Sunday, August 17, 2008

Growing Pains: A Client Stood Me Up!

I woke up pretty frustrated this morning after a client stood me up yesterday. In more than a year of shooting professionally, I have never had this happen before. I was too trusting. Now, I think I have to institute some new policies to try to prevent this from occurring again: every client must pay a non-refundable reservation fee.

So here is what happened: I was scheduled last Sunday to shoot a senior portrait session with this client. But earlier in the week, the client asked for a rescheduled session because of a conflict with a doctor's appointment. The new session was scheduled for yesterday evening, but I was getting anxious about it. All week long, emails and phone calls I had sent to confirm the shoot were ignored. I finally got a return phone call on Friday saying everything was ago.

The 5 p.m. appointment time came and went, with no word from my client who apparently just lives a few blocks from me. Finally at a quarter to 6, I get a cell phone call from the young client saying she knew she was late and that she was sorry and aware of how disrespectful it was. And could we reschedule for the next day? The call broke up, but I made out that something she was doing took longer than she expected, but I could make the rest out.

I emailed the client saying that I was booked today, and that we could reschedule again, but she would be required to pay for her entire session upfront before any shooting began. I didn't hear from her, but her mother emailed me back within minutes saying she was sorry about the missed appointment and that her daughter was looking forward to getting her pictures taken. I responded repeating my initial statement about the session being paid upfront in order for the session to be rescheduled. But neither she or her daughter responded.

I blame myself for this mishap because I should have stuck to my guns and required the retainer fee. Because this client was a referral, I thought she could be trusted and I relaxed my rules, agreeing that she could pay half when she came to the session. Not only does doing so protect my time, but it's a greater incentive for a client to show up for something they have already paid for, especially if it's clearly written in the contract that they can't get that money back if they cancel.

Further reading about this topic online revealed some controversy about whether a "deposit" is legally nonrefundable, as well as a "retainer." The argument is that it's not since a deposit is a payment toward goods and if no goods are delivered, the deposit must be refunded. Photography legal eagles say it's better to use the word "reservation fee," because this is a payment toward services, and if it states in a contract that the reservation fee is not returnable, this can be upheld even if no goods are delivered. explained in a blog why you should not use the word retainer for the deposit unless it is refundable, and include a provision in your contract such as: If Client fails to perform, liquidated damages shall be charged in the reasonable amount of $____.

Seek professional advice from a lawyer to find out what wording holds up in your state courts. And be clear about your charges, services and expectations, to avoid these type of client disputes.

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