As a real estate photographer, you need to make sure your business not only survives but thrives in this competitive industry. At its core, that means getting paid on time and for your agreed upon rates. At the same time, you need to protect your images, define the boundaries of the project, and manage your customer’s expectations.
That’s a lot to keep track of. Theoretically, in a mutually beneficial business relationship, all these important concerns are addressed. However, there will always be a chance that something won’t go exactly as planned.
One way to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship with your client is for both parties to sign a contract, laying out the specifics involved with the shoot.
Many real estate photographers simply forego the requirement of a contract. Some find that getting clients to sign contracts is an unnecessary task in the business process. Just think: for each shoot, they need to spend time and effort writing the agreement. Then, they require or in some cases have to convince the prospect to sign it. After reviewing the agreement, a new potential client may want a revision or, perhaps if they get intimidated by the terms, they may cancel the deal altogether. When all photographers do is provide MLS photos for property listings, they don’t usually bother creating a contract.
You can do away with contracts as well. But without a contract, how do you make certain that realtors, agents, and clients will pay you for your service? How do you address the issue of ownership?
It all starts at the beginning of your business relationship with your clients. Specifically, you should set expectations with your prospects first. Explain to them how you work, what they should expect from you, and what you expect from them. Describe to them what you need them to do before you arrive at their property. Outline your payment terms as well as your cancellation and rescheduling policies. Discuss photo ownership issues with them.
Taking the time and effort to conduct a project briefing with your potential clients will show them that you mean business and that you want a mutually beneficial relationship moving forward. If you are still worried about potential clients in your market being scared away by signing a contract, you can be comforted in knowing that most clients will be glad to conform to your terms with a gentleman’s agreement or a simple handshake. However, having a signed contract is always a best practice.
What About Payments?
Another issue that photographers are concerned with is how they receive payment. The concern is valid; at one point or another, you will encounter a client who does not adhere to the terms of their payment agreement. To mitigate the risk, some photographers ask for a non-refundable down-payment, ranging from 20 to 50 percent of the entire cost of the shoot.
Another effective way to mitigate the risk is to ask for 100% of the payment before the client receives the final photos. This is going to be somewhat of a challenge since most clients want to take a look at the photos first before shelling out the money.
Experts recommend saving copies of the final images in a small-sized format. Ideally, they should fit an 800 X 600 window, a good-enough size so that details can be clearly seen. Stamp a logo or watermark on each of the images. Then send these re-sized, watermarked images to the client; these will serve as previews to the final photos. Once your client has reviewed, approved and paid for the images, you can then send them the final full resolution images without your personal watermark.
Editors at PhotoUp can provide you a resized and watermarked image in addition to your full res image at no additional cost.
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When Do You Need a Contract?
There are indeed valid instances that a contract is not just prudent, it is highly recommended.
Commercial Real Estate Photography
Taking photos of restaurants, shops, hotels, and other commercial establishments usually entails a higher service fee, which is attached to a higher quality of work. A contract is recommended because businesses often use the document as part of the requirement to process your payment.
In your contract, always include the expected date of payment, the expected date of photo delivery, and the rights that the client have regarding the usage of the images.
When property designers, builders, interior decorators, and other contractors ask you to shoot photos for their portfolio, having them sign a contract is recommended. Since they will be using their photos to advertise their business, you need to indicate the scope and limitations of usage of your photos. This is especially true for agents who may wish to submit your photos to magazines, journals, and other forms of publication.
For example, if you shoot portfolio photos for an interior designer, make sure you state in your contract that the images are for the client’s use only. You don’t want your photos to be used in an interior design magazine without the publisher paying you for your work, do you?
A client may be so impressed with your work that he wants to make you his exclusive photographer for his listings. Be sure to have them sign a contract for exclusivity. What’s the duration of the exclusivity? What is exactly being covered? How many projects should he provide you so you will remain exclusive to the client? What happens if the there is no work provided by the client? The more details about the conditions, the better.
During an initial meeting with a prospect, you usually have a glimpse of his working attitude with you. If you think that complications may arise, then write a contract. Clearly state your payment policies, inclusions of the project, expectations, and other important details in your contract.
At times, you may not need a contract, especially if you are servicing repeat clients. But in some situations, contracts can be lifesavers. Signing legal agreements can be intimidating, and your prospects may be hesitant to sign. Explain to them that doing so is for the formality of the deal. Encourage them that by signing the contract, both parties will make sure they get what they want.