What do you do when your client cancels their wedding OR you have to cancel on them? Well, it’s not a fun topic to talk about but as a business owner, you should be familiar with your options just in case it happens to you. Over the course of my wedding photography career, both scenarios have happened to me so I thought I would tell you how I handled each of them. It’s never easy, or comfortable but being prepared is always half the battle.
My BEST advice is to have the RIGHT wording in your contract!
I am NOT a lawyer but I have been told that the type of wording you use in your contract can determine how you can protect yourself from these type of unfortunate events. Let me explain:
First and foremost, you collect a RETAINER for your services, not a deposit. The client is RETAINING your services for their wedding. A deposit is defined as “a sum payable as a first installment on the purchase of something or as a pledge for a contract, the balance being payable later” but a retainer is defined as “a fee paid in advance to someone, especially an attorney, in order to secure or keep their services when required”. Does that make sense? They are retaining your services vs. putting a deposit down.
You need to protect yourself so you do not have to return any money collected for retaining your services. If you do not have associate photographers, you are not accepting other jobs for their wedding date and if they were to cancel on you, you are losing the reaming balance due AND other sales in the future.
I’ve heard other wedding photographers say “but I feel bad, and I should return the money”. Well, to that, I would say “I feel bad for them as well but feeling bad, doesn’t pay your bills and when you can’t pay your bills, who’s going to feel bad for you?”. Unless you have a second source of income, spouse, or trust fund to support you, you need to think like a business and stick to your contract. #toughlove
Again, be sure to check with your attorney and modify your contract to use the correct verbiage that will hold up in a court of law, if necessary.
What To Do When Your Client Cancels On You
Unfortunately, if a couple decides that they aren’t ready to get married and cancels (or postpones) their wedding, it stinks for everyone involved including us, the wedding vendors. Once the couple notifies you about the cancellation, they might ask you for a refund or partial refund from their retainer. This is where your contract comes into play and you need to stand firm to protect your business.
As difficult as it is to get the news that your couple is breaking up, it’s just a difficult to realize that you have lost the potential earnings from their wedding and all future sales. In most cases, you have turned down several other inquires for the same date and depending if the couple notifies you early enough, you might not be able to rebook date at all thus creating a loss in your business for the year. Keeping the retainer, although it stinks for the couple, it’s in your contract to ensure your time and services thus far are accounted for.
One of my couples did have to cancel their wedding due to travel issues in and out of the united states and even though they knew about my retainer policy, they did ask for their money back. I kept my retainer and said that if they could reschedule their wedding within one calendar year, I would be happy to move their retainer to the new date and honor my current pricing.
For my business, I require a 50% retainer fee at the time of booking. I am a small business and photograph a limited number of weddings per year, so if I have a couple cancel, it’s a big deal for me and my bottom line.
What To Do When You Have To Cancel On Your Couple
Ugh! This was NOT fun for me. I do not like to be the bearer of bad news and I definitely want my couples to depend on me but sometimes things happen and you have to let a few people down.
The only time I had to cancel on a couple was because I was expecting a baby. As a women entrepreneur, this is just one of those times when your family (and body) comes first. Their wedding date was too close to my due date and I just physically couldn’t risk the possibly of going into labor 2+ hours from my hospital. It was my first baby and I was very nervous as to what to expect.
I called the couple and told them the good and bad news. They didn’t take it very well but I assured them I would help them find the best replacement photographer I could, as we were several months away from their wedding. They met my replacement recommendation but in the end, they found someone else and we parted ways. I returned their full retainer and “gifted” them their engagement session for the inconvenience. It was the best I could do and I don’t regret that decision at all as my daughter came a week early!!
Again, having a good contract is going to save you in this type or similar scenarios. My contract clearly states that if I were to cancel, all monies would be refunded, I would help find a suitable replacement photographer, and that is exactly what I did. Personally, I do not see this happening again for all my potential couples, but like most things, you can’t really plan when you are going to start your family so you just have to roll with the changes when they occur ;)
If you are cancelling a wedding for other reasons, such as you no longer want to photograph their wedding because the client has become difficult or no longer a good fit, a family member is getting married on the same day, or really anything else that involves disappointing a couple, you’ll have to decide what is important to you and how are you going to handle the situation positively.
Have you ever had to deal with this type of situation in your business? What did you do and why? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below! Be sure to say hello and I hope this was helpful information!