There comes a time in any relationship to know when it isn't working out. In business, it is essential to be able to assess yours and get rid of the clients that drag you down. They all abuse you in some way. Some always beat you up on price or terms, some pay you very late, consistently. Some have unrealistic expectations, e.g. increase the scope of the job “scope-creep” – you know, that 6-shot list that becomes 15?) or want corrected images turned around the next day. I always tell clients about the triad of “fast, cheap and good, you may pick two but not all three”.
Whatever it is, and no matter what that client means to you financially, you have to know when to walk away. Bad clients hurt your finances by causing problems with your cashflow (late payments, trying to give you unbillable extra work, paying you below your cost of doing business, etc.). Getting rid of them means you can concentrate on work that you love, the kind that rewards you creatively and financially.
Case in point, a while back I had a client who had been amazing. They had lots of work that I loved, it paid well, everyone was happy. Then things changed. The company was sold, new management started putting pressure on all departments. When one of the designers came out on shoots with me, he reported back that I was being paid a lot of money for not a lot of work. Read my <a href=”http://prophotocoalition.com/tdonaldsonppc/story/pablo-picasso-joke-explaining-why-your-work-is-worth-it”>Picasso</a> post for why they may have thought that. They paid me a fair half-day rate for photographing their athletes, and sometimes I'd have what I needed in 30 minutes to an hour. The athletes LOVED it. They could let it all hang out for my lens just a couple of times, their best, most cutting edge stuff, then be done and on their way. And they always loved the shots because it showed their current best form in context in an amazing image.
The client started asking about why I charged them for a half-day and didn't spend a half-day shooting. My response was that this was an athlete that they paid a lot of money to ride for them, and that this was their best (and riskiest) tricks at the time. Why would I ask an athlete to keep going for no reason? If he fell and broke an arm, they'd be paying him for NOT riding, and he'd fall 6-8 or more weeks behind in contests, etc. That won them over about 90%. But at one point, one of the designers asked me about the equipment I was using. I told him. The company went out and bought the same basic gear I had and sent the designer out to one of my shoots. I knew what was going on. I let the guy stand next to me, told him how to set the camera (accurately), gave him pointers. He went back with his images, I sent my images in, and I never again saw that camera out on a shoot with me again. Cameras don't shoot people, people do. It was crystal clear that the eye behind the camera, the years of experience, were the reason the images were worth what they were paying.
That kept the relationship happy for a while. Then they tightened the screws again. This time, trying to cut costs on relicensing images for a trade show. A colleague who also shot for the company asked for my advice and help because the company had offered her about ten cents on the dollar of what the licensing was worth. I went to bat for here and negotiated a fair deal for both sides. Two weeks later, the same company employee called me to offer me the same ten-cents-on-the-dollar deal. We talked for a bit, and I said that we should simply agree to disagree on this one, and that they shouldn't use my images for this trade show and related ads, etc. She said, “Well…”. Ok, now I knew what had happened. I said, “You already printed it and placed the ads, didn't you?” I was livid. She admitted it. I had her cut me a check for the full rate that I would have started my negotiation at, then said that that would conclude our relationship. I read the writing on the wall and knew that this relationship was no longer beneficial.
And it HURT to do that. They were a lucrative client, and one that I had enjoyed working with. As well as all their great sponsored athletes. It was a short-term financial hit, but a long-term gain in that I've since been able to concentrate on my other great clients, and have had the time to pursue other new ones that I like.
Don't be afraid to say no to a client, and don't be afraid to walk away from the job or the client if it is unfair to your business. You need to fill your client roster with ones that respect you and can offer you work that you love. Then everyone wins.