Avoiding Awkward Client Breakups

I'm Emily!

I'm a NC girl born & raised, a wife to my college sweetheart, mom to my sweet daughter Caroline & fur-mom to my floof, Riley. I love summer days at the beach, fall weekends in the mountains, & everyday in between exploring new corners of the world. I live for Italian food, tacos & margaritas. Currently taking life one adventure at a time.

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Let’s face it: client breakups can be awkward and uncomfortable. I think we can all agree, it never feels good to lose a client, especially if they disappear without saying a word. You’re left wondering what went wrong and what you could have done to prevent them from leaving. Additionally, your wallet might be sharing in your heartbreak. If you were saving a spot for a client and then they walk away without telling you – ouch!

I believe that most difficult client breakups happen because of miscommunication, or lack thereof. Perhaps the editor didn’t go over their policies clearly enough. Or the client feels too uneasy to be honest with the editor, and resorts to “ghosting” them. It all circles back to poor communication. 

There are so many issues and awkward situations that can easily be prevented. Today I’m going to share several ways you can maintain healthy client relationships in your editing business.

Set Expectations

Setting expectations at the very beginning can make a huge difference in preventing awkward client breakups. It is crucial to discuss with your clients upfront what you expect of them and what they should expect from you. It’s also important you tell them what your policies are before you work on their first catalog. By having this conversation in the beginning, you are setting clear expectations and eliminating the opportunity for disappointment to arise. Here are a two major things I like to tell my clients when we start working together:

Consistency takes time.

During their consultation, I let my client know that it could take anywhere from 1-3 catalogs for me to get consistent with their style. Every photographer’s style is different, and it takes a little bit of time to figure out what everyone’s preferences are. It would be a shame to lose a client after only one or two catalogs just because you are still honing in on their style. I recommend you are upfront about this at the very beginning. Your clients are more likely to stick around during your trial period by having this honest conversation.

Reviewing a catalog should take no more than an hour.

Educate your clients about how much time they should be spending on a catalog once it’s returned to them. A lot of photographers think it shouldn’t take any time at all, which can end up causing conflict. In my opinion, 5 minutes to an hour is all they should need to review a catalog. Edits are not always going to be 100% perfect (oh how I wish they were!) The way I explain it is that we are two different people with different perceptions of color, and we will never see everything exactly the same way. The time they spend making adjustments will boil down to their own personal preferences. If it’s taking my clients longer than an hour to make adjustments, I ask them to let me know so we can figure out how to fix that.

Have a contract

It may seem like you can get by without a contract in place, but trust me when I say you need to invest in one. A contract will give you protection against anything that may happen and it will provide your client with a clear understanding of your policies. This will protect you from SO many awkward client breakups, trust me.

There are many issues I see photo editors run into that could easily be solved with a well-written contract. Some of the things that people don’t think to include in their editing agreement are:

  • What your basic pricing includes (be specific!)
  • How many times you’re willing to re-do each image before charging additional fees
  • Payment policies (invoicing and late fees)

If you don’t want to contact a lawyer to write one for you, you can find one specifically for photo editors at The Legal Paige. I have used several of their contracts myself, and they are great quality!

Make sure you go over all of the important details in your contract with your client during the initial interview. Just because your rules are outlined in your contract does not mean your client will read them. It’s their responsibility to read it before signing, but if you take time to talk to them face-to-face about it, then there’s no room for them to claim they never knew the policies you have in place.

Put their needs above yours

At the end of each interview, I always tell my potential clients to tell me if we’re not a good fit. Even if I felt the conversation went great! I stress that it won’t hurt my feelings if they feel that way – I just want them to be honest with me about it. Being open with them about this from the beginning will help prevent them from “ghosting” you later if they end up hiring someone else. 

Can I give you a little sage advice? You are not going to be the perfect editor for every photographer. And do you know what? That is absolutely okay! Part of this business is to learn some client relationships are not meant to be, and feel at peace about it. Trust me, you’ll find yourself in a really uncomfortable situation if you continue working with someone who doesn’t feel right about your relationship. 

To make them feel even more at ease about an awkward topic, I usually assure them that I do feel good about our interview and I don’t think it will be an issue. However, before we move on, I do offer to help them find another editor if they’re having doubts about me. Showing that you care more about them as a person than your own financial gain speaks volume about you and the way you operate your business.

Be gracious

Catalogs will rarely be perfect, and there may be times when a client will ask you to re-do the entire thing. When you see (or hear) those words, it can crush you. I promise that this happens to everyone. But how you deal with it is going to make or break your relationship with this client.

It’s okay to admit that maybe this catalog wasn’t your best. Maybe you edited it on a day you felt off or felt a bit rushed. You have to push that frustration aside, and do everything you can to make things right. 

Whether or not you feel like it’s your fault, respond with a sincere apology. Let them know that you will be more than happy to make adjustments. Before I start re-editing the entire catalog, I’ll send them some before and after images of the adjustments to get feedback from them. Sometimes, I’ll ask them to send me some before/after edits just to clarify what they are looking for. Own your mistakes, take responsibility, and serve your clients well. It will help keep the relationship positive, despite the situation.

I promise to redo any section they need at no extra cost up to 3 times because I want to get it right. If I have to edit a catalog more than 3 times, I know that there’s some other issue happening that I need to address. However, this is a personal decision, and I cannot tell you what is right for you and your business. It’s up to you to decide if you want to offer re-edits for an extra cost. Just remember that editing is a service-based business. I believe we need to be willing to go the extra mile (within reason) to make sure we are keeping our clients happy.

Cut Ties before you become resentful

As I said before, not everyone will be a good fit for you. If it gets to a point where your client is either taking advantage of your services or they are making you miserable, then it’s okay to let them go. Keeping them on will only make you resentful until the relationship becomes strained and you no longer enjoy any contact you have with them. Prevent an awkward client breakup by ending the relationship on a positive note.

Craft an email to your client that is kind, but firm. Let them know that you enjoyed working with them, but you feel that another editor might be a better fit for what they are looking for. Then, refer them to one or two specific editors who you think might be a good fit for their style. Part ways with them on a positive note by being honest about how you feel, and helping them to find another editor at the same time. Just make sure you stay professional and kind.

And there you have it! I hope you’ll use my experience to shape the way you interact with your clients, and hopefully have successful relationships with them that last for years to come. Want some more insight into things I’ve learned while running by business? Check out this blog post.

PS have you ever had to experience a client breakup? How did you handle it? Tell me in the comments!

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