What’s The Best Way to Collect Real Estate Photography Shoot Payments?

August 19th, 2015

PaymentsJeff posed the following question:

Right now I mostly do a net-30 payment policy with my existing customers, and up-front payment for new clients and “other” (FSBO, rental properties, etc). But I’m wondering if an up-front policy might just be the simplest and best way to handle payments across the board. I like the idea of giving my longtime customers the flexibility of delayed payment, but it takes up time to write up an invoice and send it, keep track of paid vs unpaid shoots, and do follow-up calls and emails when payments are nearing their due date. There are even a couple clients who are so forgetful that they’ve just given me their cc info so I can automatically charge them after a shoot.

With all that said, can you suggest an ordering system that would work well for receiving up-front payments? I can use my square reader when a client is at the shoot, but what about lockbox shoots where the client doesn’t meet me? I’m thinking of an online ordering system that I can push to new and existing clients, and preferably something that is VERY SIMPLE to use for my more techno-challenged customers.

Yes, we’ve talked about this issue before and many real estate photographers have complained about the issue of managing their accounts receivable. Many, as you say, just use a Square reader to take credit cards at the shoot. There are a couple of options to take care of the situations where the agent isn’t at the shoot:

  1. For those situations where the agent is not at the shoot to pay, send the agent a request for payment (Invoice) via PayPal or Square.
  2. For those situations where the agent is not at the shoot, you could simply take their credit card over the phone or keep it on file.
  3. Use a service like PaymentTab.com to get payment at delivery of the photos from everyone. This is pretty general and works in all situations and doesn’t cost that much.
  4. Collect the shoot fee at scheduling time on your website by just putting a PayPal or Square button on an order form. This is not very difficult. You can get a few lines of HTML code for a payment button that you can paste on your web page at PayPal or Square.

I would argue that allowing your best, trustworthy customers to pay any time within 30 days is a customer service benefit. But they should have to demonstrate their trustworthiness. I think, like may aspects of this business there isn’t one best way to collect payments. If you shoot for agents that are good business people, they will appreciate being able to pay when and how they choose. On the other hand, If you have a bunch of agents that you shoot for that continually need reminding to pay. Collect up front. Be prepared to deal with each kind of client!

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21 Responses to “What’s The Best Way to Collect Real Estate Photography Shoot Payments?”

  • I collect a check or cash at the property or I will accept an online payment via Paypal the day before. For my best customers, I’ll let them mail a check or have one available for pick up at their office within a couple of days. I found that many agents are very poor business people and I have to hound them to get paid. If a brokerage was doing enough business with me, I’d consider billing them once a week with payment due in 3 to 4 days. Cash flow is important for a small business. I’d have to charge everybody more to be able to extend credit.

  • I use Quickbooks Online – there’s an app I can make an invoice immediately before or after shooting, it gets sent to the client and they can pay with a card or bank account online (or mail a check.)

  • Keep it simple. Payment due at the time of shoot. With clients that you have built a relationship, deal as you feel comfortable. 90% of my clients leave a cc on file for me to use… that comes with building a trusting relationship with them. 5% of my clients I bill monthly as they are doing 10 to 20 shoots a month and to be honest, it is easier to bill that way.

    Nothing burns my ass more than chasing after money I have already earned.

  • I’m the same as Jerry. Most of my agents have me hold their cc on file. My policy is payment is due at the time of the shoot. I don’t release photos without payment. Keeps it all very simple.

  • I am trying out Freshbooks still on a free trial but seems to be working OK? Anyone else tried this one?

  • I think we all work different and find whatever works for our market, our cash flow and our work flow.

    We are having this same discussion on another group when a new comer to RE photography asked what the best way to collect was.

    That question gave me pause to think and review what I’m doing. I find what I’m doing is great for me but the most important thing to consider is whatever you do make sure you understand how your choice will fit into your work flow and scale going forward. It is very expensive in terms of time and client satisfaction to change the way you deliver and, invoice and collect payments.

  • The accounting/invoicing software market for small business has only a few choice and all of them are poor. Freshbooks does a decent job with invoicing, but is poor on the accounting side. Quickbooks is great on the accounting side, but it’s invoicing is terrible. It’s also hard to get information out of in anything other than standardized reports.

    I use a combination of Quickbooks, bill.com, QODBC and MS Access. The invoicing is handled by bill.com. It sends out the invoice by either email or mail, has an online portal where the agent can pay, and will send out reminders. The invoices and payment are synced with Quickbooks. Quickbooks allow for all the accounting activity and reporting. I have used this for a couple of years and thing were going well. Unfortunately, in the last 6 months I have had to call tech support several times due to sync issues. The support is always good and helpful, I’m just calling it too often.

    Monthly statements are done via QODBC and Access.

  • I have been using Square to take payments, and I really like it. You can use it with cc’s on file, swipe in person, or send an invoice that clients can pay online. You can preload all your services and pricing into the application for consistent, speedy transactions. Invoices can be branded with your logo.

  • A single invoice on the 24th of each month to all agents – most pay by direct deposit, a few by cheque. In over 5,200 property shoots, I’ve only had one that I decided not to collect – a home owner who fancied himself a photographer (aren’t they the worst?), didn’t like my photos, tried doing it himself then got someone in who created some incredibly bad HDR images – at that point, I decided to work only for agents. Show clients some trust and they’ll repay you with loyalty.

  • I was spending way to much time chasing after payments. I now have a store page on my website…clients are able to view photos (watermarked) and once they make payment a receipt with photos attached is sent directly to them. Super easy for me and for them!

  • Freshbooks is great with automated reminders that you can set and they now have their own credit card payment system.

    1.Create invoice, set terms and automated reminder times
    2. send invoice
    3. client clicks on payment link right on invoice if using credit card (or pays by cheque)
    4. freshbooks automatically deposits your collected money into your bank account once a week

    Freshbooks also keeps track of the payment processing fees (for credit card payments) and puts in directly in your expenses section so you can use it as an tax expense (along with the yearly cost of the program)

  • After a client failed to pay $600+ for months and after reading Larry’s book “The Business of Real Estate Photography,” I started requiring payment prior to file delivery. I find that this is the only way to get agents not to “forget” to pay me promptly. They are already used to seeing home inspectors requiring payment on the day of the inspection.

    I told that bad payer that my new accounting system charges $35/month for account receivables and that I really didn’t want to be in the collection business so that from now on payment will be due before delivery.

    I use Square or Flint (Flint has free transactions all of August), I like square because the name recognition puts new clients at ease.

  • @Michel-
    I really like the idea of that system. Was that an app or add-on to your site, or did you create that yourself?

  • I have more of a side comment. I prefer checks highly over all other forms. Cash too of course but have never gotten cash. If a person seems to be having a little trouble mailing me the check, I offer to swing by a convenient location for them. This gives me a couple minutes face time too, which is really beneficial with newew clients, no shooting stress and can just shoot the breeze for a few.

    Maybe it’s that I am cheap but giving money to credit cards and PayPal just doesn’t seem right to me when combined with the above customer service aspect. I do accept PayPal though, I just don’t like it is all. Better than having a disgruntled client who doesn’t want to buy a stamp though.

  • Freshbooks.com all the way. I’ve been using them for 3/4 years now. They also recently added the ability to accept credit cards directly through their site instead of having to sign up to a third-party merch (which I had done prior to this feature). Their always improving and adding features, and I believe they’re adding more accounting/tax friendly ways of doing things.

    Their blog has tons of info – http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/

  • I guess I’m pretty sneaky… I build in a hypothetical “Discount” with the quote. To avail themselves of the discount we get paid at the site & time of the session. Our website also accepts payment, either way they seem to want the “Discount”. This just happens to work for us.

    We will bill a major, very seldom though. Out agents prefer checks over Cred Cards. We are able to accept CC at the site, only done it couple of times. Greed is sometimes good, people like saving a buck.

  • @ Tom Everitt — that’s a standard thing with many companies, and it’s usually referred to as some variation on “2 net 20”, where the first number is the % discount and the second number is the number of days to payment. If the client pays the entire invoice in 20 days, they can take 2% off the bottom line. Obviously there’s still a deadline (typically 30 days) for payment, discount or no discount. But the vendor (that’s us) is willing to give back a little in exchange for early payment.

    As for the whole issue of chasing deadbeats….I’m really torn on what to think about this. On the one hand, I can understand the frustration, and given that there’s really no “real” barrier to entry for real estate agents, there are surely some lame individuals operating out there. That definitely argues for payment-up-front.

    But then my own experience really contradicts that. Even when I was starting out, shooting truly awful houses for truly struggling agents, and not saying “no” to ANYONE, I just never had a problem with getting paid. I always did all my invoicing on the last calendar day of the month, and people paid their bill on time. I’m sure someone stiffed me but I really don’t remember it….people just paid. It wasn’t a problem.

    And that makes so much sense to me — after all, they’re paying their electric bill, and their phone bill, and their rent, aren’t they? I think a lot of it has to do with how the photographer is perceived, which ultimately comes down to how you carry and conduct yourself. If you go into a situation in a defensive posture, expecting to be cheated, expecting to be treated badly, then a lot of folks are going to oblige you. But those same people are paying their other bills, right on time — because those vendors (AT&T, Electric, Internet, etc.) are seen as A) bigger and B) un-bendable.
    If you’re dealing with your clients from a position of weakness, afraid to rock the boat, apologizing for your own policies, etc., then you’re going to be treated like an underling, like someone who they feel is lucky to have their business. Make it the other way around – THEY’RE lucky to be working with YOU – and things will change. You don’t have to be a jerk, but you do need to dress better than they do, carry yourself with poise and confidence, and tell them, in clear, assertive, un-apologetic language, what you expect, with no hint that you could ever comprehend anything else.

    Same way you would deal with a child who doesn’t want to pick up his toys.

  • @Scott

    That’s one thing that I quickly tried to break a habit of, which is apologizing for my own policies. Unless I actually make a mistake, I don’t use language like “I’m sorry”. Confidence in myself and my business garners respect, and people quickly learn they can’t walk all over me. If I can remember what book I read that in, I’ll post it. There are a few really solid books out there that are great for people like me who had never run a business before.

  • @ Scott, takes me back years ago when I sold widgets, 2%10, net 30. Currently I know my Agents and what they want. If they want a discount, It always appears on the pre-shoot emailed Invoice. They always take the discount and pay the discounted amount during the session. Please remember, my sandbox is very small compared to you guys.

  • Tom, absolutely correct, I had it wrong; 2% 10/net 30 is the phrase. Pay in 10 days, take 2% off, otherwise pay the net (no discount) in 30 days.

    For big companies that are spending many thousands or tens of thousands (or more, think of General Electric etc.) on supplies, 2% can be a huge amount of money.

    For a real estate agent, it might take something closer to 5% or 10% to entice them to pay early — some figure that translates to $50 or more. Whatever gets their attention, but doesn’t hit the photographer’s bottom line too hard, I guess.

  • Scott, exactly, we build in 10 – 12% to make it appealing. They like it, We like it, Everyone is happy. All of us seek Value, that’s what we offer.

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