Is it Your Policy, Or is it Your Ego?
If your business is anything like mine, you’ve probably had a few clients that tested your patience – if not your will to live! You know the type, the father of the bride that wants to rewrite your contract, or the bride who asks for a 12 page shot list. Maybe you’ve had a client suggest that they’d like to pay their balance once they’ve received their photos, instead of before the wedding.
Every time it happens, I find myself wanting to dig my feet in and stand on “principle.” I find a frustration and indignation inside, that someone would question the way I’ve set up my business, and that they aren’t willing to play by the “rules.”
Inevitably, though, I find myself asking whether anyone REALLY benefits as a result of some of these rules. I find myself evaluating why I do things a certain way, and whether or not the satisfaction of sticking to my principles is worth the damage it may do to a client relationship.
So the question is, how do I know when I should stand by my policy, or principle, and when should I change my policy for my clients? And, how do I know when I’m just being stubborn because my ego won’t allow me to ‘compromise?’
Red Rules/Blue Rules
My wife works in a hospital, where they have hundreds of “rules.” They have guidelines, regulations, procedures, policies and even mandates. There’s a lot that goes into making a hospital work, so they have to have a standard by which people operate – after all, people’s lives are at stake.
In reality, though, they define things according to two types of “rules.” They have Red Rules, and Blue Rules. They even use these terms when describing new policies – so everyone knows where they fall. There’s one simple difference between a Red Rule and a Blue Rule. If you break a “Blue” rule, someone is going to be inconvenienced, or you probably made someone else’s job harder. On the other hand, if you break a “Red” rule, someone dies. Pretty simple way to figure out which ones shouldn’t be broken!
Although there’s little likelihood that anyone will die as a result of breaking any of the rules in my business, we still use the context of Red and Blue to help us understand which are the non-negotiable’s and which are flexible.
Red rules include things like:
– Always have a backup camera
– Always backup images FIRST
– Contract revisions go through our attorney – at the client’s expense
– Every shoot has a contract – even for family.
– Collect payment in full before product is delivered.
Granted, no one dies if we break these rules, but failing to follow these CAN result in huge problems for our business AND for our clients. These aren’t rules that can be broken.
It’s Not “Giving In.”
On the other hand, we have many “Blue” rules that we operate by. While these are important to the way we do business, our livelihood doesn’t depend on them. These are rules like:
– We prefer to spend about 30 minutes doing group shots at a wedding.
– A portrait session is defined as an individual or family living in the same household.
– We only conduct in-person viewing of portrait sessions (as opposed to online viewing)
– Every wedding client receives an engagement session.
– We reserve the right to use your images for promotional purposes.
We often have clients who have a reason to want to change one of these, or any of our other policies. When they do, we work hard to figure out how we can work with them to come up with solution that is in both of our best interests.
It’s human nature to resist the pressure to “give in.” I get that. I’m a first born, and I’m married to another first born. We’re both as stubborn as can be, and when I’m dealing with clients, I often can feel that stubborn spark shooting up my spine. But, I remind myself that in that case, the only thing that wins then is my ego, and I can’t deposit that in the bank.
Make It Real
It’s a worthwhile exercise (for reasons even beyond this post) to go through and solidify your policies and procedures for everything you do. Not only does it help you define what is “red” and what is “blue,” it also makes all of those processes much more efficient.
Writing things down also helps you be consistent and fair. It’s not a “good” policy if it benefits one client at the expense of another. It’s not a “good” policy if it benefits a client at the expense of the business. It IS a “good” policy if it works in the best interest of everyone involved.
The reality is this – you should ALWAYS do what is in the best interest of the business AND the client. “Red” rules REQUIRE you to stick to the policy because it IS in the interest of both parties. You are actually providing BETTER customer service by refusing to change your policy. It won’t always seem that way to the client – and you may even lose some clients, but you’ll know that you’ve done the right thing.
Written by Jason Aten
Jason Aten is a Michigan based wedding photographer. After a career in marketing and sales management for a Fortune 100 company, Jason became relentlessly drawn to the ability to impact people’s lives through photography. So in 2001 he quit his job to start his own photography business. Jason applies his previous marketing and sales experience to his photography business and now takes the time to educate others with his “Starting Out Right” one-day intensives and resource guides. You can find more posts like this on the Starting Out Right blog.
**Come see Jason’s presentation “Sales 101: Your Clients Have a Problem – Solve It” at PartnerCon 2010. **