with Courtney Slazinik
Setting Parameters in Your Photography Business

setting parameters in your photography business

How many times have you heard or read about someone who complained, ‘My photography business is running me!’, ‘Nightmare client keeps pushing and pushing for more and I already gave her extra! What do I do?’, ‘I thought I would love being in business but I hate the business side.’ or the famous, ‘How do I say NO?’

Being an entrepreneur sounds like fun! You make the rules, you decide how to run your business, you decide when to be open, etc. Yet, many of us, who work for ourselves, we find that sometimes we lose a bit of control. We walk away from business transactions and feel that someone either stepped on our toes or ran us over with a truck. We gave either too much time, effort or even product.

Why? Why does this happen? Especially to women? The simple truth is many of us are pleasers! We want people to be happy. We want our brand to be associated with a great experience. We are afraid of bad publicity.

setting parameters in your photography business

We know the old saying, ‘the customer is always right’ is a myth but here is a truth that many people do not want to openly admit, there are clients who have learned from past experiences that they can bargain. This bargaining can be for example more time for session, more outfit changes then previously mentioned, more images, more editing, a reshoot, a reduction in price, working on days you did not want to really work. People who bargain or ask for more do not do this to be unkind or to drive you crazy. They ask for more or changes because the parameters have not been clear or you have given them more and changed your policies for them before, so why could you not do it again?

The end result is us being unhappy. Plain and simple. Repeat this cycle a few times and I will bet that this dream of owning your own business, in a field you love, will soon become one you hate.

How do you learn to say no? How does one grow a backbone?

Very simply, you write a policy manual. I know some of you are laughing and thinking if you would wrote it, it would not matter you would STILL bend over backwards for your demanding clients.
How do you know this may work for you? With this simple mental exercise, answer this questions very honestly:

While driving, do you stop for stop signs?

I am guessing everyone says yes (and what a stupid question) but think a little harder, why? We stop because the sign says so, it is written, if you don’t stop nothing may happen or you could get in an accident, get hurt, ruin your vehicle. Many of us are rule followers by nature.

setting parameters in your photography business

Think of your policy manual in the same way. For example, you have it written that you will only take sessions Monday to Friday. You chose these days for a reason, either you need the time off, time with your family, daycare is spotty on the weekends, etc. A new client comes along, business has been down and you NEED this client but they want Saturday. The inner pleaser in you is saying YES!!!!! But your policies are written and the answer is no. Saying no, is actually saying yes to you. Now you are respecting yourself and your business. You are avoiding the stresses and the negatives that would come with working on Saturday.

But what if you lose the client? 99% of time when I tell a client no I still am able to book them. It is all how you say ‘no’ : Be sympathetic, give no excuse, offer a solution.

“Hi Jane! I am sorry but I am not available on weekends? I am very flexible in the early mornings and evenings on Monday and Wednesdays. I do suggest around 7pm for your session because the light is so pretty and really flattering.”

You have personalized it with sympathy, you do not need to go into detail of why, that can be perceived as unprofessional, and honestly, they do not always care that your kids play soccer on Saturdays, they just want a photo session. You have also offered a solution, explained why it would be a better solution for them. The front of your business is to make it all about them and at the same time meeting your needs too.

Tips to write a policy manual for your photography business

So, back to the policy manual. How do you even begin? It seems daunting and a bit silly when you first start. Here is a list to get you going:

1. Write down everything negative about your business and transactions. Where are the cracks? What annoys you? What is your biggest issue when dealing with clients?

2. Write down why these issues bother you. Why are they negative to you and your business. What is the personal impact?

3. How can you correct them? A firm schedule? Not budging on prices? You now know how and why these issues affect you, your business and family. How can you make it stop. Write down solutions even if you do not use these strategies now.

For myself, I know I am a pleaser and a bit of a pushover. When I offered mini sessions for the first time I decided that I needed to be firm. The point of a mini session was less work per gallery but for many more people in the run of a week than I used to doing. I was afraid of people pushing for a longer session to the point that the mini session had the same value as a full session. I set rules for the time length, the number of images, the poses, the scenes.

What did I encounter? ‘Could we go a bit longer?’, ‘Can I change her outfit? I brought three!’, ‘Can we get indoor and outdoor?’

Due to the fact my mini sessions had written policies, they had all read and agreed. I said no. It felt GOOD! I made the money I deserved, I did not overwork, I was not underpaid. I walked away happy. My clients walked away happy because they did receive exactly what they purchased (and were told if they wanted more variety a full session would be better for them).

setting parameters in your photography business

Setting parameters gives you freedom. It sets your business up for success. It will give you professionalism. It prepares you for those difficult conversations.

No longer will you stumble over the words of trying to tell a client ‘no‘, with the thought in the back of your mind. ‘because I don’t want to’. instead you will say with confidence, ‘I am sorry but it is written in my policies that I cannot.’.

Clients will benefit greatly from this because they now know where you stand. They will realize that you are a professional, that you have policies in place. They will know what they can expect consistently from your business.

Do not dread the business transactions that feel negative any longer! Write your policies! Dive deep into the root of the problems, come out with respect for yourself and learn how saying ‘no’ can be positive.

20121207-DSC_6459 Carla Bagley – Guest Post
Carla Bagley is from St George, New Brunswick Canada chasing her 4 children, 3 dogs and one cat and running her photography business and dog grooming business.
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  • Lysa
    July 18, 2013 at 10:41 AM

    Thanks so much for making me feel normal! I do tend to give more than I said I would, work longer than I wanted to, and give more discounts than I’d like to. Going to start my list now! Great info

  • July 18, 2013 at 11:04 AM

    Wonderful advice, Carla.

    I found with my own business, having a policy written lets me already have my answers figured out to the “do you do this or do you do that” questions clients ask.

  • July 18, 2013 at 12:46 PM

    I’m not in business (never will be) but this is awesome advice. No is no!! Don’t let the clients/the biz ruin your passion~

  • July 18, 2013 at 6:22 PM

    I agree that you definitely have to set parameters. In the last few months I’ve received a couple of inquiries for Sunday morning sessions and while I would love to do the sessions, I attend church on Sunday mornings and I don’t want to compromise on that. After talking with a friend who is also a Christian and a photographer with a biz, I decided that I wouldn’t be available for sessions on Sundays. It’s just easier that way. Thanks for the other tips, too. I’ll have to look at other places in my biz I need to set boundaries.

  • July 22, 2013 at 2:35 AM

    Great tips- always good to have clarity in business as everyone is always looking for an edge to get more for their money.

  • April 19, 2014 at 10:14 AM

    I am a hobbyist and cannot see myself ever being in business, however this post is full of great advice for those who are. I also wanted to say hello from Alberta. My husband and I are originally from northern New Brunswick. Great post, Carla!

  • April 19, 2014 at 12:17 PM

    I’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way. 1 year I was doing photo sessions with a Christmas deadline up until December 23rd. Now I have a policy that I do not photograph through the holidays. My last session for the year is the weekend before Thanksgiving. I also set a deadline for senior portraits. I will not take a client less than one month before their yearbook deadline. Over the past few years I’ve only lost three gigs because of these policies. Having those policies ensures that I spend quality time with my family and that I can give my clients my best efforts.

  • Steven Holland
    April 19, 2014 at 3:23 PM

    Do you have a template of the policy manual you can share?

    • April 21, 2014 at 11:23 AM

      Hey Steven,
      This was written by a guest writer about a year ago. Maybe you could reach out to her directly :)

  • July 23, 2014 at 11:33 AM

    After running into this lately, I’ve decided I needed to be more clear on expectations. I will definitely be doing this. Love the photos in this post too! Thanks so much!!


  • July 23, 2014 at 11:14 PM

    This couldn’t have come to me at a better time! I deal with this a lot and am definitely a people pleaser. To the point I feel like a total doormat and I get taken advantage of to the extreme! This page is going in my bookmarks and the policy manual on my to do list. Thank you!!

    • July 29, 2014 at 2:23 PM

      That is wonderful! I hope you are able to put some policies into place that will help you from feeling taken advantage of.

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