This is why you keep getting nightmare clients and how to stop it
The nightmare client. They are everywhere it seems, and if you’re working in any kind of creative business you’ve probably come across at least one or two. They always want more for less, they want extra or last-minute changes, they aren’t happy with the final result. One such client I had (let’s call her ‘Plate Lady’) even tried to negotiate the fee after I’d delivered the work and sent the invoice.
We might put it down to the fact that some people are just harder to deal with than others, and while that may be true, if it’s a commonly occurring issue for you then you need to look at the common factor, and that’s usually you. Scott from Tin House Studio has an interesting thought on why you aren’t getting your ideal client and has some suggestions in this video on how you can change that.
Scott’s main point is that if you’re not getting the type of client you want, the number one reason is that your portfolio isn’t showing the right kind of work. If you show food photography you’re going to get food clients, if you show headshots you will get more headshots. Seems somewhat obvious and of course, goes with the old advice of “show what you sell”. But he does go a step further and says that the quality of work that you’re showing matters as well. Doing quick, cheap work for low budget clients is almost always going to get you more quick cheap work for low budget clients. So what can you do to change that?
The answer Scott says is to make a list of your top 10 dream clients. Really analyse the sort of work they are using, look at other photographers who have shot for them previously. I’m not advocating copying, but just absorbing the branding and messages, and then seeing how you can add your own creative ideas and style to that. Then you adjust your portfolio to include those types of images.
Many successful photographers invest a great deal of time and money on their portfolios and personal projects every year. Joel Grimes tries to shoot around 50 images for personal work every year, Chris Crisman realised earlier in his career that he was lacking enough lifestyle work to attract the right clients so set about shooting a new portfolio that included that genre, and Chase Jarvis is well known for taking time out to rebuild his entire portfolio from time to time.
If you want to get hired, press pause on the stuff that’s not absolutely crucial. And go make the stuff you want to get hired to create.
– Chase Jarvis
Now I would add one small caveat here, and your experience and geographical location do have a little bit of influence on what you can do. For example, Vogue is probably not going to be calling me any time soon to shoot their magazine cover, even if I’m showing exactly the right sort of images in my portfolio because I don’t live in a major fashion city (like New York City, Milan or Paris). Knowing where you want to end up is essential in achieving any goal, so if Vogue is your ultimate dream client put it on your top 10 list but you do have to do the work, realise what’s required and know that it may take a long time and involve certain sacrifices.
I would add that having firm boundaries is instrumental in avoiding the nightmare client. We need boundaries in any kind of relationship and some of us are more assertive than others in making our needs and boundaries known, and sticking to them. As photographers we are often working for other people, and with that comes a certain amount of people-pleasing attitude. I genuinely want to create the best work I can for my clients (and for myself) and I want it to be a nice experience for everyone.
In doing so I have learnt that I also need to have firm expectations in place and not immediately cave in to extra demands. If you’re at all like me, then realise that you do not have to say yes to everything. If something isn’t in your best interest or you aren’t sure, then buy yourself some time and say “I need to think about that, can I get back to you in x amount of time?” I have found this to be the best tactic to stop my knee-jerk reaction of saying yes to things I shouldn’t, and then regretting it later, which inevitably leads to resentment and a general breakdown in the relationship.
If I’m being completely honest, I let Plate lady walk all over me from the start. I had a contract, yet I allowed her to renegotiate the terms during the work. I didn’t chase her up often enough when I needed answers so the project dragged on far longer than it should have, and I didn’t give her reasonable expectations and updates following this, of when I would be able to deliver the images. Subsequently, she felt let down and thought I was working too slowly, I felt annoyed and resentful at not getting the information I needed, and well, you can see that it’s not an ideal situation. But I’m taking full responsibility for my mistakes and not letting them happen again, and maybe you can learn from them too! Rest assured, plates are not in my portfolio!
Boundaries and portfolios are everything! I hope that you can learn from this and be on the way to getting beautiful lovely clients. Honestly, the majority of mine are a joy to work with!
Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe