August 17th, 2010 by

Recently a very frustrated photographer, let’s call her Susie, bcc’d me on an explosive email she sent to a prominent assignment client who she felt had caused her money and time needlessly.  Her reaction? She didn’t simply burn a bridge, she nuked it. A law in physics states that for every reaction there is an opposite and equal reaction. Does that rule apply to business? Not usually but sometimes.

During the first visit to an art buyer who didn’t see enough fashion work in the book (Susie is a lifestyle photographer with terrific ad work using models), the prospective client asked her to do a test shoot…on her dollar.

She was jazzed. Hired a stylist, make-up, scouted for the perfect location, spent a few days in prep and a day shooting. Susie sent the work to me and I picked my favorites. She sent the best of the lot to the client and then waited. And waited. And waited. After 2 weeks, she called. Left a message. Did that a few times. Tried email. Nothing. Maybe the art buyer was fired? Maybe she died?

Finally she left a message, “I understand if you are avoiding me for personal reasons or something else. But if you don’t want to work with me, please email or call so that I will stop wasting both of our time.”

Art buyer responded, “Sorry but there simply isn’t enough fashion work in your book.” Remember she asked Susie to do a fashion test, as there wasn’t enough fashion in the book. When I looked at what the client uses, Susie’s work was spot on. The match that burned the bridge was lit.

How to handle an impossible client for your photographic services?

Should you try to work it out with a client? Sometimes it works and the fact that you are willing to bend a little…(not completely over) can sometimes help even the coldest heart and rudest jerk. Suggestions:

  • Eat crow. “So sorry the shoot didn’t work for you. I’ll redo it at cost. (Only if you truly did screw up in a major way or if the client is a regular)
  • Talk over the situation with someone that can give the issue perspective. Maybe YOU are the jerk. (Exclude significant others: you have a right to exaggerate the a-hole’s behavior to them for maximum sympathy.)
  • Offer to discuss the issue with the client…in a non-defensive manner. “Could you spare a few minutes to help me to understand what went wrong, so I can avoid this situation in the future?”
  • Ask yourself what could I have done differently? Then DON’T do it again
  • All else fails, dump the client. Don’t nuke them. You never know where they’ll show up again.
  • Nuke the worst of them anyway as you don’t want to work for them ever again even from the poor house and no matter where they show up or what they say about you, people will soon come to consider the source of the negative remarks and discredit them.

Big names can get by with being prima donnas…but you better be better than damn good if you intend to act like one.