Making your creative passion your career can be an enriching experience. However, one of the more common issues that wedding photographers come across is clients who figure that, because you love what you do, they can request more from you on the day than they are willing to pay for. This is a prominent societal issue, in that creative work is in demand from consumers, but they don’t always understand or appreciate the financial value of what you, as a skilled professional, provide.
This situation can be a recipe for disaster. The assault on your sense of self-worth and the impact of overwork can result in burnout. This has the potential to negatively affect your health, can put you in a creative rut, and it limits your joy for what you do. There are also dangers when you take too harsh an approach with customers; you run the risk of appearing uncommunicative and stand-offish, which can damage your reputation.
One of the keys to finding a balance in this area is being able to set robust and effective boundaries. As the wedding season approaches, now is a great time to look at what changes you can make to your approach. What strategies can ensure you get paid fairly for the work you do, and discourage clients that overstep the mark?
[Related Reading: How To Say No Without Losing Portrait Clients]
Perhaps the most difficult part of setting boundaries is the impact on the relationships you have with your clients. After all, it’s only natural that you want to be friendly and approachable, and to be a positive aspect of your client’s special day by helping them capture incredible memories. When the level of emotional investment into your client’s happiness breaches professional boundaries, it can lead them to think that they can treat you as a friend rather than a professional.
As such, from the outset, you need to set clear expectations as to the nature of your relationship with your clients. Your approach here should include:
- Formally Talking About Your Relationship
As soon as possible, you need to set out the nature of your relationship with your clients. A lot of mistakes and misunderstandings during wedding photo sessions arise because nobody on either side has clarified the nature of the photographer’s role.
Be vocal about how you are comfortable communicating and interacting with clients, and where you draw lines. Let them know how and when they can contact you before the event, and the protocol around setting up planning meetings or requesting additional services. You don’t need to be harsh in this; take the approach of being open and friendly, but firm in your limits.
- Learning to Say No
There’s a view that refusing work, or declining to perform certain types of tasks makes you seem inflexible. However, it’s important to bear in mind that saying no is a tool to prevent burnout. Saying no keeps you from being taken advantage of as a result of your amiable nature. It’s also a sign of a professional — one of the most valued aspects of any industry leader is effective communications skills. As such, you need to view this not simply as a refusal, but as an opportunity to convey important messaging in a way that helps everyone involved with the project get the most out of it.
A simple “no” is unlikely to be sufficient in any given situation. Refusals are better received if you are able to succinctly explain the reasons for your denial of requests. Use active listening to restate the reasons for their requests, and use empathy to color your response to them. Come from a place of mutual respect; you understand their request, but they also need to know why that doesn’t work for you.
Clarity of Pricing
Another way in which clients can cross boundaries is in their expectations of additional work on the big day. There’s a couple of ways that this can present itself. They can spring additional requests on you on that day, assuming that you won’t want to spoil their important day because you’re a nice, friendly person. There can also be a creeping effect, where you’ve agreed to do so many seemingly small gratis extras during the preparation period. As a result, by the time they ask you for something significant at no extra cost, you can’t decline without looking bad.
You can avoid this by setting clear pricing protocols from the outset and providing these to the client at the earliest opportunity. Be firm on this, and refer them to the protocols whenever requests are made.
Your listing should include:
- Operational Hours
Outline specific hourly rates. Make it clear that any work you undertake, even aside from the wedding day itself, will be subject to your hourly rate unless by prior agreement. Don’t just focus on your daytime rates, either, set after-hours “overtime” rates too.
This can prevent clients from assuming that you are at their beck and call whenever they have a “great idea” about your shots for their wedding, or asking for free advice. You are a professional, your time and skills are valuable; treat them that way and you can avoid the common burnout that freelance photographers are often subject to.
Even if you offer package rates for weddings, you should also be outlining the exact costs of each item you are providing. Alongside your hours, make it clear what the cash value of each shot, additional videos, editing, provision of assistants, creative lighting equipment, and so forth is.
On one hand, this shows clients what a great deal they’re getting as part of a package. On the other, it also provides you with a reference point should they ask for just a couple more shots in a different location or an extra piece of video footage from the reception.
A key aspect of making a plan that prevents the client from crossing boundaries is actually inviting them to be a limited part of the process. Make their involvement a formal meeting. Give them space to talk about their needs. Discuss the practicalities of how you intend to interact with them and their guests during the day, and have them talk you through their seating plan and go through their schedule.
This is also an opportunity to help them understand how the way they are choosing to seat their guests can impact the types of photographs that may be practical. Draw a line under this meeting, and let them know that you’ll produce your plan for the day based on that discussion, and provide them with it beforehand so that any reasonable changes can be made in advance.
In producing your plan, fully lay out what equipment is needed for the specific shots that are required. Detail any additional assistants that you’ll be bringing on board, and the specific purposes for which you’ll be including them. Link these to aspects of the timeline that you produce for the day.
When you provide a copy of this to the wedding party, they should be able to see that each element has been considered, and resources strictly allocated. By pulling together a tight schedule for the wedding day, you can demonstrate that there is little room for additional requests, while also making it clear that you’re servicing the client’s full-needs.
You are a professional photographer, and it is only right that you are treated as such. In order to prevent clients from crossing boundaries that can hurt you, you need to develop the communications skills to encourage a mutually respectful relationship. Using tools such as clear pricing and planning can help delineate stronger professional lines to wedding parties, and reduce requests that may lead to burnout.