Hello from the global pandemic. What a weird-ass time, right? All slightly flippant remarks aside, this really is a frightening and uncertain time for everyone. We have all seen the news of hospitals being overwhelmed, unemployment rising, and entire industries being affected. Unsurprisingly, the wedding industry has been one of many that is taking a pretty huge hit. Fair enough – after all, we do traditionally rely on large groups of people gathering together and hugging each other a lot.
I want to first say that if you are a couple planning your wedding right now I’m thinking of you and I am sorry this is happening. I can’t imagine how stressful and disappointing the uncertainty right now is for you. You have put a lot of your time and energy into planning for and dreaming about this celebration, and I understand you are mourning the potential loss or deferment of all your careful plans.
I also want to thank my own clients, who not only chose to support my small business and trust me to document an important time in their lives, but who have shown me a lot of grace and compassion during this incredibly difficult time. Thank you to those of you reading this who have purchased gift certificates and mini-sessions, who have sent me kind emails asking me how I am doing, who have written me very nice reviews, and who have worked with me to reschedule wedding dates. I am more grateful than I can express.
But I chose to write this today not only to hopefully demystify some of the questions you might have about cancelling or postponing your wedding, but to try to offer some insight into contracts and policies from a business owner’s perspective. My intention is not to invalidate your feelings or concerns. They are real and I recognize them – it’s to try to build a bridge between your perspective and your wedding vendors’. So here’s a list of some questions I am hearing a lot and some information that I hope people find helpful in explaining some of the tricky stuff we are wading through at the moment.
Disclaimer – I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice. Every vendor’s policies and contracts are also different so your situation with other vendors may be different. Individual vendors are handling this in the way that makes the most sense for them and their clients.
1. Why is my wedding vendor keeping my retainer if we rescheduled to a date they aren’t available?
This is probably the biggest source of angst and questions I have seen so I figured I would address it up front. And I get it. You didn’t choose to be planning your wedding in a pandemic. You had to postpone and now your vendor is not refunding you money. It’s frustrating. I hear you.
But I’ve also heard from countless wedding vendor friends in the past few months who are absolutely terrified that they and their business may not survive this. I have listened to my business owner friends sobbing (and done a little sobbing myself). I have seen business owners spend countless hours trying to navigate complex loan programs or unemployment applications only to be told funds have run out or they aren’t eligible for anything. I have read articles on major news outlets vilifying wedding vendors for keeping retainers. I have heard stories of amazing colleagues who I know care for their clients being called terrible names and threatened with lawsuits. All just for sticking to a contract that clients willingly signed.
There seems to be a lot of information flying around that makes wedding vendors seem like we are just greedily keeping retainer money. I promise you that is not the case. We don’t have a pool anywhere in our house full of retainer money that we are swimming around in Scrooge McDuck style every day (maybe one day after this is over though – a gal can dream, right?).
Wedding photography is my only job. It’s a job I love and take seriously but it is also my livelihood. As much as I would love to be able to refund every cent to each client who has to cancel or reschedule to a date I am unavailable, the reality is that my business and I would not financially survive. The retainer clause in my contract is there to ensure that in the event of cancellations (both during a pandemic or for other reasons that happen occasionally) I am still able to buy groceries, pay my mortgage, and pay the expenses and taxes necessary to running my business.
So – it’s clear that the wedding retainer protects wedding vendors, but it also protects clients. How is that so, you might ask??? Well – my super talented colleagues Whitney Tracy and Erin Wheat already wrote a lot about this and frankly they are better at writing than I am so I am just going to direct you to them.
Your wedding contract and retainer have protected you since the moment you signed and paid.
“When you signed your contract, you invested in having me because my work was the work that felt the best to you. I signed too, because I’m thrilled and honored to be a part of this with you. So yeah, it holds your date. But here’s the thing– vendors (alllll your vendors) are getting COUNTLESS inquiries for your date. There are times in the year where I will get 10-20 inquiries per DAY. So, we may not love the venue, or maybe it’s a smaller booking for us, maybe I get an inquiry that is my DREAM to shoot or is 3 times the income for me– and yet, I turned it down because I had an agreement with you. ” – Erin Wheat (Read the entirety of Erin’s thoughtful post on this here)
“We, like you, are locked in to that legal agreement. We made a legally-binding promise to you that we will hold your date.
I’m only entering my 5th year in business and guys, I’ve been offered on 3 separate occasions to be “bought out.” A new couple wants to buy out my original couple. They want to offer me double what I would be making at that original wedding. It HAPPENS! Dream inquiries on dates we’re already booked happen all the time!
But our contract protects you! On a daily basis! Can you imagine if we were to write to you and say, “Oh hey, sorry but another couple wants to book me for an entire weekend on the same day you booked me for six hours. Because I’d be making way more money, I’m going to terminate our agreement and go with them instead.”
It would be devastating! You’d feel like garbage. Like you weren’t good enough or valid enough to be protected by a legal agreement that you thought both parties would respect and adhere to.
It’s the same for us when our couples demand refunds. Or say we’re being heartless and cruel for sticking to our contracts when, behind the scenes, we’re sticking to them for their benefit every day.” – Whitney Tracy
Even though sticking to our contract may seem like it benefits us now, for every time that happens, there are many, many others when we stick to our contract even though financially it would have benefited us to break it.
2. Why is my wedding vendor charging me a rescheduling fee or requiring me to put down a new retainer if I am rescheduling to a Saturday but not a weekday or Sunday?
Another awesome question. People’s rescheduling policies right now are running the gamut, but across the board every single wedding photographer I know personally has relaxed their rescheduling policy significantly in order to try to accommodate clients. To give you an idea, in my contract, typically if a couple reschedules for any reason in a certain time frame, they are required to put down a new retainer AND I keep the old one. Because of the unprecedented circumstances, I have chosen to relax this clause substantially.
Something that a lot of vendors are doing right now is only requiring new retainers to be put down or charging a rescheduling fee for weekends in 2021. This is because, traditionally, most of our weddings in any given year fall on a Saturday. We only have a finite number of Saturdays per season to fill in order to make enough revenue to make ends meet. This is even more pronounced in an area like the Northeast where markedly fewer people get married in the winter. When we reschedule from a prime date in 2020 to a prime date in 2021, not only are we losing income in 2020, we are losing a valuable opportunity to book a wedding on a peak date the next year. For a lot of businesses, if all our weddings moved from peak dates in 2020 to peak dates in 2021, the stark reality is we would not survive that.
Charging a rescheduling fee for Saturdays in 2021 is really similar to how hotels charge more for weekends or airline tickets are more expensive during times of high demand. These industries do this to meet demand, and your wedding vendor may be doing it to survive.
If you’d like to try to avoid rescheduling fees but you need to switch your wedding to 2021, my best suggestion would be to look at weekdays. Some vendors are providing incentives to couples who rebook to 2021 weekdays so they can make enough money in 2021 to sustain their business while continuing to serve 2020 clients. Plus, hey after this year why not take advantage of as many excuses to party on a weekday as possible, right?
3. Ok Hannah, this is all well and good, but cut to the chase. What are YOUR Covid-19 policies?
Also a great question! Jess and I are taking the appropriate steps to self-isolate and keep ourselves as healthy as possible. We are staying inside and washing our hands to 20-second snippets of songs ALL THE TIME haha.
If we have the ok from your venue and from local authorities, your wedding is on, and we aren’t sick, we will be there to document it. We’ll also be doing any final planning with you virtually or on the phone for the time being rather than in person.
If you do eventually decide that your wedding needs to be postponed, we will be here to work with you to find a new date. We have significantly relaxed our rescheduling clause and are not taking on any additional new clients in 2020 in order to reserve as many open dates later in the year for our current clients. If things like your guest count change, we can also look over your contract and revise coverage as needed. Additionally, we are currently working on a robust emergency contingency plan with a group of trusted colleagues who have a similar aesthetic and approach to documenting weddings. Our aim is to increase our capacity to find appropriate associate coverage in the unlikely event it becomes necessary at any point during the year due to unexpected illness or travel restrictions.
If you are thinking of rescheduling, I am asking that you contact me and we try to work with each other and your other vendors to find a date that can work for us. For couples who choose to cancel altogether or choose to reschedule to a date that I am not available, the cancellation clause of the contract will apply. However, in those cases I am allowing monies paid to be transferred to a future portrait sessions etc.
If you have any questions specific to your wedding day or rescheduling, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.
I’ll just close by saying I acknowledge that this is a difficult thing to talk about. I’m not trying to create controversy or shame anyone. I understand if you are hurt and frustrated over what is transpiring. I am right there with you and I am thinking of you. I’m going to try to have my clients’ backs as much now as ever and I am working on researching and implementing industry best practices. I just wanted to provide some perspective about where your vendors might be coming from as we try to navigate this with you. I hope we can offer one another grace and kindness through this.
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