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What Can You Do to Safeguard Your Business?

Lesson 30 from: Wedding Photographer Survival Kit

Susan Stripling

What Can You Do to Safeguard Your Business?

Lesson 30 from: Wedding Photographer Survival Kit

Susan Stripling

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Lesson Info

30. What Can You Do to Safeguard Your Business?

Next Lesson: Contracts Q&A


Class Trailer



Class Introduction


The Gear That Will Save You in Tough Situations


How Lenses Shape the Image and Help Tell Your Story


Light Modifiers for Your Survival Kit


Gear to Spice Up Bland Images: Prisms, Mist and More


Walkthrough of a Difficult Venue


Why Each Room Works and Why It Doesn't


Wedding Day Details in a Difficult Situation: Dress


Wedding Day Details in a Difficult Situation: Rings


Wedding Day Details in a Difficult Situation: Shoes


Photographing the Bride Getting Ready in Difficult Scenarios


Photographing the Bride Getting Ready in a Small, Cluttered Room


Photographing the Bride Getting Ready in a Dark Hallway


Photographing the Bride Getting Ready in a Doorway


Portraits of the Bride in a Small Room


Removing the Surrounding Space for a Bridal Portrait


Window Lit Bridal Portrait in a Tough Space


How to Shoot a Quick and Simple Bridal Portrait


Photographing Guys, Complaining Brides and "Helpful" Bridesmaids




Portraits of Bride and Groom: Ideal Situations


Portraits of Bride and Groom: When Things Go Wrong


Bride and Groom Portraits: What to Do If You're Indoors


Bride and Groom Portraits: How to Pose an Awkward Couple


Family Formals: How to Achieve Your Ideal Situations


Family Formals: When Things are Less Than Ideal


Family Formals in an Awful Space


Family Formals Recap and Questions


Photographing the Reception


Reception Q&A


What Can You Do to Safeguard Your Business?


Contracts Q&A


Dealing with Social Media as a Wedding Photographer


What if Advertising Isn't Working?


What to do When Everyone Just Wants More


When Everyone Says I Am Too Expensive


When You Hate Your Job as a Wedding Photographer


Lesson Info

What Can You Do to Safeguard Your Business?

So we're going into my the last segment, which happens to be my favorite, which is business and marketing. You know, I talk a lot about sort of my place in the photography world, and I did not come to photography as someone who had this lifelong passion for shooting. I came to photography as a weirdo theater kid who graduated from college with a B F A and sort of a minor in dance and got out of school and realized pretty quickly, I didn't really want to make a life is a performer now. I love theater. Live theater might probably be one of my favorite things in the entire world. That doesn't mean that I want to act, and I'm glad I realized that. But it was a hard realization, but I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I got married very quickly out of college. I had my first daughter when I was only I really didn't know what I wanted to do. It just sort of stumbled into photography, but I stumbled into photography on the business side of things, and I still don't really view my...

self as a person who has a great passion for photography. I like taking pictures. I would like to take pictures for a living for the rest of my life. I really legitimately like being a photographer. I like being a business person. I really like the business side of things much as it drives me nuts. And it drives me nuts. I really like being an entrepreneur. I really like being my own boss. And I take that part like deadly. Seriously, very, very seriously. This was never a hobby for me. This is not a hobby for me. I have to care for my kids. I have to pay my rent one day. I need to retire. So I have to build up a fund like this. This is it for me. This is my job. It's not a passion project. So the business and marketing side of things I take so seriously I almost lose all of my humor for it. Don't worry. It's still here, though. Um, so to get started, the first thing that you need to do when you're looking at business. Really? When you're looking at the entire fundamental set up of your business, you've got to put safeguards in place so that you do not get hosed right away. And what do I mean by that? What do I mean by putting safeguards in place? Well, the first thing that you need is an ironclad contract. I know that sounds basic. I know that sounds super basic, but I am in so many Facebook groups where people come in and they say, I mean, I don't have a contract and or I bought a contract on the guy's already rolling. I bought a contract online, and I mean, I kind of use it. No, this is your This is your life. And you could down the road get super screwed by a contract that isn't good for you. So I buy my contracts from the law dog. Her name is Rachel. She has taught here on creativelive. She is hilarious. She is a funny, weird, irreverent, fantastic human being. Um, if you hit that resource is page the dynamic range dot com. There is a link to Rachel's contracts. They are awesome. I do by every contract that I need for everything from her. I also have it reviewed by a local attorney. Rachel is awesome. She's not based in New York. New York is weird, so I want to make sure that whatever contract I buy from wherever I buy it, it's applicable for my state and also for my business. So I do have it reviewed. I talked through it with my attorney. I make sure that if I want to add a clause for an hour of my attorneys time, it's $350. So I want to change a clause in my contract, and I need an hour of his time to talk through it and decide if I want to implement it or not. $ is cheap when you're staring down the legal framework of the relationship that you have with your clients. I don't do it that often because that's expensive, but you get what you pay for. I cannot be a professional photographer, complaining about how much it cost to hire an attorney. Like I realized the terrible irony of what that would be like, right? I would be every other client who would be like you just push a button like what? Why do you want all this money and I'm like, you just talk to me on the phone and returned to emails. Why am I giving him $350? Because he's smart and he's saving me. Don't be afraid to stick to your contract. And don't be afraid to say no to revisions. So someone gets your contract. They look it over there like we really want to sign this contract, but we want to make a few changes first. No, that's a hard and fast line with me. You cannot make changes to my contract. We can't change the payment terms. You can't change anything. You're not changing the language. We're not changing a word. If a client is super adamant about it, I'll say, You know what? I don't make changes to my contract. If these are changes you want to talk about, I'm gonna have to look my attorney. And on this it's no offense to you, but I don't like to make legal decisions. Without his input, it will be $350 an hour will probably need about two hours of his time. Let me know how you would like to proceed. You know, a lot of times they're just asking for changes, not knowing they don't know that asking for changes is is legally difficult. So, yes, I do have a contract. Yeah, it's three pages long, and every once in a while have somebody be like my contracts a page long or my word is good and we shake hands and make a deal. Ah, maybe I'm paranoid. Maybe I'm overly cautious. Maybe there's too many words in my contract, but it protects me, and I tell my clients the contract protects me from you. It also protects you from me. I can't just bail on your wedding. I can't walk away. I am liable if I screw up. It's there to provide a legal framework for our relationship so that we don't have to worry about it. So questions, not questions. But I asked people, I have a group on Facebook. If you go to Facebook and you look for the dynamic range, you'll find two things. You'll find the page for the dynamic range, and you'll also find an invitation only Facebook group. All you have to do is request to be a member. I'm going to say yes. Um, if you're a jerk, I'm in a boot you out. But I'm going to say yes, you can come in. I do participate. I do answer questions, and there are a lot. Um, but I asked the group I pulled that group so high. You guys hear those questions I asked for? I asked them questions about business and marketing problems. And I'm realizing that a lot of people are having the same problems and they're very universal. So first problem. I had a client cancel a week out from their wedding, and my contract says they only their balance, but I don't know. It's sort of feel mean for in enforcing it, but it is my contract. Dude, I'm sorry. You cancel a week before your wedding. You owe me 100% of your balance. The end hard stop. I'm so sorry. Now let me step back and say that I am not a heartless human being. I am not without feelings and I am not without understanding. There are two means that own my business. There is the business. Me. And then there's an actual living, breathing human being that believe it or not, actually cares about your feelings. If you call me the week before your wedding and you say my dad is dying of cancer or something terrible has happened to me. I was recently diagnosed with a terrible illness. Something bad is happening. Go to town. I can't take any more of your money. Just go be well. You can have your retainer back, but go be well. Do you know what I mean? Like, I'm not gonna try to get more money out of them if you cancel According to my contract four months before your wedding, you still owe me 50% of your balance. 60 days out from your wedding. You owe me everything and I will enforce it. I had a client call me. I had to situations in two weeks. I have never had anyone cancel this close to the wedding. But I had someone cancel. They called me up there like Oh, yeah. Oh, we got our final invoice and the reminder that we haven't filled out the questionnaire. Oh, we're not getting married. And I was like, What? You're Yeah. You're just now telling me this. I emailed you once a week to remind you about your questionnaire. I've emailed you several times to remind me about your invoice. You're just now telling me this seven days before your wedding, I was like, You owe me 100% of your balance. And the guy was like, No, we don't. And I was, like, read the contract that you signed, and he's like, Well, that's ridiculous. And I was like, I'm sorry you feel that way. And I talked him on the phone on the moon, You know, hard this is to do on the phone, and he's like, What do you mean? We owe you 100% of your balance. I was like, You owe me $5380 if something weird like that. And he was like, Well, we're not gonna pay that. And I was like, Okay, Dokey, I Okay, so we got off the phone, I followed up. This is what you owe me. If you truly do believe that you do not have to pay for this. Here is my attorney. My attorney's phone number and email address. And we can talk about this further. If you would like to talk about a reduced balance, we can talk about this, but it would need to be paid within the next week. And he wrote me back. And he's like, What do you mean, reduced balance? So he owed me. It's like $5300. Right on. I said, Okay, you have a photo booth in there. It's $1000. I will remove the photo booth. I don't have to bring it on. I don't have to set it up. I don't have to pay my employees. I'll take that off. I don't have to have your wedding processed. I don't have to pay for my assistant for the day. I don't have to do any of the postproduction. I'll take another $1000 off. If you pay me within the next week. $3380 will call it even. And they paid me. Ah, that's okay. So then I had a client a couple weeks later, cancel on me and I am not joking for days before their event. 1234 This has never happened. You have to understand. In 15 years, the closest I've ever gotten to a wedding day with the cancellation is like three months to within a period of a couple of weeks cancel within the week of their wedding, they e mailed me several different things that did not quite add up as to the reason for cancelling. So I reached out to their venue and I called up the venue and I said, Hey, I'm supposed to be shooting this event at your venue on this day. Can you let me know if it's happening or not? And they said, No, it's not happening. They canceled six months ago, six months ago, and they didn't tell me. Then they started spinning a bunch of stories to me. Oh, we didn't get any of your contact information. I'm like, Really? Because in the last two weeks, when I've been trying to track you down when you haven't been returning any of my voice mails or my emails, let's list the way that I tried to find you. I googled you and guys. If you think I can't find you on Google, you've never asked me to stalk someone you're dating because I can find anything on the Internet. I found all of their websites. I found his place of business. I sent a letter to his work. I called and left a voicemail at his work. I messaged them both on Instagram. I tried to friend request them both on Facebook. I publicly wrote on both of their business Facebook pages that I was trying to get in touch with. Um, literally everywhere. I could find these people. I tried and they wouldn't get back to me. They wouldn't get back mean they wouldn't get back to me. Two weeks after this supposed event that didn't take place, The bride sends me an email and is like, Hey, girl, hey, you know, I know we haven't talked in a while and I know we didn't get married on that date, but I want to talk to you about our plans for next year. And my response was you only $6000. Um, here's my attorney's name and phone number. I have never heard from her. She never contacted the attorney, and I'm filing against her in small claims court. I am not a heartless human being, but I held that date for you. I fulfilled my side of the bargain. You didn't get in touch with me. You canceled six months before your wedding and you didn't let me know? Yeah. I'll take you to court for it. Does this make me a mean, mean, mean person in their eyes? Probably. But if there is an extenuating circumstance and you want me to work with you, you have to tell me what that extenuating circumstance is If they came to me and they said, Okay, this is super awkward. But we actually canceled this whole event six months ago and we thought we'd contacted all of our vendors. And I am utterly mortified that we didn't contact you. We kind of ghosted on you. We sort of thought you'd go away. We get that you're not going away. We do not have our balance. What can we dio? I would have worked with them. I even reached out to them via certified letter that I made them sign for to say I will work with you on your balance. If you contact me by X date, they're avoiding me. They're gonna hope I'm gonna go away. If any of you have met me in person, I am not going away. We will settle this because you know what? I couldn't call them four days before their wedding and be like, I'm just not gonna come. L l right. Like, I can't do that. Can you even imagine, right? Like it's well, I take you to court. I mean, please don't make me, but would you take me to court if I didn't show up at your wedding? It Yeah, probably. We, as the business owners, have very little recourse against our clients. They can write nasty reviews about us. We can't write nasty reviews about them. Do you know what I mean? Like, you have to reach the point where you want to stand up for yourself or not. I lost a lot of money that weekend. It was really unfortunate on I lost a lot of money because someone did not respect me as a person or a business enough to stand up. And they just thought If I go away, she'll go away. You guys have never gonna go away like I can hold a grudge for now until forever. But this isn't personal. It's just business. You owe me a debt. I am going to collect on the debt. The end. You and your own business have to find where you are comfortable. Without that contract in place. If we had just on a handshake, if we hadn't really done a contract, I would have had no leg to stand on about this This outstanding balance. So you have to figure out where are your limits in place for things like this? My client doesn't want me to show their pictures to anyone the Internet or display in anywhere. But they sign the contract that includes a model released. What do I dio? I really truly believe that about 50% of my client signed the contract without reading it. They just dio How many times have you click? I accept on the ITune turn. ITunes, terms of service. How many times have you read it? You didn't read it? I've never read it. I could have literally promised them both of my Children and I just clicked. I agree. They don't read it or they skim it or they read it, but they don't pay attention to it or they read it and they forget. And that's okay. They're signing a 1,000,000 contracts at once. There's no way they can remember all of these things. But if you sign a model release and you come to me later and you're like, Oh, I actually don't want you to show my pictures anywhere. The time for us to talk about that would have been before you signed the contract. So at that point in time, you have to decide what you want to dio and for me. A lot of times I'll just shrug my shoulders and say, That's fine. I won't. You know you're not going to see any sneak peeks. I'm not gonna be able to put anything on Instagram or Facebook. I'm not gonna send you private sneak peeks. That's not how this really works. But if you don't want me to show your pictures anywhere I want your pictures anywhere, that's fine. Now all that's for that would be off if I made a deal with them for any reason. I don't do this anymore. But maybe if I was newer in business and I cut them a break because their venue was awesome or I cut them a break because I wanted to be able to use their images and marketing, or I gave them a little bit of money off for some more time because it was a venue that I wanted to work out. I wanted to really improve my S e O for that venue. Well, then, that discount doesn't exist anymore because it was based on being able to use the images. And most people understand at 50 weddings a year every once in a while, if somebody is like, I don't want you to show my images, I'll just say OK, my client signed the contract, but her mom and dad keep trying to make changes and asked me to do stuff that I know the bride doesn't want. That's when I have to say, you know, Mrs so and so I totally understand that these you want these things. If you could talk to your daughter about them, that would be great. My relationship is actually with her. She wants, um, very different things. I really want to keep you happy. But all changes have to come from the client. So I look forward to hearing from you and her later with how you'd like to proceed. I understand how you feel. No, but we'll talk about it later. Do you know what I mean? Like, I understand that parents want things that are different from what their kids want and trust me as I get older, I'm starting to identify with parents a little bit more than I am with the kids. Don't laugh at me. It happens. You know, it's bad when you look at the groomsmen and instead of thinking the groomsmen are cute. You think the dad of the bride is cute. You realize you've turned. You've turned a dark corner, but I understand I'm sort of stuck in the middle. I understand what the bride wants. I also understand what her mom wants. I get that her mom wants more formal portrait. I get that the bride wants 100% documentary. I can't be the person in the middle of this relationship because this has nothing to do with me. So I've got to get Mom and bride to talk to each other, and I have to get the bride to come to me with what she wants. You also need a firm booking policy kind of important. I use 17 hats. That's what I'm using. Anybody else. Somebody just gave me a smile. It's amazing, right? It's so freaking intuitive. I really, really like it. I'm not using it 100%. I'm still using shoot queue for Leeds because I can track the leads and lead. Reporting and whatnot is not happening in 17 hats yet, but it will. They're working on lead management, and they're working on better bookkeeping. But I like it for ease of use. You could be set up and running in in a very brief period of time. It is so years or friendly it practically sets itself up for you and you can set itself up. You can send it up without all of the bells and whistles and be literally going from not set up to sending an invoice within like an hour max. And then you can build on it. From there, you can add in work flows. You can add in templates for things. It's kind of amazing. So I use 17 hats. They received their contract digitally. There is no excuse you consign that anywhere first come, first served. I don't hold dates. That is just a disaster waiting to happen. So let's say you've got two people that are looking at the same date, right, and this person is looking at a date in this person's looking at the date and this person decides they want to move forward. So then you go over and you check with this person on while you're checking with this person. This person found somebody else. And then you go back to this person. They found somebody else and you have nothing. Worst case scenario, you look like a used car salesman trying to peddle one person against another person to book a date. So it's first come, first served. I can't hold the date for you. The first person asked for the contract. Gets it the end. Don't hold dates. I will not pencil you in and I wont change. Pays payment terms, policies, methods or anything. It's not worth it. And when I do, I get burned. No, you can't pay me a little bit after the wedding. No, if you're worried that I'm not going to show up and you want to withhold part of your payment until later, you don't trust me. Read the contract that we're both signing. I can't not show up if I don't show up to your wedding without a freaking good reason. All of which are listed in my contract you consume me? I don't want that one client that you don't show up to their wedding could ruin your entire business. And I tell people Google me. I'm not gonna give you references. You cannot call my plaice clients, But get on the Internet and look for me. If I give you references, I'm gonna give you people who are gonna say really great things about me. Get on the Internet and start looking for me. If anyone has ever been unhappy with me, you will find it there. And if you don't trust me, holding $500 until after the wedding is not gonna make you trust me. So there are so many things that I am super, super, super flexible on. I will adapt to people. I will work with people changing my contract, changing my payment terms and changing the way bookings work. There is no flexibility there every single time. I thought just this one time just this one time and I always get burned. Always. Ah, potential client keeps saying their retainer check is in the mail, but it never comes. What do I dio until it's there? It's not booked. Even if they have signed the contract. I will never counter sign the contract until I get there. Retainer payment. So if they say they're going to send it in the mail, I'm not going to sign the contract until that check clears the bank. If you're saying your retainer check is in the mail, I'm going to reiterate I understand. But the date isn't fully booked until I cash the check in counter. Sign the contract. The end PS who uses checks anyhow? I'm just getting people still dio Someone wants to hire me, but they won't hire me without meeting me. We have a meeting set for next week, but someone called me today and wants to book me now. I'm sort of panicking. What do I do? You book the person who wants to book you now, trust me. No, no, no, no. I don't want to hear your story or why This is a special circumstance book. The person who wants to meet you now because if you don't, you're not gonna book anybody. I This is years of experience. Every single time I have said, You know what? I really like the people I'm going to meet next week. I really don't let's let's play a game where I pushed these people off And then I meet those people. Do you know how many of those weddings I booked? None. I ended up with nobody. Book first come for serve. You will thank yourself later. Here's an interesting new one. What contact methods will you use? You can call me whenever you want my phone numbers on my website. I might not answer if it's night time for the weekend, but you can call me 10 a.m. to p.m. If I see the phone ring and I'm not crazily doing something else, I'm gonna answer the phone If you call me at night and leave a message. If you call me on the weekends and leave a message, I'll call you back. Call me all you want. You can email me in the same way any time of the day or night. Email me go to town. Er er you can't Facebook message me. I'm sorry. Maybe I'm old like I get this. There are only so many ways that someone can contact me because then it is just so confusing. Like I can't do text and Facebook messages and emails and phone calls, and people sending direct messages on Instagram and people sending you messages on Twitter and then messages on my Facebook business page. And I can't you guys. I just can't. I actually turned off Facebook messaging for my business Facebook page because it's too many contact methods. It's too many. I don't take Facebook messages, and you also can't text me. If anybody out there has ever tried to face what message me and I never message due back, I just don't use it like it's just not Maybe it's not my generation. Maybe it's not my thing. But why would I face what message you if I could text you like? That's very confusing. Um, you can text me. My potential clients can't text me the end. And I'm clear about this. You can text me. Hey, I'm running five minutes late to the engagement session. Hey, I'm at the park. I can't find you. Hey, my room number for tomorrow is 15. 62. I'll see you in the morning. Little things like that. Very time sensitive things. Sure, but not I see on Facebook all the time. people posting these long Facebook messages with their clients are these long series of texts with their clients, where they're talking about business or trying to hash out a problem. And I just personally, personally, personally feel that Facebook message and text are not really an appropriate place to be discussing business. So I don't call me if you want. Email me if you want. Call me old and grumpy. But there are so many contact methods I just can't as the as the Children say these days, I literally can't even of all of the evens. I literally can't. I have a client. Text me all the time despite me saying that I don't let clients text me. They text me at night in the morning when I'm with my family, etcetera. How can I stop this? Tell them you have to keep telling them they don't get it and it's It's okay. They text all their friends. They text other people. They don't think texting you is any different, you say, and I have said very clearly, guys, I don't text for business. I don't look a text if they're not personal texts. If you text me, I'm not going to respond unless it's urgent. So if a client text me this long Siris of texts, I will follow up in the morning by email saying I got a lot of text from you last night. I just want to reiterate I don't text for business. Please let me know what I can do for you. Why? The reason why is I'm trying to tell people I really want to concentrate on you. And if I scatter out the number of ways people can contact me, then it's too scattered. Call me or email me, and then I can get back to you quickly and in a timely manner and with no confusion. Don't text me. When do we see our picks at 9 a.m. On a Saturday night or nine PM on a Saturday night? I'm not going to respond. We're not friends again. I do not in any way mean that to be harsh. Texting is for my friends. Texting is for me to send my friend Laura Dub smash videos of me rapping, which is what I did at lunch. Um, she knows she saw, um, texting is not for me to chit chat with my clients. I do have a little wall in between myself and them. And I need that because I have to maintain a distance. And again, this isn't a disrespect thing. This isn't I don't want to help. You think it's actually I really want to help you, but limiting my interaction to to contact methods means that I can help you better. I had no huh. This was my effort. I had no idea this business would come with this volume of email. Every time I get to the mythical inbox Zero, that number goes up again immediately. How do you manage? You know, when it pours in all day, do when I go to bed at night. Every night before I go to sleep, I try to make sure I'm at Inbox zero. Or at least so closed inbox zero that I can see the bottom. Do you know what I mean? That I can see all of my emails in one screen only. And then I wake up in the morning and you know you've got the scroll bar when you've only got one email in your inbox of scroll bars really big. And then you wake up in the morning on your scroll bars like this Because you've gotten so many emails the night before, it is deeply frustrating. I try to answer the bulk of my emails in the morning and the bulk of my emails in the evening and everything in between. Unless it is super time sensitive. I don't get it to it until later. So once in the morning, once, a little bit later. If someone needs an answer instantly, I'll get to them instantly. But limiting the bulk of what I'm doing to two times in the day means that it doesn't eat me alive quite as much anymore.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Wedding Photographer Survival Kit Slides

Ratings and Reviews


I found this course extremely helpful. I own Susan's 30 day bootcamp class and I think that this course is a great supplement to that course. I don't work with an assistant so it was very helpful to see how she would approach a scenario without an assistant. It was also great to see her point of view and thought process when scouting locations for portraits and witness her ability to make something beautiful out of "not so pretty" or difficult locations. It helped me to take a better approach to finding the light, and really paying attention to all of the different details throughout a room. Her business tips were awesome too. I could go on and on but maybe you should just get the course. It's worth it.


Good and useful course as typical of Susan Stripling; I also own Creative Wedding Photography. However, all the class materials should reside on the Creative Live website -- not just the Power Point presentation. I understand Susan's desire to drive people to her website to increase visibility and sales of her own products, but the strategy isn't very customer-centric for CreativeLive customers. People shouldn't have to "google" the name of her company to find the information that she references in this course; and then once on the website scroll through outdated or unwanted information to find, as she states at her website, "Below is the list of gear (as promised) that I've mentioned on Creative Live." If people are smart enough to find CreativeLive, they'll be smart enough to find on the web any presenter that they like or want to know more about. The folks at CreativeLive ought to address this type of behavior before it sets a bad precedent for future presenters.


I love Susan. She will give it to you straight! I own her "30 days" class and it's amazing but one thing I took away from this course was when she said something along the lines of, "Those photographers who tell you they hand pick their clients are lying to you!" Haha. There are TOO MANY young and arrogant wedding photographers who think they are rock stars. They really get me down. And that's why I like Susan. She's honest.

Student Work