You’ve put in the work to build a growing photography business. You’ve refined your style and built a hospitable client experience. You’ve done everything right. You’ve even figured out the kinds of clients you love working with and the kinds who will most enjoy the experience of working with you. But then, an inquiry mosies its sweet little self right into your inbox…
Whether from the initial inquiry, during the consultation call, or somewhere in between, you realized this inquiry is from someone who is the exact opposite of your ideal client. So…now what?
Should you ignore the red flags? Should you lower your standards? Should you sacrifice your boundaries? At the end of the day, should you just book them anyway?
This is such an uncomfortable position to be in. I know first hand! Across the five years I’ve worked as a copywriter for photographers, I’ve encountered many, MANY non-ideal clients—some I’ve booked, and some I haven’t. The way I’ve handled these non-ideal clients has evolved over the years, as has the way I’ve come to recognize them before booking. So, let’s talk about some of the biggest red flags you may notice before booking a non-ideal photography client and what to do when you do.
A few common red flags:
The first step in handling a non-ideal photography client is recognizing one when they come your way. Sometimes you can catch on before you book a consultation call, and sometimes you notice mid-conversation. Obviously, we all prefer to spot a non-ideal client before getting on a call with them, and the best way to do that is by asking the right questions on your inquiry form. Luckily, I have a freebie that will help you do that!
OK, so now that you’re asking the right questions, how can you catch a non-ideal photography client pre-consult? Let’s break it down:
- They fill out your form with “barely there” answers—whether they aren’t that invested, are too busy to care, or are just filling out 200 inquiry forms so they don’t want to take too much time on yours, a basically blank inquiry is not a good sign.
- They ask about something you CLEARLY don’t offer (keyword: clearly)—this could mean they expect you to totally change what you do (rude) or that they just didn’t bother learning about the services you offer (also rude), but whatever the reason, this probably isn’t the client for you.
- They tell you they aren’t an ideal client—if you hate photographing barn weddings, and they mention in their inquiry that they are planning to prance down the aisle of a barn in cowboy boots, that’s your sign.
- They indicate that they can’t afford your services—you don’t have to try to convince every person that what you offer is worth the investment. If they say simply they can’t afford you, that’s OK, but they aren’t your ideal client.
- They skip the inquiry form altogether to ask for your prices and only your prices—yeesh, we’ve all seen it, and it’s not cute, so let’s just add them to the list of non-ideal clients and move on
But maybe they’re not that obvious! Maybe you don’t catch the fact that they aren’t ideal by the inquiry alone. That’s. What. Consultations. Are. For.
Now, I know there’s this trend of skipping the consultation and just booking someone right away, but this can be a recipe for a multitude of disasters. I’m not even talking about missing the chance to illustrate your value and build a relationship with a client. I’m talking about the chance you’re missing to catch a whole set of additional red flags! So, if you choose to skip the consult, just make sure you’re ready to go in with a mega-non-ideal client first.
But if you decide to take that extra time to meet with clients before booking, here are some things to keep an eye out for:
- They ask you a question about something you just explained—the most anyone is ever going to pay attention to you is while they are considering whether or not to drop dimes on you. So, if they aren’t listening to you now, it’s only going to get worse from here…especially if they do this more than once.
- They make it clear they haven’t read your website or any materials you’ve sent pre-call—if it becomes super clear they know nothing about what you do despite the multiple, multiple times you’ve explained it across content they should have read, they might not be all that invested in what you do.
- They try to get a bargain or question your prices—and I don’t mean a simple request to know what they get for the money they are spending. That’s a completely legitimate question. I mean someone who is hostile and questioning why on earth you charge so much. It seems wild, but it’s happened to me. Don’t play around with that.
- They don’t seem invested in what you’re talking about—if someone feels like they don’t really care on the call, they probably aren’t all that excited about what you offer, and that’s definitely not a good sign.
- They seem hesitant about participating in your experience—whether it’s when they should pay, what they need to bring, the forms they need to fill out, or how they need to prepare for the session/wedding, if they seem like they don’t quite buy into how you do things, and you can’t bring them around on it, they are just going to push back when it really counts.
Now, here’s the thing: some of these red flags that seem like “for sure, heck NO WAY”s to me might not be red flags to you. These are just the ones that I have deep, visceral reactions to. Why? Because I booked people against my better judgment after seeing these red flags, and I had to battle through what came after.
So, if you want to skip the mistakes I made and want to make sure you don’t book a non-ideal photography client, what do you do?
How to handle a non-ideal client before booking:
I’ll go ahead and tell you this right-the-heck now: I don’t care where you’re at in business or how desperate you are to book clients, the stress that comes from booking a bad client isn’t worth the money you’ll make. Trust. Me. Sometimes, it’s worth it to take on a less-than-ideal client to try something new or push your boundaries, but if someone is exhibiting multiple red flags, you should never feel bad about saying you’re not a good fit.
But how in the actual freaking WORLD do you do that in practicality. Well, there are a few approaches you can take. And depending on your personality and, frankly, level of confidence, different approaches will appeal to you. So, let’s lay out a few options for dealing with a non-ideal photography client:
- Well, you could always just say you’re booked—lying isn’t cute, and it wouldn’t be my first choice, but if you’re in an uncomfortable situation and don’t know what else to do, saying that you’re just not available is preferable to booking a client you know you shouldn’t.
- Politely point out that you aren’t a match, and point them to someone who is—particularly if someone doesn’t have the budget or is looking for a style or experience outside your own, just let them know that you aren’t a great fit! Then, bonus points for helping them find someone who is. Your honesty and kindness will be appreciated, and so will the help!
- Politely point out that you aren’t a match, and point them to NO ONE AT ALL—if someone is rude, not invested, or clearly difficult, don’t pass them to a friend…that wouldn’t be very nice lol Just kindly but firmly let them know that you don’t think you’re a good match, but that you hope they find the perfect photographer for them. The end. No need to get too fancy or overexplain.
Did you see “just ignore them” on that list? Nope. You sure didn’t. Why? Because a potential client hates ghosting just as much as you do! So, let’s not do that to someone else. Let’s instead be the bold, brave business owners we hope to be, and answer all inquiries…even the scary ones.
And yes, I know these approaches can feel scary, and saying “no thanks, I’m good” to a potential client might be the most terrifying thing you’ll ever do as a business owner. But I promise you it’s so much better than spending six months trying to chase down someone who won’t pay you, begging an inattentive client to respond to your emails, or crying over cruel emails after sending their final gallery. It’s not worth it. It’s never worth it.
You DESERVE great clients. To get them, you just have to learn when to say no.
P.S. I hope this post helps you say, “no thanks” to all the less than great clients that come your way! But if you want to get more tips on how to write those uncomfy emails, join my email list now! Because this week’s newsletter is going to be bursting with deets on how to get the job done without sweating bullets! See ya there!