Business & Clients, Real World Practices

5 Ways To Alienate Clients & Lose Potential Jobs

There are so many similarities in business practices among different creative fields, that I constantly pick up great advice from brilliant people of completely different professions than my own.

I am a big fan of the great blog for writers Write To Done and their new article Writer Alert: 5 Ways To Alienate Clients made so much sense that it inspired me to translate it into our own industry specifics.

Just like for writers, repeat business is good business for retouchers. In fact, I personally have been working for a handful of repeat clients for the past couple of years. They love what I do for them, I love them for loving what I do and paying me what I believe my work is worth – a win-win situation for everyone involved.

But many retouchers (and photographers) out there don’t receive as much repeat business as they could because they unknowingly annoy, alienate and completely frustrate their clients, losing a lot of potential jobs and leaving a lot of money on the table. Those easily avoidable mistakes are:

1. Missed Deadlines

Missed deadlines are at the top of the list of annoyances clients have to deal with. No matter who you are working for – a private or commercial client – you must deliver on time.  Missed deadlines are frustrating and can cause unpleasant consequences and monetary losses for your clients. Needless to say, you won’t be hired again by the client whom you’ve once let down.

If you’re not very organized and not good at meeting deadlines, be sure to build a safety net when setting them. If a project will take a week, tell the client 10 days just to be safe. That way, if you complete the work within a week you can present the project earlier than agreed – it’s much better to under-promise and over-deliver. And if you’re behind schedule, you should still meet the deadline because you built in a little room for maneuvering.

RELATED: 14 Tips on How to Increase Your Chances of Getting Hired Again

2. Infrequent/Poor Communication

Everyone likes to be kept informed especially when it comes to business and money. Your clients like to know exactly what’s going on. It is very simple to send a quick email to update your client as to where you are in the progress of the project. Even if you do it every few days, your effort will be appreciated.

If you realize that you might not meet the deadline a couple of days before the job should be done – email your client right then, don’t wait until the day they expect you to submit final results. Once your client is notified, he/she may change the priorities within the project and ask you to get specific images done first and extend the deadline for those images that might be less urgent.

You may not think it’s necessary to update clients, but if you receive an email asking you for updates, you definitely need to respond in a reasonable time frame. There’s no excuse for not responding to your clients’ emails. It’s rude and completely unprofessional.

3. Poor Quality Execution

It goes without saying, that you must always stay on top of the job requirements. Pay full attention to your client’s brief and additional requests when accepting an assignment.

Needless to say, you have to do your absolute best when retouching for a client. No matter how busy you are, how tired you are, or how insignificant this client may seem to you – everything you put out there can make or break your reputation. A half-assed job for a small client can backfire when you least expect it and you might not even know it.

RELATED: Six Reasons Why You Might Not Be Getting Retouching Jobs

In my freelance work, I send a low-resolution preview of the fully retouched image to the client for review and approval. I always start with the most natural level of beauty retouching and the majority of my clients appreciate the realistic look. They quickly approve and move on – for that reason alone, every single piece of work you send out to your clients must be in a publish-ready state, whether you consider it the final version or just a preview.

Always be sure to ask your client where the images will be used (web or print), what maximum file size or dimensions they need, and what file format they prefer for the deliverables. This way you can fine-tune the format, size and resolution of the finals and ensure the best output quality for the images you submit to your client.

4. Being Unreceptive to Revision Requests

It’s a fact of life that as a creative professional sooner or later you will have to do revisions for some clients. That’s just how things are. Don’t be sluggish to respond to revision requests, and don’t attempt to contest every last revision with clients.

It is normal that your clients have their own vision for the images you are retouching for them. That’s what they are paying you for, and if you get angry and defensive at their revision requests – that’s a sure way to lose them forever.

The customer is always right (well, almost always), so where possible you should make all revisions promptly and professionally. However, when you, as a hired expert, believe that the requested revisions may actually compromise the quality of the final image or harm the client’s reputation considering the growing general public anti-Photoshop moods, politely share your concerns. Explain in detail why you think it might not be a good idea to soften the skin further, or remove a natural skin fold on the neck, or whatever it is that your client wants you to do. Show them some image examples if possible, so they can understand what exactly you are trying to talk them out of, and appreciate your consideration and care.

Do this and your clients will return to use your services time after time!

5. Financial Matters

Unlike writers, retouchers almost never ask or receive bonuses upon completion of an assignment. In fact, we often charge less than we should. This is a topic for a whole another article, but at the end of the day, you should make sure you don’t charge less than it costs you to sustain your business if you are a full-time freelancer.

RELEVANT: Business & Marketing articles on Retouching Academy.

No matter how much we like paying less for the services we need, to many people cheap almost always means “not valuable” or “poor quality”, so don’t try to beat the competition by lowballing. Calculate how much time and effort the project requires and give your client a fair quote based on your rates. If they can’t afford it, they are probably just not your client.

But no matter what, one thing that you should avoid doing at all costs is charging your client much more than you quoted after the job was done. It’s a very unprofessional way of doing business, and will most definitely ruin your relationship with the client.

When I was in my early 20s, I worked in Egypt as a tour guide for a couple of years, and was fortunate enough to visit the Pyramids in Cairo a few times a month during that time. There were these local fellas with their camels roaming around the Pyramids, doing business by selling souvenirs and inviting gullible tourists for a camel ride for just $1. Excited and unsuspecting Europeans, Russians and Americans would climb up onto a seated camel, only to find out that to get back down from the 7-f00t-tall animal after it stood up would cost them 10$ more.

Such shady tactics are typically not considered a good business practice. Don’t stick up your client with a huge bill after you’ve completed the project, unless that’s what you had quoted; or your client asked for a lot of extra work and you notified them about the additional charges.


Now that you know how a retoucher can alienate and disappoint clients, you can make sure you avoid these mistakes and rake it in, as your repeat business booms!

Have I missed anything? Is there anything else you think you’ve learned from your own experience – please share with us in the comments below!

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2 thoughts on “5 Ways To Alienate Clients & Lose Potential Jobs

  1. Fately Fatel says:

    Hi I’m a freelancer and have recently been applying and looking for work as either a Retoucher and/or photographer. The problem is that companies interview me, they like me, they test me, then hire me at hourly rates and then later they either decide not to fill the position, or there’s no work and I remain on their “payroll” but with no work. Then they call me for freelance work and want to pay me their hourly wages. This just doesn’t sit right with me, am I crazy?? It’s happened to me twice already. What can we do in these situations? By the way, I’m talking about hourly wages of $25-35 p/hr.

  2. Hi Fately, I’ve never hear anything like this, but I think in this situation, it’s like in the popular saying: Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice…. you know how it goes.

    Maybe you either need to continue working as a freelancer, which is the way the majority of retouchers/photographers successfully work anyway, or research the company you’re applying with and ask as many questions as possible before you commit. Also take a good look at the agreement they want you to sign with them, and have your attorney look at it, if you don’t think you understand it well.

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