How to Say “No” to a client

fotoClient is the Beautiful, intuitive business management tool for photographers. Today we want to thank guest blogger and photographer Michael Wessel for contributing the following post!

The hardest thing for a photographer to say, especially when they’re first getting started, is the word “no.” They’re two simple letters in combination that just disappear from our vocabulary. We see our clients, or potential clients, as skittish horses ready to bolt at the first sign of danger, and the word “no” is like a rattlesnake in the brush. We express an opinion that differs from theirs and the business, the money and the client will vanish.

Or so we think.

What we do is not all about the money, and if you think it is, you’d better get out of this field, fast. There is no way to get rich quick–or usually at all–in this field. Each day things get harder and harder for us as the DIY mentality digs in deep to people’s minds. That means that each day people are willing to pay less and less but are wanting more and more. And that means you have to learn to say “no.”

What you are creating with your clients is a relationship. It sounds cliche, partly because it’s a phrase oft used by marketing professionals, but it’s true. In a relationship, there is a balance of give and take–at least, there is in a healthy one. That doesn’t mean you’re buying rounds for each other at the bar, but it’s that kind of feeling.

So when your client, or potential client, asks for something that doesn’t work for the relationship, you need to be able to say “no.” Do they want more photos for less? Do they want to try and execute a shoot that’s way out of the scope of their budget? Do they want the raw files when it’s your policy to not give them out? There are a thousand things that clients ask for that we know won’t work both in our gut and from our balance sheet.

I will admit that saying “no” can make you lose a client, but in the long run, it’s a good thing. Allowing them to walk all over you is unhealthy, and does not lead to a mutually beneficial relationship. Our time and energy are limited. Our creativity is fueled by the people around us and by the jobs we do. If the people around you are draining you and the jobs are killing your passion, something is wrong.

That doesn’t mean that you say “no” to every request. Remember, it’s mutually beneficial. You give, then they give. They have a smaller budget, you give them less photos. They want more photos for less money, instead try offering them fewer licensing rights. Always give the client options.

So how exactly do you say “no?”

The answer to that, in actuality, is pretty simple. If you’re running a business then you (should) know your expenses. If not, figure it out fast. There are plenty of “cost of doing business” generators out there. Every action has a cost. They want another photo, you know how much time it takes (on average) and how much your time costs. They want you to develop another concept for them that’s outside the contract (ALWAYS HAVE CONTRACTS!), then let them know the amount of time that it will take and the contract and cost will have to be amended to reflect that. Time is money. Another business owner will realize that even though they might not value your time as much as you do.

So, how to approach the conversation? Well, I find that it’s best to do it in person and have all the relevant information at hand. By phone is usually my second choice. Unless you have a really solid relationship and you know the ins and outs of the recipient, email just isn’t able to convey things correctly, so don’t try to use that as an easy way out. Most importantly, be polite. Think about how you would like someone to say the same things to you. And stay away from ultimatums–those usually don’t turn out well.

The business of photography is not a zero-sum game. Both sides should come out winning. But it’s a relationship with negotiations happening all the time. Give and take, give and take. While you want to avoid the word “no,” and continually present alternatives, you should always keep it in your arsenal. You will be surprised how much respect you get from saying it at the right times for the right reasons.

Be strong and be confident!