All clients are not created equally. Each year you will have clients you love, clients you like, and clients you want to fire. Despite your best efforts, difficult clients will slip through your extensive screening methods and make you want to rip out your hair. Whether your business is brand new or well established, dealing with problematic clients is one of the most challenging parts of the job.
1. The Family Friend
This client is neither family, nor friend, but is someone you have known for several years. They chose you because of their connection to your family and they expect a “family” rate. The Family Friend likes to remind you that they are doing you a favor, often mentioning they didn’t have to choose you. You must handle the Family Friend with care as they are part of your social circle and have the power to influence other potential clients. If they don’t like working with you, you are faced with years of awkward social interactions.
How you handle the Family Friend will depend, in part, on how much you value your relationship with them. Approach each interaction with a professional attitude and help them realize that you are serious about your business. Our Friends and Family Pricing Kit is there to help you keep your business sustainable without harming your relationships.
2. The Deal Maker
The Deal Maker will not only insist on a better price, but will also ask for any number of other inclusions. Some Deal Makers will actually demand you shoot their session for free in exchange for social media exposure, in kind services, and/or a link on their website. Often the Deal Maker is a great manipulator and will try to undermine your confidence to get a better price. Watch for backhanded compliments or subtle criticism designed to make you feel bad about yourself and offer a discount. The Deal Maker will likely find “problems” with their images and insist that free product will make the problem go away.
Confidence is key when dealing with the Deal Maker, so stay strong. You know how hard you work and the time it takes to complete the job, don’t let this client bully you into undervaluing your services. When they ask for a deal or extra inclusions, simply decline. Some Deal Makers will take their business elsewhere, but others will respect that you are not a pushover and will want to work with you.
3. The VIP
This client believes they should be your number one priority. Calls, texts and emails come in from them at all hours of the day and night. They expect an immediate response and will send message after message until you get back to them. Beyond your undivided attention, the VIP expects you to submit their session to a pre-approved list of blogs and other online publications. The VIP either wants you to prominently feature them on your own blog and let the world know how extra-special they are, or they will suddenly decide they are too important to be used for marketing and demand that you share nothing at all.
VIPs have an inflated sense of their own importance and, as such, need a little extra TLC. Treat the VIP with respect, respond to their message in a timely manner, but set clear boundaries on your time and your services. Most of the time VIPs will expect you to simply do what they ask so you may need to refer to your wedding or portrait contract and remind them what is, and what is not, included.
4. The Manager
The Manager comes across as excited and enthusiastic at first, but soon starts to micro-manage every aspect of her session. She will choose the locations, tell you what images you will make, and otherwise try to control everything. She shares her extensive pinterest board, filled with other photographers’ work clearly labeled “love it” or “hate it”, to help you truly understand her vision. During the session, the Manager will offer suggestions on how and where to pose your subjects, and lecture you about shooting into the sun and your other lighting choices. When it comes to post-processing, the Manager will let you know what images should be color or black and white and will likely ask you to re-edit at least once. This client believes she knows better than you.
Often the Manager’s need to control everything stems from a previous bad experience. The best way to diffuse that is to ask if she trusts you. Gently explain that you know this is very important to her. Before the session, listen to her suggestions and concerns. During the session, be firm and remind her that you are very clear on what she wants.
5. The Wannabe
When hiring you, the Wannabe lets you know that they are really into photography and could probably do the job themselves if they didn’t have to be in the images. They ask lots of questions about gear, seem really interested in f/stops and white balance, and will want you to shoot in RAW. They appreciate your talent and skill, but always chime in with anecdotes about they handled similar sessions. Often the Wannabe will want you to give them RAW files so they can edit the images themselves and order any product directly from the supplier. The Wannabe may end up opening their own business within weeks of their session with you.
Remember that the Wannabe recognizes your talent and simply wants to be treated as a peer. Talk with them about gear, listen to their suggestions, and let them know you appreciate their feedback, but be firm in your own opinions. Remember, you are the one in charge. Clearly explain your policies around RAW files and products, and don’t be afraid to remind them that they hired you for a reason.
6. The Indifferent Non-Responder
There are few warning signs when you first meet the Indifferent Non-Responder and it isn’t until you need to get their attention that you realize you are dealing with this client type. The Indifferent Non-Responder takes forever to get back to you and seems completely uninterested in the session itself. It can often be challenging to get their payments and finalize a session time. When the session happens, this client is detached while passively doing whatever you ask. Upon delivery of their images, the Indifferent Non-Responder will take forever to decide on products and you may not hear from them for months or years.
Consistency and repetition are important when dealing with the Non-Responder. Send an email and follow up with a phone call, or vice versa. Ensure that you are proactively trying to reach them by setting reminders in your calendar to contact them about payments, orders and more. Know that you will struggle to get answers, but keep trying.
As your business grows and you target your marketing more effectively, you will find fewer and fewer problem clients each year. That said, they are practically impossible to weed out completely. Don’t let these clients poison your business. When you find yourself facing the Deal Maker or the VIP, be firm and maintain your confidence and control. Try to turn the Manager into a partner and the Wannabe into a collaborator. Remember that your Family Friends just want to support and the Indifferent Non-Responder ignores everyone, not just you.
Struggling with how to handle client communications? Check out the Studio Email Assistant for 25 professionally written business correspondences that cover everything from handling price shoppers to session clothing choices.
From a very early age I loved taking pictures and looking at them in magazines and books, but the art of photography captured my heart when I was a teenager, on my first overseas trip to Wales. From that point, I began shooting with a little film SLR and having my friend model for me. In college I took some digital photography and visual communication courses as part of my communication studies major, and decided to pursue a career in photography. I became a legal business and took my first paid client at age 20, and it's been quite a journey and adventure over the past nine years.
I secretly bought a mail-order 35mm camera when I was 15, and took lots of ordinary photos of animals and nature for several years. Although I majored in art and studied photography in college, my career started in marketing and advertising, from the client service end. Then I had the most beautiful baby, found my old camera and realized how much I love photographing people.