This week I want to talk about helping people understand and adhere to your policies.
Yep, we’re gonna talk contracts, repeat reschedulers, and even (cue ominous music) working with friends.
But before we get into all that, let me tell you a little story.
One well-known chef, Anthony Bourdain, wrote in his memoirs about a checkered time in his life when he needed a job. He was burnt out and washed up, in and out of rehab for heroin, still nursing a cocaine habit. He’d worked a string of crappy jobs for lousy managers, and wanted something more, but in his own words – “I was spent, desperate, unhappy, with a negligible-to-bad rep, in general a Person Not to Be Hired or Trusted.”
Then an old acquaintance called, looking for someone to cook lunches at a new bistro. The friend asked for a meeting. The now-famous Bourdain relates what happened when he arrived:
“I was rail-thin, shaky, and the first thing I did was ask my old pal if he could lend me twenty-five bucks until payday.
Without hesitation, he reached in his pocket and lent me two hundred – a tremendous leap of faith on his part. He hadn’t laid eyes on me in over a decade. Looking at me, and hearing the edited-for-television version of what I’d been up to in recent years, he must have had every reason to believe I’d disappear with the two bills, spend it on crack, and never show up for my first shift. And if he’d given me the twenty-five instead of two hundred, that might well have happened. But as so often happens with him, his trust was rewarded. I was so shaken by his baseless trust in me – that such a cynical “$*!#*” as him would make such a gesture – that I determined I’d sooner gnaw my own fingers off, gouge my eyes out with a shellfish fork and run naked down Seventh Avenue than ever betray that trust.”*
Bourdain’s old friend understood something important: People generally treat you the way you treat them. If you treat someone as though you expect them to be an unreliable hooligan, they’ll probably be one. But if you surprise them with kindness, they will feel indebted to you on a level that cannot be reached any other way.
The chef went on to write about how his new boss was no softie – he was incredibly demanding and worked everyone’s tail off – but because of his ever-present kindness and generosity, he commanded a loyalty unparalleled in his profession. You will create a better business if you treat others well, because more often than not, they will treat you well in return.
So I pose two questions for your consideration:
Do I generally behave and treat people with a twenty-five dollar attitude, or two-hundred-dollar attitude?
And how does this make them treat me in return?
I use this story to preface our discussion of contracts, policies, and all sorts of Very Serious Business Stuff for one reason:
We put our policies in place to protect us, but not to encourage us to behave stingily as though we don’t trust our clients. Policies and contracts are not whips with which we keep otherwise-suspicious people in line. They are tools that help us ensure that clients have a wonderful experience.
If you walk into an elementary school classroom and lay down a bunch of stiff rules in anticipation of the kids being brats, they’ll probably respond by being brats. But if you walk in with a smile on your face and explain that we’re going to have a few rules so that you can all have more fun today, their attitude changes.
Same rules. Different attitude. Different communication. Different results.
Clients are not enemies. They are not all out to get us. I think it’s easy to forget that, especially when you’ve gotten burned. Yes, there are some ne’er-do-wells out there who are hard to work with. Yes, when people spend money they want to maximize every dime (…but wouldn’t you)? Yes, people are forgetful and bumbling and make mistakes – sometimes serious ones. We have to be clear and firm about what our policies are, no question. But we can still communicate and enforce them with a two-hundred dollar attitude, rather than a stingy, suspicious twenty-five dollar attitude.
For example, let’s say you found it necessary to post a rescheduling policy on your website. There are at least two approaches you could take in wording the policy:
1) “If you cannot make your session, you MUST notify the photographer within 72 hours, and you will be charged a $75 reschedule fee to make any changes.”
- or -
2) “In order to give you the best, most relaxed session possible, Happy Photography only schedules one session per day. That way, our attention is totally focused on you and your experience. Because reserving your date requires Happy Photography to turn away other business on that day, there is a $75 fee to change your date.”
Who would you rather hire?
Response #1 is not unreasonable, but it sounds like a photographer who has gotten burned and stopped trusting people. Kinda leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Response #2 sounds like a nice photographer has my best interests in mind. I’m not saying the second option is perfect (I’m sure you can do even better). But shifting the focus to how the policy benefits the client will change how people feel, and in turn, how they behave.
Same rules. Different attitude. Different communication. Different results.
The two hundred dollar attitude applies to email as well.
Say a client posted a non-watermarked photo when your contract clearly states that you only allow watermarked images to be posted online. Because we pour so much time and energy into our businesses, it can feel like a personal insult when someone violates our contract. Thus, our first reaction is often emotional: “How dare they!?!?! My contract CLEARLY states that you can ONLY post WATERMARKED images. They are stealing my work and infringing FEDERAL LAW! Ugh, I knew this was going to happen, she didn’t seem to care about my policies anyway and she was ten minutes late to her session.”
It’s okay to steam, but personal emotion should never be involved in an email you actually send. Ever. If you write in anger, you can bet the client will respond defensively, and suddenly you’ve got a hot mess on your hands.
Since your goal in emailing isn’t to vent, but get them to change the image, why not respond with cheerful enthusiasm and make it easy for them to make the change?
“I’m so glad to see that you’ve been enjoying your photographs! I saw that you put some on Facebook and got some well-deserved glowing comments. :-) As a reminder, in our contract we agreed that you’d only post watermarked images from the “web only” folder online. I know it seems like a hassle, but image theft is a huge problem, and the watermark helps protect your privacy. (You can check out this video for just one example of how people steal and profit from others’ images). Posting only watermarked images is important to help keep your photos from being used without authorization from both of us. I’ve attached a watermarked copy of that image here to make the swap easy. Let me know if you have any questions!”
Sure, you can rant about copyrights and attribution, but clients don’t really know or care much about copyrights. They care about posting their photos. If you can restate the policy by showing how it benefits them to use only the watermarked image, they’re happier to do so. (People care about privacy – a lot. I sent pretty much this exact email out to a client once. Her one-line response? “Oh crud! I’ll fix that today!!”) Be cheerful and make the policy easy to follow.
A two hundred dollar attitude has nothing to do with money.
It doesn’t mean you don’t stand up for yourself, and it certainly doesn’t mean you aren’t compensated for your time or that you start giving your work away for free. A two hundred dollar attitude is simply about kindness. Giving people the benefit of the doubt, explaining things in terms they can understand, showing them how they are benefited by your policies, and not reacting emotionally when it becomes necessary to enforce a contract.
A two hundred dollar attitude comes from how you view your clients: Not as adversaries to be distrusted, but people who pay you to do what you love! If you choose to see it that way, life will be more pleasant and even the problems will be easier to handle. So as we stroll down Policy Lane this week, let’s remember:
* Source: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, pp. 95. Edited slightly here for brevity.