customer is king, how to cope with difficult clients, business, howto, photography tips, on the blog

[Disclaimer: Image above is in no way a reference to depicted clients’ conduct. Any inference is purely incidental]

If you’ve ever handled anything remotely close to a business, then you already know the golden rule: ‘The Customer is King’. That’s the beginning, centre point and closing chapter of business as we’ve come to know it. There’s no getting round it if you’re going to make anything out your business; any business.

Don’t forget that the primary drive of a business is to make profit. That essentially means providing such goods and services to people in need of them at a price (reasonable by their reckoning) encouragingly above the cost to the business-person.

If you’ve gone into professional photography, then you know for sure that more than the ‘art’ and the expression of it, it is in every form and manner a business. Clients will approach you with briefs; you will discuss to better understand their expectations; you will provide a price point (that they almost always try to beat down). In the end, they will evaluate whatever you have provided them against their expectations and provide feedback (tips, squeals of delight, glowing remarks, emails and notes of gratitude, recommendations, disappointment or discontent).

While clients are typically seeking to pay the least price for the most value, the business person’s outlook is exactly the opposite. (s)He seeks the highest (possible) price for the least value. So, we’re always approaching the transaction from opposite sides. No harm done. The problem often comes with expectations that have either not been clarified or have been set too high. We like to think, for the most part, that if the photographer is ‘good’, (s)he’ll almost always exceed client expectations. Sadly, it’s not always the case. While the photographer might do a brilliant and amazing job, managing expectations (even after proper discussions) is the burden of the client.

I used to pride myself in getting only the best clients. In fact, I knew who I wanted to work for and with from initial discussions and negotiations. No one wants anything at all to do with someone with a lousy attitude. They’re the type to fuss and make hard work of fun. They’re the kind who think they know more than the photographer. They’re the type who don’t quite know what they want, can’t admit it and won’t accept help to decide. No care for such details that make for great pictures.

Such clients often can’t be bothered to show up in time; they’ll insist on posing themselves (often against every recommendation). They can be brash and rude; probably the type who coarsely seek to keep you longer and pay less than agreed. The kind who keep tweaking agreed scopes of work. I look out for such traces early and altogether avoid such clients. Still, it’s impossible not to have a few glitches if you run the show long enough.

Customer is king’ – but where possible, best to pick those who won’t wear you out psychologically. My first shot at ‘selection’ happens during the initial contact. It’s where I assess how open-minded or cultured the intending client is. Further to that, I try to create the all-important atmosphere for both parties to set clear expectations. Critical as this may be, it’s not fool-proof. An awful lot can still happen down the line.

Some clients will still push your limits after this – simply for the fun of it. Some will introduce new terms, shorten the agreed delivery period and maybe even attempt to pay less. They know they’re king and may seek to milk that for whatever it’s worth. (Of course, we of have those who get so impressed they decide to pay more – but we’ll get to those later. This post is about coping with those who will push your limits).

That’s when you absolutely need to dig in with restraint and composure. Everyone has limits – and, it’s not uncommon for clients to push yours. The trick here is to ‘be cool’; to learn how to set firm limits without being rude. Never forget that the best publicity for your brand is a happy customer. Even when you’ve established that their happiness is well outside your control, you never want to lose your sense of courtesy. Be firm in reminding said client of the terms of engagement. Make such concessions as you wouldn’t consider destructive to your business. But beyond that, politely but firmly stand your ground and refuse to be pushed around. ‘Customer is king’ – but even kings err.

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Quick Tip: There’s a way to be firm without being rude. Find it.


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