What?!??  Why would you want to fire a client?

The reasons are numerous, including:

  • The client is horrible to work with.
  • You hate the type of work.
  • It doesn’t pay.
  • The client is never happy.

The bottom line: you get to choose who you work for, the type of work you do and how much you charge.

A few weeks ago, we discussed the 3 Signs It’s Time to Fire a Client.  This topic generated a lot of comments, especially from people who already knew they needed to “fire” a bride or groom…they just wanted to know HOW.

The tricky part is getting rid of an unwanted client without destroying your reputation.  Yes!  It can be done.  Here’s how.

Warning: I have not tested all of these methods myself, so use your best judgment and proceed with caution.

4 Ways to Break Up With a Client

1. Prequalify and dump them before they hire you.

This is your first line of defense.  When you learn how to powerfully attract your ideal clients, also include elements in your marketing that deliberately identify and alienate the clients you don’t want to work with.

For example, if your problem clients are the budget shoppers who nickel and dime you over every service but want the moon, include a starting price that’s high enough to filter them out.

Or if you can’t stand working with uptight brides, include photos that strike fear into their hearts. One photographer features a photo on her website of the bride’s mud-caked Manolo pumps.  It’s guaranteed to send uptight, perfectionist brides screaming.

2. Raise your price.

An easy way to breakup with past or repeat clients you’ve outgrown is to raise your price.

Many wedding professionals (ourselves included) started off with a price at or below average.  As your reputation grows, so does demand, but it’s easy to feel trapped into continuing your original cheap pricing for clients who’ve been with you over the years.

Simply raise your price and many of them will go elsewhere on their own.  Those who stay are the ones who really appreciate what you do.

Here’s a script you can use to manage this breakup with current clients.

Breakup Phone Script – The Price Increase

“I’m so grateful to have you as a client!  Because we’ve expanded our services so much over the past few years, we’re raising our prices on January 15th.  The good news is that you can book us at our current rate until then.”

The has the double benefit of providing advance notice about your pricing change as well as drumming up some quick sales from people who might be on the fence.

3. Call it off before they sign the contract.

You meet with the couple, quote your rates and send them away with a contract.  But you’ve got “that feeling” that working with them is going to be a nightmare, and it just won’t go away.  You need to break up with them FAST.

Quoting your price does NOT mean you are obligated to work with the couple.

Catch them before the contract is signed and save yourself the headache later on.  Here are a few ways to do it:

Breakup Email or Letter – “No longer available…”

I have used this approach successfully on many occasions when the alarm bells of “Don’t book this couple!” go off.  It’s not a lie (I’m choosing to be no longer available) and it doesn’t require entering into icky territory that can lead to offense.

Hi, [Name]!

Thanks so much for meeting with me last week.  I really enjoyed learning about your [description of the wedding, dress, or ideas that will surely flatter them].

Unfortunately, [I’m no longer available for your date / something personal and unexpected has come up and I’m no longer available for your wedding.]  I’m really sorry we won’t be able to work together.

However, I’m happy to recommend some amazing [photographers/entertainers/planners, etc.] who would be a great match for you:

Referral #1
Referral #2
Referral #3

I wish you all the best with your wedding plans!

Breakup Email or Letter- “We’re just not the right match.”

This script was inspired by Janine Duff’s eloquent and honest client breakup letters.

Hi, [Name].

Thanks so much for chatting with me about your wedding awesomeness!  I really enjoyed learning about your [description of the wedding, dress, or ideas that will surely flatter them].

I’ve been thinking about your amazing ideas for a while and here’s the thing: I promised myself that if I couldn’t deliver what a client wants 100% with all my heart, I’d send them off to someone who can.

I think that’s the right move here.  [I’m just not the perfect match for your style / my specialty really doesn’t encompass what you want / I’m just too overloaded to give you the attention you deserve.]  I’m completely flattered that you want to work with me, but I’m just not the right fit for your dream wedding.

You deserve to work with someone who is as over the moon about your wedding vision as you are.

Here are some superstar [photographers/entertainers/planners, etc.] who are right up your alley:

Referral #1
Referral #2
Referral #3

Thanks again for finding me and I wish you an unbelievable wedding day!

4. Cancel the contract.

This is the toughest scenario of all.  You have a signed contract and collected a deposit or retainer fee.  What can you do?

First of all, you simply MUST have a terms of service and cancellation clause in your contract that allows for this type of cancellation.  Without it, you’re on shaky ground.

Read this article about how to cancel a contract from Rachel Brenke of the Law Tog and consult with an attorney to discover if your current contract needs revision.

Critical principles to remember here:

  • Communicate clearly about exactly what you’ve done, the terms of your cancellation and what you plan to do about it.
  • Refund all deposit and retainer fees as long as no work was begun.  It’s a good idea to write off your time invested and any minor expenses if possible.  Remember: this is going to save you a heap of trouble in the long run!
  • Call first before jumping into legalese.  Sending a breach of contract or contract cancellation document can stir up trouble and lead to bad reviews if you don’t engage in non-confrontational communication first.
  • Compromise to avoid conflict.  Swallow your pride, keep yourself cool and be the bigger person.
  • Get your agreed cancellation terms on paper and/or get a signed cancellation of contract to be 100% clear.
  • Find another wedding professional who is available to give as a referral.  This is proof of your willingness to help and may take out some of the sting.

No doubt about it: this is going to be a challenging phone call.  That’s why it’s vitally important that you script it out completely and practice what you’re going to say first.  If you can’t say it with calm professionalism, wait a few days until you can.

Breakup Phone Script – Cancelling the Contract

“Hi, [Name].  This is [Your Name] from [Company.]

I’ve loved working with you on your wedding.  However, I’ve been noticing some problems with our working relationship.  It isn’t easy to say, but I think you’d be better off working with someone else.

We’ve already completed and delivered [list everything you’ve done so far].  What I’d like to do is [list the actions you’re going to take, including any refunds, remaining deliverables, and a cancellation of contract].

Did I leave anything out?”

[Pause for their response.  You may need to compromise here, so be prepared.]

“Great.  I’m going to send you an email confirming our cancellation agreement as well my #1 referral.  [Name of pro] is available and ready to take over from here, and I think you love [him/her.]

Breakup Letter #5 – “Breaking up is hard to do.”

This script was inspired by Janine Duff (see above) and Nicholas Reese’s Scripts For Problem Clients.  Remember that you’ll still need to address the legal issues according to the terms of your contract and call them first to discuss!

Hi, [Name].

I’ve been so impressed with your ideas and enthusiasm for the wedding!  After a lot of long and hard thought, it’s come to my attention that we’re just not on the same page.
You deserve to have the very best match for your wedding, and I’m not it.  I’d like to end our agreement in a way that works for both of us.

As we discussed, here’s the work we’ve completed so far:

1. Deliverable 1
2. Deliverable 2
3. Deliverable 3

Here are the action steps you can expect from here:

1. Anything you have yet to do or deliver.
2. Date by which you’ll send the contract cancellation.
3. Refunding of any deposit or retainer.

As you move forward in looking for another wedding professional, here are some superstar [photographers/entertainers/planners, etc.] who are right up your alley:

Referral #1
Referral #2
Referral #3

Thanks for your understanding and I wish you an unbelievable wedding day!

Avoiding the Fall Out

If your communication has been clear and professional, chances are you’ve ripped the Bandaid off and you’re in the clear.  If the bride or groom does retaliate, here’s how to recover fast from a bad review.

Keep those lines of communication open.  Remember that your contract is there to support and protect you, but the relationship with your client comes first.  Don’t be afraid to throw it out the window if it’s the right thing to do.

What do you think about “firing” a client?

photo credit: Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious via photopin cc

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Posted By

Stephanie Padovani

Stephanie is a Hudson Valley wedding insider, blogger, writer, and wedding business coach. Want to book more weddings at higher prices? Quit dealing with price shoppers? Transform your wedding business so that it supports the life you really want? Look her up! They don't call her the Wedding Business Cheerleader for nothing. :)

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6 thoughts on “How to Fire a Client”

  1. Paige says:

    I am a little worried and I’m glad I’ve come across this article. I had a couple email me via gumtree, which I sadly do not have the emails for anymore as the advertisement had expired. They said they wanted to book me as their wedding photographer ( I am just starting out) I ensured that they had checked my photography page and my website to ensure my work was what they are looking for and they 100% know that I am starting out so my images are not going to be that of a professional. I didn’t take a deposit (which I do now for future clients) but I gave them a quote after they gave me brief information about the day. I text the bride a few days later letting her know that she can call or text whenever needed with questions or info. I hadn’t heard from her at all so got in contact with her to ask if they were okay and willing to meet up to sign the contract , discuss details of wedding day and arrange a date for payment (4 weeks before the wedding date) she said she would get back to me. She still hadnt so I text her a few weeks later to ask again and went over the times she had given me. She avoided the question and just said she would get back to me. During that time I had a few weddings and other photography sessions to shoot so did lose track of time. I contacted her again to remind her we need to meet up to discuss further details of her wedding day as previously she wasn’t giving me any information when I was asking location , times etc. It’s taken me 3 weeks to get a day to meet up, however it’s just going to be herself when I would prefer it to be the couple together. I’ve mentioned the payment as well and she still seems to be avoiding the questions I’m asking. I’m not getting a great vibe from her. The wedding is mid November which isn’t too far away, however I don’t think this is going to work. I have alarm bells ringing that something isn’t right or that it’s going to come back and bite me. I am all prepared for dealing with difficult and unexpected situations and will charge at these situations head on however I didn’t expect a bride to be so difficult. I understand that it’s stressful and busy for them but I feel like I’m trying to get information and doing the chasing and it’s getting me nowhere. I have decided that I am going to let her go as it’s not going to work. But as it’s just under 2 months for her wedding day I feel bad for letting her down. How can I comunicate to her in a polite manner without losing my reputation that I can’t be her photographer for her big day? I plan on giving her a small list of other photographers she can contact but I quoted her a pretty cheap price considering I’m starting out so worried that she is going to have to pay more. No contract has been signed or money been handed over so am I breaching anything?
    I hope you can help. Thankyou in advance

    1. Yeesh. This is certainly a good learning experience for you, Paige. 🙂

      Technically you’re not legally required to shoot the wedding, since you have no deposit or contract, BUT…

      It’s not going to seem that way to this bride if she assumes you’re going to be there. She may throw a fit.

      Here’s my suggestion:

      – Reach out to her by email and phone letting her know that you CANNOT hold the date without a signed contract and deposit. If she doesn’t get this to you within 7 days, the date will be available for someone else.

      – If she doesn’t respond, you have tangible evidence that you let her know, and you can stand behind that.

      If she does comply, shoot her wedding and do your best. In the future, make it clear that you can’t hold a date and it’s not official without a deposit and signed contract. This usually gets people off their butts pretty quickly when they want to book you.

  2. Amy says:

    I have a bride who after months has yet to pay the deposit for her wedding upcoming in March. She’s been relatively lovely, a mum and probably busy, but despite multiple reminders has not paid down any initial payments. Part of me suspects that if I’m having this much difficulty with the initial deposit, I shudder to think of how I would obtain the remainder amount. She is one of my final remaining brides who want the cheapest prices (I’ve weeded most of them out), and her wedding was already charged at a discounted rate (I’ve raised my prices since she received her initial quote) – any suggestions on how I should approach this? I don’t know how to tactfully tell her that maybe it is best she finds another photographer…and the templates on the previous blog seem to all depend on the idea that the bride is being a bit unreasonable when this is not the case…

    1. Good question! It does sound like it’s time to let her go.

      I’d simply let go of her, and if she emails/calls about the date say, “I’m sorry, but I’m no longer available for your date.” (That’s my “I’m not lying, I’m just not telling the whole truth” response. I’m not available because I’m choosing not to be.)

      This is assuming that you’ve already explained that you cannot hold the date without a deposit. If that’s the not case, send her one last email that’s something like this:

      Hi, lovely bride.

      I still haven’t received your deposit. I hope everything’s okay?

      I just wanted to let you know that I won’t be able to hold your date after this Friday without your deposit. After that, your date will be open to anyone who calls.


  3. Mr. B says:

    This is an excellent article; I wish I saw this article months ago. As a wedding photographer the potential of having a difficult client is real. When I first met with my wedding couple, I thought they were an easy going younger couple. I presented them with several portfolios and samples of my style of shooting as well as a wealth of samples and info on my website including a pretty detailed FAQ of how I run my business and what their experience with me for the whole process would be like. The couple agreed to the terms of my contract and I even gave them a substantial discount. A couple of weeks later I started receiving a bunch of Pinterest invites from the bride suggesting that she wants her wedding photos to mimic quite a bit of the Pinterest photos as well as adding a lot of Photoshop edited surreal looking photos. I told her that this was not my style of wedding photography and also suggested to her that she may be better off with a photographer that shares her vision for the day. She apologized and said that she hopes that she did not offend me by sending those samples and that she actually loved my photography style and would prefer to keep our contract. I have had a couple of phone conversations with her since to entertain any other questions on her plans for the day; I periodically do this with all my clients.

    A week before the wedding (next week) she sends me a timeline for the day. I appreciate a timeline that shows a high level schedule for the day, first dance, cake cutting, etc. What I received from her was a timeline planning my whole day in 5 to 10 minute increments of what I should be doing at those various times. I’ve never seen something so ridiculous. I immediately contacted her and told her that a schedule like that would never work for a wedding photographer, we need a general idea of what is going on for the day and maybe some idea of when there may be time available for some specialty photos but not a rigid schedule like that. She responded and laughed at it and said that she was an over planner. She hired a wedding day coordinator but was planning everything else herself. She also has been keeping a secret from me that she is an attorney. Anyhow, at this point in time, I wish I could just fire her but a week away from her wedding I would not want to ruin it. I think she hired me because I provide quality, have been doing this for many years and my pricing is generally more reasonable than the majority of less skilled photographers in my area.

    Working with difficult customers is part of any service industry but it’s nice to know there are good ways of handling those issues that both parties are satisfied with in the end. Thank you for this article, I have learned a lot and will definitely incorporate some of the suggestions in my future contracts.

    1. Wow. You really handled this professionally.

      In hindsight, difficult clients show their cards early. That’s ideally the best time to let them go.

      The only bad review we ever got came from a bride who was difficult to please all the way through. If I’d listened to the signs, I never would have booked her, and it could have been avoided. It can be hard to do gracefully, and even harder if you need the work. 🙂

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