Don’t let fear put you out of business

There are so many unknown factors in the photography industry right now.  Something that can help with any anxiety is talking with experienced well-esteemed business managers who remained viable after the uncertainty after 9-11 and after the financial bubble of 2008. While this is different, they can help you work on building up your photography clients during COVID-19. Your clients are scared too and need to talk to the a professional – and that is you!

You can’t be the hero if you’re waiting on your clients to make the first move

Imagine that it’s weeks or months before the wedding you’ve been planning for over a year, and dreaming of since you were young. Now imagine the fear and uncertainty that would overwhelm you every day with all the news stories, emails from your vendors saying they are not currently in business, and family members and friends sharing their opinions.

What if in the middle of this chaos and tension the bride or groom gets a call from their wedding photographer? What if instead of hearing anxiety over the phone, for the first time in this whole ordeal, they heard a calm voice?

What if they heard their vendor simply asking how they were doing, what changes are being considered, and how they could help?

The couple could then feel safe to open up and listen to options of rescheduling instead of canceling, they could absorb advice on what to do next, and maybe even start to get excited again?

If you are afraid to call wedding clients getting married in April, May or even summer because you don’t want to talk about the “elephant in the room who may or may not have Coronavirus” then you are doing a disservice to your customers. They already know the bad news. You need to be step forward and be the calm hero.

Even if the couple has a summer wedding, they still probably have anxiety and it’s better to reach out sooner than later so everyone is prepared. The best way to relieve fear is preparation!

If you wait for the couple to call you, they will no doubt have already thought heavily about canceling their original wedding date, or rescheduling without a new date in mind yet. They will have been heavily influenced by family, friends, and even fear. However, if you can reach your photography clients before they get to this point – you can possibly save the day – and save their date!

Helping your couples save their wedding date (even if it’s not the original one)!

Hopefully by reaching out to the couple ahead of time it can relieve some stress and put everyone in a calm and rational state of mind to reschedule the event, instead of canceling out of fear.

Just because there is a quarantine in place doesn’t mean the couple loves each other less, or that they suddenly don’t want to get married, but some couples are still canceling their wedding dates. They are uncertain when they CAN get married and it seems less complicated to just cancel now and rebook later.

In their mind there are only two options: 1) Cancel and get the retainer back, 2) Go ahead with a very small wedding, and possibly have a party later when everything is over.

However, before even mentioning the “C-word” (cancel) you need to let the couple know that best option would be to reschedule. This means that you would transfer the retainer to a future date, edit the contract and have both parties sign (virtually or in-person 8 feet away from each other).

If the couple does not know the date in the future yet, you could put their retainer “on hold” for a specific amount of time (30 days, for example) and edit the contract in regards to this change.

In either circumstance, if the couple picks a date that you cannot do because of a prior commitment, then in most cases you would have to give them the retainer back.

To avoid this we recommend giving the couple your upcoming schedule and encourage them to pick a date you are available (Fridays and Sundays are wondeful days for weddings, and usually cheaper for other vendors!). It is also greatly encouraged that you do everything in your power to accomodate their new wedding date – this may mean hiring another trusted, professional photographer to work for your studio to take these weddings.

No matter what you decide to do to help your clients, while keeping your studio in business, make sure you get everything in writing and all parties are on the same with all decisions going forward.

Make sure you review the contract signed by you and your client carefully

Make sure you review the contract signed by you and your client carefully

What if the couple still wants to cancel

If the clients are still resistant on rescheduling and insist on canceling, then you still have options you need to sort through. However, when debating each option, the Professional Photographers of America encourages each photographer to remember that we are in the relationship business. Your brand is how people feel about you. Now is the time for small businesses to step forward and “earn their brand.”

Your contract may state that you will not give the retainer back in any situation, but when you created that clause you didn’t imagine a global pandemic, and neither did your clients. As an industry, we didn’t expect a reality where most states would be under a lock-down that only allowed your clients to leave their homes for necessary business. Your clients also didn’t plan for the government to tell them that they couldn’t hold their event.

However, most contracts do not have this statement. Most contracts state that if the couple should cancel, the photographer would keep the retainer except in the case of the Force Majeure Clause. Force Majeure would take place if certain circumstances arise beyond the party’s control making performance inadvisable, commercially impracticable, illegal, or impossible. If your state is making events impossible, than you must give back the retainer. In contrast, if your photography clients are canceling out of fear for an event that is beyond the restricted timeframe, or because they are laid off and do not have the money to pay the rest, then you have a decision to make beyond your contract.

As a business professional, you can choose to fight against your clients if they demard the retainer, even if they aren’t legally obligated to it. You could also lose any chance of doing business with the couple, and any family, friends or future references. The couple can also fight it out in the court system, and a judge may still sympathize with the upset bride or groom. In any of these scenerios you may still lose the retainer and possibly your brand’s reputation in the process.

Even if you’re not behind the camera – it’s time to be creative!

If your clients are reluctant to reschedule, then instead of having to give up a financial retainer offer up other options. Offer a portrait session with fine art or digital negatives, or an engagement session with a sign-in album or canvas. Get creative with other ideas that you can offer in place of money, and that would result in doing business again in the near future.

If your clients are open to rescheduling instead of canceling, then remind them that there is nothing wrong with a Friday or Sunday wedding (if you and/or the vendor have limited options for Saturdays). The guests will take off work to be there. Your wedding couple can get married late in the afternoon, or even as late as 7pm in the summer with plenty of light left for portraits after. They can also do a Sunday wedding, with a late-morning ceremony followed by brunch and dancing all afternoon!

The important thing is to remind them that there are options and you are here to talk them through it! If getting married in 2020 is their dream, it will happen with or without you. However, you should do what you can to make it happen with you!

Years from now 2020 wedding couples will be able to relive their wedding date as they look through their wedding album and this time of confusion will be just a memory on their path to happiness.

Building up your photography clients during COVID-19 is essential to not only staying in business now, but coming out ahead when this mess is all said and done. There is an end in sight, and there are better and clearer days ahead. Please remind your anxious couples of this, and maybe write it down on a post-it for you too. We are in this together.