What To Do When Your Clients Won’t Respect Your Boundaries

What do you do when your clients don’t respect your boundaries? This is a topic that many high school senior photographers face. It’s crucial to address these issues to maintain both your sanity and the professionalism of your business. From handling late-night texts to dealing with requests that go beyond the agreed-upon terms, we’ll cover practical steps to help you navigate these challenges effectively. Now let’s dive in!

TIP #1: Be Clear

If you are a photographer, chances are you have encountered clients who ask for more. Or, they try to push you into doing something that is outside of your offerings and/or comfort zone.  It is time to respect your boundaries anytime a situation arises that I don’t like or haven’t thought of. This usually means make changes to my policies, offerings etc. 

Lately, I’ve encountered some boundary-pushing behaviors from clients that I think are worth discussing. Specifically, I’ve received late-night texts and requests that go beyond what was initially agreed upon. It’s important to address these issues head-on, both for our sanity and for the professionalism of our businesses.

First, let’s get clear with ourselves!  Being in business is always a learning opportunity!  We can’t possibly predict all the situations that could arise. You have to be willing to learn as you go—and more importantly, make changes as you go. Get clear with yourself on what you are willing to do and what you specifically offer!  If you aren’t clear with yourself, then you can’t be clear with your clients.  And if they aren’t clear, they won’t know that they can’t ask for or push you to do something else.

Part of handling boundary issues is looking at ourselves. Ask if we’ve truly determined what we offer, what our business hours are, what our policies are, and if we have communicated our boundaries to our clients clearly.

Have we set the right expectations from the start?

Sometimes, a lack of clarity on our part can lead to misunderstandings. It’s essential to be explicit about what you are and are not willing to do.

TIP #2: Set Up Automated Responses

For example, I’ve started setting up automated notifications. They state my business hours and inform clients that any messages received outside of these hours will be answered during the next business day. This small step can make a big difference. I had two incidents just this week where parents of teenagers texted me at 10 PM and 11 PM. In both cases, I responded with an automated reply saying, “My business hours are ____. Your message will be answered during the next business day.”

Consider turning on Do Not Disturb mode or setting up automated responses to teach clients about your availability. By responding with an automated response instead of an actual response, you are teaching your clients that it is not ok to text me late at night. Or if you do, you won’t get a response until the next business day.  If you respond to these late night texts, you will teach them to continue to disrespect your time and text at all hours.  That is not what you want.  I get that sometimes we text because whatever it is we need to say is on our minds. You can still teach them to respect your boundaries – even if they do text after hours. Don’t respond until it is during business hours.  

TIP #3: Know the Difference Between Exceeding Expectations and Being Taken Advantage Of

Here is another important aspect to respect your boundaries. Distinguish between exceeding expectations and being taken advantage of. We often feel pressured to go above and beyond to get good reviews or to make clients happy. But there’s a fine line between offering excellent service and letting clients push your boundaries.

We have to be kind and professional always. It is ok to let a client know your boundaries in a kind and professional way—without feeling like you are being mean.  When I feel like I am being taken of advantage of, I first always try to take a breath before responding.  To be honest, any time that I have responded right away, I probably don’t come off as professional as I should.  So I have learned that taking a breath or a minute to really consider my response is the key to making sure it is a professional response. That helps me avoid a response out of frustration or personal feelings.

Here Is A Personal Example of How I Set Boundaries

One recent time a client took advantage of me involved three separate senior photoshoots with three friends back in the fall. I felt super grateful that all three booked their sessions with me and purchased either the top or next-to-top collection. Since they would have a grad party together and didn’t have their caps and gowns during their individual sessions, I offered a group mini session in the spring to capture their cap and gown photos.

When spring rolled around, the moms kept trying to add outfits and other types of photos. I realized I had not clearly communicated the details of my mini session gift. They were trying to get more out of my kindness.

Here is what I offered: 15 minutes with just their cap and gown, a few photos of each individual, and a few group photos. They wanted cap and gown photos, college tee shirt photos, white dress photos, mom and daughter photos, all individual and groups—far more than a mini session included.

That’s when I calmly and professionally explained what a mini session actually included and informed them that if they wanted everything they were asking for, they would need to book a full session. They did not book a full session and ended up taking away all the extra outfits.

The lesson I took away is that clients don’t know what they don’t know. They think it’s no big deal to just click the shutter a few more times. That’s why we must be very clear about what we offer and what is included so they don’t try to get more for less.

TIP #4: Stand Firm on Service Scope To Respect Your Boundaries

When it comes to what you offer, be clear with yourself first.  Normally we think of a session fee or an all inclusive fee and what that includes.  But we also need to put ourselves in the shoes of potential clients and what they may ask for.  Sometimes this comes from learning from an actual client who asks for more.  But we have to think ahead and determine what we will offer if a client asks for x.  Once we are clear ourselves, we can be clear with clients and stand firm on our services.

If you are a senior photographer, some additional requests may be sibling photos, family photos, cap and gown sessions. These are after the initial senior session is done or even a spring session if they did their first session in the fall.  Think ahead for these situations and determine how you will handle them. That way when a client asks, you have an answer.

Family photos are a common one for me.  And the truth is, I don’t mind taking a few at the end of the session.  That only increases the amount of money they will spend at the ordering session because they are not going to not buy some family photos as well as senior photos. But if the client is trying to get a full family session for the price of a senior session, that is too much.  So I am very clear with my parameters on what is included and what is not!

Here’s another personal example.

I recently had a parent who booked the cheapest session with the least amount of time and recently asked if I could also take family photos.  I explained to her that the amount of time for this particular session did not include time for additional family photos.  I gave her three clear options:

1- Bump up to the next session option which gave us more time and I would make the last ten minutes family time.

2 – Stick with the session she booked but add on a family mini for additional money.

3-  Book a full family session at a later date.

I gave her clear options, what is included in each, and what the cost would be. That set expectations, not be taken advantage of while still delivering professional service and standing firm with my services and what is available.

Make sure you are clear on these options for add ons, additional services, what is included and what is not in your own business so you can be clear when asked for something extra.

TIP #5: Manage Outfit Expectations

When it comes to senior sessions, a lot of times the number of outfits are included in the price.  The reason for this is that it takes time to change outfits. The more outfits, the more time. And frankly the more photos too because you have more outfits to capture.  So you have to be clear on the number of outfits included in your price so clients are clear on what they are getting.

But we’ve all probably had that client who ignored what was included and booked the session that included 2 outfits but showed up with four!  Has this happened to you??

Knowing how to handle this before it happens will help you stay professional and not be taken advantage of.  Maybe you don’t care if they show up with more and that is fine!  If that is the case then you already know how to handle it.  But if you want it to be a strict policy, then knowing how to handle it if they show up with more is important so you aren’t caught off guard. My advice is to politely but firmly ask, “Which two outfits would you like to use for your shoot today?”  Or “Which two are your favorites so we can make sure that those are the ones we use for your shoot?”

If on the shoot you realize that there is time to sneak in another of their outfits because maybe you haven’t used up all your shoot time, then great.  By letting them know right off the bat that two is what they paid for, you are setting expectations and sticking to the session option they booked. It’s about setting clear, consistent boundaries and sticking to them.

TIP #6: Educate Clients on Photo Options

Another common issue is clients who say they just need one photo. While they may believe this, a professional photo session involves providing them with a variety of options. It’s about educating clients on the value of what you offer. Explain that even if they think they only need one photo, having multiple options ensures they get the best possible result.  And that you will need to take more than one to get them the “one” they think they need.

You also still have to use the same equipment for one versus 50.  You still have to drive to and from the location to actually take the one photo using gas, time, etc.  There is more involved in the process than simply taking just one photo or clicking that shutter just one time.

I actually often wonder what a client that asks for just one photo would do if I showed up and literally just clicked the shutter one time!  Ha!  I would never do that but I would love to see the reaction to doing exactly what they asked for!

Communicate Clearly So Clients Respect Your Boundaries

To wrap up, putting policies in place to clearly communicate what you are and are not willing to do is crucial.  Be clear on your own policies and what you offer. This allows you to clearly communicate these to your clients.  Make sure that you have everything spelled out in several places. This includes your inquiry magazine, listed on your website, in your FAQ’s, on your contract, and more!  And if you speak to your clients in person in a consultation. verbally communicate these things as well. These need to be reinforced so that clients know how to respect your boundaries.

Don’t feel bad about restating your boundaries. Clients need to understand your business hours and the scope of your services. Remember, it’s not about being difficult; it’s about maintaining professionalism and ensuring that you can deliver the best service possible without burning out. Remember, setting and maintaining boundaries is crucial for your sanity and the professionalism of your business. Stay firm, stay clear, and keep delivering exceptional service to your clients.

What To Do When Your Clients Won’t Respect Your Boundaries


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