How to Handle Multiple Inquiries For a Single Date
One of the best problems a wedding photographer can have is multiple inquiries about the same calendar date. A photographer’s chance of reserving a date significantly increases when two or more couples actively request information about its availability and book consultation appointments. Superficially, this doesn’t seem like a negative situation at all. It’s a very positive sign that business is great and there is demand for your brand. The problem lies in how novice wedding photographers – or those with more art than business savvy – choose to handle such situations, especially when all the interested clients want to meet within a relatively short span of time.
Right of First Refusal
One of the more popular strategies for dealing with such situations is referred to as the right of first refusal. It is similar to first-come, first-served, or more aptly, first-come, first-opportunity-to-book. Wedding photographer Steven Sint, from his book, The Bride’s Guide to Wedding Photography, describes it as follows:
While you want to be careful about signing a contract right away, you should understand that there is risk involved in delaying your decision. During the time that you are comparing studios, the first photographer you interviewed may get booked. […] If a photographer really interests you, ask if he or she will give you the right of first refusal for two weeks (or as long as it takes to see all the other candidates). This means that if someone else calls them within this 2-week timeframe for the same date, they will not accept that assignment without calling you first. In return for this consideration, you should agree to give your decision immediately if they do call. It is important to talk about this decision with your fiancé before the call comes so that you live up to your part of the bargain. (p131)
I strongly disagree with the right of first refusal when booking my wedding photography services. It relies too heavily on the honour system, which can be abused by both couples and unscrupulous wedding photographers and can give the impression of a sales pressure tactic. Let’s assume a couple and a Toronto wedding photographer have agreed to a right of first refusal. Several days hence, the couple receive a call from the photographer: they’re meeting with another interested party and need a decision. This wedding photographer was the second the couple met and their favourite so far, but they’re meeting a third tomorrow and two more in the following week.
Right of First Refusal is Ripe for Manipulation
This situation is ripe for manipulation by both parties. If the couple finds it hard to commit so early, having met fewer than half of the competing wedding photographers they planned on meeting, they could agree to place the reservation, all while continuing with their third consultation. The first photographer will have no recourse if they cancel the signing appointment in favour of the third photographer. Alternatively, the photographer may meet the second couple, realise their wedding is more lucrative (more hours, more albums, better locations, etc.), book them and cancel the signing appointment with the first couple, who would also have no recourse. I admit this scenario is highly theoretical, but reality is often stranger than fiction, so I’m confident that more convoluted situations have transpired. However, the most likely scenario is that the couple will assume the wedding photographer’s call is a pressure tactic to force a quick decision. If that is true, the strategy could easily backfire and result in lost business.
A Better Approach
For these reasons, my approach to wedding photography consultations does not involve any kind of right of first refusal, “pencilling in”, or giving advanced notice that I have scheduled meetings with other couples for the same date. I will book the first couple that signs the agreement and pays the retaining fee. (That’s why the best time to hire a wedding photographer is sooner than later). Unlike the right of first refusal, my method not susceptible to manipulation and fosters mutual trust, which is good for business. It also rewards decisiveness in couples that know what they want when it’s presented to them. Such couples always make the very best wedding photography clients.