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Apr 2016

Setting Boundaries

9 min read

It’s never easy saying no, whether it’s to your kids who want a third ice cream cone, to your coworkers who need you to take on just ONE more task, or to your clients who just have a FEW tiny requests. It’s important as a business owner, though, to set limits; if you want your business (and your personal life) to thrive, you’ve got to know when enough is enough. Here, we touch on a few of the most common things that photographers ask for advice about when it comes to sticking to your guns.


Setting Time Limits on Ordering

Online galleries are supposed to speed up your workflow, increase your sales, and give you more time to focus on marketing, shooting, and editing. However, there are always those few key clients who just. won’t. place. their. orders.

Our advice? Set expectations, firmly, from the beginning. Studies show that people who overthink their decisions end up less content with them, so help clients along by giving them a quick timeframe to make their choices. Your clients should know before they book you as their photographer that their images will be up in an online gallery for X number of days and that an order must be placed within that time frame. Say it a few times: have it in the contract, in your email communication, and mention it when you meet at the pre-session consultation. Give clients a reason to place that order in the time frame you’ve set and show them you mean business: set a lofty fee for re-opening the gallery, or increase prices after the expiration date has passed. (Some opt to give a discount when an order is placed before the deadline, and that serves the same purpose.)

Once the gallery is live, use tools such as email automations or (gasp!) a simple phone call to keep clients on track. Briefly remind your clients about the expiration date, and offer assistance with ordering. Set the expiration date, and don’t touch it — stick to your policies! (If you often have clients reaching this point without placing an order, reevaluate your process. Are you making it clear what the expectation is? Is the timeframe you’re giving them reasonable?) Whatever you decide, when it’s over, it’s over. Remind yourself that you have procedures in place to keep your business profitable and, just like the department store that won’t take your return after 30 days, your policies are your policies– period.


Setting Boundaries with Clients

We hate to be repetitive, but here’s another example of “set-them-straight-at-the-beginning.” Don’t work on Wednesdays? Let prospective clients know, and don’t check your email that day. Don’t approve of clients texting your personal cell phone? Don’t give the number out (keep business and personal separate), or else set them straight the first time they do it (“I’m sorry, all communication about your wedding should be done in writing via email”) and don’t respond again. Don’t want to answer the “how many more days ’til we see our proofs?” question with every client? Be clear about timelines and timeframes from moment one, and remember the age-old rule of “under promise and over deliver” (or the newer version, “OVER promise and over deliver).

In the end, it all comes down to having clear rules in place that will lead your business to success. (Not sure where to start? Learn from your mistakes. When your newest client starts posting on Facebook that she doesn’t understand why you won’t answer her Tweets, it’s clearly time to add a clause about communication methods to your contract and communication pieces.)

Handling Price Hagglers

It’s time to come to terms with it– not everyone is going to be your target client. Just like there are stores you like to shop in, stores you can’t afford, and stores whose prices are too low for you to value, not all people will be able (or willing) to pay for your services. So when someone inquires about your photography and is appalled / shocked / annoyed by your pricing, there’s nothing to be offended or embarrassed about. It’s a simple case of the “this-is-not-my-client” syndrome, and you can happily refer them to another area photographer who might better fit their needs.

We recommend having an arsenal of local professionals that serves as an internal “referral database.” Reach out to others in your area (photographers are nice people, we promise!) to ask if they’re comfortable with sharing contact information, and swap lists of “perfect client” descriptions. Whether it’s because a prospective client is looking for a different niche (i.e., you shoot newborns and not weddings) or is looking for a different pricing structure (i.e., you’re too expensive for them), referring a client off is a win-win for everyone: the client gets what he or she is looking for, the other photographer gets a client that fits his or her ideal situation, and you get more time and space to dedicate to those prospects that ARE a good fit for you.

Saying No to Friends and Family

Just say NO. There, that’s it– the entire bit of advice for this topic. When friends and family ask you to “bring your camera to little Joey’s birthday party,” or to “just take a few pics and don’t worry about editing, just email over the digital files,” it isn’t because they’re rude, or careless, or don’t value your time. It’s simply because they don’t understand what it means to run a photography business and to run it well.

You, however, are the expert. YOU know that dropping everything on a Saturday morning to take “just a handful of photos” is really 7 hours worth of work that you doesn’t fit into your already-overflowing schedule. YOU know that taking photos of your niece’s class party for “exposure” doesn’t actually help grow your business. So YOU have to be the one to set the limit, and be firm.

It’s hard to say no to your friends and your family members, especially because sometimes it feels like the right thing to do is to “help out.” However, if helping someone else out means taking an exorbitant amount of time away from your needs as a business (or from your personal life), perhaps it’s time to rethink them. Decide on a number of projects or a number of hours that you’re willing to “give away” each month or year. You don’t have to voice it to others, but write it down and keep a log. Then, when Aunt Susie asks if you might be able to “pop in and snap a few photos at cousin Johnny’s wedding,” you’ll know whether or not you have the time and bandwidth to take on that project.

And if you don’t? If you’ve already hit your quota or are just not interested? Say so, nicely. Don’t make excuses, don’t try to find reasons why you’re busy or why you can’t make it. A simple, “I’m so sorry, I can’t” will do.


Let us know what you think. What are the things you feel pressured about in your business?

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