Tuesday, May 31, 2011

In Business Strive for Clarity. You'll Sleep Better

If you strive for clarity in business everything else is easier.

I get a lot of calls and emails from photographers. I don’t mind that. I actually like the sort of constant window into this world that these communications provide. Through them I am aware of the challenges you face and also the victories. Most often though, when someone is emailing me it is about the challenges and a surprising number of these essentially boil down to a lack of clarity. Here’s what I mean...

“Hey Jim, I have this frustrating situation that came up with a client. They hired me for a package that had 4 hours of coverage. They ran behind all day. I ended up being there for six hours. I sent them my bill and they don’t want to pay for the extra two hours. What do I do?”

That one’s pretty basic, right? I asked him to send me a copy of his contract. The contract clearly states that the package includes 4 hours of coverage. It also clearly states that the photographer will try to get all of the important pictures to tell the story, including leaving the reception. It does not state that extra coverage will be billed at $XXX per hour. When I asked the photographer about that he said that was because clients kept multiplying his hourly rate by four and wondering why the basic package cost so much more. Ugh.

In this case I told him that he needed to wave the extra two hours, make sure the client was happy (for referrals), put the clause back in his contract and move on. Lesson learned.

The thing is that I see these things all the time. Second shooters feel slighted when they don’t get to use images on their sites or aren’t paid for setup, travel, etc. Principle photographers get angry at second shooters who do the same things in reverse. Clients get angry with photographers who “nickel and dime” them.

Here’s the thing. None of these issues would ever come up with the business relationships between the various parties were completely clear. There are so many things we choose not to talk about because talking about them makes us uncomfortable. (Especially where money is concerned). But these are the things that we MUST talk about in order to make sure the terms of any deal are crystal clear to both sides.

Here are my suggestions: Pricing. Write it down and send it to them. Have a printed price list that clearly shows everything. Send it via email and the first time you meet with them hand it to them in hard copy. Feel like overkill? Well, the first time you get into a discussion of, “we didn’t know you charged extra for that..” you can point them to the price lists that you both emailed (resend the original email since you are keeping all of the correspondence with this client in a separate folder and it will be easy). Make your, “Oh silly, of course you did” conversation as easy breezy as possible.

Working with vendors, contractors. Have a standard agreement and make sure you use it, every time. Even if it’s a ‘friend.’ (Especially if it’s a friend). Use the same email, hard copy method with working with these folks.

Every time there is a dispute about anything, make a mental note to modify your contract to handle that issue. Sometimes that’s just another point within an existing clause and sometimes it’s a couple of new paragraphs.

Using this simple approach will mean that over time you’re covered and the clarity in your business relationships will lead to mess disputes and a better night’s sleep.

And that’s worth a little work, isn’t it?