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In an ideal world, there would be no such thing as “difficult clients.” Unfortunately, dealing with difficult clients-whether they are disorganized, disrespectful, or inconsiderate- is an occasional part of running any business. 

Dealing with difficult clients can certainly take a toll on your patience. Thankfully, there are ways to manage these situations, as well as strategies for defining and finding your dream clients. 

In this post, we’ll cover how to find more of your ideal clients, how to manage difficult clients, and when to make the choice not to work with someone. 

Photographer persona worksheet on a desk next to a camera.

How To Find Your Ideal Client

Filling your calendar with ideal clients gives you the freedom to turn away difficult clients. So, how do you find more of your dream clients that you are excited to work with? 

Finding the right clients starts with defining who they are and understanding how they operate.

Start by thinking about characteristics your ideal client might have. If you’re stuck, look through your client database and identify the clients you’ve enjoyed working with the most. What do they have in common? 

Next, write a persona. This is a made-up person, like Jenny the amazing client or John and Tiffany the perfect couple, that represents your ideal client(s). You’re aiming for an in-depth understanding of your target audience.

Answer questions like:

  • How old are they?
  • Where are they located? 
  • What are they interested in?
  • What do they do for a living?
  • Do they have any pain points or frustrations when it comes to booking a photographer?
  • What are they passionate about?
  • How do they consume content or make buying decisions (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, or email)?
  • What questions do they commonly ask?

If you have more than one type of ideal client, create more than one persona representing these different segments. Once you’ve created your persona(s), you can use it to drive decisions about the type of shoots or packages you offer, where and how you market your services, the FAQs you include on your website, and more. 

When you write marketing copy, imagine you are speaking directly to your persona(s). Use language they understand and relate to, and appeal to their interests and needs. When everything you do is targeted to your ideal client, you’ll attract the kinds of clients you want to work with.

Learn more about how to find your ideal client right here.

Photographer consulting with clients and sharing is photos.

Strategies For Managing Difficult Clients

Of course, not every client will match your ideal client. So, what do you do when you encounter a difficult client? The strategies below will help you minimize potential conflicts and manage challenging client relationships.

Schedule a Consultation or Call

If you are noticing that the client is having a lot of demands, scheduling an initial consultation or call with a client allows you to determine the details of a scheduled shoot, address their expectations, and get a sense of any potential problems. 

When it comes to addressing client expectations, keep them reasonable and manageable. If a client is asking for a turnaround you can’t deliver, say so. If they want something from the photoshoot you can’t provide, tell them. You’re the expert, so if a client’s proposed location and time won’t produce great photos, explain why. 

Telling clients exactly what they can expect—without making promises you can’t keep—helps mitigate potential issues and maintain positive relationships.

If the client continues to push back and make unreasonable demands, it’s okay to politely explain that you don’t think you’re the right fit.

Throughout every consultation, remain friendly and professional. Get all the information you need for the session to run smoothly. With effective interpersonal communication during a consult, you can establish a professional relationship and rapport that will hopefully lead to a successful session.

Set Prices That Reflect Your Value

Don’t be tempted to underprice yourself to please difficult clients. If your pricing reflects the value of your expertise and services, clients will be less likely to create issues. If you undervalue your work, there’s a good chance that your clients will too.  Our Smart Profit Calculator was built by photographers and backed by over 3 years of global industry research so that you can set your prices for profit. 

For more tips on pricing, read our posts on how to raise your prices without losing your clients and how to respond when clients say you’re too expensive

Create a Clear, Specific, and Transparent Contract

Once you’ve discussed your terms, put them in writing. A strong contract is in the best interest of both the photographer and the client. It ensures you’re on the same page and have a plan for meeting both of your needs.

Be sure to include price, session date, time, location, hours for the shoot, and any other details. You can also include terms to address cancellation policies, refunding deposits, and other contingencies.

Walk the client through each portion of the contract and answer any questions that arise. The better the client understands your terms upfront, the less likely it is that you’ll encounter difficulties later. 

Trust Your Instincts

If you have a feeling that you’re facing a difficult client, trust that instinct. Some of the warning signs may include a disrespectful and/or entitled attitude, inconsistent or erratic behavior, and even perpetual haggling about price. 

If you sense that trouble is ahead, it is ok to explain that you aren’t the right fit and recommend that the client go somewhere else for their photography needs. Sacrificing a booking or two is better than sacrificing your peace of mind or a 3 months (or more) headache from a bad client.

Remember that although you’re providing a service to the public (which does pose the risk of dealing with difficult customers), you do not have to put up with client abuse.

Stay Calm

Most of the strategies we’ve covered so far are preventative. But sometimes, there’s no way to predict if—or when—a client will become difficult. When it’s too late to prevent difficult client behavior, you can still control how you respond.

If you’re reading a rude email or a critical Facebook comment, take a break before responding. It’s hard to think clearly and respond professionally when you’re feeling frustrated or angry. Take some deep breaths and give it an hour or two. Then return and write a calm, level-headed response.

Of course, if you’re face-to-face with the client, you can’t exactly walk away for two hours. But you can still take a few deep breaths, remind yourself that you’re a professional and you can handle this. Give yourself a minute to think rationally before speaking or providing a written response.

Restate Problem, Empathize, Offer a Solution

When a client is upset, identify and restate their problem and say that you understand (even if it’s not entirely true). This helps the client feel heard and can reduce their frustration. Then, try to offer a solution. Offering a solution doesn’t mean giving in to an unreasonable client- it simply means showing that you want to help them have a positive experience.

For example, you can say, “I understand that you were hoping to have the digital files, but they aren’t included in the package you selected. I’d be happy to give you information on upgrading to a package that includes digital files.” 

Pay attention to any issues that come up and devise a strategy for avoiding them in the future. Next time, for instance, reiterate which packages contain digital files. Double-check that the client isn’t expecting digital files if they order a package that doesn’t include them.

Women looking down at computer.

Final Thoughts

You deserve to be recognized as a professional and treated with respect. While it’s important to treat your clients with respect as well, you don’t have to put up with client abuse or bend your policies and prices to meet unreasonable demands.

Look to work with people who fit the persona(s) you’ve created for your ideal client. If you have a bad feeling about a client, remember that you don’t have to work with them. Save yourself the frustration and headaches, and focus on clients who make your job a joy. 

Prevent potential conflicts by being clear and upfront about your pricing, terms, turnaround, and other details. When you run into issues with a client, calm yourself before responding. Empathize with their problem, offer a solution, and come up with strategies to avoid similar problems in the future.

Difficult clients are an unfortunate reality for any business owner, but using these strategies can help you maintain positive relationships and have a positive work experience.

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