Conflicts with clients can keep even the most jaded photographer up at night. Not only can they cause anxiety and dread but they can have a real impact on your bottom line. This week, our contributors share their collective expertise on how to minimize the chances of conflicts with your clients and what to do if they happen anyway. ~ Judy Herrmann, editor
[by Kimberly Blom-Roemer]
With projects being discussed verbally, via email, among multiple people who might not always have exactly the same vision, and referencing a variety of documents, how do you ensure everyone has the same expectations for the project?
Include everything in the Estimate.
By doing this, you have one document that governs the entire project. No digging through emails, no missed emails, no misunderstandings in phone conversations, no differing directions from multiple people, and no working from a different revision of a drawing/layout that you didn’t receive.
The only time I have ever run into issues with a client is when I have a) not had a signed Estimate before starting the project, or b) something in the Estimate was not completely clear.
So, #1 Rule for a any project… GET A SIGNED ESTIMATE BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING.
And, learn from something vague in your Estimate. When this happens, I write up something that is clearer, and be sure to include it in my next Estimate. It only makes your Estimate better.
But, what if something changes after the Estimate is signed?
You have two options.
1.) Significant Changes. Create a new Estimate that states at the top that it supersedes any previous conversations, documents, and agreements… and of course have them sign it.
2.) Minor Changes. Create a Change Order. This can be as simple as an email clearly stating the change, and have your client respond “Approved”. My Subject Line says the following: “Project Name-CHANGE ORDER-_________________ (detail of change)”
If a Change Order is needed and signed, I create a PDF of it, attach it to the signed Estimate, and send the entire document to the client. So again, there is one governing document for the project.
If you ever come across a client that is lackadaisical about contracts and paperwork, that isn’t the time to be lax in your own diligence just to conform to their style. In fact, it is even more important now because the possibilities of miscommunication and a negative outcome are increased significantly.
My clients continually tell me they appreciate that my Estimates are as detailed as they are. They know exactly what they are going to receive from me, what they need to do, and how much everything is going to cost. The fact that there are no surprises, or confusion on items makes their lives so much easier!
Kimberly Blom-Roemer is Gulf Coast based aerial and architectural photography specialist that caters to the analytic tendencies of her clients (A/E/C industry) by providing lots of detail to ensure their projects are successful.
[by Rosh Sillars]
In my experience, client conflicts begin when someone knowingly or unknowingly changes the rules or vision of a project after it is underway. Sometimes it’s scope creep – a bunch of little things that add up over time.
I’ve seen situations where the client has no idea what to expect, the photographer gets to work with no plan, the client blindly follows the photographer and the client is disappointed with the end result. Setting expectations helps prevent conflict and disappointment down the road.
Layout your vision in the beginning, establish your process, state what you expect from your client and when it is due. Ask the client what their vision and expectations for the project are. You may be surprised.
It’s amazing how two people can use the same word and have completely different concepts of its meaning. Especially as it’s applied to your project. Ask clients to define the meanings of the words they use: What do you mean by natural light, causal, photojournalistic, artistic, lifestyle or formal?
Once you agree on a direction, don’t change it without consulting the client. Never assume they will be good with your new idea or change of plans. Good communication is the best path to good client relations. It protects both you and your valuable client.
Rosh Sillars is the owner of Image 3 Marketing and the author of four books on the topics of marketing and photography.
[by Jim Cavanaugh]
As a business owner, some level of conflict with a small number of your clients is inevitable. The conflict can be over price, change orders, ownership & use, quality, deliverables, deadlines and more. The first key to resolve these types of conflicts is to endeavor to prevent them from happening. Most often, the conflict arises from the client’s unmet expectations and is the result of unclear communication.
The first step is to have excellent paperwork (estimates, invoices, etc.) that clearly outlines exactly what you will provide for your client. It should also clearly spell out the clients responsibilities. This includes e-mail communications between you and your client. Save everything!
When conflicts arise, you can often go back and find the seeds of the conflict in past conversations and e-mails with your client. If something seems unclear, take immediate steps to clarify it. Don’t make assumptions, especially with standard industry practice issues that you think they know and understand. They often do not.
If a conflict does arise with your client, there are a number of steps you can take to help keep a small problem from becoming a large one:
Don’t ignore the problem.
None of us enjoys addressing an angry client. But ignoring the problem will not make it go away and likely will make it worse.
Don’t jump the gun.
While not ignoring a problem, immediately jumping in while you are upset or angry can quickly escalate the problem. Follow the old advice; “sleep on it”. Once you are past the heat of the moment, the issues will appear much less dramatic. If it’s not critical, I’ll usually wait until the next morning to contact my client. And, your client is probably in a less agitated state as well.
Talk things through.
A personal phone call or personal visit will be far more effective than a text or e-mail. Ask your client to tell you about the concern and then listen carefully. Don’t interrupt or try to make your case. And keep the conversation calm and professional, even if your client does not.
Seek a solution.
Reiterate his concerns in your own words. If he agrees you understand, then ask the most important question, “What do I need to do for you to resolve this problem?” If it is something you can do easily without financial, legal or ethical implications then let them know that you will take care of the issue immediately. This easy going approach will often disarm even the most agitated client.
There will be times when you may not be able to easily resolve the issue due to something contrary to your estimate terms or policies. Simply end the conversation by saying you will review the paperwork and get back to them within 48 hours. This will give you time to properly prepare a reply and the supporting documents to substantiate your position.
In the very rare cases where the conflict escalates and requires professional assistance to resolve, having detailed notes of your conversations and retaining all paperwork and written communications will be critical. But by using the above suggestions, you will find taking this final step will be a very rare occurrence.
Jim Cavanaugh is an architectural & aerial photographer based in Buffalo, NY. He served as a Director of ASMP for 12 years and as the Society’s President.
[by Tom Kennedy]
Preventing conflicts with clients is part of a being a true professional. Creating opportunity for the client-photographer relationship to flourish requires patience, attention to detail, and good communication throughout the assignment process from the initial contact to the final product delivery.
Avoiding conflicts starts with asking relevant, probing questions about how a client is framing an assignment request and why they are seeking the assignment as a solution to a particular business need. Often that need is at the heart of a business problem, like engendering a particular response from an audience for a product or service. The photographer has to ask enough to get a clear picture of the underlying reason for the assignment and why the client may think that a particular visual solution is the best response. Failing to probe sufficiently for the “why goal” of the assignment request can be the first step down a wrong path.
Once the business need is laid out and fully explored, a photographer has to make a decision as to whether his or her skills match the assignment requirements, while also making a decision about the whether the assignment requirements being framed will actually satisfy the business need being expressed. If sufficient exploration of the core need hasn’t been conducted, the photographer may be intending to do a shoot that really won’t address the true need. Often, a client may not have fully thought through the impact of producing a particular kind of visual solution and may be framing the assignment based on what has been done in the past or seen elsewhere. Always, a client needs to view the photographer as a partner in providing the optimal solution to the business need at hand. That requires the photographer to demonstrate a grasp of alternatives and articulate effectively the pros and cons of each approach.
Once full clarity and mutual agreement about the assignment requirements have been arrived at, it is crucial for a photographer to spell out all key relevant assignment details to a client and express the rationale for the approach about to be undertaken one last time. That way, if anything is not clear to a client, he or she is being given the chance to react and weigh in with questions.
I think it is equally valuable to keep a client apprised of progress, particularly during an extended shoot. While opinions on this approach may differ, I like the idea of staying in contact with a client when unexpected obstacles emerge that may impact assignment parameters. Yes, ultimately the photographer must solve the problem, but letting a client know that a change is going to need to occur to ensure assignment success, and providing clear, precise information about why the change is necessary helps to allay any suspicions about the motivation. I don’t see this as s sign of weakness or uncertainty. Instead, I think it demonstrates the good faith of the photographer and shows a motivation to help the client succeed too.
Tom Kennedy is an independent consultant coaching and mentoring individual photographers, while also working with various organizations to train individuals and teams on multimedia story creation, production, publication and distribution strategies for digital platforms, and enhancing creativity. He also regularly teaches at Universities and multimedia conferences. He has created, directed, and edited visual journalism projects that have earned Pulitzer Prizes, as well as EMMY, Peabody, and Edward R. Murrow awards. He can be reached at email@example.com.