Three Ways To Ensure You Only Work with Awesome Clients

Milou And Olin Photography

September 3, 2013

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.


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.


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.


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.


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?