Recently, a portrait photographer I know shared in an online group that he had been approached by an acquaintance who wanted him to shoot their upcoming wedding.
After giving it careful thought, he eventually came to the firm decision to turn the potential client down because, not only was it outside of his target genre, but he had no interest whatsoever in breaking into wedding photography.
He thoughtfully shared online that he would not be seen as a good portrait photographer, but as a bad wedding photographer. Simply put, it would have done more harm than good for his business in the long run. A fist pump and a hoot of delight later, I sent him a congratulatory message.
As photographers, this is a situation we inevitably encounter, and something many of us has had to learn the hard way, myself included. When is the right time to say no to a gig? While it can be downright painful at times, that tiny two-letter word can drive your business in the right direction when used with careful thought and consideration.
So how do we know when to turn an opportunity down? Let’s go over my personal top 3 reasons.
1. Say no when doing it for free and exposure gets old
Let me preface this by acknowledging that we all start somewhere. In the beginning, this can involve taking the occasional free gig early in our careers in order to build our portfolios. Those were the days when a potential client would mention the word exposure and we instantly jumped at the opportunity. At the time, you are getting your feet wet, building your portfolio, and finding your own personal groove as a photographer.
However, it inevitably sets in that you can’t pay the bills with often intangible exposure. No matter how good the intentions are of a well-meaning client. You will eventually have to begin turning down those free gigs.
2. Say no when the gig is not in your target genre
For many of us, finding our area(s) of focus is a natural, organic process that evolves over time. During this time we also discover what types of gigs we prefer not to take on. For example, in my case, it has been a shift away from wedding photography. It paid well and allowed me to produce great photos. But, it also gave me gray hairs and caused a solid month of sleepless nights before the big day. Although I loved the process of getting to know the bride and groom during their wedding adventure, the stress and pressure became too great for my delicate disposition.
After a certain point, I decided I had to begin turning weddings down. It was tough, especially when a recently engaged friend approached me shortly after my resolution and requested if I would shoot her upcoming nuptials. I struggled for a solid week before I gathered the resolve to gently turn her down. I told her that I was shifting my focus away from wedding photography. As tough as the decision was, I slept like a baby that night.
3. Say no when they won’t pay you what you are worth
As a professional, knowing what you are worth is its own article. It involves a handful of factors, including but not limited to your expenses, how much you want to pay yourself, and what you uniquely bring to the table. If you haven’t sat down and figured out what you should be charging, you should do it. Right now.
Suffice to say, at least having a firm understanding of how much you need to make will affect the signals you are sending out to potential clients, such as how you represent yourself online, your confidence, and how you communicate your value proposition. When sending out the correct signals, it will be similar to laying down a tantalizing trail of breadcrumbs that draws in your target clients.
Even better, most of the people outside of your target demographic will naturally begin to gravitate away from your business. And when you do run into the occasional person who wants your services for much cheaper than you’re willing (or able) to provide, saying no will come much easier to you, because you will be rooted by firm numbers and facts, as opposed to how topsy-turvy your gut is feeling that day.
Simple ways to make saying no easier
While not often enjoyable, there are practical ways you can make it easier on yourself and the rejected party. Most importantly, be pleasant about turning them down. For the sake of all that is good and professional, avoid being rude. They don’t deserve that type of treatment, and it can result in negative word-of-mouth exposure for you even though you haven’t taken a single photo for them! And if possible, don’t send them away empty-handed.
Consider offering a resource that will aid them in their photographer search. For example, this could be in the form of you giving them the direct contact information for a better-suited photographer with whom you have previously worked out a business referral fee.
You could also offer a link to a useful article online, or even a pdf guide that communicates the key things they should look out for when choosing a particular photographer. Not only are you providing value, but you are offering basic education as they go about the process, which benefits the photography industry as a whole.
Over time, the word no can become a useful tool in your professional arsenal if you learn how to wield it properly and fairly. It’s not so much about rejecting people as it is about attracting those who are a good fit for your business. And remember: it takes time to learn when to best say no, so be patient not only with potential clients but also with yourself.