Many couples around the world had to make changes to their wedding plans due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some even had to cancel their weddings, which subsequently led to engagement session cancellations too. From not wanting to have their special day masked (literally) with the fear of catching COVID to financial restraints, the pandemic forced many to rethink their big plans this year.
It’s not just couples, even the wedding industry has taken a huge hit because of the pandemic. And naturally, wedding photographers were not spared from the global economic side effect of COVID, with many being dragged into refund litigations by clients. At a time when business is trending low for many small businesses, these court cases are adding to a wedding photographer’s bills.
The brides and grooms who had to cancel their weddings are stressed and likely upset about not getting refunds from their wedding photographers. They may be emotional and feeling like all their plans are ruined. And on top of that, they have to deal with all the vendors they contracted with for their wedding and begin the process of rescheduling or getting their money returned. Finding empathy for your clients can help when they call you asking for a refund. Often the couples who had to cancel their weddings are not angry at you – they are just heartbroken right now.
Many couples invest their life savings into their weddings, so in this case, it’s important to understand that they are not asking for a refund simply because you won’t be photographing their wedding anymore, it’s because they may need that money to survive. And with the increasing layoffs during the pandemic, you never know what a couple might be going through. Having empathy during these moments can really help you understand your clients better.
Finding a Middle Ground
Handling wedding cancellations and refunds during the pandemic is difficult, but as a wedding photographer there are a few things you can do to avoid taking matters to court and maintain some financial stability. Remember, the pandemic won’t last forever. You will need these clients later, so it’s probably not a good idea to cut all ties. Here are some tips that might come in handy when a client insists on a wedding cancelation or refund:
1. Re-Read Your Contract
Re-reading your contract is important to make sure you know what it does and does not cover in case you decide to keep the deposit. Many photographers have clear terms and conditions about non-refundable deposits. If you aren’t sure about what your contract says, you may look for legal counsel to help navigate the tricky waters. One legal site that many of our photographers refer to is The Law Tog, but any local legal counsel should be able to help explain it to you. They may also be able to help you draft a future contract that would allow you to keep the deposits or have more rights.
2. Counsel Clients about Postponing the Wedding Instead of Canceling it
It’s important to try to focus on keeping your relationship with your clients intact. Instead of focusing on the problem, try to come up with solutions that are better than canceling.
Be attentive to your clients. Offer solutions when they are in need. Assure them that having a small wedding has its own silver lining. Canceling their wedding would be emotionally taxing for them as well as their family and friends. You could suggest a different plan for their wedding, like a ceremony on the fixed date and a party later, with you covering both of their special days. Show them how this could be a win-win situation. If having guests attend the wedding is important to them, tell them about the trend of Zoom weddings. If they still want guests there physically, help them look for a larger (or outdoor) venue that could host people with less risk.
3. Establish trust and explain the situation to them
It’s important to stay kind. Your clients might feel like you are cheating them, but consider showing them why it’s necessary for you to keep their funds despite there not being a wedding to photograph. Tell them about your business, give them a chance to empathize with you. Try talking to them about the investments you make to provide the best services to your clients and how their deposits help you do that. But remember, in the process of being vulnerable, don’t make the mistake of sounding greedy or ignorant. Let them know that you understand their situation too.
4. Offer Services They Can Use Right Now
When navigating wedding cancellations, it may be helpful to get creative and think of how you can still do something for the couple even if they cancel the wedding. This is an excellent way to avoid any bad blood between you and your clients. Offer to do a romantic photoshoot for them. And if they agree, make them feel safe by taking care of all the safety measures. You can even offer them free prints and images for social media. In this way, you get to keep the deposit and your clients. Even if it’s not the grand wedding of their dreams, you may impress the couple with your skills at a beautiful outdoor location or even their own home!
Besides the tips mentioned above, you could also offer to transfer their credit to another client. For example, if the couple has a friend who is getting married, you could offer your photography services for that wedding. In this way, you get to keep the deposit and your client gets to offer a wonderful gift to their friend. You could perhaps even offer to photograph the couple with their families. Get them to wear masks and take them to a beautiful outdoor location! Wedding cancellations are not easy, for either party, so try to see how you can make it up to them and keep the deposit.
5. Add a Force Majeure Clause in Your Wedding Photography Contract
Don’t wait for your new clients to come to you with similar demands. Consider hiring a legal professional and revise your contract. Add a Force Majeure clause in your contract. It frees both parties from any obligations in event of an extraordinary circumstance. A Force Majeure clause covers events that can be classified as an ‘act of God’. You can add new terms and conditions for pandemic related situations. This way you won’t have to go through the same struggle with future wedding shoot cancellations and request for refunds.
6. Negotiate Deposits With Clients in Need
Try to gauge your clients’ situation. If you feel that there is a greater need at their end, then try to reconsider your terms. This is an unfortunate time and now more than ever, we need to stick together and act as one. If not the whole amount, consider a partial refund. Request that they maintain confidentiality about your deal so that it doesn’t affect your business.
7. Make an Informed Decision to Avoid Legal Hassles
Though the tips mentioned above would work in most cases, if you still get stuck, turn to your local laws. Do some research on the refund rules applicable where you live. Try to refrain from keeping a client hanging without giving them a solid solution. It’s not ideal to pressure your clients, so allow them to take their time when it comes to making a decision.
We know this isn’t easy, but try to stay positive and find the upside to the situation.
ShootDotEdit is here for you! We love bringing you tips to help you navigate business challenges like wedding cancellations. But we also love editing your images. If you want to see what everyone is talking about, head to our main pricing page!
To get a better idea about pricing your engagement and wedding sessions, you can read this post on How to Price Your Wedding Photography Packages During COVID Reopening.
Please note that ShootDotEdit is not bound by or responsible by the outcome of any advice followed as contained in this blog. This article is for information only and if you have legal questions we urge you to seek legal counsel.