Thursday, June 23, 2011

Business Day Thursday: Should You Keep The Deposit Money?

Good Afternoon Everybody,

Last night we tried something very different.  We held a special GoToMeeting session for the 6 photographers attending my Sedona Experience - Private Seminar a couple of weeks ago.  It was great.  We were all on-line having a great time, reminiscing, laughing, and reviewing the images we all made during that very special seminar.

Lush, Ripe Wine Grapes with Mist Drops on the VineThe cool thing about our meeting, even though we were connected via the Internet, was still s intimate a get together as one could expect.  It was like we were all in the same room back in Sedona. Our get-together lasted about three hours and the time just flew by. 

Our plan for future private workshops is to schedule the follow up meeting just like we had last night.  It will give all those attending a chance to ask additional questions and/or provide clarification after returning back to each individual home and an opportunity to get back together with friends made during the workshop.  I think the idea brings added richness to the entire private workshop experience.

Our next private workshop is being planned right now for the fall.  The name - The "Napa Experience".  If interested, drop me a line or call Jennifer at 859.341.5900 and we will be sure to follow up with you when we set dates.

Business Day Thursday:  Should You Keep The Deposit Money?

I recently received an email from DWF - The Digital Wedding Forum.  The headline asked the same question I have in today's BDT post. I didn't get a chance to read their article, but it did bring up memories of how we've done things over the years at David A. Ziser Photography.

Money So, a client books you for their wedding date.  You collect a sizable deposit - we collect approximately 25% of the total booking amount.  The agreement is completed and both parties sign the document.  Each receives a copy of the contract.  That's how it's worked for wedding photographers for years.

So now the big question, if the wedding cancels do you keep the deposit?  Nearly all wedding vendors do.  They claim that they had reserved that date and if a client cancels the wedding, there's no way to easily rebook it.  Keeping the deposit is a consolation prize at best for the lost revenue.

How do you feel about that?  Some of you may suggest partial refund if the date is canceled far enough in advance, say 6 months before the original date of the event.  In that 6 months you may think you have a decent chance of rebooking the date.  That may be more true today than in years past since brides and grooms are booking later than ever before.  Then again, many of you may say, "No refund at all - Period!"

We’ve had our policy in place for years and have never had any complaints from clients who needed to cancel a wedding for whatever unexpected reason.  Our policy has always been to never return a deposit - except in very extenuating circumstances, BUT....

BUT.... I personally never want to take anyone's money without performing some kind of service in return.  So how do we handle the matter in that rare instance when it occurs?  The responsibility for making the call to the client wanting to cancel has always fallen on my shoulders. 

The first thing I want my client to know is the fact that they are very lucky to have booked with us in spite of the wedding cancellation.  They know very well that they lost all the deposits with just about all the other wedding vendors and are not expecting a different result from us.  But  a nice surprise awaits them as they definitely receive a different result from my studio. 

I simply let the client know that we won't be returning the deposit, but their deposit converts into a studio credit that they can use anyway they chose to use it.  For example; they could use it toward a family portrait session and/or wall portraits.  We could just keep the credit on file and if the wedding plans change, we could apply it towards those new plans.

DAZNOTE: Years ago I booked a wedding as a referral from a good client.  About six months later, I get a all that the wedding was cancelled.  I explained our policy and the bride was relieved to know she wasn't going to lose the deposit.  It was in safe keeping as adiposity at the studio.

A year later she calls again, tells me she's getting married to another guy and wants to know if we have the date available.  We did and we booked the second wedding date for her.  Six months later, you guessed it, the second wedding was called off too.  The bride called slightly embarrassed to tell me the news, but felt fine when I assured her that her deposit was still on the books to use in anyway she chose to use it down the road.

To Have And To Hold You would think that was the end of the story - it's not.  About 8-10 months later she calls again - yes, she had secured fiancé #3 - and inquired about date availability again.  We had the third date open and booked the third wedding date for the same bride.  Heck, it was no additional cost to her we just applied her studio credit as the deposit on the third wedding.

The good news is that I did shoot the wedding and as they left the Greater Cincinnati area and I unfortunately lost contact with them my desire is that everybody lived happily ever after - at least I hope so ;~)

The point is this.  We still got the business because of our relaxed policy on returned deposits.  I must tell you, our refund policy has worked like a charm for all these years.  It keeps the clients loyal to us.  Being told your not going to get your money back in a emotionally charged situation simply can't sit well with your prospective client.  If it was you, would you go back to the vendor who you may feel had "stiffed" you to some extent - I think not.

Our refund policy allows a softening of the blow about the lost monies because they simply are not lost.  They are just put on hold.  The bottom line is that we have ALWAYS continued our relationship with our clients who find themselves in this kind of a situation.  They always come back since we are always able offer additional services that they can use.

And heck, occasionally we were even able to re-book the original date.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that you don't need a hard and fast policy on refunds.  It's helpful to you and your client if you relax the refund policy a bit.  The bottom line is that now you refund policy is in everyone's best interest.

- Thought you would like to know.


Hey gang, that's it for me today.  I’m finally starting to see the top of my desk again and things are getting back to normal around the studio which is a nice relief.

Have a great rest of the day and I'll see you tomorrow, David


  1. I totally agree with your policy, David. And who knows what it will lead to. A future wedding booking, baby portraits . . . a life-long client.

  2. That's a very interesting way of handling the issue David, one that I havent heard expressed before on forums when the issue is talked about. Something to think about as I slowly gravitate towards the wedding scene. It would definetly sit better with me, so I can see how a potential clinet would feel.

  3. I attended Davids Master Class about two years ago and gained great knowledge about wedding photography. About a year later i was faced with my first wedding cancelation. Unsure how to handle it I contacted Dave and he advised me of his policy. I thought that sounded fair and put it to work for my studio as well. When I notified the Mother of the bride and advised her that I was going to allow her to use the deposit for studio credit she was very happy because they had family picture done less than a year earlier and the ex fiance was in the pictures. So now she was able to have the family pictures redone and i ended up getting them to purchase several more portraits and gaining four more additional families as clients.
    Thanks Dave for the advice on great client service!
    Keith Hente
    Studio 232 Photography
    Jackson, Missouri
    PS You are missing out if you haven't attended one of David's Master Class!!!

  4. Hi David.. I'd love to be put on the list for more information about your fall Napa Experience class.

  5. Nice timing David, the question just came up at the DWF so I hope you don't mind me linking to your post.

    All the best