So how do you turn down a potential client anyways?
The other week I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who is also a photographer and we got on the subject of when and how to decide who to work with, who to kindly turn down, and how to even turn them down anyways without feeling completely awful about it.
Spoiler, you’ll probably still feel bad about saying no. Just remember, it shows you care and you have a kind heart.
Whatever you decide to do however, it most definitely will have an impact on you and your business in some way (whether that’s positive or negative), so I thought it’d be a good subject to bring up because if you’re at all like me, running a business and dealing with those not so great parts that come with it, like when issues arise, can be overwhelming and really lower your self confidence. I have definitely been there! More than once! And am here to help hopefully give you some ideas on how to become more confident in this area, and saying ‘no’ when you feel you need to.
A little side note: I used to NEVER say no. I caved, ALL THE DANG TIME. I caved on my prices when someone said they couldn’t afford them. I caved and took on sessions I didn’t feel excited about or prepared for because I thought it was helping build my business. I let others dictate how my process worked because I was scared to stand up for myself and define to potential clients what working with me would look like. Basically, I needed thicker skin.
You know what happened from giving into it all? I became stressed, less confident, saw less value in myself, and eventually contemplated throwing in the cards. So, you can trust me here. I know how hard it is. But I also know how incredibly important taking your confidence back in your business is. It changes everything!
Something important to remember: You are not for everyone & not everyone is for you. When you start to realize that, it get’s a little easier turning people away.
Let’s say you’ve received an inquiry from someone interested in booking a session with you.
Woo hoo!! Nothing like receiving an inquiry notice in your inbox, right? Especially if you’re just starting out. It’s like Christmas!
But then you get to e-mailing back and forth about their hopes and expectations only to start to feel a little uncertain about this interaction. Something about your exchange with them is putting up red flags and maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it yet, or opposite, you are sure what it is. Maybe their expectations don’t line up with what you are able to deliver. Maybe they are wanting something you can’t give them, whether that be style-wise or specific images they are requesting. Maybe it’s the way their e-mail is worded that is making you feel uneasy and questioning how your interaction in-person will go? Whatever it may be, you know there is something holding you back.
And in my experience you absolutely, ALWAYS should listen to that inner voice of yours. It’s there for a reason and sure there’s a chance you could be wrong about that feeling, but if you’re not you then have to deal with whatever issues come up later on and most of the time, it doesn’t end well and you end up feeling resentful and bitter and quite possibly questioning whether you are cut out for this running a business thing. Does that sound worth it to you?
Remind yourself why you started your own business. Every year, you continue to set your values, prices, limitations; what you’re will to deal with and what you’re not. You are in the driver’s seat and you get to decide who’s a good fit for you and who might not be. You built this business. Your values will not line up with everyone that comes to you and that’s okay. This is not a physical product anyone has access to to purchase. Instead, it’s a service. An interaction. And we won’t be able to serve everyone. We're not supposed to.
Just like anyone else you would hire for a service, you get to decide who you trust and feel comfortable working with. There has to be mutual respect and understanding or those relationships, just like in real life, don’t work. And especially when there is money involved. ESPECIALLY when there’s money involved.
After all, your well-being is on the line here. And that’s enough reason to say ‘no’ when you feel you need to. It’s not always about you either. Sometimes, someone else would be a much better fit for this person’s needs and sending them elsewhere shows you care about them and the money they are investing. They might not being able to see that, but that’s okay too.
Here are a few examples on possible scenarios of when you might want to turn down that potential client. I was actually searching for an e-mail from years ago and came across an inquiry that I turned down. I was surprised (and proud of myself) at how confident I was in this e-mail because that long ago, I definitely didn’t feel it.
Sally (not real name) reached out to inquire about an engagement session.
At that time I was open to them, so I continued to get to know her and her needs more. Except, her details weren’t lining up. She gave me an initial date and then changed it a couple times. I told her which date was open and worked for me and asked to clarify when she was wanting this session by because it felt very unclear. She told me her fiancé was abroad and she wasn’t sure when he’d be back exactly by, but that she could confirm the date soon and, OH, they would also be having a reception and she would let me know about those dates later.
Wait what? A reception now? Is this an engagement and wedding or just engagement? Engagement and just the reception? Are you confused just reading that?
I did not do weddings anymore at that time, so I mentioned that to her and also decided that with all the back and forth on dates and unclear information on what she really needed that I was going to just say no to it all. I mean, if there’s already this much miscommunication now, what would it look like later or during or after?
So I politely told her I felt someone else would be a better fit for her; someone that specialized in weddings and engagements and would probably even have a specific collection offering a special rate for booking both. I left her with a couple referrals and wished her the best in her new life venture.
Even after that e-mail, she still insisted she wanted me to do the engagement photos. And to be honest, at that point, I just wasn’t interested anymore, so as awful as I felt having to tell her yet again I wasn’t going to be able to give her the services she wanted, I typed up my response (politely reiterating that at this time I won’t be able to meet her needs and yet again wishing her all the best) and moved on.
That’s all you can do sometimes. Let those tough emotions work through you for as long as they need and then let them pass on by. Because they always do.
Barbara (again not real name) reached out about an extended family session. I feel like this is a common one a lot of photographers receive.
I honestly wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but I needed the money at the time and thought it could help bring in more business later, so I agreed.
After agreeing we started working out the details and pretty soon I was agreeing to an entire group shot plus photos of these 3-4 separate families, individual shots of each child, etc., and variety of other shots. All for the price of one, which I believe at the time was $400? I mean, to be fair, I was still very naive and so new to it all to know that I was not valuing my time or talent. Something about it didn’t feel right, but I didn’t have the skills yet to work around that.
The session itself wasn’t terrible. It definitely was a little chaotic, but I felt confident in what I captured. It was what came after that taught me a few big lessons I have ever since carried with me.
Each family wanted their photos on separate discs (because at that time that’s how I delivered the images, which makes me totally sound old, ha!!), the images of the entire family weren’t as sharp as they wanted them, and when they were trying to print the photos they were surprised when their images were cropping because of the sizes they were choosing and no matter HOW many times and ways I tried explaining why they were going to be cropped (because of the size of my camera’s sensor) the overall experience ended unresolved and I ended up feeling completely defeated. I felt as if I had done something wrong and also completely stretched thin from what they paid and what they received. I felt inadequate and discouraged.
One thing was for sure though, I was NEVER going to be doing an extended family session again. Nope. They are not for me. And that’s okay.
Find a simple way to explain image cropping to clients in a way they will be able to understand and come up with a plan ahead of time to help assist them in their printing needs if that’s something they will need.
Don’t sell yourself short. They got a lot for what they paid for. Become confident in why you charge what you do and don’t be afraid to say no when they don’t understand or can’t afford that.
So to close this out, when you get these little urges and voices that tell you not to take on a potential client, trust your instincts. When responding, keep your responses short and to the point. Don’t feel the need to explain exactly why. And make sure to sandwich your polite ‘pass’ in the middle of a couple of encouraging notes. Usually I will start by thanking them for their interest in booking a session with me and congratulating them on their: engagement, wedding, pregnancy, new baby, whatever it may be. I will then tell them how much I value their time and investment as I know photography can be a big cost, and that I want to make sure that what they are investing in is exactly what they are hoping to receive. I’ll then sandwich in why I am not able to meet those needs or give them what they are wanting, and then wish them the best and send a few referrals their way. Then I just leave it at that.
Trust yourself and your business will run so much smoother, I promise! You’ve got this friend!