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The Two Hundred Dollar Attitude

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.


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  1. Noelle B on April 4, 2012 at 3:07 am

    This was exactly what I needed to hear today. Just got burned, and panicking about prevention. You’ve got impressive spidey-sense, and a great way of explaining things that are pretty painless to put in place.

    Thanks and always love your blog!

    • Jenika on April 4, 2012 at 3:17 am

      Thanks Noelle. Ugh, sorry you got burned. But I know you will deal with it well! You’re not alone.

      • Noelle B on April 4, 2012 at 4:16 am

        Oy – Did the best I could, but did make compromises I’m just going to have to learn from the hard way. Keep blogging, you’re such a inspirational and genuine force for good in the photog world!

  2. Michelle Carrillo on April 4, 2012 at 4:29 am

    THANK YOU soooo much for posting this!!! I always try my best to go above and beyond and make it all about the EXPERIENCE… and I tend to get a lot of flack from some people for “wasting so much time.” But I see it as an INVESTMENT. And now I want to go back through my contract to double-check some of my wording…

    • Jenika on April 4, 2012 at 4:43 am

      I’m there with you Michelle. I don’t think client care is ever a waste of time. You’re both making people happy and ensuring they’ll talk about you to their friends…. Why waste time on extra marketing when you can do it all at once? My thoughts anyway. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Misty Bradley on April 4, 2012 at 4:47 am

    Brilliant. You are absolutely brilliant.

    • Jenika on April 4, 2012 at 6:40 pm

      LOL, thanks Misty – it’s easy to appear brilliant when you stand on the shoulders of giants. ;-D Many thanks are due to all the business people and psychologists who have taught and inspired me!

  4. Lauren Kim Photography on April 4, 2012 at 6:10 am

    What a great article – thank you for showing how us photographers need to chill out a bit. Very insightful – thank you

    • Jenika on April 4, 2012 at 6:39 pm

      haha Lauren – this whole article was indeed just a very long way of saying “guys, chill out.” So funny that you wrote that in your comment, I loved it!! I appreciate the feedback. Have a great week, Lauren!

  5. Isabel on April 4, 2012 at 8:42 am

    Dear Jenika, I’ve enjoyed every single word of this post! Thanks so much for making us think about the way we behave with our clients. I’m just beginning and it will really help me build my policies from scratch with this client care approach in mind! Greetings to you and to all your readers from the far Spain!

    • Jenika on April 4, 2012 at 6:38 pm

      Isabel! So glad to hear from you! Sending high fives and well wishes to Spain!!

  6. maria ramil on April 4, 2012 at 11:20 am

    Thanks for this article… very timely as I am reviewing my prices (so I can accommodate the extra time and travelling if called to a client living far away)

    In my web I have also included a modest booking fee. You made me think about adding some explanation for it, so it doesn’t put people off.

    Thanks again, love your business sense/customer care

    • Jenika on April 4, 2012 at 6:38 pm

      Thanks Maria! Yeah, short explanations are usually good in my experience. When people hear A reason (no matter what the reason is), they feel better about things. Glad the article was helpful!

  7. Britt Anderson on April 4, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    What a fabulous reminder, and the Bourdain story was great! It is especially hard to stick with that $200 attitude when you are dealing with people who don’t seem to care. Like you said, we have all been burned, and it will happen again guaranteed. But continuing to have that $200 attitude will get us further, and we all know, if the $200 attitude didn’t work on those tough clients, the $25 attitude would have been worse. Great post.

    • Jenika on April 4, 2012 at 6:37 pm

      I completely agree that it’s hard to maintain one…which is why so many companies don’t…which is why YOU will stand out when you do! 😀 Thanks for the comment, Britt. Always appreciated.

  8. Jasmine E. on April 4, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    Great Article!! Its very easy to get emotionally riled up and take things to personally. This is the perfect reminder!

    • Jenika on April 4, 2012 at 6:36 pm

      Very easy indeed. Glad you enjoyed the article!!

      • jk on May 24, 2015 at 4:30 pm

        how can you NOT take things personally, it’s your business, blood sweat tears, the $$$$, the stress, etc etc

        & with all the social media out there and the seniors and young kids in family photos (& its not always kids, sometimes the adults are JUST as bad) etc, they think its ok to get the few unwatermarked images that I give in each package, which I ONLY give print release for and its stated on the dvd jacket AND the dvd itself, (incase they “lose” the jacket and put in in something else to take it to order prints) that the images on it are allowed PRINT release only, not to be edited, altered or changed in ANY WAY from the original created image as it was saved to the dvd.
        AND I ONLY EVER post watermarked images to any social media outlet… sneak peeks, etc…
        the watermark stays on until they buy it or choose it as a package image for their print release only dvd.
        this burned me once (&is continuing to burn me, as it was before I got burned per this time I started using a contract)a HS mother with a NB session, cell phone edited one of my images, which had my HUGE watermark through the middle and it has gone 2-3 months at a time on and off as her FB profile pict, everytime she changes it back to that image I am ill, its awful, beyond awful looking……..buuuut since over half of her fb friends are little teens ….its just oh so cuuute…….and here I am going, damn why didn’t I have a contract before, and thinking omg sorry to people who could be thinking hey lets hire her to do our picts and then they see THAT hot mess & say… ummm maybe not????

        and the instagram filters and cell phone edits…….. omg……. there’s so many days I wonder why not just sell everything lol
        everytime I get burned: I waste ink and paper and time to update (again and again ad nauseum) my contract to make sure THAT new change is in there to HOPE to not get burned again from whatever that last person did………
        rant over…….. I dunno lol

  9. Erin B. on April 4, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    Love the post and I love how you put things in perspective. I’m not in business yet but hope to in the future, and your insightful posts will help me start off on the right foot…

    • Jenika on April 4, 2012 at 6:36 pm

      Thanks Erin! I appreciate the kind words, so glad the posts are helpful!

  10. Allison on April 4, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    Now panickingly (is that a word?) going through my wording on my site and my contract to read it again and see if I’m coming off snippy. Maybe that’s my problem.

    • Jenika on April 4, 2012 at 6:36 pm

      LOL I doubt you’re snippy, but always good to read and re-read. 🙂

  11. Rayleigh Leavitt on April 4, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    What a great story and a great post! Thanks so much.

  12. Becky on April 4, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    Such a timely article! I was just re-doing my contract and something felt very “not me” about it. This is great advice. Thank you once again. 🙂

  13. Pam Christison on April 4, 2012 at 8:54 pm

    Thanks so much, I love your blog and this is really a great and helpful post. I’m so glad I found you! I’ve gotten burned a couple of times but I love the idea of planning to treat people with unnecessary kindness.

    • Jenika on April 4, 2012 at 9:38 pm

      Thanks Pam! I’m glad to have you here! 🙂 Getting burned happens to everyone – you’re definitely not alone. We have to encourage each other to keep a bright attitude sometimes. Hope all goes well for you this season!

  14. Jocelyn on April 5, 2012 at 1:04 am

    Great post Jenika. Like a few others who have posted in response here, I have gotten burned but my tendency is to not say anything (lack of confidence, don’t want to ‘rock the boat’ etc.). So, I think the $200 attitude combined with standing up for myself, like you mentioned, is something I need to always keep in the back of my mind. Thank you!

  15. Monica on April 5, 2012 at 4:23 am

    wow! Great!, really helpful, sometimes we forget that we are making people happy.
    Thanks for sharing!

  16. Bob Kubiak on April 6, 2012 at 3:53 am

    Thanks so much for confirming that others feel the same as I. The world is full of skeptics, a little do unto others goes a long way AND is the RIGHT thing to do.

  17. Alexis on April 9, 2012 at 1:52 am

     I found out that some photographers have $25 attitudes and can’t handle people who treat them like they are worth more and hold them to the standards they profess to have. As a client, I have experienced a great example of $200 attitude ( after also having been a client of a horrible $25 attitude from another photographer (

    • Jenika on April 9, 2012 at 2:50 pm

      Sorry you experienced such negativity! Berating a client is actually not even a $25 attitude from where I sit – that’s in the negative balance. I’m glad that someone from the industry reached out to you.

  18. Sabina Lorkin on April 9, 2012 at 9:54 am

    This is a really great post with really useful examples of how to word things in a more positive way. Thank you very much I will keep this in mind regarding contracts and copyright issues.

    • Jenika on April 9, 2012 at 2:48 pm

      Thanks Sabina! 🙂

  19. Imagery by Cathy Photography on April 10, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    Hi Janika,

    Than you for writing a very helpful article.
    Like others have said, I have a been beat up with “not sure yet if doing it’, “Can you reschedule”, “My yada yada was rushed to the hospital so we can’t make it”.

    My question is, do you need to feed up their excuses? or just acknowledge it and move on? I really don’t know yet how to handle these type of clients.

    Second question is, Since I shoot on locations… Do I just need to meet them in the location set, or should I come and meet them first for the first time at their residence and go all together in the locations?

    Your response will truly pave ways for me to be a better photographer.

    Best Regards,


    • Jenika on April 10, 2012 at 4:26 pm

      Hi Cathy! Your first question will be answered in a post in the near future, so stay tuned. As for the second, I almost always meet people at the location. People usually have enough to worry about rushing to get out the door, getting ready, last minute prep, they don’t need me standing around stressing them out. I have met people at their houses when we were driving to a location that was farther away and/or hard to find a meeting place in (i.e. a forest). There are situations where it made more sense to all go together, but that’s uncommon. I’ve also found that when I meet them at their house, they tend to feel like it’s ok to leave later (not sure why – but it seems less bad to them to make me wait if I’m there vs. if I’m waiting at the location). So I prefer to meet them at the location.

  20. Rachael on April 11, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    I Soooooooooooo love this – would it be ok to re-post it on my facebook business page – it is a great reminder to everyone!

    • Jenika on April 11, 2012 at 9:18 pm

      Hi Rachael – thanks! You’re welcome to post a link on your facebook business page, or you can go to my facebook page and share the link to your page’s wall. (Obviously, please don’t take the text from the post and paste it somewhere, but I am very happy when people share the link!) 🙂 Have a great day!!

  21. Ell on April 14, 2012 at 7:07 am

    FANTASTIC post, Janika, this and the two previous also! Timely info, superbly written, easy to read – thank you so much for your time and energy put into to sharing your experiences and wisdom!!! – Ell 🙂

    • Jenika on April 14, 2012 at 2:01 pm

      Thanks Ell! 🙂

  22. Asia on April 16, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    I have this problem over and over with the website images and that is such a great template for reminding clients of the contract! Thanks so much I love the blog!

    • Jenika on April 16, 2012 at 11:02 pm

      🙂 Glad it helps Asia! Thanks for the kind words!

  23. Christy on April 19, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    I have learned so much from your website. I’m not good with putting my thoughts and feelings into words but I’m getting there. Thank you for taking the time to post these wonderful and helpful articles!

    • Jenika on April 19, 2012 at 2:46 pm

      Thanks for the kind note, Christy!

  24. shaina longstreet on April 26, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    this is such a terrific post and a great way to live your life and be in relationships. thanks!!

    • Jenika on April 26, 2012 at 7:19 pm

      Thanks Shaina!!

  25. Ash on August 3, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    Thank you for this article! I am now in a very messy situation with a client who is demanding I release a disc of images but claims that all of the images are useless. I soooo want to give her a piece of my mind BUT I will be professional and give her that TWO HUNDRED DOLLAR ATTITUDE 😉

  26. Rei on January 11, 2013 at 4:57 am

    I found your blog today and I think I have a blog crush! Your posts are so very helpful and inspirational. Thank you so much for sharing 🙂 a warm aloha from Hawaii x

    • Jenika on January 11, 2013 at 6:13 pm

      Well hello there!! Thanks for dropping by – hope to see you around again!! 🙂 Come join us on Facebook, too – fun times.

  27. kristi on April 23, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    Thank you for posting this! I needed it more than I can describe today.

  28. Brandy on July 15, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    I’ve had a growing sense of urgency about getting contracts, release forms, and operating policies set up for my business. But I keep thinking about how I feel when signing a cell phone contract, and I hate that feeling *so* much… I knew there had to be a more friendly way to go about this, but wasn’t sure where to start.

    This post was exactly what I needed to hear, exactly when I needed it. Thank you!

  29. kate on July 25, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    Great post. Attitude is so important and keeping things about business. Thanks

  30. Rhonda on August 7, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    That was a very helpful reminder of how to treat someone. It really is as simple as stated in the New and Old Testament…”Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:31…. Aka: the Golden Rule. We will be a client of someone else, somewhere else along life’s journey and we need to be respectful as hard as that can be sometimes.

  31. Jeness May on October 23, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    This is absolutely perfect. I am really great at drawing boundaries, but horrible at the delivery! This really helps articulate that boundary plus being gentle, fun and respectful! So glad to have found you!

  32. carol saunders on October 24, 2013 at 2:13 am

    I love this article puts me right back on track. I always ask if they would kindly not remove or crop my image but now I think i will expand why…….thank you

  33. Denise on October 24, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Jenika- I came across this blog post in a photographers forum. All I can say is “wow”. You have summed it up so well, so precisely, and still kept it entertaining and easy to read. Bravo, kudos and high five to your business sense and attitude. I have always (troed very hard) to have that same business snese, but boy oh boy did you hit every nail on the proverbial head with how you were able to put this into words.

  34. Joe Carreiro on October 24, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    As a small business consultant who works with many artists and especially photographers this advice is sound and rocks!!!

  35. Carol on October 24, 2013 at 11:06 pm

    Brilliantly stated!

  36. Steve on October 25, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    This is a fantastic piece of writing, and we can all benefit from being reminded of it. Well put.

  37. Laura on February 18, 2015 at 8:09 pm

    Wow. You know, this is only the second post of yours that I have read and I think you may be my new favourite website.

  38. Nancy on June 14, 2019 at 7:25 pm

    I liked the way of your writing, it’s very good.

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