Three Ways To Ensure You Only Work with Awesome Clients

la tinywater photo shoot

I am a firm believer in the mantra that we teach people how to treat us. If you’re slow at replying to emails, lacklustre about saying thank you or always late paying your invoices the likelihood is that you’ll attract clients that also do these things – like attracts like and all that.

So how do we ensure that we only ever book the most awesome clients? The creative and cool ones who respect what we do and are a complete joy to work with?

1. Take responsibility

In every relationship, whether with a partner, a friend, a business colleague or client, it is through our own actions that we teach people acceptable ways to act towards us. If a client repeatedly emails you late at night demanding immediate replies, and you always do so right away, what does that teach them? That whenever they email you – no matter the time or the day – that you will reply immediately… and that that’s OK. However if you set yourself some boundaries and only reply to emails at a time that is most convenient to you, like during your office hours, you are less likely to get those late night or weekend client messages because they’ve learnt that you only ever reply during your working day.

The frustrations you’re feeling towards that client who always (blank) is actually not their fault – it’s yours. The way they act towards you is a result of how you’ve taught them to treat you. This might be a bitter pill to swallow but here’s another example that I witnessed recently.

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A photographer friend of mine was stressing out the day before a wedding because her couple, who had flown in from another country, still hadn’t told her the location of where they were getting ready in the morning (i.e where she had to meet them) or what time she had to arrive. She didn’t have a UK number for them and so was, obviously, completely panicking.

While I had a lot of suggestions (call the venue, stalk the bride on facebook etc etc) I couldn’t help but feel that her frustration should not be aimed towards her client but at herself. She should have taken the reigns months ago and confirmed the location, and not have been sat there the night before waiting for a call. By leaving it so late the client probably felt very casual about the whole thing “ahh she’s not a pre-planner, I can just call her in the morning and let her know where to meet us” she might have thought. And why wouldn’t she have felt that way? My friend had given her no reason to think any differently.

Luckily the client did get in contact with her very late that night but this mistake was not with the client for leaving it so late, it was firmly with the photographer for (most likely) non-verbally communicating that it was perfectly acceptable to leave this to the very last minute.

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2. If it’s not a “hell yes!”, it’s an eff no

A lot of us need to practice the art of saying no. We don’t want to offend people, or turn down work or whatever, but saying no to clients that you get a bad feeling about or don’t think you can do the best job for is ALWAYS the best course of action.

I had a potential advertiser contact me once about doing a collaboration and from his manner in that initial email I got a bad vibe. I felt like he would be a bit of a pain to deal with and if I’m being totally honest I tried to dissuade him from booking me. However instead of trusting that instinct and turning him down, I scheduled him in. I did the work, he approved it and it was published as agreed but low and behold, when he didn’t get a result he expected he had a whole bunch of complaints. Your gut is telling you that something feels bad for a reason – listen to it!

As I said before, like attracts like, and so if you’re filling up your portfolio with the kind of work you aren’t really that excited about, or you don’t want to do more of, then all you’re doing is setting yourself up to get more of the same kinds of work and clients in future.

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3. Be clear and honest from the outset

Before any money exchanges hands or contracts are signed make sure both sides are 100% clear on what’s to be expected from the relationship. If there is miscommunication or misunderstandings at the beginning it’s only going to get worse as time goes on.

Be clear on the goals and projected outcome of the work and lay out, in black and white, exactly what the client will and will not receive for their investment. Make sure they know if there are any extras they have to pay for and if there are any add-on options available. That way, if there are any disagreements down the line you can go back to those initial emails or contract and be as objective as possible to make sure the matter is resolved quickly.

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It is really hard to turn down clients (and their money) or to be forthright from the outset, especially when you’re just starting out. However instead of trying to fix problems as they arise, focus on making sure these problems never rear their ugly heads in the first place. After all, working with great clients makes us produce our best work, and showcasing that work is what will get us future, similarity minded clients and projects.

You, and only you, are responsible for how people treat you and the work that is produced from those relationships. So instead of sitting back and wondering why you’re not booking the most creative or fun clients, why not see what it is that you’re doing that is attracting the clients you don’t really like and try and figure out some ways to turn that around?

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40 comments

  1. Ab-solutely brilliant post! Treating your client how you want to be treated is simple but many of us forget to practice that, especially when we first start out. I remember taking on any old client + also working off hours, doing last minute appointments, putting up with no-shows and rudeness. It all stopped when I started turning my phone off during non-working hours and also posting my policies ‘n rules right on my website. I rarely deal with jerks and no shows almost never happen. Be clear and stick to your guns = better, saner business and clients that resonate!

  2. I hang my head in shame BUT… i’m going to live by these rules from now on, it’s just what i needed to hear (a kind of kick up the but) thanks Kat! x

  3. As standard, Kat, another brilliantly inciteful post. I like to think this is the Wedding Ideas way, too, and something we desperately try to achieve as a team. In all of our job descriptions we have “treat people as you would like to be treated yourself.” It’s a lesson we’re taught in childhood, right? And the other thing we have is “We are never rude to people, no matter how rude they are being to us.” I, for one, like honesty from clients: “We’re finding it really tough at the moment…” (And we can try to help) rather than our calls being ignored, or being fed excuses. We all have excuses in life, but there is always a solution! Thank you for this! Rachel x

  4. Too true! I guess sometimes we get stubborn or complacent and we’re like, ‘if they don’t care enough, neither do I’ but then it’s us that has to deal with the fallout.

    I like to be organised anyway, so am learning that that I may have to hassle the client a bit to get the info I need. I think they kinda like that you’re taking charge and making sure everything runs smoothly.

    I am also far too old to take any c**p! lol I like to help as much as possible but there is definitely a line 🙂

  5. I think theres alot of truth in this, I have a day job and so I decided that when I run my Travelling tea room I would only work with nice people. And I have, lifes too short to put up with nonense!

  6. Stephanie

    As a “client” who is dealing with wedding vendors, this article is really helpful. I am a very clear and organized client, and when I get a feeling that a vendor doesn’t share these traits, I am hesitant about working with them. I really appreciate honesty and clarity – even if it’s not what I “want” to hear!

  7. Al

    This is so right, and I think it applies both ways. I’m currently in the process of planning my wedding our experience with our stationer was so bad. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

    Without going into the details of the long, protracted, painful experience… or indeed naming and shaming… essentially I don’t think she wanted to take our brief. I had that gut feeling you were talking about and I know in hindsight I should have listened to it! We ended up with something 5 months later than promised that didn’t meet our brief. This is particularly frustrating because me and my fiance both deal with designers in work – so its not as if we don’t know how to put together a design brief.

    I think she knew that what she’d delivered was poor because even though we chased her to get details to pay her on numerous occasions she never got back to us.

    Its such a shame because the stationery part was the bit me and my fiance were most excited about when we got planning. Worse is that she is gaining in popularity so I’m always coming across people cooing about her work on blogs and in bridal mags. It makes me both sad and angry and I have to stop myself from writing a negative review somewhere (this is the closest I’ll come to that – wow this is cathartic). Just wish she’d been upfront with us from the beginning and said no when we approached her. It takes balls but its business. We’d have been disappointed, but in the long run it would have saved her time and ours.

  8. Hi Kat, I love your posts, so much food for thought – thanks! I have been thinking a lot about point 2 this week. And for the first time said no to a client and a job. And instead of feeling bad, I actually feeling rather pleased with myself! xx

  9. Wow, this is an awesome article Kat! I recently went through a difficult client phase that made me question myself. After reading this article Im going to be taking all of these pointers and applying it to my biz. Thank you for awesome advice, I love reading your articles!!

    Nkem

  10. I was talking about this very thing only an hour ago! I need to be more strict when it comes to this. I have one particular client who I have all of these problems with, struggling to ask her to kindly go elsewhere.

  11. This is really helpful to me right now. I’ve been feeling a bit guilty about turning down opportunities to get “exposure”, but at the end of the day I don’t think it’s fair for companies to ask to use my work for free. Exposure is nice, but it doesn’t buy groceries 😛

  12. Julia

    This is well timed for me. I adore reading these posts, I need sometime to get out of a rut Ive made for myself, I have a business that is going great but its starting to move down a path I dont want to go, so I need to angle it back. Thank you xx

  13. Kat, this blog post is SPOT ON and so well written. I couldn’t agree with you more especially on the point that we teach people how to treat us. Love it.

  14. Great article – I find it really hard to carry out point 2 and just take on the work. Should learn to trust my instinct and let someone else have the hassle of a difficult client. And as for the images…. Wow!

  15. Angi

    Hiya Kat,
    This post has come almost serendipitously today! I took a booking from a client that was made early august for this october. From day one she has been changing plans, rescheduling, adding extra guests. When I gently refused (I take maximum 25 in a group in my boutique events company for hens etc)she completely took the hump, didnt reply to email to confirm numbers and others details i needed. She has paid up front so i feel im completley cornered. My point is I got a bad feeling from the start but I didnt want to turn down the business cos im a fairly new start up. Im at my wits end and well shitting myself that she is gonna be a stroppy diva when she arrives…would love some advice from you or others in the forum
    Thanks a million

  16. Nice one Kat. “Listening to your gut feeling” is a lesson I seem to be on the cusp of learning nearly all the time! Ha! I have managed to get the point where being calm and generally getting on with clients generally means that they also respect my space and I now don’t (too often) get calls from X at silly o’clock.
    It was always the clients who didn’t respect a certain professionalism that wanted/expected a deal and caused more trouble than the awesomest clients. Which is most of them.
    Being able to recognise those clients and being able to say “no” just means that the great couples get more attention. It’s a better way.

  17. Hell yeah, my command of ‘eff’ and ‘off’ needs some work but I’m very happy to say 99 per cent of my clients are really nice so hoping I’m doing something right there at least.

    On the other hand I do keep some whacky working hours – though mostly self-inflicted -I’m just a much better self at some times rather than others. *surreptitiously puts phone down after phone call from client at 22.00 on a Sunday*

    Right, off to craft some responses to the “why my work is not worth less on a weekday” discussion…this might involve the use of the above words…

  18. As hard as it was to realise, it was much needed advice! I too often find myself getting stressed and upset about a client or situation and i now realise that my best option is to deal with issues before they arise!
    Ta for the kick up the bum!
    xx

  19. Thank you! Iv had a difficult bride on my books for a while now, what’s app pictures at 11pm at night (excessive too 14 and I didn’t reply either!) she hasn’t paid a deposit her wedding is July complete nightmare but I felt I couldn’t turn down work, kinda feel like I should turn down work sometimes, live and learn!

  20. I recently stumbled upon your site and I have to say I love it. Speaking from a photographer perspective, I always want to work with awesome clients, but every now and then you need to take ones that might not be awesome to keep the money rolling in.

    I really like this article because it reminds me to be up-front with what I tell my clients, giving them my expectations while managing theirs, and listening to my gut when something is a bit off during the initial consultation.

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