This is such a great question! I’m really glad you asked it, because I have no doubts that there are lots of people who have felt exactly like you do, Pamela!!
First, let’s just be super clear about why cancellations are such a big problem. Each session scheduled is an opportunity for revenue. Based on how much you charge and how many sessions you choose to schedule a week – you have your projected monthly income. For example, if I plan for 4 sessions a month and I know that my average sale is $2,000, I have a projected income of $8,000 per month. If one of of my clients cancels, and I can’t fill that week’s spot, I’ve lost 25% of my revenue. And that, of course, is no good!
When I was first starting, I remember having a lot of reschedules and cancellations; it was really hard to plan my life when my work schedule could never be trusted! So how do we make sure this doesn’t happen?
The great news is that once you’ve put a few simple measures in place, cancellations will become a thing of the past.
STEP 1: IT’S IN WRITING. The most important thing we can do is to simply educate our clients. Often they just don’t realize how much canceling on short notice effects you. Make sure your policies are clearly outlined in your contract as well as on your website.
STEP 2: NON-REFUNDABLE SESSION FEE. Their money is often far more respected than your time. When clients have invested a chuck of change on the session fee, and know that if they don’t give you at least 48 to 72 hrs notice that they’ve forfeited that retainer… That seems to take care of the problem in one fell swoop!
STEP 3: BE UNDERSTANDING. I really hate being taken advantage of, and sometimes (unfortunately) that is what happens to all of us. But most of the time, I have found that a little bit of compassion and understanding will go much farther than hostility and pettiness. Kids get sick, and black eyes right before family pictures? Well, they happen. (It’s part of Murphy’s Law, I think.) Rescheduling and then capturing amazing, portfolio-worthy images? Every happy moment I get with the child once he is feeling tip-top again? All of that is absolutely worth the extra effort it might take to accommodate their last-minute hiccup.
Remember, if you’ve collected the session fee and you’re prices are properly established, then you’re planning to make the bulk of your income from the sale. Being willing to wait a little longer, especially when the session fee has already been collected, isn’t that big of a deal. At least not to you.
STEP 4: WEDDING RETAINER. I want to touch base on the idea of a wedding cancellation. You should always collect a retainer. (50% of the total coverage is the standard.) You can choose to request the full 50% upon booking, or 25% at time of booking with the remainder due 10 days before the actual wedding day. It’s really important to make them write you a check. This will solidify in the bride’s mind that “Wedding Photographer” may now be checked off her list.
By educating clients and collecting the session fee upfront (i.e., at time of booking) – you will be able to bring your cancellations from ‘frequent’ to almost ‘non-existent!’
And the fine print can be as simple as this:
Session Fee Collected. Non-refundable if cancellation does not occur within 48 hours.
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