What To Do When Your Clients Don't Pay
There are certain situations where I feel that sometimes entrepreneurs simply avoid in order to pretend that don’t exist or will ever happen to them...but what about when they do happen?
As an entrepreneur, are there situations that you’ve avoided, or systems that you’ve neglected to put in place because you simply believe that it will never happen to you? I know that for many years, I coasted through certain areas of my business on the belief that my clients were wonderful and kind people and that nothing that ever took place within my business (or throughout our interactions) would ever disrupt that. I think that all I really have to say to hit this point home is that your hard drives are going to crash, it’s simply a matter of when. Do you have a system in place so that you don’t lose all of your work and your clients’ work? And no, this episode isn’t about backing up your images haha I feel like I would fall asleep talking about that, even though it issss crucial haha but we’ll save that for another day.
And yes, although that is true, 99.9% of the time for my clients, there have been times where I learned lessons the hard way, but beyond that, the more experienced that I’ve gotten with being a self-employed creative entrepreneur, the more I’ve realized that it’s just dumb business to not ensure that you have everything covered when it comes to being a business owner.
The truth of the matter is, life happens; and regardless of what we want to believe when it comes to the world, or humans, or ourselves, there are steps and situations that unfold before us that no one could have ever predicted taking place.
I know that your business partner is your very best friend, and right now it feels like it will stay that way forever, but what if things change? What is that isn’t the case years down the road? I’ve been there. I’ve been in a partnership with my very best friend; someone who got me on every single level, and someone who I felt as comfortable around as I did around Mark. I never wanted to imagine that dynamic ever changing with her, nor did I ever imagine that it would. But one day, I woke up and things felt different.
In my first year of business, I had a wedding client who was so incredible during every meeting as well as on her wedding day. Fast forward to after her wedding to her calling me out of the blue to tell me what an embarrassment I am to the photography industry and me spending the next hour bawling my eyes out alone in my apartment. (cropping images and in my contract)
I’ve had a client who a month before her wedding day postponed her marriage and cancelled my photography contract, then came back and asked for her deposit back. Luckily for me, all I had to do at the time was re-share the portion of my contract that explains that my deposits are non-refundable (and that since it was so close to her wedding that technically the entire sum would have been due), and it was as simple as that. But what if I hadn’t had that laid out so clearly in a signed agreement form? I would have been out a thousand dollars, unable to recuperate the lost funds that her wedding was going to bring in.
Another area that I feel that we often become complacent in is when asking our models or clients to sign model releases, even for something as simple as a portrait session. Do you have every single person that you photograph sign a release? In your wedding contract do you have a blanket release that covers everyone who attends the wedding and is signed on behalf of your couple? What happens if you take a photo that ends up being published in print or is asked to be featured somewhere, but either your models themselves or someone in the background at their wedding gets wind of it and doesn’t want that image shared?
What about if someone gets hurt when you’re working with them and decides they want to do something about it?
Or even something as simply as someone trying to bend your artistic practices and wants you to alter or edit images to look a way that you’re not comfortable with?
No matter what area of business we explore, i really want to reiterate how important it is to know what you would do if any of these situations were to happen to you. It’s so much better to have systems in places and to know what steps you would take, and never have to use them, rather than be flailing around without knowing what to do if something did end up going sideways.
One area that I wanted to elaborate on today that I really feel that a lot of us feel invincible to, is when it comes down to getting paid. I think that as creative entrepreneurs we walk this fine line between living heart-forward and in turn, operating our business that way, but also trying to maintain the truth that it is, at the end of the day just that, a business. I’ve always walked through my work as a human first and business owner second, unable to fully be able to meld or balance the two, but the more I’ve grown as a business owner, the more I’ve realized just how crucial being a business owner first really is.
Does this mean that you need to be all business and hide away that parts that make you, you? Absolutely not. I urge you to continue to lead with your heart in all that you do, business or otherwise; but I just want you to also know and realize when it’s time to make decisions for the wellbeing of your business.
I think that a lot of times the idea of business brings up images of being cold, emotionless, and without compassion, but I urge you to reconsider. There is a way that we are able to infuse more divine feminine energy into being a business owner, and I want to help to reprogram that archaic way of thinking.
It’s happened next to never for me, but it has still happened; what do you do when your client won’t pay you? Today I want to walk you through a situation that forced me to flex my business muscle simply on the principle of doing what I said I was going to do, even though in my heart I didn’t want to. Not only do I want to share my experience, but I also believe that it’s super valuable to just share the knowledge of what to do when you encounter this situation, because it’s one of the many areas that was not taught in school for me and that I had to learn on my own. If I can save just one of you the trouble and fear of having to navigate this on your own, than that alone is the purpose of today’s episode.
What would you do right now if one of your clients didn’t follow through on paying their invoice? Your out a couple thousand dollars, and your messages to them come up unanswered?
Does your mind go to “oh well I guess I’ll have to take them to court? Or file a claim?” But do you know what that actually entails? Or what that really means?
First and foremost in my experiences, I loosened my own process, which was the first thing that I’ve learned from. In my contracts it does clearly list that I will not perform photography until the full balance is paid (this is when it comes to my wedding photography), that obviously would have been one simple rule that would have avoided this whole situation, but I wouldn’t have learned all that I did. Often times, I know in my heart - since I do believe that I work with simply the most incredible humans when it comes to my wedding and elopement photography - that they aren’t not paying me because they want to stiff me, or don’t like me or my work; I realize that a lot of my couples make sacrifices in order to be able to hire me. I know that hiring a photographer isn’t cheap; and even more so, I’ve talked with a lot of my couples and know that they made compromises in order to be able to have me be a part of their day, which is something that I never ever take for granted. Which is why I know that sometimes that means that they might come up a little short, or might just need a little extra time to pay their balance.
Listen in to learn which steps I took next, as well as my experience with working with a lawyer here in Calgary to help get back my outstanding balance due.