How to avoid miscommunications with your clients

Oct 28, 2014

Topic: Client Relations 
Time Investment: 3 Minutes
Suggested Product: All-in-One Contract Bundles

“Go color on the table”

*Four year-old goes over to the table and colors ON the table’s wood surface*

“Not ON the table!”

“But mom, you said color ON the table.”

Owned. lawyered. by my second child.

Love her but she’s just like me.  Which you’d think would make it easier for me to relate right? Wrong – I’m an adult and she’s still a child. We’re in two totally different places. Life experiences (or lack of). Life perspectives.  Reasoning skills.  So when I say something *I* know the reasoning and full meaning of what I’m trying to convey – but she doesn’t receive that.

She was right. I just said “color on the table”.  While I meant – take your paper, your crayons and color on the paper ON the table – she heard “color on the table.” And who could fault her? No one. I could only fault myself.

It works the same with our clients.

Note: I’m not calling our clients children – although sometimes they may be difficult like one! Keep reading….

More than likely, if you’re reading this, you are a professional photographer and work intimately with the ins-and-outs of what is entailed in every step of the client/photographer relationship daily.  Clients don’t.  Even if they have come to you yearly for the last ten years, your business policies have probably changed at some point.  How would they know if you don’t tell them?

Here is the big secret to success with clients:

Be purposeful with all communications.  Here is a good checklist to go over to make sure your words are giving the best service and potential return possible.


#1 Always tell them the next step of the process

Use a roadmap structure in your communications (whether verbal or written) to provide a cohesive response that will be understood.  PLUS, having a structure helps you to remember what to include without having to second guess.

  • Use greeting & pleasantries
  • Answer any questions the client has
  • Ask any questions to gain answers that you need to solicit from them
  • Tell them what the next step of the process is


For example:

Hey Whitney!

Thanks so much for getting back to me about which dates would work best for your upcoming maternity session!!  I think November 1st, 2015, will be fabulous at 4:30pm. We can definitely shoot at your family’s farm.  Do you have any images I can see? What about the colors of the barn and the surrounding landscape?  I’m assuming that everything is pretty much oranges and reds right now as the colors are changing for fall.

All we need to do now is get you booked – which requires a non-refundable retainer to hold your spot and the signed contract. Once that is done, you’re on my calendar, and we can start styling the session. I know how difficult it is to get 3 kids, a husband, and yourself planned for clothing, so I have some general guidelines we can talk about in the pre-session consultation – that we will get scheduled once I get the retainer + contract back from you.

Please let me know if you have any more questions! I am super excited for this session and can’t wait to meet your girls!

Talk soon,

Rachel Brenke


#2 Break it down for them

Don’t assume the clients have working knowledge of business.  In fact, it is better to assume they don’t (but don’t talk down) and explain MORE than you need to, than not enough. Sometimes though it doesn’t require a whole lesson on business policies, but target in on exactly what your client is seeking out of a question.

For example, the whole copyright versus print release educational moment many of us have with our clients.  Here is a perfect way to explain:

“Copyright ownership simply means I own the photographic works but you get to print with print release rights from the USB I’m going to give you with your collection.  Heck, if you wanna print your face on a sweatshirt for Great Aunt Sally in Seattle, go for it! It’s in your release!”  I’m simply telling them what majority of clients want – that they get to print the digital files they just invested in.   (See: Copyright vs. Print Release for more information).

You don’t have to go all “Rachel Brenke” and spew out some legalese.  Your job as the business owner is to become educated with these terms, how they impact your business and clients, and are able to regurgitate them in a succinct, accurate, and helpful manner for clients.


#3 Have it in writing

Always put your policies into legal writing that the clients will agree to.  Use a new contract for repeat clients. Your policies may change, or the client’s privacy requests may have changed (see: What if my client doesn’t want to sign a model release?).


You don’t have to shove all information into one contract, it can be paired with a client guide to deliver information – but the most important policies should be in the legal contract.

Break down of information for each:

  • Contract should include:  payment, pricing, rescheduling, scheduling, completion schedule, model release, etc.
  • Client guide can include:  outfit recommendations, location selections, discounts/promotions available, etc.

Use these points as a checklist that you routinely run over to ensure your client management skills are furthering your business towards success, not hindering it.

By articulating exactly what you want from a client you can avoid having them “color on the table” when you meant “color on your paper on the table.”


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