How to gracefully turn down a photography client


I wrote this for those of you that are currently dealing with or have dealt with bad, cheap or nightmare photography clients. Spotting cheap clients right away and sensing a challenging photography client can help you ensure you’re working with people who make you super happy and “fit” your business best.

But what do you say when a potential customer approaches you and you know there’s no way in heck you should work together?

1. Know the right questions to ask.
When a client is hiring you, you’re also hiring them. You have every right to ask them a bunch of questions during the courting part of your relationship. If they don’t closely resemble an ideal client (for whatever reason or combination of reasons), your job is to turn them away quickly. Why quickly? Because you will be appreciated for your honesty early on. You don’t want to waste their time engaging in further conversations. Chances are they’ll resent you for that wasted time more so than if you send them on their way early.

2. Have a plan for how you’ll let them down.
No client wants to be let down without a recommendation on where to turn. If you’re too expensive for their budget, if they want more service than you offer, if they want a style that isn’t yours or if they flat out aren’t a good fit, you have to have options for them.

Spend a few hours interviewing and chatting with other photographers that shoot the same type of subjects as you. Don’t waste your time with photographers that have the same ideal client as you do. Rather, seek out photographers that offer what you don’t want to offer (ie cheaper prices, more service, different style, etc).

Ask these photographers if they’re willing to trade referrals with you. After all, your style, pricing and services aren’t a fit for their ideal client. If you can build relationships with a few different photographers, you’ll not only have a place to send clients that are bad for your business, but you’ll ideally gain some referrals from others.

3. This takes practice. 
I can almost guarantee you’re going to be stricken with guilt and feel ultra awkward the first couple of times you turn a client away. However, this will get better with time and with a few “break-ups” under your belt. Your guilt will also be wiped away if you truly now have a referral network. Why?

Because you’ll remind yourself that these necessary break-ups are best for your business, your well-being and your happiness. Not only that, it’s also best for the well-being of those around you that love you and depend on you.

I have also seen something sort of magical and serendipitous happen whenever bad energy is deflected and removed from the equation of a business. It welcomes more good energy. You may think I’m getting all “woo woo” and weird on you, but I was much like you until I saw magic happen for myself.

When I worked full time at the marketing agency, we dealt with about a hundred clients a year. Many of those people were flat out miserable. And, if they managed to slip through the cracks of the sales team’s sense of “good fit”, we’d eventually be faced with the decision on whether to fire them or not. Hands down, every time we made the tough, but right, decision to fire a bad client, a new amazing and appreciative new client would knock on our door.

That experience has caused me to deeply believe that there is meaning and results from positive energy.

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