Have you ever encountered a tough personality and contemplated ending a client relationship? We’re here to help identify red flags and how to explain it’s over.
Ending a client relationship can be tricky. Nobody likes going through a break up. It’s hard, it’s emotional, and it just doesn’t feel good. You may be TOTALLY relieved when it’s over, but the anticipation leading up dumping a client can be full of anxiety and stress. Here’s the thing though, no one likes being ghosted, although that’s always what we’d prefer. But it’s not nice, and it’s not professional. Unfortunately, we need to be gown up’s and face the negative parts of running a small business, just as we face the triumphs…with grace hopefully. These will undoubtedly be uncomfortable conversations, but we’re here to help outline a few situations and how to handle them professionally! We don’t want to burn any bridges, and more importantly, we don’t want them saying less than flattering things about us!
The Prima Donna
We can usually see these folks coming during the first few conversations! They want to know every SINGLE little detail…but it just feels off. You end up spending HOURS explaining your photography process, changing your contract to fit THEIR needs, changing your plans again and again…all to accommodate their ever-changing needs. Let’s be honest, this isn’t a profitable relationship, and you are providing a service to make money. Business is business, and abnormally bending over backwards BEFORE a session only spells trouble. Can you imagine what they are going to request AFTER a session? My friend, you’ll probably be editing well into 2025. For more on tough client situations, and how to deal with them, click here.
What to say: Maintaining professionalism and kindness is key! You can kindly explain that you have been in business for X number of years, and based on your experience, it appears that they are looking for different photographer that can better accommodate their needs. Simple, to the point, and you’re being 100% honest. In this case, ending a client relationship is probably for the best!
The Family Member or Friend
Yikes. This one is going to sting. You will likely be seeing this person/people at a family wedding soon, so you need to tread lightly with this one. It can get super awkward when family members and friends starting asking for free or discounted sessions, so BE CLEAR AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Seriously, if you do plan to offer something to someone close to you, outline the terms, and make sure you let them know that this is for this one particular time, and not for all of eternity. Trust me, people are going to run with your kindness, if you let them. Don’t feel obligated to give things away for free. Opening the lines of communication will go a LONG way in this instance. No party wants to feel like they are being taken advantage of, that’s for sure.
What you can do: Sure, you can absolutely offer your cousin a free session to help build your portfolio, but make sure to tell them that you plan to charge in the future (but you’d love to give them a family discount of x%)!
The Elusive Non-Signer/Non-Payer
They seem really excited, they ask a million questions, you seem to be beset friends…and then…they disappear when you send a contract and invoice for a retainer. You see they opened your message, you follow-up, and crickets. This is a red flag, folks. Sure, maybe something came up (as we know), but someone who avoids ANY and all communication is likely to do that about other things as well. Excuses or promises of payment are just as much of a sign. A friendly note, don’t do any work before at least a retainer is paid. When it comes to a remaining unpaid balance, I personally would not begin editing a session until everything has been paid.
What to do: Send your client a reminder that a signed contract and payment is due by (date) and that you are unable to reserve their session until you receive those things from them. It’s simple, it’s clear, and the ball is in their court to DO something. If you don’t hear back, be thankful that you probably dodged a bigger problem.
The Post-Session Jerk
It’s just NEVER going to be good enough. They hiss at you over little things that don’t matter. The fact is, some people in the world LOVE to be upset or offended. They actually enjoy complaining and try to make people feel bad because THEY feel bad. Let them own that stuff. If you have a client that you’ve actually photographed (despite the red flags), you need to find a way to professionally let them go.
What to do: After you have completed the session and delivered their images, you can start to back away from the relationship. If they are hammering you with requests (like more edits for example), you can gauge what is reasonable. Our goal is to provide stellar customer service (as word of mouth is everything), but there IS a limit. You know that saying, time is money? Well this is a great example. The more time you spend investing your energy into an unreasonable client, the more time you’re losing with your family, along with the obvious, money. Call it quits when the time is right, and don’t feel guilty about it for one second!
Follow your gut.
It’s built in to our being for a reason! Trust it! If you feel something is off about someone, it’s OK to say that you are unavailable to work with them. They don’t necessarily need to know it’s because you’re busy staying sane and happy! If you’re not sure, it’s ok to ask them more questions!
Knowing that you and your client are a right fit is extremely important (especially for events such as weddings)! Determine if there is a fix for your issues, or if it’s a problem that you feel just ins’t going to go away with more communication. All in all, being kind and clear is really the best way to maintain professionalism.