The current COVID-19 pandemic needs no introduction. I’m sure if you are a wedding photographer like myself then your business will have been hit HARD over the last couple of weeks.
Personally, we’ve gone from having a full diary with many weddings we were SO looking forward to, to now not knowing when we will be able to shoot again, not to mention the financial cost that we will have to shoulder.
To complicate matters, engaged couples have either been forced already to rearrange their wedding or are nervously watching the news and considering their options.
I’ve seen a LOT of differing opinions on social media on how to deal with the barrage of cancellations and weddings being rearranged. At this stage, I think the only thing we can all agree upon is that we’re all trying to keep our heads above water the best we can.
Over the past week, I’ve had a lot of customers reschedule their wedding and/or reach out asking what would happen if the pandemic impacted their big day. It’s not something I had much experience with since typically I only get one or two cancellations a year. But to have every wedding in the next few months cancel or postpone is unheard of! I’ve had to learn quickly how to make things easy both for myself and my customers.
So I thought I’d share my five tips on how to handle the reschedule requests which have been working well for me. I am not saying that my way is the correct way. If you don’t agree with my tips then feel free not to listen. And of course you need to make sure you are complying with the law of your country.
But hopefully my tips below will help you put something in place so you can help customers reschedule their weddings with the least impact on your business while maintaining good customer service.
Tip #1: Consider your contract and what you can do
We all have a contract, right? And in there is a clear cancellation policy right? OK. So there’s your starting point. However, these aren’t normal times. Customers are being forced to cancel or reschedule their wedding because of a situation no-one predicted.
I see many photographers online quoting their contract that says that there are no refunds for any monies paid. So if the customer has paid in full and you’re not delivering the service anymore. Tough.
Well, firstly that’s certainly not permitted in certain countries (like the UK), even if your customer signed the contract.
It certainly won’t be a message your customer will want to hear, and you’d better prepare yourself for a fall out if that’s the stance you are planning to take.
As I said earlier, these are not normal times. What you do now will make your customers will remember you. Make sure it’s for the right reasons. Make it easy to work with you. Make it an experience they will be telling their friends about — friends who in the future may be getting married. Which would you rather they said to their friends:
“We booked Martin and when we had to reschedule our wedding, he was a total rock and made things stress free.”
“We booked Martin and when we had to reschedule our wedding, he told us he was keeping the money we paid him and have to pay again!”
Remember, wedding photography is above all a people business. The customer is always king. Dealing with your customers with understanding, compassion, and flexibility in this crisis will set you apart from your competition.
Tip #2: Call, don’t email
It’s all too easy nowadays to hide behind our email. This is a difficult situation for everyone.
As business owners, our income has taken a huge hit. For some, it may prove to be a fatal hit. But please don’t forget that to a bride, this is the day she’s been dreaming of since she was a little girl. It’s not just a lot of money they’ve invested but also emotional energy too.
This is one of those occasions in which picking up the phone really helps. Give them a call.
Ask your bride how they are. How are their loved ones, their jobs? It goes without saying that your concern should be genuine. People can see right through you if you’re just going through the motions. It shouldn’t be hard to show you care in the current climate!
You see, emails can be misinterpreted and often sounds very business formal and impersonal. All my customers have appreciated a friendly call where I can better understand their situation and come up with the best solution possible for them.
Think about it this way. Say you’ve bought a car and it’s going to be late. Would you prefer an email telling you it’s going to be late and referencing the terms and conditions you signed? Or would you prefer the salesperson to call you, apologize for the delay and reassure you they’re doing everything they can do get the car to you? I know which I’d rather have.
Once you’ve agreed on a course of action, definitely follow it up with an email. The email should thank them for their time and confirm what you spoke about. That way you have an audit trail for future reference.
Tip #3: Create an availability calendar
If there has been one thing that has helped my couples and my business the most, it has been this. I created a special hidden page on my website which I emailed proactively to my customers.
The calendar has all my availability which the bride and groom can see instantly. The idea is that when they are talking to their venue about possible dates. They can pick a new date with my availability in mind.
So far, the only cancellations I have had were from before I implemented this on my website. I’ve had several brides tell me that they literally had my page open while they were discussing dates with their wedding planner.
A bonus mini-tip is to also set your own personal dates to unavailable too. So if you have a holiday planned or your child’s birthday. Don’t forget to add them too. As customers won’t be happy to find they’ve booked a date which shows available but in reality wasn’t.
Tip #4: Form a group of associate photographers
Get together with some of your local wedding photographers. What several of us have done is agree to shoot for each other as the lead photographer at a special discounted rate while we fight our way through this crisis.
The key is to find wedding photographers locally whom you can trust to deliver to your own high standards. That is easier said than done. Luckily I’ve always been active in the local industry so over the years have developed a good network of my fellow photographers.
So in the event that a customer picks a date I cannot do, I can reach out to my network of peers and see who is available. The couple can then choose who they like the best. The associate will then photograph the wedding and hand over the RAW files for me to edit in my usual style.
My contract allows me to substitute with another photographer but even so, I discussed and agreed with the bride and groom that this was acceptable.
Yes, using an associate wedding photographer does mean I will make less profit. However, it’s better than losing the entire booking and earning $0.
Tip #5: Cashflow is king
For the wedding photography industry, while we will lose some bookings, when the dust settles we might also gain a few where couples have found their old photographer can’t do the new date. For many of us, the cash will come — just later. However, good cash flow is the foundation of a healthy business. Having bad cash flow can kill your business, even if it is otherwise profitable.
So when customers are rescheduling to new dates, consider asking them for a voluntary 50% payment of the balance on the original wedding date with the remainder nearer the new date. You can explain why: cash flow. Just make sure you don’t make it sound like you’re going out of business without their payment (which is why I recommend you make the request voluntary). Keep it friendly and don’t press the point hard. Otherwise, it could backfire on you.
Getting some balances in will help you keep some money coming in. In my experience, most customers seem to be open to this idea and are happy to do so.
About the author: Martin Cheung is a UK wedding photographer based in the East Midlands. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Cheung’s work on his website, Facebook, and Instagram. This article was also published here.
Image credits: Header illustration based on photo by Scott Webb