It was October 2013, the beginning of my busiest season in my Denver boudoir studio. A client I’ll call Julie booked a session on the first Saturday of November. She was so excited to give this gift to her husband for their anniversary in December. We did her styling consultation by phone a week later, and she was even more excited. I sent her a coupon for a new lingerie store and she texted a picture back of the items she purchased. She was all in.
Then, exactly five days and zero hours from her session start time, Julie called to reschedule. Her dad was sick in the hospital. Of course I let her reschedule, picking the Saturday after Thanksgiving as her new date. At the time, my policy stated that as long as a client asked to reschedule at least five days before her session time, I would roll over her session fee to the next appointment.
All was well until exactly five days and zero hours from her second session start time, when she called again to reschedule. This time, family had come into town unexpectedly. I was irritated. I’d been unable to fill her first date, and I’d just turned away two inquiries because my schedule was full. I told her that I’d roll over the fee again to a new date, but it would have to be in January. She wasn’t thrilled about having to wait past her anniversary, but she understood. I rolled her over … again.
And then, five days ahead of her next session, guess what? Yes, Julie called to reschedule. Again. I was a little beyond irritated, and not just at her. Nothing in my studio policies limited the number of times a client could change her session date. That was my fault. I told her that she would need to pay for hair and makeup directly at this point because I’d already paid my artist for the previous two cancelled appointments. I also told her this was the last time she could change her date, that her new session needed to happen in the next 30 days. She rescheduled for late February.
And five days ahead of that, she called to change her date again. I told her she forfeited her session fee. I said I’d been more than generous in my flexibility, but it was at the end. She was not happy, threatened to take me to small claims court and promised to smear my name. I took a deep breath, said thank you and hung up. And then I immediately changed my rescheduling policy.
- Now, clients must reschedule no later than 7 days before their date.
- They may only reschedule once.
- They must request to reschedule in writing (email, not text, not phone) so I have a written record.
- They must have a new date on the books within 24 hours of asking to reschedule.
- The new session must happen within 90 days of their original session.
- The pricing in effect at the time of rescheduling is their new pricing.
- And they must sign a new contract, which supersedes any other signed prior.
Unless all of these conditions are satisfied, they forfeit their session fee not as punishment but as liquidated damages against losses that are difficult to ascertain. Now, my rescheduling policy has teeth.
The hardest thing about having studio policies is deciding to enforce them
As a sole proprietor, my business reputation lands solely on my shoulders. That’s a good thing … and a tricky thing. Because it’s up to me to stand behind the contract I ask clients to sign. When I first started, I was very wishy-washy about it. I’ll admit that if a client was chapping my hide, I was more likely to enforce a policy than if the client was my soul mate.
Then, I stood at the check-out counter at Forever 21. A customer was throwing a fit because she wanted to return something she’d cut the tags off of, which voids her ability to return it. The sales clerk kept her cool and simply repeated that she was sorry, it was the company policy. Eventually the customer left in a huff. But the clerk could do nothing to help her.
Forever 21 has that policy in place for a reason. Likely, it’s to stop people from wearing and returning items, which makes them harder to sell again for full price. In other words, it’s to protect the company from loss.
I realized at that moment that even though I am my company and my company is me, my contract is there to protect me from loss. And, as such, it’s up to me to enforce it … or not. I may not make every client happy when I enforce something, but it’s only fair to the client before her and the client after her. And it’s only fair to me. I am not a boudoir photographer as a fun hobby. (Although taking boudoir photos is so fun!)
I have added a few things this year—a fee for extensive album design changes and a clause banning the use of artificial tanning agents, among them. I’ve found that sometimes what worked for me last year isn’t relevant today, or that my wording is unclear or too complicated. If a change feels significant, my attorney reviews it for me. After all, this is a contract set up for legal protection. I stand behind every clause in it, and I can explain in simple terms why each is included. I’m not even nervous about sending it to lawyer-clients anymore. (Everyone is at sometime, right?)
Since I bet I’ll get this question, here’s a link to my current studio policies. There’s good stuff in there, and feel free to get ideas … but please do not steal verbiage or the whole thing outright. Remember, my contract is valid in the State of Colorado—your laws could be different. Make sure you have a contract attorney vet yours too. It’s worth the money.
What policies are the hardest for you to enforce? What have you changed recently and why? Tell me in the comments!