QUESTION ON to Managing a Wedding Photography Business
I have been a wedding photographer for 10 years. I have been doing it with client check to client check. I find now, more people want to sue my small company because of the lousy follow up. It is not for lack of trying, but lack of capital. My photos speak for themselves. I try very hard to fulfill the contracts. One problem is I put in turn around times for delivery. I now find out I shouldn’t. Where can I turn to get some immediate help, guidance and possibly capital? Hopefully someone who has a sympathetic heart for a great photographer. Thanks
As you said, you have photographed weddings for ten years and you must have done well to have lasted for a decade. You did not indicate what caused this problem. I would surmise that you know your craft inside and out, so this problem couldn’t be a result of some technical deficiency on your part.
Take a look at the problem this way: If you photographed a wedding today and delivered the proofs in 12 weeks, that is a span of 3 months. Then the printing and delivery of the wedding album will take another 3 months. Ask yourself the question: If you hired yourself to cover your child’s wedding, what do you think will your child do if you show her/him the proofs after three months and finally get her/his pictures in another six months? As you are very much aware, weddings are an important milestone in every person. They would want to have their pictures and videos from this momentous occasion as soon as possible.
The first step is to review what goes wrong and why it happens. You need to look at the cause of this problem and attack it at its root. Try to go back and review your procedures. Your problem could stem from any one of these reasons, and possible remedies to these problems:
If this is a result of your difficulty to cope with demand, you could either upgrade to faster equipment or hire an assistant to help you during peak season. You can’t try to do EVERYTHING yourself, especially if the business is growing. Something’s got to give; and in this instance, your ability to deliver is suffering resulting in unhappy clients. Hiring an assistant or even part-timer to cope with the demand may be an extra expense for your business; but it could potentially result in happier customers who will be more than willing to refer you to other clients.
b. Is it a result of procrastination and inability to track customer orders?
You can devise a method or use a tool that will allow you to keep track of the schedule of all your accounts. You can buy a filofax, a calendar or use an electronic tool like Outlook’s calendar. Outlook Calendar can remind you of your upcoming deadlines. If you want a more sophisticated tool, you can use Microsoft Project 2000 to keep track of all the activities and deadlines of each and every project. Or you can simply post a big calendar on your wall with all the deadlines of your customers.
c. Is it a result of inadequate funds to cover supplies?
Are you having a cash flow problem that prohibits you from fulfilling your client’s orders on time? Proper cash flow handling can allow you to change the turn around time into a shorter period. For capitalization, you can ask for a reasonable down payment from each client. You should calculate or have a good estimate of the cost of the film, chemicals, photo paper, albums and other materials plus a little extra amount and ask for that amount as the down payment. With that amount, you are pretty much covered and you would have a faster turn around. Of course, your contract price will be much, much higher than that amount and the balance would come your own professional fee and profits.
I was also a wedding photographer when I was younger. But my turnaround with complete deliveries was only three to four weeks. It is because I got everything covered right from the signing of the contract.
My suggestion is simple. If you think that your deliveries will definitely be fixed on these span of time, all you have to do is change your contract form. Don’t put delivery time periods which you cannot fulfill. If you can deliver only on those span of time, you have to specify that in the contract. You don’t have to explain why but you specify it as such. If the client asks, you can explain, that you have hundreds of clients and you have to deliver the photographs in the order that the orders were received.
Although specifying this long length of delivery period would make most clients go somewhere else, you save yourself the lawsuits, which definitely would be coming. Do you remember the pizza advertisement, “Delivery in 30 minutes or your Pizza is Free”? You end up fulfilling all those wedding photographs all for free because of “breach” of the contract if your clients decide to sue. And that, will surely hurt as you are finding right now
So, you see, it is all a matter of how you want to conduct your business. After ten years, you may have grown tired. You may have changed your lifestyle where you spend your client’s money into something else. Sometimes, we collect a down payment and spend it and we use the next client’s money to buy the materials for the first one and sooner or later, we collect more money for down payment but don’t use the money for the business. Ultimately, we will end up saddled by delayed deliveries with no money to buy the materials. And by this time, the number of delayed deliveries have multiplied and no longer tolerable.
Not only are these delays a magnet for lawsuits, but you are slowly destroying the reputation of your business. With the coming new year, this is the time to rethink your business, shape up your procedures and way of doing things and find that enthusiasm for your work again.
Good Luck !
Nach M Maravilla
Recommended Resources on How To Manage a Photography Business
- The Real Business of Photography
- Freelance Photographer’s Handbook: Success in Professional Digital Photography, 2nd Edition
- Captured by the Light: The Essential Guide to Creating Extraordinary Wedding Photography
- Digital Wedding Photographer’s Planner
Article originally published in June 2005. Updated March 3, 2012