Being dorky and snapping a selfie in the Serra Lounge mirror.
During a typical day in the photography business I understand that I'll have to deal with Austin traffic, juggled schedules, last minute cancellations and lots and lots of problem solving. We all do that, but one thing we should not put up with is a client bent on manipulating a deal so that's it's totally in their favor and offers you little to no value. I had a potential client who booked me to shoot a future project over a month ago. At the time we agreed to a schedule and to a fee. It was a small fee.
But nothing sucks the profit out of a job like a really bad client. Here's the first warning sign:you've negotiated a fee and a set of deliverables and you've talked about a time line. A couple weeks later the client calls and tries to cajole you into adding an evening social event without increasing the budget. You look ahead on the calendar, you remember that someone decent recommended you to this new client, and you bend. A week later you get an e-mail from an unknown person with an unknown company who has also sent along an exhaustive agenda, with lots of tight scheduling, for the very same event you've been booked on. She seems to think you know who she is and that her requests will have priority. She says she is working with your client.
You call the original requester and have a phone meeting in which you tell them that you don't have administrative staff or a booker and that, as per your agreement, all information and requests having to do with the show need to come from only one point of contact; him. You explain that on big shows, if you don't set up parameters like this you'll have five or ten "chiefs," who are not privy to your budget, or the terms of the jobs, snapping orders at you willy-nilly. Even the best photographer can't be in five places at once.
Two weeks out from the show your client sends an e-mail claiming to be working on his show budget and asks if the number you agreed to was 1/2 X. Or about half of the rate you negotiated. You lead him back through the e-mail trail and show him the four or five times your original budget numbers were approved by him. He apologizes and then comes up with a non sequitur excuse about why you should accept 3/4ths of your original fee so that his budget works out better. You disagree and stick to the initial agreement. Then he sends along another text indicating that he's now willing to do you a favor by.....paying you the price you both agreed upon in the beginning. And all of this begs the question: If the client is too stupid to look at recent e-mails to remind himself of your agreement how will he possibly have the snap to submit your invoice and get you paid. Seems like a long shot...
Doesn't sound like that much hassle, initially, but each step requires your attention and your response. Each response seems to generate some sort of tangential counter response. It's cumulatively a giant time vacuum. If you are smart you realize at a certain point that keeping toxic clients is bad for your business (and your general attitude).
You fire said client. Client comes back to argue that they don't want to be fired and will, this time, work everything out. Your response? If you are smart you'll fire them again, even harder. A grizzled but financially comfortable senior photographer once said to me, "You don't get rich just keeping good clients, you get rich firing the bad ones. And you need to do it as soon as you realize that they are more trouble than they will ever be worth".
There's an old business understanding that bad clients are about 20% of a given businesses clientele but they take about 80% of your time and effort. And you will never make them happy. You can fix this business problem by consistently looking out for the jerks and getting them out of the system as soon as you've become convinced that they do not have your best interests at heart.
I'll happily spend those days, a few weeks from now, sleeping in, reading a book on the couch with my dog, and going to swim practice. My best idea of revenge is just to remember that this former (potential) client will be hard at work at a boring show, from early to late, eating from a bad industrial buffet, and drinking mediocre coffee, and eating pastries from Sysco that were frozen solid 24 hours earlier, for three days in a row.
I was on the fence this morning but after a glorious noon swim and a lunch at my favorite cafe I went back to the studio and fired my unfortunate (almost) client right away.
To clear my head, and surround myself with creativity and happiness, I grabbed my RX10iii, and a wooden monopod, and headed over to Zach Theatre. I'd promised to shoot a few interiors for a wonderful and compassionate client. Shows are in rehearsal, the lighting designer is doing her magic, the sound engineer and I spent a nice half an hour discussing microphones and I got the shots my client needed. I came home in a much better mood.
I can only imagine some of you have much better tales of firing clients. I'd love to read them. I'm so happy this only seems to happen once a decade or so.
Zach Theatre Lobby, north to south.
Zach Theatre Lobby, south to north.