There are some types of clients who I tend to avoid at all costs. This may mean less income, but trust me, the stress is not worth your time and money. At first, it is scary declining a job because you don’t like a client, but trust me when I say it is better to decline the following ones.
Having worked with a fair number of clients, I developed a sorting system. Some of the “bad” clients I worked twice with, only to prove to myself that there should not be a next time. Productions are stressful enough as it is. However, if the client adds extra stress to your job, you are left fairly powerless, if not paralyzed. I know for a fact that there were times when I wanted to walk out of a job. Once, I even did. But that is a story for a different time.
Can We Do It Cheaper?
The client who is trying to cut corners wherever possible will end up causing you the most stress. They don’t really see the value in your work and are there because you are a person with a camera who can take a picture. They might say that you don’t need an assistant, and they can do the retouching themselves, and that there is a guy who can do it for even cheaper. Such clients are often not willing to pay your full price too.
Albeit there is always negotiation on jobs, it is never one way. If the client's budget does not allow for what you quoted, you can offer to do less work for less money. Negotiations must be both ways so that the client understands that by paying less they are missing out on some of your services.
I also applied this to my pricing strategy in the sense of charging in the range of thousands, not hundreds. Even for private shoots, you can easily filter out clients who are there for the pictures and the clients who are there for the work that you do. If you quote a client for $400, they will negotiate in the range of $50-100, however, if you say that the job costs $1,000, they are more likely to either say yes or no. What difference does $50 make when you are paying a premium? This way, you might do fewer shoots, but those shoots will be a much more pleasant experience, you will make more money, and be less stressed.
The Job Scope Is Too Much for the Time They Are Giving You
Each time a new job comes my way, I propose a timeline for it. The production period is divided into three stages: pre-production, shooting, and post-production. They all take time, and the client needs to understand that nothing happens overnight. A critical thing I learned the hard way is that if I push the deadline too close, I will end up being stressed for the whole duration of the project. Sure enough, as a photographer, you are a panic purchase and probably are the last one to find out about the job, but even then, there is nothing that should inhibit you from charging extra for the last-minute service. After all, you are not the ambulance or the fire brigade, and emergency services are not in the base package price. If I know that the job is last minute and I will be losing sleep over the work, I will gladly charge overtime to the client and explain that it will be beyond the usual.
That said, there are unrealistic expectations that clients have, and if it seems like a job that you are not certain about, as well as the client is not willing to negotiate, just decline. There is no harm in saying “fully booked.”
But, This Photographer Can Do X
Easy, just go to the said photographer, why are you coming to me? I am not them, and we clearly have different business practices. No, but really, why would you come to me if you are clearly looking for something I don’t do. There’s nothing wrong with saying that you are, again, fully booked, and probably the photographer they are talking about can do it.
Don’t confuse this with mood boards, though. Inspiration does not fall under this category. It is simply a reference or a guideline for you. There is no requirement to copy.
If the Client for One Reason or Another Seems Like Someone You Can’t Get Along
This is highly subjective, and I can’t give such and such red flags, but I can say that there was an instance when the feeling was not right. It just seemed like the person I was working with didn’t really understand me, their background was questionable, and their way of doing business was rather outdated. I could not imagine myself working with that person, and having read stories on the internet of other people who came out against them, I decided to not go forward.
Lastly, another type of client I would decline is one who proposes a job that is significantly out of my scope. This means that they haven’t really looked at what I do and are simply hiring me as a guy with a camera. There is nothing wrong with being hired as a guy with a camera within the niche you work in, but if an event organizer asks a portrait photographer to do a shoot, they clearly don’t know why they’re asking this particular person. The job is simply not down your alley. It is best to decline and pass this work on to someone proficient.
There are the biggest red flags in clients that I saw. These are usually enough for me to stop trying to educate the client and just pass them on. There is a client for everyone. It just happens that those particular ones are not for me. As a freelancer doing art, you are sometimes seen as available and so in love with what you do that you would will kill to get a chance to work. Truth is, it’s quite the other way around. The world’s best photographers are booked months ahead, and their prices make it very clear that the client should be grateful that the photographer is going to work with them. Up your self-worth, and get a rush from declining a bad client!