dirty little secret: what to do when a client leaves you

You've had a great relationship with your client for years then one day out of the blue WHAMMO - their new Facebook profile picture (that you didn't take) is accompanied by the caption, "~photographer that is not you~ is the Best.  Photographer.  Ever!"  Or maybe you bent over backwards to accommodate someone and earn their loyalty by giving them a break on pricing but see that a few months later they have new photographs posted by a different photographer who is easily twice as expensive as you.  Or maybe a family member or close friend hired someone other than you for their wedding.  You're hurt, angry, and feeling betrayed.  What is the appropriate response?

First, and most importantly, make no assumptions.  You have NO idea why they chose to use a different photographer, and no right to know.  Maybe they got a Christmas bonus.  Maybe the other photographer had a sale.  Maybe they got bored with you.  Maybe you offended them.  Doesn't matter.  As another photographer put it, "You don't buy all your clothes at one store to protect the other store's feelings..."  Rather than project onto your client, use the opportunity to review your business model.  Were you price shopped on a special?  Did they not like the pictures?  Did you take too long delivering your products?  If you have an ongoing problem with client retention then you probably need to make some changes.  But if it's an anomaly, chances are very very good that they went elsewhere for reason(s) beyond your control.  If they love you, they will be back, and if they don't, then you didn't want them anyway.

http://offbeatbride.com/2013/12/funny-engagement-photo-poses by Malia Moss
Next, unless you know you did something wrong, do not take it personally.  If you think you *might* have offended or disappointed them I suggest you only ask if you won't act defensively should the answer be yes.  If all you're going to do after hearing an answer you don't like is defend yourself or accuse them of being too sensitive/backwards/narrow-minded then it's probably best to leave well enough alone.  If you do ask and they say yes, you do NOT have to apologize for offending or disappointing them (none of us can control what offends or disappoints other people) but it would be proper etiquette to apologize that they feel offended or disappointed, and let them know it was not intentional.  If you feel so inclined, you can even ask if there is anything (within reason) that you can do to make it up to them.  This shows that you value their thoughts and feelings.

(fill your own apology like this one in online by visiting here!)

Lastly, be gracious.  The same way you have no control over what offends or disappoints anyone else, your bruised ego is not your client's fault.  Unfriending, deleting their sessions from your blog, a mutual friend (or you) leaving a passive-aggressive statement like "These are almost as nice as the pictures ~insert link to your website here~ took last year!" or sending a private message explaining just how awful their new photographer is and why...  totally not cool.

Now, if you find it difficult to keep from feeling hurt, you are welcome to unfollow or unsubscribe from the person's tweets or status updates or whatever, but if you hope to be on the list of contenders the next time they need photos I suggest you suck it up and leave a polite, honest comment on the new photo.


Even if the pictures are not what you consider to be great photography a simple note saying, "You guys look great!" or "My, the kids have grown!" not only puts your former client at ease about your openness to them coming back after "cheating" on you, but has the pleasant side effect of making you feel like a bigger person.  And if the photographer did a really great job, slip in a compliment - we all love getting a nod from a colleague, especially when it's someone we admire and respect!  So go on - be nice!  You'll like it, I promise!