Guest blogger: Kathryn Heitkamp
Anyone who’s been in business, or worked in a business environment for more than a day, has unfortunately come across an unhappy client situation.
No matter what your role is in the situation: the business owner or the unhappy client, it’s never fun.
I’ve found that often, once unhappy clients feel as though their frustrations have been heard, and really heard and acknowledged, they’re often willing to work with you to find a solution.
One of the hardest, and most important, things to do when we have an unhappy client (It doesn’t matter if it’s justified, or not) is to separate the emotions from the facts.
This is a hard lesson to learn, but important...
Separate the emotions from the facts!
Waaaaaay easier said than done, I know.
As photographers, and creative entrepreneurs in general, our work is us.
We pour so much of ourselves not only into our work that we deliver, but into our business, that it becomes personal for us. And separating that out is REALLY hard.
This is only one of the many reasons that you absolutely, 100%, all of the time, no matter what, need to be using contracts for EVERY. SINGLE. CLIENT. EVERY. SINGLE. SHOOT.
Even when you do them for free.
WHY YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO WHAT I HAVE TO SAY
Before I took the leap to full time photography and blogging, I first worked in professional sales for a national diamond retailer, and then as a relationship manager for two of the big five banks.
Throughout those job roles it was drummed into my head on an almost hourly basis just how important it is to properly document all communication you have with your clients.
You think people get emotional about photos? Try working with their heirloom diamonds and their money.
Documentation is EVERYTHING.
When it really comes down to it, if it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen. Simple as that.
The LAST place you ever want to be when emotions are heightened is a "he said, she said" situation.
Yes, once words are said they can never be taken back, but it’s when they’re in writing that that they stand up in a court of law, should it ever come down to it.
Document EVERYTHING. Do I sound like a broken record yet? It is THAT. IMPORTANT.
Create a file for your clients, and into it goes notes on every conversation, every email, screen shot every text message conversation, and anything sent via Facebook Messenger.
Ideally, you’ll never have to refer back to it. But the reality is that you’ll be thanking your lucky stars that you kept the records "if" the need arises.
WHY (GOOD) CONTRACTS ARE SO DAMN IMPORTANT.
If you read through the discussion boards on Facebook groups you’ll find that almost all of the people posing questions and asking for advice didn’t use a contract up front.
By not using a contract, or a properly worded one (for every single client, every single time -- ESPECIALLY when working with friends or family) you are opening yourself and your business up to a whole lotta heartache down the road.
"But Kate," you say, "no money is exchanging hands, I don’t need one."
WRONG. False. You do need one. EVERY. SINGLE. CLIENT. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
If no money is changing hand, cool, anywhere that talks about the money, simply put $0.00.
Your contract is what legally outlines what each parties’ responsibilities are regarding the business transaction that you are about to enter into.
How many days do you have to deliver your final product? It’s in your contract.
What's included in the final product? It’s outlined in your contract.
How much are you getting paid for the work that you’re doing? It’s in your contract.
Are the RAW files you shoot available to your client, in any way? (The answer to that had better be HELL no, by the way) That’s all outlined in your contract.
What happens if you’re being harassed or made to feel unsafe by a guest at the event you’re covering?
Can you pack your gear and leave, and know that your client CANNOT sue you for breach of contract for leaving before the end time listed on your contract? That had better be outlined.
Rachel Brenke from thelawtog just made available, FOR FREE, the contract language regarding abuse and harassment. Click here to get it, and get it into your contract ASAP if it isn’t there already.
So by now you probably get the gist.
When you find yourself in a situation that cannot be resolved between yourself and an angry, unhappy client, you had better believe one of the first things your attorney will ask you for is a copy of the signed contract.
It’s that contract that everything will refer back to, and it’s what will ultimately save yo’ ass.
Not only do you need to have it, you need to know exactly where to find it, and it needs to be organized.
Invest the money in your business, and in yourself, to have good contracts.
Spend the money. The few hundred that you spend on your contracts upfront, will save you potentially thousands down the road.
CONTRACTS BETWEEN COLLEAGUES (YUP. YOU NEED THEM THERE TOO)
Any business relationship that you enter into, be it with your favorite makeup artist, someone you’re guest blogging for, or someone that you’ve hired to work with as your second shooter at an event, NEEDS TO HAVE A CONTRACT!
It doesn’t matter how well you get along with the people you have business relationships with, if you don’t have a contract set up, you’re opening yourself up to massive problems later!
Your contracts are what protect you, and just like with clients, they’re what outline the salient points of your working relationships. And should things go south, they’re what your attorneys, and ultimately a judge, will refer back to.
YOUR CLIENTS INITIALS ARE YOUR BEST FRIEND.
Throughout my career in the financial world, I learned just how important it is to walk through each provision in your contract, with each client.
Remember that thing I said about "every client, every time"?
Yup. We’re back to that.
You may know your contract inside out and backwards, and be familiar with industry standards, but your clients aren’t.
It’s our job as professionals to help educate our clients, and the general public, as to what we do.
What we include in our packages, the timeline that a client’s gallery will be finished and delivered, the manner in which the gallery is delivered, ALL of that should be explicitly stated in your contracts.
There should be ZERO room for interpretation, and ZERO room for misunderstanding.
Raise your hand if you’ve had clients blow you up the day after a session, asking when their photos will be done, or if you have a sneak peek for them yet.
Drives you crazy right?
If you not only have the answers to those questions in your contract, but you’ve explained each point to your clients, and then’ve gone the additional step of having them initial next to each provision, you’ve eliminated the majority of the chance for miscommunication.
Note that I am hedging a little bit there, as there will always be a client who refuses to read everything before they initial and sign, but once they have, read it or not, legally, you’ve covered yo’ ass.
CLIENT COMMUNICATION. (WHY IT IS SO IMPORTANT DOCUMENT EVERYTHING.)
Life is busy.
Owning your own business is a never ending to-do list. And I’m pretty sure that no matter how caught up we may feel at any given time, there is always more to do.
If I asked you what time any given client first accessed their online gallery, and from what email address, could you tell me?
Could you tell me with enough certainty that you would swear to it under oath to a judge and jury of your peers?
Off the top of our heads, probably not, but that’s where documentation comes into play.
Now add the stress of dealing with an irrational and angry client to your day.
When I ask you to tell me what day and time you delivered their gallery, and oh by the way, how did you get them that info? Can you do it? Would you be able to swear to it to a judge?
That is how important it is.
Does anyone expect you to know all of that info off of the top of your head for every client you’ve ever had? No. That would be insane.
But you should have your processes in place so that you can find it, and you can find it quickly.
Email has made keeping track of communication with clients remarkably easier than it used to be. Print out the email thread, add it to your file.
Have a phone conversation? Take notes as you go, and once the call is over, send a recap email, and make sure to ask your clients to reply to the email to acknowledge both receipt of the email, as well as confirming that recap is accurate.
Does it take time that you may feel you don’t have? Absolutely. Will it someday save yo’ ass? Absolutely.
I have a word document, for each client, each business interaction, that every time we communicate, I go in an notate it. It can be as simple as "10/28/17 – chatted via FB messenger with Stacie regarding guest blogging for Colorvale LLC, see attached screen shots."
You’re creating a record, a time line of your interactions with your clients and peers, because in the event that you let your processes slip, and have to go back through months of email threads, screenshots, to create that timeline for your attorney, you’ll be seriously kicking yourself in the ass.
FILE FOLDERS ARE YOUR FRIEND
There’s a reason that you see so many file cabinets in office buildings.
Business creates mountains of paperwork, and again, if you don’t have a solid organizational system in place, it can get overwhelming, fast.
Each client has their own folder, and into it goes all printed copies of contracts, screenshots, email print outs, the photos of their outfits for their sessions, EVERYTHING.
File folders keep things contained, and easy to find. Especially when you need to answer a question quickly.
Plus, keeping everything in your workspace organized and uncluttered will help with the productivity.
HOW DOCUMENTATION WILL SAVE YO’ ASS.
You’ve got your processes in place now.
Your contracts are solid, you’re documenting your communication with your clients and those with whom you’re entering into business relationships.
You have copies of all signed contracts, both physically printed and saved electronically, and you’re rocking it organizationally.
Life is sweet.
Aaaaaaaand then a client moves past the difficult stage and you find yourself hiring an attorney.
First thing that they’re going to ask you for, a copy of the signed contract, and an outline of the situation. You don’t have to try and remember.
You’ve got it all lined out. You were proactive. You were prepared.
Until next time my friends,
** This article contains affiliate links to thelawtog because we love her contracts, believe in them, we personally buy them, and even use them here at Colorvale! This guest blogger actually signed the Guest Blogging Contract that thelawtog sells.