“You can’t always be everyone’s cup of tea” – We’ve all heard this before, right? We’ve probably heard it when our mom was consoling us when we weren’t invited to get ready for a dance with a certain group of girls, or we’ve heard this from our girlfriends when we’re complaining about that passive aggressive co-worker who ends her emails with shit like “kindest regards” even though she’s the biggest twat that ever were.
We usually hear this phrase when dealing with difficult social interactions and experiences, but today, I talking about when this concept applies to your business, service, offering or product. And let me tell ya, it sucks. I’m sharing my take on how to deal with, accept and move on from not being someone’s cup of tea. Or better yet, someone’s not choice for a photographer.
It’s happened to me a lot over the past 10 years. I’ve been ghosted, I’ve been burnt, I’ve been canceled on, you name it, it sucks every single time. As many SBOs (small business owners) I take my work, so personally. It’s become a part of my identity and something that I’d defend and stand behind indefinitely. So when someone doesn’t like my work, it can be hard not to take it personally.
Learning to define and accept the lines of “just business” and a personal matter has been one of the hardest and most valuable lessons I’ve learned in the past 10 years.
Trust me, I have been devastated when I didn’t book a certain wedding. Ones that I thought I “totally had in the bag” because either we were friends, or because I really thought we vibed really well and I was looking forward to working with them, or ones that I had previously photographed one of their family member’s wedding and thought surely I’d get their wedding too, and then they ghosted me. I’ll cut right to to chase and say that the ones that I thought I’d book because we were friends hurt the most….but were also the most valuable in the learning process.
People don’t book or buy things for many, many different reasons, but I want to break down the three main reasons you’re likely to face in the service industry.
- The cost – Yep, too expensive. There isn’t much negotiating room here, and quite frankly, it’s a very black and white matter. Your service does not fit within their allotted budget. Now, before I go any further, I want to make myself loud and clear when I say, PRICE IS DIFFERENT THAT VALUE. THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO BE SECOND-GUESSING WHETHER OR NOT YOUR PRICES ARE TOO HIGH. A price is a factual number, while value is a subjective opinion. For example, I don’t think that Lulu Lemon leggings are worth $100, but that’s not going to change the fact that Lulu Lemon will still continue to sell $100 leggings. It’s also not going to prevent other people from believing that the leggings are worth $100 and continuing to buying them. In some cases, you’re going to be out of someone’s price range, or price justification – and that’s okay! You are NOT trying to be a Walmart.
- They are just browsing, and not ready to commit – Ah, yes, the browsers. They shoot you an email, want to know everything there is to know and they ask a bunch of questions, which naturally, gets you thinking that they are super interested in investing in your services. You get hyped up, send them all the info under the sun, and then *poof* they’re gone without warning. They leave you on “read” and now you’re second guessing why you’re even in this business in the first place. “Why don’t they like me??” Before you tear up your DBA and throw it into the trash, hear me when I say this is a very normal and common thing. Some brides want to explore ALL options and ask ALL the questions, but aren’t exactly ready to whip our their checkbook to anyone just yet. Don’t take this personally whatsoever. Of course, it’s a part of our job to answer questions and communicate our offerings clearly, so don’t get defeated when you don’t land that client right away, but instead appreciate the interest and move on. My best advice if you’re struggling with this is to make sure that you are providing as much information about your services on your website as possible. Keep it clear and direct so potential clients know exactly what they can expect if they wish to book with you. Surprisingly, this is often a big debate within the wedding industry, and I see a lot of photographers who think it’s super taboo to have prices or specifics listed on their website. Personally, I don’t buy into that, and I found it extremely annoying when I was on the hunt for my own wedding vendors. I prefer to browse and investigate quietly, and then if I am interested based on the information I’ve found on their website, I will happily contact them! But if I feel like it’s a secret scavenger hunt just to see what their starting price is, I’m out. This transparency of information allows me to accommodate all kinds of browsers or potential clients so they can find all of the info I know they’re looking for quickly, and it has cut back significantly on the amount of ghosting that I’ve experienced.. Those who do end up contacting me, are ones that already have all or most of the info they need to make a decision, and most of them are ready to take the next step. If you want to see how I implement this on my website, CLICK HERE!
- They don’t vibe with you – Listen, I’m just gonna say it. Some people just aren’t going to be your biggest fan, for no reason or fault of your own. It’s fact that sometimes we just don’t connect with or vibe with certain people, even if we can’t exactly explain why. We all know there’s that one influencer on Instagram or girl on The Bachelor that we just can’t STAND. It happens, and it certainly makes it difficult when trying to define the lines of “just business” and personal. Trust me when I say that you DO NOT want to work with someone who you don’t “click” with. PERIOD. I’ve morphed, flexed and discounted my prices to be someone’s “perfect fit” before, and every time, it ended up being a wedding and a client I WISHED I had never booked. Sure, being flexible and accommodating is day-one textbook shit when it comes to running a service-based business, but I can promise you, if it feels “off” or forced in the early stages, RECOGNIZE IT because that paycheck is not worth it the agony that you’re likely to endure. Practice honing in on those clients who you just know are “your people”, also known as “your ideal clientele.” The best way to do this? Start being selective and saying NO when you see those red flags pop up during the inquiry stages. Work with people who you ENJOY working with. The people who light you up, and makes your job not feel like work. And keep doing it over, and over and over again. I know when you’re early in business, ANY business is good business, especially because we’re often in the scarcity mindset, thinking something like “if I don’t book this client, I don’t know when I’ll get the next one!” And while I do think that this is a necessary evil that we all endure while growing our baby business, you always want to keep your end game and ideal clientele in mind as you move that needle forward. Like attracts like and I swear, that shit is for real.
So now you may be thinking “alright, well knowing maybe why they didn’t book me doesn’t exactly make me feel any better…” And I get that, so here’s my best advice for those times when we do get ghosted.
- Don’t Ask Why – After someone decides not to hire you, it can be tempting to follow up and ask them why. However, I strongly suggest avoiding this all together. People don’t like to feel confronted or to be made uncomfortable, and no matter how you approach the question, it’s likely going to be 10/10 awkward for the other person. Especially if the client can’t afford your services (which is usually the most common reason we get ghosted) NOBODY wants to say “hey thanks, but your prices are too high for me.” They would much rather say nothing at all, so let them. However, if they do give you an answer on why they didn’t book, it will be hard for you to not take whatever they say personally (even if you promise yourself you won’t) and it will be even harder not to respond with a reason, follow up or justification. Or better yet, offer a discounted price in hopes of changing their mind. I know that your intentions are good here, and you’re not trying to make anyone feel awkward or uncomfortable, you just want to better yourself and your business, and for that I commend you. But, there’s a definitely a better way. If you’re looking for some HELPFUL constructive criticism, then ask for feedback from a client that you did actually book. After the session is done, I encourage you to reach out with something like – “hey, I really enjoyed our time together, and loved working with you! As you know, I am just starting out and I am focusing on continuing to provide a great experience for my future clients. That being said, If you feel inclined, I would really appreciate any input you may have on anything that I could improve the next time I book a client! Thank you so much!” – Never use the word “criticism” or “critique.” Words like input, recommendations, suggestions, or ideas are much more positive and less threatening verbiage.
- Don’t Follow Up – This is my golden rule when it comes to booking clients. This is also another highly debatable opinion within the service industry, but one I stand by STRONGLY. I never follow up with potential clients to ask if they have any questions or if they have made a decision. A lot of this comes from my own preferences as a customer. I HATE feeling pressured, pushed or feeling like someone is just WAITING on an answer from me. Hear me when I say that IF THEY WANT TO BOOK YOU, THEY WILL. ON THEIR TIME. TRUST ME, no one is more concerned with or focused on booking vendors than the bride herself. She has not forgotten that she needs to find a wedding photographer. You don’t need to remind her. Also, we have no idea what’s going on in other people’s lives. Shit comes up, finances need to be in order, all kinds of things. They will book you if they want to and when they are ready, and, they do not owe you an explanation. I know this all sounds a little harsh, but it’s the truth and if you’re reading this, I’m guessing that’s what you came here for. The opposing side to this argument suggests that by following up, you’re letting the potential client know that you value them and their business, so much that you just have to “pop into their inbox” once again to make sure they didn’t forget to ask you a question or put a check in the mail. BUUULLSHIT. I don’t buy into this. If they have a question, or are ready to pay a retainer, they will have NO HESITATION doing so. Listen, I know that your intentions are innocent when you want to follow up, but sadly, this new age of the consumer industry (and quite frankly, the rise of MLM companies) has made it normal and acceptable for sellers to bombard people and flood their inboxes uninvitedly. I don’t hate on anyone’s hustle, but that doesn’t mean that I agree with pushy sales tactics either. RELAX. If someone wants to buy something, they will contact YOU. They know where to find you. And make no mistake, this concept absolutely applies to the service industry as well. Now of course, to every rule there is always an exception. The ONLY exception in my book is when I get 2 inquiries for the same date. Bride A reaches out first, I send her info and she’s on her way. 2 days later, Bride B reaches out asking for info about the same date. Now BEFORE I even respond to Bride B, I reach out to Bride A and I say – “Hey Bride A, I am reaching out to let you know that I have received and inquiry for your date, and wanted to make sure that you had first dibs if you are interested since you reached out first. I am happy to hold the date for 48 hours, please let me know if you have any questions.” – Short, sweet and to the point. If she is very much interested, she will get on that shit ASAP. If not, then move on. While I encourage you to use this method, remember that you CAN NOT abuse it. Don’t ever lie and say that you received an inquiry when you didn’t, just to get an answer from a potential client.
- Don’t Critique The Work They Didn’t Hire You For – This one is hard. You’re scrolling through Facebook or Instagram and all the sudden, you see your almost client’s photos that you didn’t take. Ouch. Immediately you’re going to be bummed, and then start picking apart every little thing about these photos that this other photographer took. It’s natural and sometimes feels like something we can’t control. To be honest, I STILL find myself thinking WTF when I see an almost client pop up on another photographer’s newsfeed. DON’T let yourself play into it. Over the years I’ve taught myself to quickly recognize the spiral I’m about to go into and I hit the x button. It doesn’t do ANY good for you to let yourself dwell and overthink why they didn’t book you. Yes, it stings ESPECIALLY if the almost client is a friend. No, you won’t forget it, but DON’T give it any light or life. Move on and continue to share your wins and post the beautiful photos of the people who you did photograph. That’s my only advice for this because that’s the BEST advice.
(Bonus) Get a NON-REFUNDABLE Retainer (and don’t ever refer to it as a deposit) – **Be prepared, because I love to nerd out on this type of business stuff** Alright! so you didn’t get ghosted and now someone is ready to book! Before you break out into your happy dance, there’s one more step: People who pay, pay attention. Say it again. You MUST hold yourself and others accountable to this second golden rule. People ALL THE TIME will say shit like “omg yes I’d love to have you photograph my wedding, I love your work, you’re amazing! etc.” It doesn’t mean shit unless they are financially committed to you and your services. Harsh? No. It’s good business. Early in my business, I felt SO uncomfortable asking for money before I actually did anything. I QUICKLY learned that non-refundable retainers are a necessity and extremely common within the service industry because there’s only ONE of YOU that can preform YOUR services! You are committing yourself and your services for X date, which negates the opportunity for you to preform any other services for that date. Especially in the wedding industry, brides are booking 1.5 years out from the date. So by accepting a NON-REFUNDABLE retainer, you are protecting and compensating yourself if the wedding/event is canceled. Let’s say that you book a wedding a year out, and then 5 months before the date, they cancel. The likelihood of you booking another wedding for that exact date is slim to none. Trust me. Been there, done that. Your time and their name on your calendar IS WORTH SOMETHING. Now, whatever amount you choose for a retainer, is up to you to decide. Some photographers require a percentage (up to 50% of total bill) while other require a flat fee (like me, $400.) Let’s talk about why you should NEVER use the word “deposit.” Legally the term deposit implies that the money the client “put down” can be refunded if services are not rendered on the agreed upon date, even if you put the word “non-refundable” in front of “deposit.” The term non-refundable retainer, however, is legally sound, and you are not under any obligation to refund the RETAINER because the money they put down is RETAINING your services. Therefore, you’re holding up your end of the bargain by committing your services for their date, no matter if they decide to cancel or not. **Disclaimer** I am NOT a lawyer, nor am I qualified to give legal jargon advice, but this is what I implement in my own business, which I’m choosing to share with you.
I know this is a hard pill to swallow, especially in the early stages of your business (which is why I’ve written this novel.) Almost 10 years later, it does get easier because I have a greater understanding that by not being everyone’s photographer, I am opening myself and my calendar up to be readily available to MY “perfect fit” clients. The ones who get me, who don’t question my pricing, who see my value and who don’t mind that I swear on Instagram stories and in my blog. They get me. There is no CFP without Cristina. I know that I am the biggest asset to my work, and I want to serve my clients to my best ability, and some of that does entail saying no to potential clients that I know I’m not the right fit for. This has nothing to do with being boujee or “exclusive.” I’ve worked with my fair share of clients who I wasn’t a good match for, and I am 100% confident in saying that I am doing them a DISSERVICE by booking them when I know we’re not right for each other. We’ve talked a lot about “ideal” or “perfect fit” clients, and the harder and longer you work at defining what that means for you, the less and less inquiries you will receive from those who do not fit within those parameters. I strongly believe in the Law of Attraction and have based much of my business around the concept of “like attracts like.” Before you write me off as some witchcraft fanatic, I suggest reading the book Tribes by Seth Godin, and you let me know how many potions you’re brewing up in your cauldron.
To wrap this up, here are some (now) funny reason I didn’t get booked:
- A bride didn’t book me because she didn’t want her photos to look like “pretty much everyone else’s wedding photos lately.” I had photographed quite a few of her friends’ weddings and she wanted her wedding to be different and stand out. That’s was her choice and I can’t fault her for that. Sure, I laughed when I heard this, but hey, I’m taking it as a compliment.
- I curse too much on Instagram. Well, I can’t say she’s wrong. But it’s who I am. AND YES, I assure you, I do know how to hold my tongue at a wedding day and act professional. Come on now, I’m not some heathen. But hey, if that’s something uncomfortable for her, I can’t blame her and would never want someone to book me and be worried I might let an F-bomb slip out in front of Nana during family formals.
- I wear sneakers to weddings. Again, not wrong. This bride wanted a “black tie affair” and didn’t think I, quote, “looked the part.” LOL! I do wear my CFP blue sneaks to weddings and so does my 2nd shooter, Ashley! It’s become part of the CFP uniform and hey, if that’s not part of your “wedding day vibe” Then I suggest finding some other miserable photog in heels 🙂
- She thought the colors in my photos are too bright and I refused to change my editing style for her wedding photos. It’s CFP after all, I love vibrancy and golden light. Not much room for negotiation here. If you don’t like the style of someone’s work, then of COURSE you shouldn’t book them.
- She didn’t like me back in high school. Yeah, well again, not everyone’s going to like you (see the title of this blog entry) and who wants to work with someone they don’t like anyway? Can’t say I blame her for not hiring me if she doesn’t like me. Period.
In closing, I encourage you to remember your end game. You want to be as readily available for YOUR “perfect fit” clients. Take advantage of the fact that YOU have the ability and power to create your own brand, style and be the kind of creative that YOU want to be. If you want to wear blue sneakers to weddings, wear them. Believe that your people are out there, because trust me, they are.
Always cheering you on,