"Consider This," is a series of short weekly posts with things for you to think about. My career is always surprising me with what seems like a never-ending collection of new experiences. So, I want to fill this new feature with ideas to help you learn from my mistakes so you can make new ones of your own!
by Skip Cohen
I heard a great story years ago. It was presented as a business anecdote, and I'm betting most of you haven't heard it.
A little girl is watching her mother cook dinner, and she cuts off 2 inches of the roast beef before putting it in the pan. The daughter asks, "Mom, why do you cut off the end of the roast beef?" Her mother answered, "Because that's the way my mother taught me to cook it."
Curious and determined to get to the bottom of the technique, the little girl goes to her grandmother and asks the same question. The grandmother smiled and said, "Because that's the way my mother taught me."
The kid just wasn't going to give up and went to the great-grandmother and asked one more time, "Why do you cut off the end of the roast beef before it's cooked." The great grandmother sighed and held her hands about 9 inches apart, "Because I only had a pan this big!"
As pathetic an explanation as it might seem, we have all been caught in situations where we've done things without any serious understanding of why. We manage by the exception because something bad happened once and we're determined never to let it happen again.
That's the part of the fun of being married to Sheila, who came into my life so late. She'll regularly question why I do something a certain way. Time and time again, I don't have a good answer, which leads me to start thinking about how or why I'm doing a particular task.
But here's where I see so many of you making a mistake. On your websites, usually under a category like "Information" some of you have policy statements on cancellation penalties that would make an IRS auditor shake. Your wording is over the top and typically very harsh. Investigating further, just like the little girl with the roast beef question, I'm finding the answer goes back to having once been burned by a client. Or, the cancellation statement is there because you've heard what's almost an urban myth, and you have to protect yourself.
I'm not suggesting you shouldn't have a strong statement and policy about cancellations and deposits, but it doesn't belong on your website! Save it for the contract discussion and use your site to get people "in the door." Don't scare them away before they've met you. Your website, especially those first three tabs are the most valuable real estate you own - don't waste it because you got burned once and you're determined never to have it happen again.
Protect yourself, but don't forget about the trust you have to build with your clients. They have the same issues you do, and just like the urban myth syndrome, they've heard all those stories about photographers who never delivered!