by Fraser Dunn
Fraser helps celebrants and officiants across the UK, Australasia, and North America to grow their businesses.
If you’ve been a celebrant for a while, I can guarantee that you have worked with a challenging client or two (or three!). We all know that sinking feeling that you get when you finally realise that you have a challenging client. So what can you do to avoid this happening in the future?
In my experience, it isn’t always 100% possible to avoid working with a client that isn’t a good fit for you. Red flags can pop up later in a client engagement, making them impossible to foresee. Or, you may also need to ignore them to keep a bit of positive cash flow going.
With that in mind, the following advice is more for celebrants who are a year or two into it. Those who are more likely to be fortunate enough to be in a position where they can turn down work. If you’re a new celebrant, then this may not apply to you. But it may still be good to keep note of for the future.
That said, if a potential client ticks any of the below, then you may want to steer clear. Or at the very least, have your guard up.
Red flag #1: Clients who are unresponsive to emails to schedule an initial meeting or follow-ups.
Let’s face it. We’re all busy. We all have several daily commitments that get in the way of us responding to personal emails. Commitments like our jobs, chores around the house, taking care of children, and hobbies. So there does need to be a bit of leeway here. But for something as important as a wedding, funeral, or other ceremonies, good communication is key.
Say that a couple has booked you to marry them in several months. They contact you via email first. You reply within a few hours and wait for their response. Three days later, and nothing. You send a follow-up email. Again, nothing. At this point, I wouldn’t say that you couldn’t work with them. But it may be good to have your guard up.
You could try setting some soft deadlines in your communications with prospective clients. For example, mention in your initial reply to their enquiry that if they don’t reply within 10 days you can’t guarantee that their date will still be available. Or, if they take longer than three weeks to reply, you could take that as a sure sign that they’ll be a problematic client, and write them off.
As I mentioned above, day-to-day life can get in the way. But if a client doesn’t reply to your emails in a timely way it makes it harder for you to do your job. And I can imagine you don’t want your job to be even harder than it already is.
To simplify this point, here’s the way that I look at it. If a client is hard to get a hold of before you’ve even started working together, then that pattern is likely to continue. Now, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, and there are exceptions. There may also be a certain level of slow communication that you can tolerate.
By all means, if a prospective client makes you aware that they’re going through a busy patch, then that’s fine. And you can make allowances for this. But if they don’t make this known, then it could be safe to say that they may be a frustrating client to work with.
Red flag #2: Clients who complain about previous celebrants they have contacted or tried to hire.
The best way I can think of to explain this red flag is by referencing dating. Picture going on a date with someone new. You book a table at a restaurant. You sit down, order your meals, and start chatting. You eventually get to talking about previous partners. They start bad-mouthing several of their exes. They never mention previous relationships ending due to any fault on their part. Now I’m lucky enough to have never had this happen to me. But if it did, you can bet that I’d be running for the hills.
Similarly, if a prospective client contacts you and speaks ill of other celebrants, take that as a warning. Like the previous red flag, there are exceptions here. In the case they mention a single celebrant who never replied to their emails, then that’s no big deal. But if they complain about several other celebrants without taking a breath, then be wary.
In the dating example, you’d hope that the other person would be a bit more self-aware. As it’s unlikely that they were an absolute saint. In a similar vein, a prospective client bad-mouthing other celebrants is a warning sign. If they don’t at least divulge why things didn’t work out elsewhere, then 9 out of 10 times it’s probably them who is at fault.
Red flag #3: Clients who push back on your pricing or want a special deal.
First of all – your price is your price. And I can’t emphasise this enough. You don’t need to lower it for anyone if you don’t want to. You don’t even need to justify why your fee is the price that it is. You’re under no obligation to work with anyone.
If a client values you as a professional and the service you provide, then they won’t ask you to cut them a deal. Focusing on the value that you provide before discussing price is imperative. Ideally, pricing will be the last thing that you discuss with clients. If you’ve done your job and communicated why they need a celebrant, then they’ll know that they need you. And good clients won’t hesitate at paying your fee. They will happily part with their money as they’re getting far more value from the service that you provide.
Out of all three red flags, this is probably the softest one. As there are plenty of people who will ask for a discount. After all, you don’t ask, you don’t get, right? But stand firm and behind your pricing. That will set the right tone from the get-go, and good clients will respect it.
To summarise, these aren’t all the red flags that you need to look out for. But by keeping an eye out for these, you’ll be saving yourself plenty of potential headaches. If you’re fortunate enough to be in a position where you can refuse to work with someone, that’s a good thing. You don’t need to work with everyone who comes knocking on your door.
Remember to keep an eye out for red flags so that you can focus on working with clients who are a good fit for you. Not working with challenging clients frees up your time so you can work with good clients instead.