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Can a client 'CANCEL' your contract?
  
 
DoubleDragon
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · Can a client 'CANCEL' your contract?


I'm wondering if I should be disallowing clients to cancel, once they have signed a contract, or somehow discourage clients from canceling with a higher retainer fee or contractually requiring them to pay some other type of additional fee in order to cancel. This has come up just 3 times for us, and we've shot hundred of weddings, but I'm still concerned that I have left myself vulnerable in our contract. Please let me know how you would handle the following situations that we have encountered:

1) Client A books with us, pays her retainer fee ($500) and signs our contract, about 18 months prior her wedding. We turn down other prospective clients interested in that date. Then, 4 months from her wedding, she lets us know that her plans had changed and she is now planning a destination wedding, and that she is canceling our wedding contract. We keep her retainer fee and the date goes unbooked.

2) Client B books with us about a year or so prior to their wedding date, pays retainer ($500) and books a decent contract (over $5,000), we take an entire day and travel up to NYC to shoot their engagement portraits and they are happy with the images. Just 30 days from their wedding, they email us to let us know that the wedding has been canceled, as they presumably broke up their relationship... we keep the retainer ($500) but get nothing for their engagement session, and are not able to book any work on that August date.

3) Client C books with us about a year prior to their wedding, pays retainer ($500) and books another decently sized contract with engagement portraits, albums, etc. (this one is near $6,000) We go all out on their engagement session, traveling over two hours to get to the spot that they wanted to use and also hitting multiple locations nearby, overall spending around 3+ hours photographing and another 4 hours+ traveling in the car, so it turned into a full day of work for us. They send an email about 5 months prior to their wedding saying that they actually booked another photographer and won't be using our services, insisting that it wasn't 'personal' but they liked the other photographer's style more.

This last one is the one that got me thinking that we must do something about this issue because Client C had no good reason to cancel on us. I saw who she picked, it was a COMPLETELY different style than what we offer (we do colorful, interactive editorial style with lots of off camera flash, the photog she picked does the light/airy, no interaction, no decent posing, all-natty light style) So basically when she said she liked the other photographer's style , I interpreted that she was continuing to shop after booking with us and got caught up in the net of another photographer's marketing style and decided to book with her and cancel on us. I kept her retainer fee but that barely covered the cost of spending an entire day on their engagement session. After that, we've been collecting the fee for the engagement session at the engagement session, and making sure that clients don't think that their retainer fee will cover it, but I feel like I should have some sort of 'cancelation fee' or some other clause in place to prevent more situations like this in the future.

Any advice would be appreciated!



Aug 01, 2017 at 03:51 PM
Ziffl3
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · Can a client 'CANCEL' your contract?


real quickly...
new cancellation policy.... 6 months out and less 100% of contract is required.
increase retainer... $750 - 1K.

change payment scheduled to have either 50% or more by 6 months.

-Mark



Aug 01, 2017 at 03:58 PM
LeeSimms
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · Can a client 'CANCEL' your contract?


For my brand it's a 50% earned administrative/consultation fee up front to get on the schedule. None refundable as it's earned. The balance 50% is the photography fee.

I charge for engagement sessions at time of service.

FWIW, you wouldn't be the first photographer to loose a wedding because they didn't like the engagement photos. I think it's one of the great mysteries of wedding photography and someone at a WPPI convention needs to do the seminar "how to not blow the wedding with the engagement session."

Edited on Aug 01, 2017 at 04:14 PM · View previous versions



Aug 01, 2017 at 04:09 PM
macpro88
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · Can a client 'CANCEL' your contract?


I'm just now getting into doing weddings full time so take what I say with a grain of salt if you want. But from what I've learned from others and from the weddings I've done so far (I have not yet had any cancellations) is that avoiding terms like 'deposit,' 'down payment,' 'retainer,' etc can help mitigate cancellations (not that you're really have any issues with it if you've only had three cancellations).

Instead, what I do, and this is learned from others, is that in order to secure the date of the wedding, I need 50% of the balance due immediately, and the remaining balance due 30 days prior to the wedding (so we're not chasing them down a week before the wedding, when I'm sure they're more busy with other things).

In my contract I reference money as 'monies' or 'monies collected/due' and in my cancellation clause, I state that I retain 'all monies collected upon cancellation.'

To be honest, if someone books a $6k package with me, I'm going to want more than $500 to book and secure that date; if they're willing to drop $6k, and decide they want to go with someone else, they'll view $500 as a drop in the bucket.

Clients need to be absolutely 100% sure they want YOU as their photographer, and if they're going to bounce around whenever they feel like it, we need to call that out as bad consumer behavior and it needs to stop, so we need to 'punish' them by being a tad bit more hard on cancellation clauses.

If I'm the client, which we've all been there, it's harder to cancel when more of you resources are at stake. But if it's risk free cancellation, it's way easier to cancel.

When clients enter into legally binding contracts with their vendors, we vendors need to be able to protect that forecasted income.

Again, just the way I view things.



Aug 01, 2017 at 04:09 PM
joelconner
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · Can a client 'CANCEL' your contract?


1) you need a higher retainer. $1k at the minimum. A retainer that low is begging to be backed out on. They will not back out for shallow reasons if it does not really sting to do so.

2) we have our second payment of 50% of balance due 6-months out with the final balance due one month out. That way if it cancels in that window, you are not out almost the full amount.

Your retainer and subsequent payments are the cancellation fee. You can try to add another fee on, but that will be nothing but a massive headache and a huge PR blunder. ("What do you mean I have to pay you more? I just lost my fiance and my life is ruined...and you now want MORE money from me")

Cancellations happen, and when they do you need to have proper policies in place so that it is not a total wash for you. You gave a client a date and turned away other work for it. That security for them needs to cost something.

3) not related to your question but worth mentioning...you need to be making something from the work you are doing on e-sessions. Don't give away your hard work for free. If I had traveled to do an engagement session like that and made anything less than $1.5k for it, I would be furious.



Aug 01, 2017 at 04:18 PM
eke2k6
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · Can a client 'CANCEL' your contract?


To get on my calendar, it's 50% up front with the remaining due 30 days prior to the wedding. I emphasize that the 50% is to reserve that day, and that I will turn away other prospective couples because they booked. It also says the same thing in my contract.




Aug 01, 2017 at 04:59 PM
dmacmillan
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · Can a client 'CANCEL' your contract?


Ziffl3 wrote:
real quickly...
new cancellation policy.... 6 months out and less 100% of contract is required.
increase retainer... $750 - 1K.

change payment scheduled to have either 50% or more by 6 months.

-Mark

My retainer was $500 in 1982 - definitely increase this.

It always hurts to lose an income opportunity.



Aug 01, 2017 at 05:42 PM
nagoc50
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · Can a client 'CANCEL' your contract?


Your scenarios read like a law school exam and makes my head hurt. Glad to give you my thoughts as a lawyer and wedding photographer -- but I am not your lawyer!

Setting aside the issues of your retainer amount, you should talk to a local lawyer about a drafting a "liquidated damages" clause or schedule in your contract. It's damages clause that the parties to a contract agree at the outset will be paid upon a specific breach (e.g. cancelation say 6 months out, 30 days out, etc.). This would be for a specific amount beyond the standard retainer.



Aug 01, 2017 at 06:23 PM
 

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LeeSimms
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · Can a client 'CANCEL' your contract?


All threads like this should always have the disclaimer, "As you wouldn't go to your attorney with photography questions, you should not ask photographers about legal questions."

Our practices and paperwork have been vetted by two different firms and you are suggested to do the same.



Aug 01, 2017 at 06:26 PM
amonline
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · Can a client 'CANCEL' your contract?


Simply put, my rules work so any client can do whatever they want, but I keep any payments made, and they cover any situations as you have described. I only refund if I can fill a client's date.

So, for your examples...

1) Good. Only you can decide if it's worth pursuing legally. If you're even thinking about this part, your retainer is not high enough.
2) Your retainer should have AT LEAST covered any upcoming e-session. This is your problem. Adjust your retainer or payment rules.
3) Again, your problem. You should have collected the e-session separately and completely before rendering the work.

You have to decide if legal action is worth your time and money if you do not create good payment rule structure. Most decide it is not, and drop it. Therefore, if you're on this forum asking because you feel you got screwed, adjust your retainer and payment rules to make sure you're paid for services rendered - PRIOR to rendering those services, and that you will have what is needed to lose a date. Make your retainers a level that will make you happy if ANY client were to cancel.

This is really just business common sense 101.



Aug 01, 2017 at 06:45 PM
glort
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p.1 #11 · p.1 #11 · Can a client 'CANCEL' your contract?


eke2k6 wrote:
To get on my calendar, it's 50% up front with the remaining due 30 days prior to the wedding. I emphasize that the 50% is to reserve that day, and that I will turn away other prospective couples because they booked. It also says the same thing in my contract.



Much as we have Butted heads in the past, I think this is about the best solution.

Does not have to be 50% but I'd be working on a worst case number. You did the engagement session and they cancel, whats going to be the number that you can walk away and be happy with? Maybe it's more than 50% but that is up to you.

I think the substantial percentage up front and the finalization before the date is wise because it avoids having to engage any legal services in the case of the couple flaking to recoup any losses because there won't be any. I get payment 2 weeks before but I'm going to change it to a month as well.

To pre empt the inevitable " What if there is an accident and someone dies etc, not fair to keep their money". You can always do something different. If you have a no refunds policy and you do decide in a certain case to refund, I'm sure they won't complain or go you for breach of contract.
It's like a one way safety valve, it protects you but does not mean you can't change the policy if you wish. If however YOU decide, to override that valve, YOU can but they can't.

2 bits of advise to follow here: Go see a lawyer and be very careful and find out how you can word or what you call the deposit. Reservation, booking... whatever fee is appropriate and legal in YOUR area and specify the contract follows the laws where you are for out of state clients.



Aug 01, 2017 at 11:56 PM
SGallant
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p.1 #12 · p.1 #12 · Can a client 'CANCEL' your contract?


I got burned on something like this about 3 or 4 years ago, and I immediately changed my policy. My policy at the time was $1000 retainer, and final payment 30 days out. I had a couple that I shot their esession, held their date over a year. They called off the wedding 3 weeks out and I never got paid more than the retainer, never got paid for the ssession and never rebooked the date. While my contract stated they still owed me money (they were also past the final payment mark). Am I really going to go after a client at this point? Or chase them in court? No. I don't have time for that.

I have since gone to $1000 retainer, and have at minimum 1 payment due before the final payment 30 days out from their wedding. The final payment ends up covering seconds, albums, prints, etc. By the time I am at the final payment, I have more than 50% of the monies in house, more like 70%+.

Good luck in whatever you do!



Aug 02, 2017 at 04:33 PM
eke2k6
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p.1 #13 · p.1 #13 · Can a client 'CANCEL' your contract?


glort wrote:
Much as we have Butted heads in the past, I think this is about the best solution.


After much soul searching, I've decided to abandon reason and disagree with myself due to the fact that you agree with me.

I am now in favor of reserving wedding dates without upfront payment, instead opting to operate on a trust-based, contract-free payment scheme where couples can pay me after I've delivered the images.



Aug 02, 2017 at 07:35 PM
glort
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p.1 #14 · p.1 #14 · Can a client 'CANCEL' your contract?


eke2k6 wrote:
After much soul searching, I've decided to abandon reason and disagree with myself due to the fact that you agree with me.


Why would that not surprise me?




Aug 03, 2017 at 10:32 PM
eke2k6
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p.1 #15 · p.1 #15 · Can a client 'CANCEL' your contract?


glort wrote:
Why would that not surprise me?



I'm only half-serious.



Aug 03, 2017 at 11:42 PM
DoubleDragon
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p.1 #16 · p.1 #16 · Can a client 'CANCEL' your contract?


Thanks for all the thoughtful replies! I'll be making some changes asap, we've definitely grown out of the low-priced reservation (retainer) fee.


Aug 06, 2017 at 06:44 PM







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