Studio policies can be a pretty controversial topic among boudoir photographers.
I recently had an excellent debate with Lynn Clark on this. We each ended up in different places, from opposite ends of the spectrum. Lynn went easy to stricter, I went from strict to easier.
If you’ve been badly burned by a client experience, for example, you might be more likely to institute very firm, ironclad policies. These were policies built on the premise of being pissed off (at yourself or them)!
On the other hand, if you tend to have a lot of clients through referral networks or close friends, maybe you tend to be more loose and overly flexible on your policies. (Policies built by the social awkwardness or demand).
There is only one correct answer:
Create policies in a way that keeps you sane and offers you adequate protection.
I have many photographer friends who joke about how stern they are on their studio policies. A client can barely finish the sentence before the big fat “NO” arrives.
…Can I have … ? NO. …Can I switch…? NO. …Will you consider…? NO.
In many online boudoir forums, I’ve frequently observed many photographers who resent and complain about these kinds of requests. The post usually starts with a “WTH” and ends with a:
…“Didn’t they read my damn contract?” …“Didn’t they see the friggin prep manual?” …”Did they NOT look at the %$&!&*! price guide?”
They aren’t necessarily insulted, but they are clearly aggravated that the questions even come up. The reason for this aggravation? They are not comfortable with their own policies. If they were truly comfortable, they might just rejoice in the comfort of knowing this was not their right clientele and they haven’t wasted any of their valuable time. In other words, SuperType A personalities and SuperType B personalities are not often compatible.
That time I lost my way
There was a time when I got radically infuriated by client “special” requests and all the haggling. I was uncomfortable bending, because I felt they were trying to take advantage. The angrier I got, the cockier I became about what I should be entitled to. So, the stricter my policies became. And, the pickier I became about who I considered “good” clients. It didn’t really help bring me better clients or improve the relationships.
Over time, I began with a rather entitled view, that my clients were lucky I was priced $X and not $Y, or, how dare they ask for extras… Blah Blah. I had really lost my way consistent with my own values.
…Until, due to rather dramatic circumstances, I was left with NO clients at all. NONE. ZERO. ZILCH.
Having a drought in your business or losing a client base (due to a move, a serious issue, a personal situation) really helps you gain perspective—on yourself and your business model. I began to realize that having clients, no matter who they were or how much they spent (as long as they met my price list), were an absolute gift from the universe.
Deciding I needed an overhaul, I made my business and brand based on three things: Authenticity, Imagination, and Trust. Why? Because that was what was entirely lacking in the months before. This is how I built my brand, LifeAsFineArt.com.
Brand attributes as business model
Within reason, I decided these brand attributes would be the foundation for my entire business model, including customer service policies. YES, I have cancellation rules and YES I have sale policies, YES, they sign a contract, etc. etc.
But, I also created a sense of leeway, clients to feel those business attributes of authenticity, imagination, trust and imagination in their dealings with me. This opened up my mind to …
- Establish flexible payment
- NO penalty for emergency rescheduling
- Full album customization and cover choices
- Product configuration that met their needs
…In short, I tried to find ways to say “YES” more than “NO”. And if I felt myself when I did need to deny a special request, I’d accommodate it with an alternative.
I began to notice certain dynamics:
- Higher profit, less haggling clients
- A sense of trust and flexibility extended to ME when I needed leeway
- Some began forgoing payment plans and would just pay me in full, before they even got their products
- Even the less than “ideal” clients, who I treated exactly the same as the rest, started referring top-notch clients to me, shattering some of my prior generalizations of “like attracts like.”
I admit, I think might be a bit of a hippie. I hate timelines, hate overly structured routines, and I like a calm laid back, drama-free life. As a customer myself, I give businesses a lot of leeway. I expect that they will do the right thing by me. Why? Because I was sensible enough to choose them. I research them, see their marketing, and look at their choice of words, their look and feel their brand. I totally vibe them out.
When you are dealing with products and goods, firm policies just when you are in the service business, trust, respect and flexibility is a two way street. When I demonstrate this to my clients, I feel really attract the same in return.
Can you turn your no into a yes?
So next time you think about saying “No, no and no”, what are some alternatives you can offer them that feel more like a “Yes”?
First, cover your ass financially. Do what’s in your comfort zone. Set limits for yourself. Let them know you are bending policies for them because you adore them. Make them feel special.
Answer requests with things like:
- “Oh, I wish I could…. But I’ll tell you what I can do…”
- “Unfortunately that’s not possible, let’s give you this instead…”
- “Usually not, but for amazing you, why not. Let’s keep it between us…”
I know this won’t feel great for everyone, and I am speaking specifically about the uber-control freaks out there, but I’ll bet you’ll find that saying “Yes” a little more feels pretty great. Gratitude pays higher dividends than rigidity.
Cate Scaglione is a New Jersey Boudoir Photographer who also works in New York City. She specialized in beauty, boudoir and portraiture for women and girls. Cate is also a sought after brand consultant to photographers and artists across the world. See more of her work here.