Business + Marketing

When Saying “No” is Better for Your Photo Business

July 11, 2019

By Michelle Lange

© Michelle Lange Photography

Photographers are in the business of making people happy, and because of that, a lot of us struggle with not knowing when to say no.

When I first started my business, I said yes to every opportunity that came my way. I was eager to get my name out there as quickly as possible to help drive future business. I also said yes to almost every request from existing clients. I thought signing on to shoots would make them happy. If they wanted me to drive three hours to an engagement session with no travel fee, you bet I did. If they wanted 20 images to be touched up a bit more, no problem.

Saying yes worked great for the first few years in business. But once my name was established, my tune started to change. Burnout started to linger and as I was working on tasks and jobs that were taking time away from what I should be doing to achieve my business goals, I realized that I had to learn to say no.

If you are starting to head the burnout route, I encourage you to continue reading and learn the importance the word “No” can have on your business.   

What are your business goals?

The first step is to articulate what you would like to accomplish with your business. Do you want to profit $100,000 in one year? Shoot 15 portraits in the next three months? Get one of your weddings published in a big wedding blog? Shoot the cover of a cookbook?

Follow the SMART goal-setting method, making sure that whatever you want to do meets the following criteria: it should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. Once you have your goals, you can start measuring how much proposed opportunities can lead you to to achieving that goal.

For instance, as a wedding and family photographer, I recently received an inquiry to photograph a cannabis dispensary. (Don’t ask me how someone located a wedding and family photographer for this type of work.) I evaluated it against my goals list, and while it didn’t immediately align with my first two goals, I sought more information to see if it aligned with my income goal.

All photos © Michelle Lange Photography

What is your profit margin?

We all have different rates and different costs of running our businesses. I have calculated my starting rates for local and destination weddings, rates for local and non-local family sessions and rates for commercial work. I know what I need to make to have an impact on my profitability.

Your rates won’t always align with a client’s budget—that was the case for the dispensary inquiry. When an opportunity comes your way, calculate how much margin you might have in order to see if it’s worth your time. If that opportunity doesn’t help you meet the financial goal you set because the profit is non-existent or too low, and it doesn’t advance any other area of your business, you should probably decline the offer.

Even if it is a profitable opportunity, you may need to evaluate it against the loss of other potential business from working that job. The time spent on one gig could pull you away from working other jobs that better align with the rest of your goals.

For example, let’s say you’re a newborn photographer who had a commercial job inquiry for a weekend when you also had two newborn inquiries. The income is similar for both scenarios, but working the newborn inquiries would help you hit your portrait goal. Run the numbers in both scenarios and look at the full picture. 

What is your gut telling you?

Sometimes an opportunity fully meets one or all of the goals you set. The only problem is that your gut is telling you it isn’t the right fit.

Once I met a wedding couple that I really connected with. They kept telling me they were going to book me, but they never signed the contract I provided. After a few weeks of polite follow-up, I began to suspect that something wasn’t right. I had two other inquiries for that date that were ready to sign if the first couple bowed out. My gut was telling me that if I didn’t move forward with one of the other couples quickly, I would lose all three. I ended up moving forward with the second couple and they signed within a day. It didn’t end well with the first couple, but in sticking with my gut, I also stuck with my policies about holding dates without a signed contract and retainer.

Another time I was asked if I could edit my images differently. They wanted dark and moody, a completely different look than what you see in my portfolio. Instead of agreeing to the changes, I happily sent over some recommendations to photographers that fit their photographic style needs.  

It is better to take action before a client books, rather than having to work through a style or personality mismatch with an unhappy client because you were just trying to be nice. Continue making people happy by working with those that best align with your business. Your excitement for those kinds of opportunities will help you achieve your business goals, and working with those who appreciate what you can provide will fuel your growth.

Michelle Lange is a wedding and newborn photographer and educator based in Albany, NY. She last wrote about branching out from wedding to newborn photography.


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