We’ve all had them. And, no matter who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong, they’re never good for business. This week, we’ve asked our contributors to focus on how to avoid client conflicts and – when they’re unavoidable – come out the other end a little less worse for wear.
[by Jenna Close]
Client conflicts are awful, no doubt about it. It’s not a good feeling when someone isn’t happy with your work, and it can be very painful if they’re angry about it.
The first step in this situation is difficult but very important. Make your best effort to remain respectful and open to what the client has to say. The best possible outcome for the conflict will only happen if you can first diffuse the situation. Create an opening for discussion, then listen to them and respect their feelings. Respond calmly and look for solutions to the problem.
In situations of conflict some people want to press their opinion relentlessly, while others are afraid to express it effectively. It took me a long time to realize that diffusing the situation and engaging the client with respect does not mean that you cannot defend your position.
At first, my desire to make the client happy overwhelmed my ability to stand up for myself and present my point of view. My first instinct was to say “Ok, yes, I’m sorry, we can fix that” and then privately resent both the client for making the demands and myself for acquiescing to them. With time I have learned that presenting my point of view is important and usually leads to a happier resolution for everyone involved.
Take a deep breath and remain calm. Diffuse the situation. Communicate with respect. Be the bigger person and do these things even if your client doesn’t.
Jenna Close enjoys a relatively conflict-free existence as a commercial photographer in San Diego.
[by Kat Dalager]
Conflicts between clients and photographers come down to one thing: lack of clear communication.
It’s the client’s job to provide adequate information but it’s the photographer’s job to make sure they have all the information they need to estimate, produce and ultimately bill the project.
I prefer to provide written specifications to photographers when estimating a project. I outline the parameters for the approach, lighting, talent and wardrobe considerations, logistics, usage, budget, etc. I know this is unusual. More typically, photographers have to take notes during phone calls or interpret emails.
Regardless of how you receive your information, the next step will be for you to provide an estimate which outlines all of the parameters on which you have based your estimate. Doing so will either confirm that you and the client are on the same page or it will bring up topics that will need to be clarified or negotiated.
The age-old adage applies: Do Not Assume.
Kat’s been sharing her industry opinions with anyone who will listen for the past 35 years. Currently the Director of Project Operations at Life Time Fitness Corporation, she believes a level playing field will sustain our industry and she practices what she preaches.
Editor’s note: I first encountered Michael Clark’s work when Rob Haggart featured his magazine-style newsletter on aphotoeditor.com. A savvy business owner, articulate writer and powerful image-maker, it’s my pleasure to introduce Michael Clark as a new regular contributor. ~JH
[by Michael Clark]
Over the last eighteen years that I have been working as a photographer, I have learned the hard way how to minimize any conflicts with clients. Thankfully, mishaps have been extremely rare – and most had to do with clients losing slides back in the days when I shot film. While digital has solved the problem of images being lost by clients there are a whole host of other issues that can crop up if you don’t have your ducks in a row. Here are five tips for avoiding conflict with clients:
Get it in writing. Miscommunication is usually the main culprit in any conflict, whether it is with a client or anyone else. Hence, before shooting any assignment make sure a contract has been hammered out and signed by both parties. I won’t shoot an assignment without a signed contract – doing so is just asking for trouble in my experience.
Listen to the client. Listening is a skill that we all need as professional photographers. When a client calls I consciously tell myself to keep my mouth shut and listen closely. Don’t assume what your client needs or wants.
Ask a lot of questions. When it does come time to ask questions, I have a one page list of general questions that lives on my desk to help me make sure I get all the information I need to quote an accurate price and understand the details of the assignment.
Define your terms and theirs. For example, if a client asks for a “Buy Out,” make sure that both parties understand what that means. Licensing terms can be confusing. Hence, for licensing agreements make sure everything is spelled out in detail (see the first tip).
Never give a price on the initial call. When a client calls they often want to know exactly how much it is going to cost them to have you shoot the assignment. When usage rates are being negotiated I never give the client a price on the initial call because I have to do some research first. I usually send the client a quote via email, and then follow up with a phone call. Quoting a price on the initial call is bad form and usually means you are shooting yourself in the foot in terms of pricing your work.
Michael Clark is an internationally published adventure photographer and author. If you are dying for more info check out his Newsletter, which is a quarterly magazine that goes out to over 6,000 photographers and clients. See more of Michael’s work at www.michaelclarkphoto.com.
[by Luke Copping]
Lets get a few things out of the way first:
- Never work without a contract
- Get a deposit up front.
- Always get it in writing
- Never let your client’s policies override your own.
- If it’s too good to be true it probably is.
We’ve heard these all before – too many times, but these basic tenets keep coming up because people keep making the same mistakes (and let’s set the record straight, making mistakes is fine, but ideally you only want to make them once). When I see photographers asking for advice from their peers on online groups they are usually asking for answers to problems that are in many ways self inflicted. Aside from ignoring these important business basics above, the root problem I see over and over is assumption.
Too many photographers assume that their clients understand how the licensing model and copyright work, too many assume that their clients understand their payment terms, and too many photographers assume that things left unsaid are understood. Your clients are not mind readers, and making sure that they understand how your policies and workflow function is an astonishingly overlooked part of running a business. Be open with your clients, be direct, and if you ever feel that something is left vague or misunderstood make it a point to have a direct and respectful conversation with them before it becomes a problem.
On those rare occasions when you do have a conflict with a client (or those catastrophic moments where you realize the same problem happens over and over again with different clients) strive to develop strategies to learn from it and make sure that it doesn’t happen again. Do you need to revise your terms and policies to ensure future compliance? Do you need to start keeping an internal FAQ on how to most effectively communicate policies to your clients? Do you need to institute a better intake policy to screen potential clients better and identify red flags? Every mistake is a chance to grow.
If a conflict comes up, learn from it, evolve, and make sure it doesn’t happen again
Luke Copping is a commercial and editorial portrait photographer from Buffalo NY. He’s had his share of conflicts with clients and used them as lessons to build a stronger business.