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Deciding What to Put Up with from Clients

February 10th, 2019

Alex asks the following:

If an agent is always asking for freebies and difficult to work with, emails asking for the transfer of images once again, do you charge a processing fee for sending the link again because the client is technologically challenged?

I don’t think there’s a simple pat answer. The answer depends on the state of your business and how bad you want to continue working with this agent. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How big of a nuisance is the request to you?
  • How often do you get these nuisance requests?
  • How reasonable is this client? Will charging a processing fee on nuisance requests anger the client or cause them to end the business relationship? Maybe the client is aware that they are a bit of a nuisance and not mind paying an additional fee? Just because someone is a nuisance, doesn’t mean they are unreasonable.
  • What is the value of this client? Is the nuisance worth the possibility of losing their business?
  • If you are still building your business and you want to build a reputation in your area for great customer service, then you may want to put up with this client’s nuisance requests to build a good customer service reputation.
  • On the other hand, if you’ve already built your reputation, have a thriving business, and this client is more of a nuisance than the majority of your clients, it may make sense to charge an extra fee or just not put up with the foolishness and fire the client. You can fire clients, you know.

There will always be some clients that are too much trouble to deal with!

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13 Responses to “Deciding What to Put Up with from Clients”

  • I agree that clients can be fired, and sometimes that really is the best answer. I haven’t had to fire a client, though. I think the best way to handle these issues is with a contract that is well thought out.

    Do you have a contract? If so, what does it say about re-delivering images?

  • If it’s a relatively new client who may badmouth you to their office or others if you need to end the relationship because they are a nuisance (they obviously wouldn’t think they are a nuisance), you can just be unavailable whenever they need you and they’ll ultimately go elsewhere and your reputation remains intact.

  • I have no idea how you deliver images, but if all you have to do is to resend a link via e-mail, charging for it just seems petty. If the agent is a “pain in the ass”, then you need to decide whether their business is important enough for you to put up with the aggravation.

  • I agree with John but in contrast to what Larry wrote, I would like to reference sears. Sears built a business based off of making the customer right no matter how wrong they are. This story ends with sears selling off all their major assets and brands only to get bankruptcy assistance a total of 3 times I believe. The customer is only right some of the time. It’s up to us to have a proper threshold.

    I started to end this issue for me by telling clients in print that links and online storage are only valid for 30 days. After that they are deleted forever. They end up getting their deliverables fast when a deadline is involved.

  • Be totally fair with all clients what you charge for and how much you charge. After 20 years I have learned promises are not kept when they ask for discounts.

  • Thankfully it is rare that I have to fire a client. Rather than all the drama of “your fired” and the potential victimized talk in the office portraying me in a negative light, my preferred method is to suddenly have a full schedule. Let’s see, my next available is (ten days from now). They are amazed at how in demand I am, and find someone else. While this isn’t the Realtor/client, another trick I found when the Realtor ‘warned’ me that the homeowners micro-manage everything. While I am quite affable with each homeowner, putting them at ease and taking an interest in them – where moving, nicely prepared home, etc – and basically making the shoot enjoyable, when they start micromanaging my work, I draw the line. A technique I discovered was distracting them. I hand them my iPad and let them browse through my personal photos – various trips to Europe, daughter’s wedding in a cave in the Canary Islands, etc. They are blown away and I get my work done.

    About the only time I bluntly ‘fire’ them, is more on the Realtor side where I don’t accept the listing and tell them we are not good fit. Since I do both, Real Estate and Photography, no single client is going to monopolize and detract from the services I give to all clients. As such, I do limit my number of listings vs the “quantity, quantity, quantity” business plan of the listing collector. A listing appoint has the secondary unspoken criteria “Do you qualify” and I can be picky. If they start making demands, like I must accompany every showing, or they must be there, etc…I turn it down.

  • You could think of this as if you had a bow and arrow…

    You bend over backwards to please the client (pulling back on the bow), but at some point, you have to let that arrow fly!

    Re-sending files is getting a little petty, maybe frustrating to you, but still…petty. That said, asking for freebies all the time can be solved by simply saying, “I am running a business here”. As for being difficult, well that could mean anything so you have to understand WHY it is difficult, is it you? Maybe you two are just not a match, if so, move on.

  • Larry Gray wrote: “….the only time I bluntly ‘fire’ them, is more on the Realtor side where I don’t accept the listing and tell them we are not good fit.”

    This.
    Pretending that your schedule is full is a cop-out. Any time you find yourself lying to your customers, you’re doing something wrong. Just be honest with them – “Hi Bill, thanks for writing but I’ve decided that we’re not a good fit. Good luck with your listing!” Or, “Hi Jane, I don’t think my services are a good match for your needs. Here’s a couple of local photographers who might be more to your liking. Good luck with your listing!”

    That’s all it takes.

  • A few notes to hit on here:

    – When delivering files, put together a template email that gives brief directions on how to access and download the files. I send this to my clients every time I deliver their images. It’s short, to the point, and gets the job done. Worst case scenario, you just have to re-forward that same email. If your delivery method is complicated, maybe you need to reassess this part of your business and simplify it.

    – If a client is asking for freebies, this one is easy, just say no. There are a dozen ways to put this, but the point being is that you are running a business, services for income. However you convey the news, do it politely. “I appreciate the inquiry, but my prices are competitive and fair, I would love to book your listing at my standard rate.”

    – Even if a client is very difficult, remember that EVERYONE is capable of sending you a REFERRAL. I’ve had some of my most difficult clients send me referrals out of the blue, usually for a vacation property that a friend of theirs owns, or a new listing agent, or even commercial stuff like portraits. Be good to everyone and never burn a bridge, you’ll watch your referral pool dry up if you don’t be nice.

    – Try to train your clients. I’ve had some very tough clients in the past that were demanding and complicated to work with. I put a little extra time in to coordinating our workflows, delivery methods, etc. After a few photo shoots, they got with the program and now the collaboration is a breeze. For the clients that remain difficult, you can use one of the many methods listed in previous comments on how to part ways. The few that I’ve had that couldn’t get with the program, just sort of went away on their own.

  • I’ve only “fired” one client so far as I can remember and they were a nightmare right out of the gate. Lots of requests for unethical edits, paid very late, didn’t pay the full amount and the check bounced. Fortunately, when I did finally pick up a check after dropping by the office, I went to a local branch of their bank to cash is straight away instead of depositing it which saved me money that I probably wouldn’t have been able to collect from her for the bounce charges.

    There are other gradations to just out and out firing a client. If you tend to get busy on Thursdays and Friday with appointments so agents can get a property up for the weekend, keep those slots open for your best customers and schedule problem agents on MTuW when you have open slots you want to fill in. Pushing them out 7-10 days to get them to just stop calling might get you caught if a colleague tells them they were able to schedule you for the next day. The best thing to do is sit down with every new client and go over with them your terms of service including policies on licensing, re-edits, re-shoots, etc. I have my published base price, but if an agent wants to be the art director, it’s more. If they want me to make 50 finished compositions and pick out and pay for the 30 that they like best, it’s more money. If they want edits to remove cords, pets, ugly objects and other “Photoshop” work, I have a published rate billed in 1/2 hour increments and I let them know that it may push back delivery. I try to create some space in case I have to send the image out for the edits that I can’t do well enough myself. I’m happy to quote all sorts of bespoke service such as full or multiple days of photography but I make it clear that the extra attention comes at a cost.

    I have a few customers that I go way out of my way to keep happy. They don’t ask for many redo’s on editing. They trip over themselves to pay me quickly and give me lots of work. One of them asked me if I could “replace” a missing drawer in a kitchen (it was broken and would be fixed at a later date). I might charge a new customer a few bucks for that, but not this one. I routinely toss in sky replacements, TV replacements, stray cord removal and other edits that I’m good at and can do quickly. My more middle of the road clients get the odd sky replacement/cloud painting when I have the time and inclination. I let them know that I’d normally charge $X, but since they did something nice, I returned the favor or some other reason so they shouldn’t expect it always to happen for free.

    We all want to avoid confrontation and saying “no” is one of the hardest things for a small business person to do. It’s gets easier but never easy. You just have to recall the times you didn’t say it and wound up with some sleepless night and lost your shorts on a job. Recommending your fiercest competitor might get you the eponymous two birds with one stone. You gracefully decline working for a difficult customer and lumber your competition with them if your competitor isn’t smart enough to fob them off on somebody else. Probably the most difficult situation is when you have a demanding customer that is willing to pay for being a huge perfectionist. If you can stand the stress, it can be financially worthwhile and they may just push you to really take your work to the next level.

  • Let me first say, this is my first post here. I’ve been stalking the site for some time and learning as much as I can as I plan on diversifying my services.

    I can also say I sold my first image in 1986, and 100% of my income from that time until now has been through the word of professional photography.

    That being said Alex I would want to know if you are selling the digital files, or a license of the digital files as this will make a difference.

    If you’re selling the license, then I would think you would need to provide a convenient way to access and download the images until the terms of the license have expired. A request to use the image/s again once the initial license has expired should be invoiced and a new license created.

    On the flip side if you’re selling the images and not selling a license then charging for an additional copy of an image I feel is justified. I would make sure to inform my clients that they have a One Week Unlimited Download Window. I capitalized One Week Unlimited Download Window because you could present this to your client as the title of an actual product. A request for an additional download can be sold as an additional One Week Unlimited Download thus reinforcing the time limitation and policy. And, the first request for an additional download would give you the opportunity to be “the good guy” by granting a complementary One Week Unlimited Download for your “favorite client”. After all, you are a professional photographer. Selling photographs is your business, not giving them away.

    Of course, your policies should be clearly written and client’s educated before their first order is ever placed to ensure this never happens.

    One last point, and I may be going a bit off topic here. There are three basic ways photographers can make money, and we are most successful when we hit all three from the same shoot.

    1. “Time for money”. A 6 hour wedding shoot for instance. In this area, much like a psychiatrist, we really own a practice more than a business.
    2. “Residuals”. Create something once, sell it many times. Staged Images. Day to Dusk. A wedding album. Stock.
    3. “Putting the deal together”. The client wants a particular product created with the images you have created. A wedding album for example. The client pays for an album. The photographer sends the images to a designer. The design is sent to a book binder for printing and binding. The photographer delivers the album to their client.

    Just my two cents Alex. Hope this helps. Best of luck.

  • Just to come back and emphasize what Scott said….lying to your clients solves nothing, it may put off a situation, but in the end the problem is still there.

    Honesty with your client will give them a chance to reflex on their behavior and if they want to address it. If they think you’re just busy, they go on to the next photog and act the same. If they have been called out, then maybe they will alter their attitude.

    Of course, that does not mean that you can cuss out the sob and tell them to take a hike. Bite your tongue and let them down easy.

  • Do not seek to put your competitors out of business. You may have a customer you want to send them someday.

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