Let’s all be honest, contracts can be confusing and understanding both sides of an agreement can be hard to do when you aren’t standing in both pairs of shoes. Covid19 has brought a lot of turmoil and struggle for us ALL, yeah, that’s right, US ALL. No one wants this, no one thought they would face this, and no one has a perfect solution because frankly, there isn’t one. Maybe you’re feeling sour because you’re losing so much already, and it feels like people are ripping you off because they don’t care in holding your retainer. You’re stressed. You’re sad. Totally warranted, and we feel the same. We’re sweating buckets worrying about doing whats best for each client while also making sure our business is alive in a few months.
Let me preface the following by saying I have SOOO many amazing, grateful, kind and compassionate clients who are the reason I love what I do and love the relationships I have built throughout my career. Thank you for making this time and others in the past that much easier and more graceful. Seriously, thank you. Additionally, let me add that I am in NO way a lawyer nor expert on these things, and there will always be situations that don’t fit the bill perfectly– I highly suggest you find a good lawyer in your area if you have any questions.
Now, let’s dive into this all further and talk about contracts, retainers, and what is currently happening. This of course applies a TON to what is happening during this situation, but it also applies to unfortunate situations that DO happen, no matter what’s going on globally. A dear friend and colleague I admire greatly, Whitney of Mountainaire Gatherings wrote something yesterday on Instagram that we both spoke to, and expanded on that today. We chatted about it, and it seemed that blogging about this could be incredibly valuable to both business owners and clients, and so… here we are.
This situation is beyond difficult for us all. That’s all there is to it. We are in a worst case scenario situation, and we’re all grieving the normalcy and way of life we worked so hard to maintain before this. Let me also say loud and clear, WE AREN’T IN THIS TO BE GREEDY. If we were, we wouldn’t be doing this because let’s be honest, most of us put in an obscene amount of hours we will never be paid for and it’s because we believe in love, in our clients and in delivering an unforgettable experience. If we wanted to get rich quick, there are a lot of easier and more lucrative ways to go about that. If I could quantify the hours my guy, Jay, and I have spent arguing or trying to find balance with the amount of hours and time I spend working, I’d be writing this in a month– because that’s how long it would take me to count up those discussions.
Thorough contracts are there to protect EVERYONE. We wouldn’t want to sign an agreement as a client that doesn’t protect us, so we aren’t going to ask you to sign something like that. We want to run businesses that have heart behind them, and we want our clients to be proud to be working with us. Here’s an example pertinent to me and my business: I’m a member of 2% for Conservation and 1% for the Planet. A lot of you book in part with me because you’re psyched that a part of your investment is going to support the wild places you love and value. Well– I don’t just get to sign up for that. I give, yes, truly, thousands of dollars and hours of pro-bono time each year to environmental groups to make this something we can all truly be proud of as one. I wouldn’t be doing that if I didn’t care about running a business with heart. I also wouldn’t do that if I was trying to get rich, because if I didn’t do this, those thousands would be in my pocket. Individual clauses that seem SO ridiculous to us sometimes are there because we have faced that– as crazy as it may seem to you, and we’re trying to be sure the expectations and outcomes in those trying times are clear to all. We didn’t expect to have to enforce those either, and we understand the grief you’re feeling because we’re feeling it too. We didn’t create this situation, and while we understand it may FEEL like we’re winning here, we aren’t either. Here’s why:
Our contracts have protected you every day since you signed them.
There is of course the retention of your date (which I’ll get into in a moment), but there’s also the guides you used or had available to you (mine alone have 8-10 hours of work in them minimum), the costs of having the programs that make this easier for you (the online signing programs, the invoicing software, the contracts we had to buy and have completed by lawyers, the platforms that your images get delivered in, the print shops we set up to make it easy for you). Then, there’s the gear we use that means your investment is that much safer and more valuable (for example, my camera bodies alone– not the lenses- cost about 3-5k each– and we carry more than one at a time as well as use this body because it records to dual cards– meaning if one corrupts, we have a backup). It’s the timeline planning we’ve done– because no, I didn’t just write you the email– I researched lighting applicable to your day, I wrote out a few versions of options on paper, I checked your thoughts, and then I put together a final version for you. When I could have gone biking with Jay or fly-fishing, I instead spent hours going through my notes on each client and checking-in so that YOU didn’t have to initiate that because I know you have a ton on your plate. I was there to help keep things moving and provide advice because alone, I’ve shot probably 300-400 weddings and I’m offering advice because I’ve seen what happens when you opt to go a different route. Frankly, I’m trying to make your day better, more enjoyable, and more smooth. And beyond that, our correspondence whether you deem it valuable or not, is valuable. If you think that someone you’ve barely spoken with is going to show up and capture incredibly meaningful moments of you and the person you love, I’m sorry to say you’re most likely mistaken. Capturing incredible moments means that I need to know you as people– I need to be able to make you feel relaxed, have things I know you value to chat about. On almost any day I spend at work publicly, I will spend 4-14 hours with you. WITH YOU. For most of your wedding day, I will be by your side. I’d like you to feel good about that and feel like you can let go and have fun, because you know I have your back and am going to help be sure things go smoothly.
Now, let’s chat about the retention of the date. When you signed your contract, you invested in having me because my work was the work that felt the best to you. I signed too, because I’m thrilled and honored to be a part of this with you. So yeah, it holds your date. But here’s the thing– vendors (alllll your vendors) are getting COUNTLESS inquiries for your date. There are times in the year where I will get 10-20 inquiries per DAY. So, we may not love the venue, or maybe it’s a smaller booking for us, maybe I get an inquiry that is my DREAM to shoot or is 3 times the income for me– and yet, I turned it down because I had an agreement with you. We’ve had people offer to “buy out” the couple we are already booked with — your package may have been 4k, and they are offering close to 10 or 20k if you’ll take them instead. And, we still said no. Because, we MADE A COMMITMENT TO YOU. Can you imagine how it would feel if a few months before your wedding we looked for a loop-hole so we could email you and say “Sorry, I have to cancel our agreement due to x and refund your retainer because I have a better offer and I can’t pass it up. Good luck!”…. Can you? It would be more than devastating, not to mention leave you out on a limb and make you feel like utter trash because the investment that was huge for you can’t touch what someone else has available. It would make you feel like you aren’t worthy of being protected by the agreement that protected someone else.
This is how it feels to us when we get threatening emails demanding refunds. And yes, it’s happening– both to me, and to others I know. I and those I admire to the moon and back are being defamed and threatened with horrible reviews, spreading of misinformation about our character, and lawsuits over sticking to the contract we ALL WILLINGLY signed. We’ve gotten emails about how heartless, cruel, and evil we are. I have spent hours sobbing or laying awake a night because I am so stressed about this situation and doing what is right. And, even more so, when we PAY MONEY during a time when we have zero income to have a lawyer review our agreements and be sure what we offer is legal, we explain that, and then are treated as if we’re lying and continuously threatened and pushed that the policy we put out isn’t valid. In what world would a lawyer give advice that wasn’t legal? Does it ever happen? Probably on occasion. Does it happen all the time? No, not a chance. They have a reputation they’ve worked for too, and they aren’t going to risk that on something like reviewing a contract or otherwise. In what world would someone who has spent literal thousands of hours, stress, money to build a business willingly try to break the law and risk losing everything? Yes, my business has really found its groove in the past years– but do you know how many before that I spent skipping social events because I was too broke? Slinking to the phone to call home and embarrassingly admit that I couldn’t pay my bills that month and needed a little help? I put my heart into the business I have, often at the sacrifice of other things I love, and I know endless business owners in the exact same boat.
Here’s one final part to this, before I wrap it up. Policies. A LOT of us are offering options– options that make this easier for you and show you how much we care, at our own expense. Rescheduling options. Let’s talk about that (this is from my own policy, so your vendors may have slightly different options):
-You have the option to reschedule to another date in 2020. Awesome!!! Keep in mind, we’re businesses that may lose more than a couple months of income. We can’t just start to work the day they reopen things– we can start to work with the bookings we already have– and a lot of those have canceled or rescheduled. So, when we give you a date later in the year, we’ve now held two dates for you, and limited the income we could have earned in 2020 to help our business out a bit. We are offering this because we CARE.
-You have the option to reschedule to 2021, as long as it’s within 12 months of the original date. Great!! Keep in mind, we’ve now held 2 years worth of dates for one income. The income we should have earned this year will now be divided into two years. We could have booked an entirely new booking for that date, and maybe our prices increased so that booking would have been substantially different. Yet, we decided to offer this to help.
Now, keep in mind, there are plenty of businesses that can’t afford to offer these options, and so they aren’t. So if your vendors are giving you options, try to show some grace even when it isn’t perfect. And, if you are choosing to cancel, we understand. We’re bummed too- but that is YOUR choice and we all must be responsible for our choices. You do HAVE other options to continue working with us, and if you aren’t taking that choice that’s fine, but it’s YOUR choice. We understand maybe it’s not the perfect date and exactly what you want, but nothing about this situation is perfect for anyone. We all have priorities, and we all need to be responsible for them. If having the perfect date is most important to me, and it means my photographer can’t be there as they are already booked, that is a choice and there is a consequence in order to pick that outcome. We have to set boundaries because we have other clients who have rescheduled with us, and we owe them the experience they invested in. We need to be sure we’re still here to deliver that experience. Remember, when you cancel, we lose half or more of our income for that date and likely aren’t going to be rebooking it. We’re losing out too.
This is a hard topic to talk about, especially for those of us who are incredibly sensitive and sometimes care TOO much. It’s been hard to speak to this, knowing that there is a risk of sour responses. And yes, we’ve been in this boat too. I just had this happen a few months ago with a rather expensive Airbnb– and while it sucked for sure, I had made an agreement when I booked and that’s life. Sometimes, actually quite often, you’re not going to find an endless fountain of lemonade. Sometimes, lemons smack you in the noggin. And yes, I totally understand that there are some situations that do not fall into this, and I’m really sorry you may be facing that. This isn’t an end-all-be-all for every situation and I know that. But for a lot of us, this is applicable. We’re carrying a huge load of stress right now just like you. We know there isn’t a right answer here, and there isn’t going to be one that works perfectly for us both as much as we wish there was. This isn’t to stir the pot, but it’s to help everyone see there are two sides to this situation, and hopefully come with grace. It’s so painful to see what is happening to amazing people over this, and I’d like to believe (and I think Whitney would agree here) that if we all understood this a bit better, we would be a bit more human and kind to one another, knowing nobody wins here. So whether you’re getting married or not, the next time you are faced with a tough situation like this, let’s all stop and see if we can try a bit more grace.
We have an opportunity here. Yes, truly. WE can change our world, and the way we treat one another through this experience. We can start something that leads to a kinder future for us all after this ends. Let’s do that, I think we’d all live a little happier. And to the many who have handled this with so much grace, THANK YOU. We can not tell you how much it means, and how much more genuinely excited we are to be a part of a day with such wonderful beings (and I was REAL excited before too!). We love you all, and we’re so incredibly sorry this is happening. Hang in there.