As a professional photographer, you take pride in your work. You may take on assignments and assume that clients are operating in good faith and will pay you the agreed upon fee. However, as any experienced photographer or other freelancer can attest to, things don’t always work out that way. There are good reasons to request a retainer before you begin work and even block off your calendar.
Why Retainers Are Important For Photographers
A retainer is an upfront payment that you collect from clients at the time of the booking. This fee is typically nonrefundable and is provided in exchange for you taking your availability off your calendar for your services, on that specific date. Here are some key reasons why a photographer should demand retainers from clients.
- Whether you’re working with a new or established client, you are taking a chance by performing services without collecting any payment up front. Even with clients who have been reliable in the past, there’s no guarantee that this individual or business will not encounter some unexpected issues that cause them to cancel an event or not pay you promptly.
- Retainers help you manage your time without losing revenue if something goes wrong. Many clients book far in advance. For a wedding, for example, it’s common to book the photographer more than a year before the event. If you put the event on your calendar, you are missing other possible gigs. If the event is canceled and you didn’t collect a retainer, you end up with nothing.
- A retainer helps you to qualify your clients. Someone who is booking a photographer just in case they need one is probably not going to want to pay 50% up front. This works in your favor as it means you’ll be getting more reliable clients.
- They help you stay secure in uncertain times. Over the past year, for example, many events were canceled or postponed due to lockdowns. People also cancel events due to personal reasons. Clients can also suffer financial setbacks in between the time they book and the time of the event. You always want to cover yourself and make sure you are prepared for every possible outcome.
It’s possible to deal with trustworthy clients and get paid on time without a retainer or contract. However, if you continue to run your business like this, it’s almost certain that you’ll regret it at some point.
Is a Deposit the Same as a Retainer?
Many people assume that a deposit is the same as a retainer, but they are actually two different things. While the terms can be used interchangeably, it’s important to be clear in case you ever have to go to court with a client. A deposit is typically a refundable fee that is collected up front that is used towards a service. If the service is never performed, the deposit is refunded. Thus, if someone books you for a wedding and puts down a deposit, they may expect this amount to be returned in case they cancel the event.
You may, of course, request a nonrefundable deposit. Legally, however, this can be ambiguous and problematic as deposits are generally assumed to be refundable. A retainer, however, is a nonrefundable payment made to secure your services. If you specify that you are charging a nonrefundable retainer, the client has no grounds to demand a refund for any reason.
How Much Should Your Retainer Be?
Once you decide that you are going to charge a retainer, you need to choose the right amount. A retainer is generally between 20% and 50% of the total fee. There are advantages to charging a 50% retainer, even if some clients may initially object. A higher retainer increases the perceived value of your services.
Charging a 50% retainer shows that you value your time. If a client tries to reduce the retainer or avoid paying it, explain that you have this policy because you are reserving the date and won’t be able to take on any other business in case of a cancellation.
Tips For Retainers and Contracts
Ideally, you will perform your services and the client will pay as agreed. Unfortunately, all kinds of unexpected things can occur that can cause issues. You must take certain steps to protect your interests.
- Always have a written contract that both you and the client sign. Verbal agreements are fine to start with, but they are not sufficient to protect you in case anything goes wrong.
- The contract should specify the payment schedule, including the retainer and when the full payment is due. It should also list any circumstances in which the client will receive a refund. This would usually only apply if you were unable to complete the assignment for some reason.
- When you discuss terms with the client, be sure to mention right away that you need a 50% retainer that is nonrefundable. You want to make this as clear as possible, both verbally and in the contract.
Photographers need to develop skills dealing with clients along with their technical abilities. Those who are just starting to build their business may not be sure about best practices. Since it’s your business, you can choose your own policies. Although some clients may balk at a retainer, most will respect your professionalism for making all conditions clear. A retainer is one way to build a more secure and profitable business and to create more clear relationships with clients.