Did this title catch you off guard?
Yeah, me too. I use my blog not just to share pretty photos from sessions, but to also share tips and tricks for couples and families navigating the crazy world of photography and hopefully, making their lives a bit easier in the process. So when a couple comes to me and asks what they can do when they feel the need to fire a vendor, I wondered if anyone else had an experience like this.
This couple needed to terminate their agreement with their photographer. So I started doing some research and found that there are some horror stories out there. Experiences I would not wish on anyone. As a photographer, this breaks my heart. It’s more than just pretty pictures, it’s the whole experience you provide and you want to make your clients feel good about their experience with you.
As a business owner, I have to protect myself yes, but I also have to protect my clients. This is why every session, no matter what type, has to sign a session agreement.
My wedding agreement is by far the most detailed, because they are also the mot work. With so many moving parts to a wedding day, I cover all the bases. My agreement isn’t just to protect me though, it also very clearly protects my clients. That’s the thing about an agreement though; many agreements I’ve seen solely look to protect the party who wrote the agreement, which is unfair and runs the risk of being turned down in court (if things had to go that far). So photographers, check your contracts. And if you feel like yours might need an upgrade, check out my templates in the Etsy shop.
So I had a client come to me because they needed to essentially fire their photographer for some pretty appalling reasons. Here’s the low down of the situation;
My client hired a photographer for her upcoming wedding. The photos this photographer has shared online and shown for their portfolio are absolutely stunning, and they have good reviews. The best part is, they was totally in my clients budget and even offered a booking discount.
During my clients engagement session, the photographer made comments that made both my client and their fiancé uncomfortable. The photographer even going so far as to criticize the way my client looked. They told my client that they had a double chin and asked when my client planned on starting their pre-wedding diet. At this point, they were ready to bail on this photographer; but they had already paid in full for their wedding and signed a contract.
They decided to wait and see the photos. Yea the photographer was a jerk, but they produced great photos, so maybe they could just deal with it. So my client gets that e-mail that the images are finally ready and they were so so excited to open that gallery and take a peek! But to their dismay, the images were just awful. The colors were dull, the focus was soft, the posing looked unnatural and stiff. My clients were so disappointed. These photos look NOTHING like what this photographer typically delivers.
Reality sets in and they are devastated. They feel stuck because they are locked in with a contract and they’ve shelled out the payment in full. They know that they won’t be happy having this person continue as their wedding photographer.
How do you fire a vendor?
I hope, as a photographer, I never have to encounter this situation with any of my clients. I always want to be the funnest photographer you’ve ever had! Yes, I just said “funnest”. This business is about SERVING those who hire you, not just collecting a paycheck. But sometimes, ending an agreement is a necessary part of life. Here are my tips for anyone who needs to fire a vendor; this does not have to just apply to weddings. Burning a bridge is never a fun thing to approach, and personally, I hate confrontation. But for a day as important as your wedding, you don’t want to make sacrifices on the experience.
Read the contract
Most vendors require some sort of agreement to work with them. They may ask for a deposit, state some guidelines and expectations and bam, you’re done. Some agreements are more in depth – mine is super long because I want everything to be clear. The contract should protect BOTH the client and the vendor and outline clear expectations. This would be where you should find the terms about deposits and payment schedules.
Check the clause about your deposit
What wording did they use? Deposit? Retainer? Installment? The wording used may determine if you can get your money back or not. Even if it says non-refundable, you can still make that request and see what they say. It depends on your state of course, and the reasons for terminating the agreement, but typically the way it is worded can affect if it really is non-refundable.
Have real examples ready
What is your reason for firing a vendor? Whether that’s because the wedding was cancelled, you’ve decided you no longer want to use this vendor, or because something they did was unprofessional, have examples ready to help make your case and explain why you are terminating the agreement.
As a wedding vendor, I would want to know exactly why a client was making a request like this.
Ask to meet them, or draft a letter or e-mail
I am a firm believer that everything is better in person. I had an issue with one of my vendors and I met with them in person to air my issues because I wanted to continue working with them. For me, this vendors lack of communication was turning into a deal breaker for me, and they had a right to know how I felt. I also had every right to tell them I was unhappy. If you can, do it in person. Maybe they have something going on, like a family emergency or a big move.
State very clearly what you want the outcome to be
Have you already made up your mind to terminate the agreement? Make this clear in your meeting or letter. Do you want a refund in full? Ask for it. Are you hoping to improve something about their services? Tell them you need them to communicate better. Be direct and concise.
Allow them time to respond
If you’re at a meeting with them in person, they might not know why. Allow them time to respond and make sure they’re not feeling attacked. That can lead people to become defensive and lead to more issues rather than a positive outcome.
If you’re sending them a letter or an e-mail, allow them at least a week to respond.
If they don’t respond, send another notice and make your intentions clear
This is more for those who choose to send a letter or e-mail. If you don’t hear back, send another notice, and maybe follow up with a phone call. Again, make it clear what outcome you’re looking for and give them a timeline. For example, you could say, “If we do not hear back regarding our request to terminate this agreement, we will be seeking legal action”. A call to action like this will likely inspire a response from them.
I had to do this once with a client who didn’t pay their final wedding balance after the wedding. It was such an awful feeling to do this to a client, but I don’t work for free. Just with the simple “Seek legal action” statement, they paid their outstanding balance and that was that. Because of this, I now require all balances paid 1 month before the wedding and any additional items (like travel fees or extra time) are billed after. I’ve had no issues since.
Seek legal counsel as a last resort.
If they still haven’t responded, you may need to seek legal counsel. You can also file a claim in small claims court depending on the value of services. I always encourage you to seek out options that avoid this step at all costs, but in some cases, it may be necessary.
Terminate the relationship and the agreement as cordially as possible
Breakups are not fun, but they are a necessary part of life, and you CAN handle it. For vendors more involved with the emotional aspect of your day like your photographer, it can be an emotional process going through and deciding to terminate or keep the relationship going. But be the bigger person and don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Be kind, regardless of how unkind this person may have been to you.
So back my clients…
I advised them to review the agreement, and it did say the deposit was non-refundable. However, they felt that the work the photographer delivered combined with the rude and unprofessional comments made warranted a full refund. They sent a letter to the photographer, clearly stating what they expected, and explained why they were terminating their agreement. The photographer asked no questions and gave them a full refund, deposit included. My clients were able to move forward from that unfortunate experience and find a photographer better suited for them.
This goes for literally any client, anywhere who is unhappy with someone who has been hired to provide a product or service for you. And here’s my personal opinion on a situation like this in general; if a photographer (or any vendor for that matter) wants to fight you on this, I would encourage you to take the temporary financial hit to find a vendor better suited for your day. It may cost you more to find someone else, but for something as precious as your photos, you’ll be grateful in the end that you found someone else to do the job. Spend your energy fighting them down the road if you need to, or just let it go. But don’t keep a vendor around that isn’t going to make you feel your very best on your wedding day!
For my photographer and vendor friends, I don’t write this blog to tear anyone down. Don’t ask me who is involved, because that is not the point.
After hearing this story from my clients, I wondered how many clients have been dealt this same hand with vendors. I had a similar situation with one of my vendors and I chose to sit down with them and talk with them to explain the expectations. It all worked out in my case, mostly. I still wish I would have followed my gut from the beginning.
It breaks my heart that such an important moment in someone’s life was treated with such little respect. Serve your clients with a full and grateful heart and it will come back full circle to bless your business. Personally, I hate confrontation. And I’m a people pleaser by nature.
I hope nobody ever has to use the tips I’ve provided in this blog because I wouldn’t wish the stress of a situation like this on anyone.
I hope that if you’re here because you are in a situation like this, that you found these steps at least a little bit helpful in how to move forward. No matter who you are or where you are, if you have questions about navigating confusion lingo in your contract or just want to ask my opinion, I’d love to help you out! E-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org