Dear PPA Member,
Professional photographers arenâ€™t the only ones touched with economic concerns. Your customers are, too. But their concerns often become your own. For instance, it may be a sign of the times that more wedding couples are trying to limit expenses and cancel contracts. Remember, though, that PPA can help.
According to Heather Lebow from Howe & Hutton (they handle Indemnification Trust claims for PPA), there has been a sharp increase in photography wedding contract cancellations. Many brides and grooms, despite having signed contracts stating non-refundable fees, are demanding full refunds. What can you do if you get the dreaded cancellation call?
Here are just two experiences that PPA members shared with us:
- Becky Johnson (Becky Johnson Studios.com) â€“ Becky accepted a last-minute booking that turned nightmarish. After the couple cancelled the wedding, the groom went so far as to threaten Becky with a lawsuit if she didnâ€™t give him a full refund. After contacting PPA, she found that the groom could only sue for half of the amount (as both bride and groom signed). Becky stuck to her contract, telling the groom that they could settle this in courtâ€¦and never heard back. â€œIâ€™m not Wachovia,â€ states Becky. â€œThis is not a deposit and withdrawal.â€
- Sam Sarkis (Sam Sarkis Photography) â€“ What do you do if the groom unexpectedly dies after signing the contract and giving a deposit...but before the wedding? When faced with this emotional situation, Sam was understanding and gave the bride the money without checking the contract. Now, the groomâ€™s family is suing him for the deposit money, stating that it should have been returned to the estate, not the bride (as they were never married).
So if your wedding customer cancels, what can you do? After her own cancellation experience, PPA member Rebecca Zoumberos of Limelight Photography believes that all photographers need to â€œthink like a businessperson.â€ In her words, â€œWe are turning away other business when we enter into a contract with a wedding client.â€ Thanks to PPA membersâ€™ shared experiences and Howe & Huttonâ€™s advice, weâ€™ve compiled a list of steps for you to consider:
- Look at your existing contract (most important of all)
- Make sure that you donâ€™t contradict yourself. The contract should not state that fees are non-refundable, yet later on in the contract, say that a particular fee is refundable.
- Review your cancellation policy. Do you have provisions for cancellations and postponements? What about time frames for engagement and wedding portrait sessions?
- Check with your state (or provincial) policy on refunds, as some laws do not allow â€œnon-refundableâ€ fees if challenged in court.
- Look at the sample contract on www.ppa.com as a possible guideline.
- Establish your policy:
- Decide if deposits can be used towards credits for portrait sittings or if they are â€œgoneâ€ once the event is cancelled. For instance, one PPA member offered to credit a sitting fee instead of a refund. That credit was given as a gift to a friend of the ex-customer, and he ended up ordering images.
- Create a step-by-step process so that you know where to start if someone cancels.
- Communicate and consult with all parties involved:
- Go over every part of the contract during a consultation (consider having customers initial each section, as Ernie Russell of Ernie Russell Photography does). Ask the clients if they have any questions.
- Everyone should have a clear idea of what is to be expected from the photographer and what the photographer expects from them. Cancellations may be unavoidable, but if they are discussed beforehand, all parties know what will transpire.
- Go with your â€œgut feelingâ€ when you see red flags. Many PPA photographers interviewed stated that they ignored that feeling during the initial consultation. Later, they wished they had just turned the client away.
- Strongly reiterate policies, such as any non-refundable deposits.
- Track your correspondence, especially in regards to contracts and cancellations. Shaun Anthony of Shaun Anthonyâ€™s Clear Focus Photography kept a cancellation issue from getting ugly by keeping detailed notes with dates and times.
- If refunds are given, have the recipients sign a release stating that the photographer owes them nothing further.
- Donâ€™t argue with the client (easier said than done, of
- This is a customer service issue. Even though these customers may be misinformed, they can still damage your reputation.
- If the situation canâ€™t be resolved amicably, donâ€™t delay in consulting an attorney or the services of your malpractice protection.
- Use PPAâ€™s Indemnification Trust to ask questions and deal with issues
Despite your best efforts, you will probably face a cancellation sometime. Hopefully, by following the above steps, that experience will be as painless as possible. Remember, PPA is standing beside youâ€¦just call 800.786.6277.
Director of Membership, Copyright & Government Affairs
P.S. Many photographers have discussed this on OurPPA.com forums â€“ share your stories or gain additional insight by going to www.OurPPA.com.