Learning To Say NO

NO is a tough word to use when a client contacts you requesting a bid on a photo project. Learning to use the word can be a powerful tool that will help improve your photography business.

Hear me out. I know it might sound ridiculous turning down work but if it isn’t right for you, it isn’t right. You need to recognize that the project could be a drain rather than a benefit, even if a paycheck is attached.

It has happened to all of us at some point, we get a contact with a photo request and things start out great. Then deeper into the conversation all of the details are revealed and suddenly the project starts to smell funky. So what do you do next? Do you just brush the prospect off and risk losing future work down the road? That could burn a bridge, it also might reflect poorly on you and your business in your area. Learning to say no in a positive light can be a big benefit when you don’t want to commit to any bad details of a project.

If the shoot or agreement is unbalanced, unfit or unfair, it might be best to leave it alone. Turning it down and keeping your stance will help you grow your business and make you look more professional in the long run. It might not feel right at the beginning, but not being a push over and having the confidence in your decisions are part of running a successful business.

Have any of the following scenarios ever happened to you? If so how did you handle it?

  • A prospective client calls and asks you to shoot for (X dollars) which is well below your normal rate. Let’s say you take the shoot and finish the project. What happens next time the client calls? Do you think you will fetch your normal rate? Probably not, it might happen, but it is highly unlikely. What would happen if you said no from the beginning and held your rate where it should be?
  • Suppose a prospective client calls and is asking for a shoot where the rate is good but wants access to all photos delivered in high resolution, everything retouched with the ability to do whatever they want with the images? Do you fold and give them everything they want just to make the rate happen? How do you push back without making the client turn and walk away?
  • Let’s say you get a call about a project and you shoot them back a number that is half of their budget. Do you give them the same shoot at half the rate or do you remove something from the deal to keep it balanced? How would you say no in this situation?


Next time you are put into any of these scenarious, try a modified version of these:

 “Let me give this some thought and get back to you.” – This could give you separation from the conversation and allow you to put more thought into the decision, possibly buying you some time to properly word an email or think about what you want to tell the client.

“I would like to shoot this but I just can’t hand over all of the photos for usage.” – Simple, straight to the point. Offer suggestions and start a negotiation. If they want 100 images when 20 is normal, let the client know that and work towards an agreement.

“I am right in the middle of something, how about we touch base at X.” – It is nice brush off and it does leave the door open for down the road conversation.

 “I am not the best person for this gig, why don’t you try X?” – Maybe the numbers or details aren’t right for you, someone you know could make a good reference and might be better for the gig. Maybe this will come back to you down the road with a referral from the same person.

There are always factors that make it easy to give in and say yes to bad deals. It could be fear of creating a conflict or maybe you don’t want to burn any bridges. Maybe things are slow and you could use the extra income. All are fair and valid points but by getting into the correct stance from the get go, you will save face and keep things in a positive light with the prospective client.

Keep in mind NO is not a negative word. Saying it might open a YES to a better deal for you.

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Tim Krueger's picture

"not being a push over and having the confidence in your decisions are part of running a successful business."  good insight.

I sort of learned that the hard way... but at least I learn't 

Aaron Lindberg's picture

Sometimes the only way to learn is to go through it. 

Dmitry Novoselov's picture

I can definitively relate to taking on work far below my rate, and continuing to do business with the same client. When i did mention my real rate, in a professional and appropriate manner, I lost the client. This however made me realize to value your work and work will come. Since then, I have been somewhat flexible with my rates but never undersell my work which always says confidence and clients dig that!!!

Justin Martin's picture

For the love of God, when did people start thinking loosing=losing? "....and risk loosing future work down...."

Mokhi's picture

great article. thanks

Arturo Mieussens's picture

A client that doesn't value your work is a client you don't need.