Dealing with Difficult Clients

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Dealing with Difficult Clients

There are difficult people everywhere – not just clients. Co-workers, employees, bosses, even ourselves, can be difficult at times, some more frequently or more prolonged at being difficult than others. Through the years (Adphoto was established in 1973), I have learned to be patient, but still would not sacrifice dignity and self-respect for business gains. Here are a few stories from the past.

Story No. 1: Some are worth pursuing.

Prospective clients who may be loyal to their current photographers may be difficult to win, but they’re worth a good try.

Once, I was really embarrassed to overhear an art director say that he was not interested to see me. I was in the waiting room just outside his door, and I could hear him say repeatedly to the accounts person who was going to introduce me that he was happy with his photographer, and emphatically add that he didn’t need another. Nevertheless, he was persuaded to see me to take a quick look at the portfolio of the photographer I was representing – John.

I knew that I could not win him by claiming to represent a better photographer – besides I wasn’t sure if John were indeed a better photographer. After all, I didn’t know who the other photographer was, and couldn’t compare.

Neither could I insist on his checking out our portfolio, as he was obviously not in the mood. It didn’t even help that the accounts person seemed to have imposed his authority over this art director to compel him to see me against his wishes.

While I nervously waited to be called in, I tried to assess my chances. Before I could even start, I was already losing, so how could I reverse my “good fortune” (note my sarcasm) of meeting this man who did not want to even meet me? In my head, I could hear myself haughtily say, “If he does not want to see me, well, I don’t want to see him either! There are other fishes in the sea!”

Maybe that’s how I would deal with him – by using the “rejection technique” or “reverse psychology” – a concept and strategy I learned as a student in U.P. (I was once majoring in BS Social Work, and had quite a few psychology classes, including “Abnormal Psychology.”)

I tried to be as pleasant as I could possibly be, even as I gave him opportunities to turn me away. Telling him that I could come back when he would not be as busy, he waved his hand, and said, without looking at me, “No, no, it’s okay – you’re here already.” I told him that I appreciated that he liked his regular photographer, and that I appreciated that kind of loyalty. Assuring him that I was not there to try to take business away from his preferred photographer, I made no motion to open the presentation portfolio that I was carrying. I simply said, “Maybe you can just consider us a back up photographer, when your regular photographer is not available,” and promptly thanked him for his time. I was eager to leave the place, and was turning towards the door, when he called out to me, “Ma’am, may I have your card?”

Maybe he was just being polite, but I consider his asking for my business card as a minor victory. However, I had to hold off the temptation to turn around and try to hard sell to him. The proper follow-through was still to play hard-to-get. I casually handed him my card – not even with two hands as I have learned from Japanese clients – and just said, “Thanks for your time.”

The next week, my minor victory turned to triumph. He called our studio for a shoot appointment. True enough, his regular photographer had an assignment and could not accept another, not even from him. I learned (much) later that he was too embarrassed to then ask to see our portfolio, so he called up a colleague in the industry to inquire about us. We were highly recommended.

We did the job. Soon, we became his favored studio – and our business relationship even developed into a personal friendship. John and I would get invited to not only their office parties, but also their out-of-town company outings. For as long as he was in advertising and design, we did all his photography requirements.

P.S. He has retired from the industry, and his ad agency no longer exists.


Story No. 2: They Don’t Like You When You Come Collecting.

There was a time when John was photographer (he still is), while I was everything else. Following up Accounts Receivables was one of the responsibilities that I loathed, but I had no choice – there was nobody else to do the job.

One afternoon, I visited an ad agency because my persistent calls to their accounting department were not producing results.

At the lobby, I asked to see the head of their accounting. The receptionist called his local number, and then turned to tell me that he had left for the bank. I looked at my watch – I had an hour before banks closed, so I decided to wait.

Before the hour was up, he walked out into the lobby. I greeted him. He was shocked to see me, and turned to the receptionist to scold her. “You said she was on the phone,” he said in a very firm but toned-down voice, not meant for me to hear. Before she could say anything, I butted in and said, “Actually, I called earlier, but I decided to drop in, since banks are almost closing. I came to see you and I’ve just arrived.” Recovering, he said, “Come in,” and led me to his office. As I walked away from the lobby and into the inner offices, the receptionist and I exchanged knowing looks.

When I visited to collect a check a week later, she and I actually talked and laughed about that incident, but I chose not to confront the accountant with his attempt to elude me. I think I saved both the accountant and the receptionist from being embarrassed, and I saved myself an account.

Story No. 3: Not all difficult clients are worth saving.

I’d like to think that there are no difficult clients, only difficult situations, but I was much younger then, and was not patient or wise enough to know the difference.

In the 1970’s when we were still new in the business, I had a client who wanted us to reshoot the product shots that we did for him. I graciously agreed, trying to reassure him that we would reshoot at no extra charge, if he were not happy with our photography.

I proceeded to inquire what he didn’t like, and what he would like, and he just said, “I don’t know.” He added, “once I see the photos, then I can tell you if I liked it or not.”

Trying to persevere, I thought that I could get him to define what he wanted by going through a process of elimination. Holding one photo, I pointed at the elements one by one, and asked, “would you like this here,” or “how would you like this positioned,” or “would you like this to be more prominent?” but he refused to answer my questions.

“I will tell you if I liked it or not, when I see it,” he repeated.

“Would you like to be present when we do the shoot, and you can then decide at that moment?”

“No, I can only tell you when I see the photos.” (This was during our film days).

I gathered the prints, and told him, that we needed to know beforehand what he wanted us to do. “Sir, we are sorry that we can’t do your photography. Please give us a call when you can give us clear instructions as to what you want done.”

He never called, and we’ve never encountered him since.

Story No. 4: We all need to be respected.

Once we had a client who, in the middle of my meeting with him, was approached by his marketing manager. He was shown some materials, of which he obviously did not approve. As if forgetting that I was there, he scolded, berated and shouted at his manager.

I was very uncomfortable being physically in the middle of all this (we had nothing to do with the materials in question), so I stood to excuse myself, but he motioned me to sit down. As he continued to scold her, I couldn’t help but wish that I could tele-transport myself to somewhere else.

After they were finished, with me as their most-embarrassed audience, he proceeded to discuss photography with me as if nothing happened.

At my next visit, I delivered his orders – Duratrans for his store displays. Fortunately, he was happy with them.

I did not expect to see his marketing manager again, but she was there. I could not believe that she would still be there, and I could not make myself ask why she was.

Rightly or wrongly, I was not eager to service his business, and did not call on him again.

12 Ways To Help Photographers Collect Payments Sooner

This writing prompt came from photography educator Leo Santos: When working for big clients, is it normal to wait 3-6 months before they settle payment?

Dear Leo,

While it may happen, it is not normal for big clients to take three to six months before paying their photographers.

There could be different reasons for delays in payments. It’s not always due to clients’ lack of funds, especially if you are talking of really big clients. It could be insufficient paperwork (no purchase order, missing delivery receipts, no completion reports, erroneous amounts or inconsistent details, etc.), unauthorized additions to work orders and other such details. It could also be, that while they may have funds, payments to certain payees are not being prioritized. There is a saying – “The crying baby gets the milk,” so maybe photographers need to “cry” a bit. There are a few tips below on how to get attention from clients who should be paying us.

In the many years that we have been doing professional photography, I have noted that the most important factor that helps photographers to collect payments promptly, is the industry practice. If there are already industry norms that are favorable to photographers, let’s not ruin the industry by loosening up those standards just to get in. Follow those practices, and work to improve – not loosen – them.

When it comes to collecting payments from customers, we look with envy at wedding photographers – they collect downpayments when they get booked, which is about a year before the wedding to be photographed. A few days or weeks before, they get another partial payment, and they get their final payments when they deliver the last photo album. They almost do not have any accounts receivables to manage. John would even joke that they are lucky – because if the future bride and groom should break off their engagement, wedding photographers still get to keep the downpayments.

Second in rank – as far as advantage in collecting payments are concerned – would be portrait photographers, who are on cash basis.

Editorial photographers, unless they’re regular, salaried employees of the magazines they work for, get their checks after the newspapers and magazines are published.

It seems that at the bottom of the heap are advertising/commercial photographers. Direct clients usually pay within 30 days, but if billings have to be coursed through their ad agencies, then the minimum waiting time is 60 days.

The following tips on collection techniques are, therefore, probably most useful only to those who do commercial/advertising photography:

1. Be clear about when you expect payment, and don’t be shy about what you need/want/require to collect. Your cost estimate or quotation, as well as your billings (formerly referred to as “invoices”) should indicate if you require downpayments, and when these – as well as final payments – are due. In fact, on your billings, do not just write, “Balance due: 30 days.” Instead, write the specific date when balance would be due – for example: “Balance due: November 30, 2015.” Accounts Payable Officers are too busy to have to check today’s date, and compute when it would be 30 days hence. Write the exact date when you expect to be paid. It might even help to have a red rubber stamp that emphasizes that due date.

If the job is long-term (stretching over a few weeks or months), then, between downpayments and final payments, you should indicate that you would make progress billings. Information about progress billings should include when such progress billings would be made, how much and when payments would be due.

It’s also not enough to write them down. You may want to read these details to your client, as you hand them your billings.

Don’t be shy about asking for a downpayment. Don’t apologize. You don’t need to sound harsh or strict – just say it as matter-of-factly as possible.

2. Offer a prompt payment discount. A two-percent discount may be more than what you’d earn from the bank if you have collections to deposit early, but it’s a small concession to grant so that you won’t have to spend a lot of valuable time following up your receivables. It might be an attractive incentive for your clients’ accountants who are looking for ways to minimize expenses and earn a bit extra for their companies.

3. Do your paperwork properly. Attach properly signed Purchase Orders, Delivery Receipts and Job Completion Reports with your bills, so the Accounts Payable Officer does not need to chase a hundred people to know that your bill is good to go. While you’re at it, make sure that you submit your bills to the right people, and that the supporting documents are properly and legibly signed.

4. Here’s a little trick that I learned from a management newsletter that I used to subscribe to. Print your bills on colored paper. There is no law that says your bills have to be on white paper.

What good does this do? When you are following up collections and you’re facing a harassed, overworked and overloaded Accounts Payable clerk, who may try to dismiss you by pointing to the stacks of invoices and bills that he has to process, and may tell you that he still has to look for YOUR bill, then you can point to the green, blue, pink or yellow one somewhere in that column of papers. (Just hope that you are the only one who picked up this tip or you will see a multicolored heap of bills).

5. Track all the steps that your bill goes through – from the time that you hand it to your client or his agency print producer. You shouldn’t be calling the Check Disbursing Officer week after week after week just to hear that your check is not ready. Where is your check, or your bill, exactly? Is it for signature? Is the voucher to accompany your check still being prepared? Is your bill missing? You can’t be asking the Check Releasing Officer where your payment is – he wouldn’t know. In large corporations, his only job may be to release stacks of checks that are brought to him at the beginning of each day.

I once studied this series of steps with a BIG client, and counted about 56 change of hands. There was a time when I learned that our bill was stuck with one of the accounting clerks because he was waiting for the supplier (that’s what we are called) to pick up the sheaf of papers from him, and to take it to the next guy, several tables away from him. I learned to visit him and some of the other 50 plus hands whenever I was in the area – to see where my future check was and to help it move along.

You don’t have to do this study with every client, but it helps to know where the possible bottlenecks are, and how you can get your paperwork moving.

6. Go and meet all the people who do all the paperwork that results in your getting a payment. They would be more eager to help you if they have met you personally, and you are not just a voice on the telephone that’s pestering them.

7. Be polite and considerate. Say “please” and “thank you.” They’re people, too, and they probably work on papers all day. A bright smile and a cheerful tone may be all they need to become eager to process your check.

8. Don’t just call to try to collect. Visit. Send a note. Be a friend. They’re busy – and so are you – so you don’t need to spend a lot of time with them, but even a quick phone call to greet them when they’re celebrating an occasion – a birthday, an anniversary – is enough to thaw the ice between you.

9. Show appreciation for prompt payments. You might event want to give annual certificates, rebates or tokens of appreciation to clients with the best or highest payment histories.

10. Go higher. Don’t just meet the people who do the paperwork. Meet presidents and vice presidents – these are the people who make decisions and give out orders to attend to you or streamline their processes. It’s probably not going to be easy to just walk in to their offices, but maybe there are industry, trade, civic, sports or social occasions where you can meet and become casual friends with them.

11. Join a trade organization of fellow photographers, especially in your field, and be an active member or officer. There is strength in numbers – your organization can make representations for better and quicker payment schemes with your clients’ counterpart organization. In advertising, the officers of the Advertising Suppliers Association of the Philippines work on certain industry projects with the Association of Accredited Advertising Agencies of the Philippines and the Philippine Association of National Advertisers (these may have been superseded by newer industry organizations), and these shared activities provide opportunities for mutually-advantageous agreements that may include better payment procedures.

12. Be good, be very, very good at the photography that you do for your clients. One of the most sure-fire ways to collect is to make your clients want to work with you again. If they want you to do their photography, they will find ways to make sure that they don’t owe you – especially not long overdue accounts.

A word of warning. I sometimes see photographers rant on Facebook against their clients who owe them money. Avoid embarrassing your clients on social media, or even face-to-face. There must be a way that you can collect without losing the patronage of your clients.

I hope these tips help. Perhaps fellow photographers would like to share other tips to help all of us improve our cash flows.

Raising Prices: Two Stories

In any business, pricing is not, and should not be, an arbitrary decision. Neither should raising prices. How we price is based on a seemingly simple formula, Price = Cost of Doing Business + Profit. I say seemingly, because gathering data to arrive at the cost of doing business is not an easy task. It requires keeping records of ALL business expenses, computing for breakeven points, depreciation values of equipment, return on investments (ROI) and many other accounting works. However, this article will not deal with how to arrive at pricing. Instead, we shall concentrate on two real stories about raising prices.

These are our actual stories at Adphoto, and I hope that telling them would encourage other photographers to share their own experiences.

IN 1989, when a few photographer-friends and I were trying to form the Advertising Photographers of the Philippines, I met Eddie Go – a well-respected and successful photographer – and his wife, Lydia – an equally successful food stylist. (Eddie Go has passed on, and his son has taken over as photographer-partner to his mom).

They were a few years ahead of us in the business of photography, and I looked up to them. Even without looking at our rate sheets, Eddie suggested a pricing experiment. He challenged me to raise prices, and he predicted the results. I don’t remember his exact words, but the message was essentially this: “Raise your prices, and you will find that you would lose some of your clients.” He continued with his prediction, “but in the end, you will find that your profitability will go up, and you would actually be grossing higher than before you raised your prices. Even if you did not earn more, you will be surely be working less for the same amount! ” Challenging me further, he asked, “Would you rather accept 100 jobs at P1, 000 each, or 10 jobs at P10, 000.00 each?” To seal his argument, he reminded me, “We’re in services, Harvey, not in selling retail. There is only so much that we can do in a day.”

Suffice it to say that I heeded his advice, and benefitted from the wisdom he shared with me.

Our next pricing challenge was in year 2000, when the Philippines was suffering from a deep economic slump. President Estrada was being tried for corruption and no one wanted to invest in the country. Everything had stopped to a standstill, as the country stayed glued to the court proceedings being broadcasted on TV like a riveting teleserye. There were not enough advertising jobs, not just for us but also for everyone, and our facilities, equipment and people (among them three photographers and one digital artist) were all under-utilized. We didn’t know where the country or the industry was going.

We needed to do something – to have “one, big, hairy, audacious goal” to lift us from the flat lines that we were experiencing. Searching the Internet for ideas, we got excited over developments in digital backs. But they were scandalously expensive – at more than a million pesos for a piece of equipment that was small enough to hold in one hand. I emailed Phase One, and told them that we were interested in their product, but there was no way that we could buy something that expensive yet had neither seen nor touched. They sent a quick reply, and said they would send someone to the Philippines to demonstrate their product.

If they came just for us, all the way from Denmark, I feared that we might feel pressured to buy, so I offered to organize an audience of the top 10 photographers in the country for his demo. If we decided not to buy, maybe somebody else would. I also volunteered to introduce their sales and marketing representative to possible distributors in the Philippines. They said not to worry, their man was going to Japan and Manila would be just a hop away. We were assured that he would come, whether he makes a sale or not, as they needed to reach the Asian market.

We hosted this demo, and the 10 photographers whom we invited brought in 20 more. But at the end of the evening, although everyone was excited at the features and capability of this new piece of equipment, everybody felt that this was not the right time for such a heavy and risky investment. One photographer said to me, “But, Harvey, you could buy a van with that kind of money.” On the other hand, we were convinced that this was the way for us to wake up the industry that was in doldrums. I answered him, “But, you have a van and we have a van, but we can’t shoot with our vans.”

At the end of that evening, we were the only ones who signed up for an order of a Phase One digital back. Aside from real estate (our Bautista home and studio), this was the biggest single purchase that John and I had ever made. I had to bring out our entire life savings to purchase this tiny piece of equipment. It was one of our biggest gambles. We could only pray that we were doing the right thing.

As soon as the digital back came, we had to master the equipment and the software. And we had to go full-blast in marketing this new, expensive “toy.” We prepared samples of our digital work, a Keynote presentation enumerating the advantages of a high-end digital back vs. film, and made a list of agencies for our sales blitz.

At our first presentation to an ad agency, everyone looked excited and convinced, but the moment of truth came with the question, “Would it cost us more to go digital?” John and I answered at the same time. He said “No,” and I said, “Yes.” We looked uncomfortably at each other but to John’s eternal credit, he said, “Well, pricing is Harvey’s territory,” and literally took a few steps back to motion me to walk up to the microphone.

Nervously, I repeated the benefits of going high-end digital, but one of our clients impatiently demanded, “We know, Harvey! How much more would this cost us?”

“Just enough for us to recover our investment.” I looked at them, and saw that they did not quite accept that as an answer. I knew that what they were expecting were not words, but numbers. With as much courage and confidence as I could muster, I said, “15% more.” The split-second while I waited to see if they would approve or disapprove was like eternity, but that magic number must have been acceptable because I did not see any disapproving looks. I heard a couple of clients softly mutter, “OK.” Again, silence for a few seconds, and then they stood up and applauded our presentation. They excitedly approached our computer to see more images, and to ask more questions – no longer on pricing but on the capability of the digital back. Before we left, they had asked for our earliest availability for a photo session- which was the following day.

The biggest surprise was that we did not have time to continue or finish our planned marketing blitz. Our clients – folks from both agencies and advertisers – took care of spreading the word.

The representative from Phase One computed ROI based on the number of films (4×5 and 120mm) that we were using and spending on in a year. This, plus what we spend on Polaroid prints, is the expense that the back would replace. My rough computation on possible ROI was based on one photographer using the digital back, but not everyday. I knew that our computations were not 100% accurate, not foolproof and not guaranteed – everything still depended on how well our new pricing would be received.

The response was overwhelming! We were overbooked! All clients were requesting us to use our digital back. All three photographers had shoot assignments, and the only way to accommodate their shoots was to insist that the assignments would be, not on location, but all in our studios. We had three large format and medium format cameras readied in three studios, but we only had one back. As soon as the first set up was approved, and the next layout was being set up, the digital back was shuttled to the other studio for the second photographer, and on to the third photographer, and back again to the first photographer. In the meantime, we had to find ways to keep clients entertained so that they would not notice that the digital back was not where they were.

Those were exciting times.

Epilogue:

In six months, we had earned enough to recover our investment and to order another PhaseOne digital back, and before the year was over, we placed an order for the third back.

With three backs, our three photographers were happy. They could shoot in the studio or on location, and most importantly, our clients were happy. We delivered on our promise.

PhaseOne found a distributor in the Philippines, and we helped them reach a greater market by acting as their “unofficial” showroom. Other photographers who were interested were invited to come to our studio for a demonstration and discussion of the features of PhaseOne digital backs. In return, PhaseOne gave us discounts and allowed trade-ins of older models for newer ones.

To be continued (if you are interested)… The Year After: It’s Not Always Rosy in Digital Photography.

Premium Cameras. Premium Prices.

A photographer asked me this question on Facebook: “I’ve always asked myself: “When is it best to use expensive camera gear? Some clients are really just cheap, and I have gear priced at their price points. Is it fair to use non premium camera gear that can also do the job?”

Different cameras offer different features. It would be foolish to simply look for a more expensive camera without matching what it can do with what you need to accomplish with it. On the other hand, you probably can’t get better paying clients (or higher-value projects) if your equipment is all second-rate.

I remember that in the 70’s, when we were starting, we could not afford the more expensive studio flash systems. John and I bought Styrofoam ice boxes from the supermarket, put a hole in the bottom, inserted a handheld flash there, put aluminum foil inside and tracing paper in front, and voila, we had an studio flash. But, oops, not quite. It still looked like an icebox, so he painted the outside matte black. Hmmm…

We knew, however, that we could not attract better paying clients with such crude imitations, so we continued to save, save some more and save even more to be able to afford the legitimate studio flash systems.

It was the same with cameras and other equipment. However, so that we don’t live or work always dissatisfied with what we had, John always says that the best camera is the one in your hands. He also admonishes our younger photographers not to look for what we do not have. But there are instances when a more demanding photography job requires the use of better, more premium cameras.

For about 20 years, John was exclusively using one brand of camera – mainly because he had a whole gallery of lenses to go with that camera. When we started using DSLRs, we simply replaced the old film camera bodies with a third-party (another brand) digital camera body that we could use with the same array of lenses. But at some point, he had an assignment to shoot an airplane, flying over him. That required a camera with a much faster burst/continuous-shooting mode than what his third-party digital camera body then could give him. Without hesitation, he switched brands, and he has been loyal to the second brand since then. It’s the brand that he now represents, but only because he’s still happy with it.

Your question is, “Some clients are really just cheap, and I have gear priced at their price points. Is it fair to use non premium camera gear that can also do the job?”

My answer is: If you are a professional photographer, you have the responsibility to give your clients your best, not just your “good enough.” You can’t charge more if your skills, equipment, facilities, services –all that you offer your clients – are non-premium (read – cheap). You may argue that “some client are really just cheap,” but maybe – please don’t take offense – that’s the kind of client that you attract with your “gear priced at their price points.” If you want to attract better paying clients, then it’s necessary to offer something better that would make them willing to pay more. You may say that this is a chicken-and-egg situation – which comes first – but I would like to think that a business person needs to take the first step. He takes risks, but his client shouldn’t.

Just look around. A mall like 168 in Divisoria attracts bargain hunters. If you wanted to attract high-end clients, you would sell in Greenbelt 5. Between these two price points are a whole spectrum of shops and shoppers, and they build their shops, choose or train their staff, and sell merchandise according to the clientele they wish to attract.

It’s a business decision, of course, and as a photographer, you can start or be (by choice or force of circumstance) at any point in the spectrum. Just remember that everything in your business – including your equipment and pricing – must be consistent with that decision. Consistency – that must be the key to better business.

Let’s read what’s in the fine print

A photographer wrote on our group page on Facebook, Business of Photography, to inquire about his friend’s rights. Apparently, based solely on a verbal agreement, his friend did some photography for a magazine. Later on, the magazine asked if the magazine’s client could use the photo for a poster for display in a mall. The photographer said no, but the photo was still used. The photographer was, and still is, upset. They are all upset – the magazine folks, the mall advertiser and the photographer. His photographer-friend asks: Should he complain? Should he sue? Should he sue the publisher, the mall advertiser or both?

To quote the photographer who wrote to us, in behalf of his photographer-friend: “Now I ask, who is in the right in this situation? Is there a legal basis for the Photographer to come after the Mall or Magazine? What would you do in this situation? Should the photographer teach them a lesson in how to respect photographers rights if this is indeed a rights issue?”

I tried referring this to a lawyer-friend, but she is hesitant to give an opinion without access to more complete information. That’s a professional for you. But I am not a lawyer so let me hazard an opinion as a lay person. (Please don’t mistake my advice as legal opinion – for more professional advice, please consult a lawyer). I’m just thinking out loud, and if my thinking is erroneous, please do correct me.

Photographers should take an active role in protecting their rights. In the case presented to us, we were told that there was no contract between photographer and magazine, or between photographer and the mall advertiser.

Allow me, however, to ask further. Was there really not a contract between them? There might have been, but it’s possible that the photographer was not aware of it. Perhaps it was not in a standard form where we sign on dotted lines- it could have been in the fine prints, and maybe, no signatures were even required.

Some magazines announce, usually on their editorial page (the page where the editorial box lists all the people involved in the publication – the publisher, editors, designers, staff as well as contributing writers and photographers) a declaration that all submissions, whether articles or photographs – become property of the publisher upon publication. If this was the case, and I am not saying that this was the case between the photographer and the magazine in question, then submitting to such publications may have caused the photographer to surrender his rights to the publication, albeit unknowingly.

Years ago, I remember aspiring to get a personal story published in a prestigious magazine. The instructions on how to submit were clearly stated, and it included an announcement that all submissions, when published, become the property of the publication. All the warning bells rang in my head, and neither a $100 payment for each article published nor the honor that came with seeing my name and story in print in this international magazine (pardon me for not naming the publication) could not make me grant them perpetual and universal rights to my story. It did not matter that my story would never be a bestseller and I probably could never sell it even just one more time – all that mattered to me was not losing ownership of it. It was MY story, and I wanted to keep it.

Photographers should watch out for a similar rule that many photo contest organizers add to their terms and conditions. All entries, not only winning entries, become the property of the contest organizer. Many photographers I know don’t even bother to read those rules – even when they are printed in big, bold letters – but they would be the first to complain when they see their pictures being used, without their “permission.”

Do I mean to tell photographers to never submit photos to magazines or contest organizers, when the fine (or not-so-fine) prints warn them about the full transfer of rights to the publications or the contest sponsors? Or to work for clients who demand total surrender of their rights? No, I am not saying that. All I am saying is please read the rules, terms and conditions, and make your own decision whether to accept or not accept them. What you get in return for surrendering your rights – fame, glory or cash – is for you to weigh and to negotiate for. As we were told during the seminar – be aware of your rights, but know that what you do with your rights is or should be a business decision. You have the primary responsibility to protect your rights, and the first step in doing so is in reading the rules, terms and conditions, whether in large or fine print.