Do you guarantee your work as a professional photographer?
This question comes up quite frequently, and generates some interesting and polarized opinions on the subject of offering refunds to dissatisfied clients.
Who Wants To Bear The Risk?
Cruise around the photography websites on the Internet, and count of all those who offer a written 100% money-back guarantee.
I think you’ll find the list is quite short.
Why is this?
After all, we expect everything else we buy to come with some kind of guarantee.
Not just products like TVs, but services as well.
If my lawn-care company kills my lawn through some fault of theirs or the chemicals they use, and they can’t put it right, I think I would be entitled to at least a refund, don’t you?
Why should photographers be any different?
Why is it that so many don’t offer their clients a strong guarantee?
Who amongst you will dare to bear the weight of the risk on behalf of your clients?
For example, if a prospect calls and asks about a guarantee, I doubt they’d be happy with the answer, “I don’t have one, never have, never will; it’s buyer beware…”
Sales Gimmick Or USP?
One objection I hear from photographers is that a guarantee sounds too much like a sales gimmick, intended as bait to get prospects to hire them.
I couldn’t disagree more.
If it’s simply a sales gimmick, and they never meant it in the first place, then the photographer had better find a good lawyer if a client invokes it.
When I worked as a wedding and portrait photographer, I personally guaranteed all of my work and I took it quite seriously.
My prospects were buying something they hadn’t yet seen, even though they had an idea of what my work generally looked like.
If they were considering hiring me for a wedding, then they might naturally be nervous that this is a one-time shot. What if something went wrong and the photographs turned out badly?
What recourse would they have, other than for me to offer them a reshoot or a refund?
This was their wedding day, the most important day of their lives!
I believe photographers need to treat it as such.
A solid guarantee is one of the strongest factors that sets you apart from the competition.
It shows that you’re confident in your ability to service them in the best way possible, and that you take full responsibility for the finished product.
I don’t think something like that satisfies any known definition of “sales gimmick”.
What If People Take Advantage?
There will always be a few folks who will try to take advantage of you no matter if you have a guarantee or not, so you might as well have one.
The good point about offering a written guarantee is that you can easily include a statement to the effect that in the event you have to provide a refund, that all photographs, proofs etc. remain with the photographer.
In other words, they can have their photographs or a refund, but not both.
Second, most people are basically honest, and you’ll gain more business by having a guarantee than you would ever lose through people taking advantage of you.
Are You Confident In Your Work?
Another reason some photographers are reluctant to openly advertise a strong guarantee is that they lack confidence in their own work.
Or, they somehow believe that their clients will pick unreasonable faults with it.
Get over it—nobody is perfect and I doubt there’s any such thing as the perfect wedding or portrait session.
As long as you don’t show the clients the images you aren’t personally happy with, and you know what you’re doing with the camera, there shouldn’t be a problem.
One truth I’ve learned is that no one will criticize your photographs as much as you do, yourself.
Clients will generally love what you do, despite the flaws you see in the images.
Just make a note to improve and move on.
Photographers Have At Least One Great Advantage!
Now that most photographers have gone digital, you can capture hundreds of images during a session or at a wedding.
Unlike film cameras, you can see the image right then, on the back of the camera, and tell whether you got a good photograph or not.
This is a huge advantage, because you can simply delete it and capture another one if you feel it’s below standard, incorrectly exposed, badly lit etc.
This allows you to refine and improve on what you’re doing as you go, during the session or wedding.
This, in itself, should be enough to give us the confidence to offer a rock-solid guarantee to our clients.
Invoking The Guarantee—When To Give A Refund
The main circumstances in which we would offer a refund are simple:
- The client cancels the session or wedding beforehand…
- The photographer is unable to fulfill their obligation through illness etc…
- The photographs are lost through some technical failure and no re-shoot is possible…
These are straightforward and I wouldn’t expect to be paid at all under those circumstances, with the exception of the second one if I were to hire a replacement photographer for the day, at my own expense.
There are also other times when a refund under the guarantee might be made:
- The photographer did something wrong and the photographs didn’t turn out…
- The client is (justifiably) not thrilled with the results and we’re unable to rectify it…
- There’s a question about whether the client’s objectives were properly met, as long as they were clearly defined beforehand…
Now this doesn’t mean that you simply give in at the first sign of trouble and issue a refund right away.
That wouldn’t make sense.
Instead, try as hard as possible to find out what the problem really is by asking questions and acknowledging that there might be a problem, and then work hard to immediately correct it.
Research has shown that an astonishing 95% of unhappy clients will be more than happy as long as their complaints are acknowledged quickly, the company involved is honest, and the mistake is put right as soon as is practically possible.
When Not To Give A Refund
Just because you have a guarantee doesn’t mean you’re obliged to use it in every situation.
There’s some element of discretion involved.
There are times when it would be considered unreasonable to do so, and a court would probably agree with the photographer.
- The bride and groom split up after a wedding assignment…
- The client is in breach of the agreement in some way…
- The client becomes physically abusive…
- A disagreement on image quality that can be proved in the photographer’s favor…
Let Common Sense Prevail
I think you just need to apply a little common sense to the subject of a guarantee.
It isn’t simply a case of, “oh well, the client moaned or bailed out, so let’s just write them a check…”
Each case has to be seen in its own light and decided accordingly.
The main purpose of a guarantee, as already mentioned, is to give the client a sense of security in knowing that you’re willing to stand behind your work under all reasonable conditions.
There’s a reason why we take a prepaid creation fee in advance of any portrait session and, with weddings, we ensure that the balance is paid in full 30 days before the ceremony.
This means that the client cannot come back after a wedding and claim that they don’t want to pay for the rest of their balance because Uncle Joe’s photos were better (and cheaper).
As for those clients who might want to challenge a credit card charge for photography services after the fact, I think that any investigation by an arbitrator would probably find in favor of the photographer as long as the work is up to a reasonable standard.