It’s happened. Your absolute worst nightmare as a wedding photographer. You’ve shot the wedding, you’ve done the post work, and you’ve handed off your images. You wake up a few days or weeks later with an email waiting for you from your favorite “insert wedding blog/website where you take people to read reviews written by past clients that overflow with words of kindness and your greatness”. Except this time, it only has 1 star, not 5.
"Wait, maybe they changed the rating system. Yeah that has to be it. What used to be a 5 star rating is now 1 star. Makes total sense. Because 1 is better than 5. Yeah that’s it.”
No. You now have your very first bad review… "!@#$.” You’ve read it 100 times and it still says things like;
“missed this shot"
“Smells like a hobo"
So now what? Well, first things first. Turn it all off. Take a step back and let’s forget it ever happened for a few hours, maybe a few days. Go get some coffee, go to the gym, or go do something that completely takes your mind away from it. Forget the fact that your business will come crashing down on you, and everything you have done over the last year or two to build something that will sustain you for the next 10 years is all coming to an end. This article will be here when you get back.
Alright now that we’ve calmed down let’s start from the beginning. And I don’t mean from the point where the review occurred. A lot of times things like this happen because of some work you missed on the front end. Let me introduce you to Abby. A fellow friend in the Wedding Photography industry. She is a grinder. And I mean that in a good way. She works her butt off to create an experience as a business that separates her from her peers. And I am super excited to partner with her on this post.
I am going to let her walk you through some of things you can do right now to prevent this from happening to anymore future weddings. That’s right, the work you do TODAY directly affects the out come of weddings you will shoot years from now.
Thanks for letting me be a part of this, Sam! Ok, so no one wants to deal with this kind of situation, but there ARE some things you can be doing right now to help prevent conflict with clients in the future! For me, I’ve found that a proactive approach (vs. a reactive one) is often going to be what saves potentially sticky situations with your awesome brides and grooms. I don’t WANT it to get to the stage where we’re having to discuss refunds or legal action, so I do everything I can from the beginning to built trust and rapport with my couple and their families.
1. Love the crap out of your clients. This is the best deterrent out there! When your clients know from Day 1 that you’re on their side they’re much more likely to give you grace for a small slip-up that happens along the way. On the flip side, if a client's initial impression of you is “you’re a vendor I’ve hired, not a person with whom I have a relationship,” it’s a lot easier for people to get caught up in something small. Love your clients as PEOPLE first, customers second!
2. Have a SOLID wedding contract written by an attorney (preferably an attorney who specializes in law for creative professionals). This is my first line of defense if there’s ever a conflict, because the contract is a solid, black & white agreement we’ve all signed. It’s explicit, and describes in no uncertain terms the conditions we’ve agreed upon, as well as outlines my responsibilities to my client. A solid contract will work to protect both parties; it protects you if your client fails to adhere to the terms of the contract, and it protects your client if you fail to fulfill the duties you were hired to perform.
Sometimes a client's issue will be with something that was completely out of your control. For example, your bride might cite issue with something like “we didn’t receive as many portraits as we wanted.” But if the timeline was crunched due to a member of the bridal party being late, and suddenly I was left with 15 minutes instead of the 90 minutes I was promised, there’s not much I can do. There’s a clause in my contract that protects me from that kind of thing, and I can point to it in a situation like that to gently remind my couple I can’t be held responsible for the failure to take the portraits they wanted if I wasn’t given the time I require to do so.
3. Have a paper trail. Make sure anything that’s promised to either party is confirmed through email! If you casually promise them an additional hour of coverage, that needs to be written down. If they say they need an extra two weeks to make their final payment, that needs to be confirmed over email. If you ever have a phone call to talk about something having to do with services or responsibilities, follow up with an e-mail reiterating what was discussed and agreed upon. This will help clear things up if there’s confusion over what your obligations are.
Thanks Abby! So there you have it! Right from another Wedding Photographer’s mouth. And I completely agree. Set the expectation right away from the beginning so there are no questions on the back end. SO let’s fast forward to where we left off before Abby dropped some knowledge on us. And hopefully you have had a chance to calm down and clear your head a bit so we can talk about 3 things you can do NOW about that bad review.
1. Contact the bride - maybe you can work it out with them and have them take the review down. Maybe you can’t. But the key is to begin to open the lines of communication to apologize and show some empathy. Remember you were commissioned to photograph the biggest day of their life. Maybe you didn’t screw up. But maybe you did. Regardless, listen to their concerns!. A lot can be resolved by just talking and taking the position of empathy.
2. Make it right - This is an easy one. I am echoing Abby’s earlier point. Sometimes a bride just wants to be heard. Sometimes you can listen to them and then overwhelm them by giving them prints, and albums and other things. Its a tangible and substantial way to say, “I screwed up and I want to do my best to make it right".
3. Learn from it - Maybe you didn’t screw up totally. But odds are you did something wrong. And these opportunities are great platform for change. They can be used to solidified a process that needs some help. It can be a great chance to strengthen an area where you may not know you are weak!
That’s it! And remember, it’s not the end of the world. If anything it’s the beginning of something incredible. It will just require a little bit of willingness to change, humility and the ability to do the work to make it right!
Abby Grace is an international anniversary + wedding photographer for the old-school chic couple in love. Abby is based just outside of Washington, DC, where she resides with her stud of a husband and two crazy rescue pups. Her interests include pearl earrings, not being a domestic diva, and anything Harry Potter-related!