I’m just starting out as a photographer and I keep losing bids and dealing with frustrating clients…does it get better?

It does get better! But it’s completely up to you how fast it gets better. Here are some basics you should keep in mind:

  • Being a professional photographer is just like any other small business, you’ll be handling irate and frustrated customers personally, so you have to develop a thick skin. Some clients are great, some are not. Part of your job is dealing with rejection, confusion, frustration, cancellation. Another part of your job is learning to deal with your clients (or potential clients) in a way that will reduce the chance of those kinds of problems happening. Clear, prompt communication, clearly-outlined timelines, being specific about what you’re delivering – these kinds of things will go a long way towards minimizing confusion.
  • Speaking of, one of the easiest ways to reduce the chance of drama or confusion with clients is to use a contract! Use a contract every time! Even with free work, reduced cost work, work for friends, work for family, etc. A contract is a legally binding document that clearly outlines what you will be doing, what the client can expect, and what’s required by the client. I can’t stress this enough: use a contract. And don’t write your own, hire a professional contract attorney to write one. If you’ve invested thousands in your equipment, a few hundred for a solid contract is totally worth it.
  • Stop accommodating every request. Be generous if you’d like, but remember that you are in business and you have requirements as well as costs and you need to be realistic about what you can and shouldn’t give away, and that includes your time. Of course, when you’re first starting out, it’s worth it to over-deliver and sometimes work for free, but keep in mind that unless you’re very clear up front that it’s a “one-time deal” or “not something to expect every time”, then you might be creating a situation where your client thinks you will provide the same free work or over-delivery every time they work with you.
  • Never assume you have a deal just because a potential client has seen a message you’ve sent about you accepting an offer. Even if the client verbally says “We’ve got a deal!”, until the client makes partial payment and/or signs a contract, then it’s best to act as if the deal isn’t finalized. Yes, in many places a verbal agreement is binding legally, but an oral agreement is much harder to enforce or defend in court, so a written contract and accepting payment is the way to go.

Being a professional, working photographer requires flexibility, patience, lots of hard work before and after shoots (not just taking photographs!) and probably most importantly, it requires a strong understanding of your clientele. Knowing how to deal with all the different personalities you’ll come into contact with as a photographer will help you make photography work as an actual career.

Ultimately, experience is everything, and this situation is just another opportunity for you to learn what you need to do to be the best in your line of work. Learn from your difficult client situations, accept that sometimes things won’t go well, but the more you practice, the more you get yourself out there and shoot, the more you study, the easier it will all become. Good luck!

Namu Williams is the owner of Namu.Love, a professional event and portrait photography company based in central California, serving the greater Los Angeles area, the central coast and the SF Bay Area. He has photographed the likes of Gwen Stefani, Sting, King Felipe VI and Vice President Al Gore. He has also covered events big and small all over California and provided beautiful portraits to both CEOs and families alike. You can follow Namu’s work on Facebook, Instagram and on LinkedIn.