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“I really miss the process. I miss that feeling of just like anything is possible when you put a sheet of blank photographic light-sensitive paper into a tank or into the tray with developer and then fixer and you see this image bloom to life on a page that was previously blank. It was magical…”

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Today’s guest is Abby Grace of Abby Grace Photography, an international wedding and anniversary photographer based just outside of Washington D.C. Abby’s background in communications and PR is on full display in this interview as we discuss client communication, and specifically we talked about instances where you have to say no to clients or prospective clients.

We walked through all sorts of different scenarios from unreasonable client requests, to how to turn someone away who’s not a good fit, to dealing with requests that are just outside the scope of work that you usually do. What stands out in this episode to me is how Abby sets boundaries and educates our clients from the very beginning of their correspondence and how she does her best to find ways to say yes to clients even after having to say no.

More about Abby:

Abby Grace is an international wedding & anniversary photographer, based just outside Washington, DC. A Francophile, Hufflepuff, and ballet enthusiast, she’s had the joy of teaching creatives in France and across the US. She’s a communication guru with a passion for teaching others to run businesses that enables lives they dearly love, and believes in the ruthless pursuit of leaning into your unique gifts as an entrepreneur. Abby’s background in Communication & PR paired with eight years of profitable business ownership make her an authority for creatives looking to up-level their business. She often speaks in movie quote and song lyrics, and her secret weapon is a tube of red lipstick.

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The Gentle No w/ Abby Grace | Brands that Book podcast | Davey & Krista

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The Transcript…

[INTRODUCTION]

[00:00:30] DJ: Welcome to the Brands that Book Show, where we help creative service-based businesses build their brands and find more clients. I’m your host, Davey Jones.

Today’s guest is Abby Grace of Abby Grace Photography, an international wedding and anniversary photographer based just outside of Washington D.C. Abby’s background in communications and PR is on full display in this interview as we discuss client communication, and specifically we talked about instances where you have to say no to clients or prospective clients.

We walked through all sorts of different scenarios from unreasonable client requests, to how to turn someone away who’s not a good fit, to dealing with requests that are just outside the scope of work that you usually do. What stands out in this episode to me is how Abby sets boundaries and educates our clients from the very beginning of their correspondence and how she does her best to find ways to say yes to clients even after having to say no.

Before we get to this episode, if you’re revisiting your website this season, we have stuff for you to check out. Head on over to daveyandkrista.com, because we are hosting a website giveaway, so you can find out the details about that there. We have a brand new guide out all about websites. Our nine must-haves for your website, and you can find that at website.daveyandkrista.com, and we also, this winter, have special offers on our professionally-designed, easy to customize website templates that are available in our shop at daveyandkrista.com.

Be sure to check out the show notes at daveyandkrista.com for the resources that we’ve mentioned during the episode, and I’d like to hear from you about what kind of content you’d like to see on The Brands that Book podcast as we move forward. I’d also like to know what episodes you’ve enjoyed most so far and why. To leave your feedback, head on over to the Davey and Krista Facebook page and send us a message.

Now, on to the episode.

[INTERVIEW]

[00:02:29] DJ: All right. Today we have Abby Grace of Abby Grace Photography with us. Welcome to the show, Abby.

[00:02:34] AG: Thank you so much for having me. I’m super pumped to be here. I vowed to stop saying so excited, because it’s cliché. So I’m pumped to be here.

[00:02:41] DJ: Well, we are super pumped to have you here, and I feel like we’ve known each other for a while now.

[00:02:48] AG: Yeah, it’s been – I think I’ve first met Krista in like 2012, and I don’t remember the first time you and I met in person, but it’s been a long time.

[00:02:56] DJ: Yeah. It’s been a while. But since then I’ve been able to see you speak at Creative a number of times now and on a number of different topics. One of those topics is also the topic of today’s podcast, which is basically just saying no to people.

[00:03:12] AG: Mm-hmm, which is one of my favorites too, not like a negative way, but just like I love boundaries and like the word no is such a hard one for some people to enunciate, and I’m like, “No problems here. I got it.” 

[00:03:22] DJ: Yeah, it really is, and it can be so difficult to say no to people, and we’re going to talk about all sorts of different scenarios. I think especially when you’re first getting started and you don’t want to say no to work and it’s just a matter of somebody’s willing to pay you, the tendency is to say yes. So I’m excited to dig into that with you, because I know how powerful of a lesson that this has been for people who you’ve spoken to. I feel like I hear, especially after conferences that we speak at together, people are just walking away with so many practical tips and insights and being comfortable then to say yes to the right work.

You have all sorts of resources, literally. If you want to skip this and just get the shortcut, Abby has a shop and she has email templates. She literally has a pack of templates around saying no. It’s like 10 to 15 different situations and pre-written emails for those situations.

[00:04:16] AG: Very gentle ways to say no for creatives who – That kind of thing makes your stomach feel like it’s going to fall out of your butt. 

[00:04:23] DJ: But you don’t want to walk away from this interview, and I don’t even know this, how did you get started? We’ve known each other for a  while now, but I don’t even know how your business got started.

[00:04:33] AG: Well, I was born at a very early age – I’m just kidding. So I actually am not one of those people that was always had a camera in their hand or anything like that. I fell in love with photography in college, because I took a darkroom class because I needed to satisfy a fine art major. Somehow being a music major for a year didn’t do that. So they told me I had to take an art class. I took darkroom photography and totally fell in love, as cliché as that sounds. That was halfway through my junior year and obviously it was too late to change my major at that point, so I just continued on with my communication degree.

My bachelor’s degree is in communication with a concentration in public relations, but I knew from the time that I graduated that I really wanted to pursue photography in some way shape or form, and it was actually my first wedding was in December of 2009. It was December 19th, 2009, and there was a photographer back home who I’d emailed to just, “How did you get started? Do I need to have a degree in this?” and who had invited me to go to a wedding with him, and it was snowpocalypse 2009, and it was – I mean, it sort of snowing the night –

[00:05:38] DJ: I remember that year. It was crazy.

[00:05:39] AG: Yup. It started snowing the night before. We had to drive in and like spend a night at the hotel and there was like two and a half feet of snow in the ground. So it was an insane day. It was like 12 or 13 hours. Crazy for any photographer who’s been in a situation like that, but I remember walking away from that being like, “Oh my gosh! This is what I want to do. I love this. I love every second of this. I love the joy. I love the chaos. I love it.”

[00:06:03] DJ: If you can walk away from that and love it, then it’s really for you.

[00:06:08] AG: Yeah. That was in 2010, or I guess the wedding was in 2009. I graduated in 2010, and right after graduation I knew I wanted to work in the wedding industry, but I knew that it was going to take some time to get things going. So three days after graduation I got hired by a Fortune 500 company to work in the coms department, which I was very fortunate to have that job, because it was like two years after the recession or a year and a half after the recession hit and one of the only people who had a job right I graduated.

I spent two years working in the corporate industry. I had a super cushy job and a cushy desk and a cushy salary and I wanted to desperately to be out, which for anyone who’s ever transitioned out of the corporate world know, is your parents are like, “But why?” and like, “You got a great thing going for you.”

One of my uncles said to me, he was like, “This is great. You just keep doing this both, both of them, like your corporate job and your small business for the next 30 years and you can retire when you’re 52.” I was like, “Everything about everything you just said makes me want to die.” 

[00:07:05] DJ: Yeah, and that’s so – I mean, especially in 2010. That’s when I graduated as well. So I remember very much the marketplace at the time and how many of my friends did not get jobs after graduation. I just had a conversation for the podcast as well with Laura Joseph, and same thing. It’s about 2010, 2012 and she gets a job out of college and had to have a similar conversation with her parents. How did you parents react to that knowing that Fortune 500 job, you’re going to go and do this photography thing? Or some of my friends put it, “You take pictures, right?”

[00:07:36] AG: Yeah, exactly, like, “You only work on weekends, right?” like that kind of thing. Yeah, the way I phrase it to them was like, “I understand that it’s very complicated for you to understand why I would leave a comfortable, very secure defense contractor job to then not know where my paycheck is coming from month after month.” I mean, that’s exaggerated obviously. We know where wedding payments are coming from, but to have an unsteady job.

On top of that, the day that I gave my notice, because I gave my job about two months of notice so that they could find a replacement for me before I left, and the day I gave my notice I came home and we found out that Matt’s job as a youth pastor is being solved. I left my job June 1st, 2012 and his job was set to dissolve on July 1st, 2012 and everyone was like, “What are you doing? This is banana pancakes. No! You stay at the job.”

But we just knew, like our – I don’t want to say our marriage was suffering, but just like we didn’t have time for each other anymore and like it wasn’t worth like slaving away to make a living if we didn’t then get to also enjoy the life that came along with that living. So we had a couple of benchmarks that we wanted to hit before I felt comfortable leaving my day job and we hit those benchmarks and Matt was actually the one to say – And I’m so fortunate that I had a husband who is like more of a champion for my business than I was, because I  was too afraid. He was like, “It’s time. You need to leave.”

So when I left my job on June 1st, we had no idea where Matt was going to be working shortly thereafter, and I still left, and then of course he found a job like a couple of weeks later and it was fine, but like that in the meantime thing, our parents were just like, “What are you doing?”

My mom was pretty supportive and my dad was supportive too, but it was just more like – You know, your parents, they want you to be safe and they want you to be secure and I was like, “I’m not really interested in safety. I’m interested –” I know that there’s wisdom in security, but like I don’t feel – I feel settled about this. I feel at peace about this, and like my gut for me has always been a pretty good indicator as to whether or not something is worth pursuing, and I felt at peace with it. I was like – Not to get preachy, “But we know God’s calling us to this and like to put this off any further would be wrong.” So we did it, and it was fine and it worked out fine and it’s been six and a half years at this point, and now Matt works with me too. It’s really cool to be able to look back at that and be like, “Everyone was so afraid for us.” We were afraid in some ways too, but it worked out and it was fine. 

[00:10:07] DJ: Yeah. Looking at your background as well, I mean you probably – And people probably don’t realize this at the time as well, but you have this background of communication, NPR, which knowing what I know about you not totally makes sense.

[00:10:20] AG: Yup.

[00:10:21] DJ: Even in terms of the conversation that we’re going to have today. But then also I want to talk about the darkroom photography class that you took, because at some point, were you always a film photographer?

[00:10:30] AG: No. I started off on film. I started off on black and white film and then when I started taking photographs not for class, I wanted to do a little in color. So I was still shooting like personal black and white film. I actually managed to sweet talk my way into the darkroom for the semester after that even though I wasn’t enrolled in the class anymore, because my professor was like, “I totally get it.”

No. I started shooting – I guess just the concept of shooting color film never really occurred to me, because I was like, “Digital exists. Why would I shoot color film?” But I think it was like 2012 was when I started feeling like a tub in the color film direction, because it wasn’t so much the look of film, which I loved. It was more like I really miss the process. I miss that feeling of just like anything is possible when you put a sheet of blank photographic light-sensitive paper into a tank or into the tray with developer and then fixer and you see this image bloom to life on a page that was previously blank. It was magical. I also missed the process of like super intentional with every photo that I took, because with digital you can take as many pictures as you want. It doesn’t cost you anything extra. But with film, it is extremely expensive.

So I started in 2012 shooting. I bought a contacts in 2012 and then let it sit for a long time after I decided that I wasn’t going to shoot at weddings, but realized that I really love shooting. We started traveling and shooting internationally in 2013. I shot all of my travel work on film, because I didn’t want to come home with a portfolio of like 5,000 digital photographs and then never do anything with them. That felt sort of cheapened to me.

So in order to like really treasure the experience of being in Paris for the first time and being in England with my husband, I shot everything on film, and it was one of the best decisions I’d ever made when it came to like personal work, because I grew a lot as an artist just realizing the kind of things that I was attracted to, the kind of things that I wanted to photograph. But then also just that process of like slowing down and being intentional. I felt like I fell in love with the locations more. I fell in love with photography all over again.

So from there, it sort of started taking over every area of my photography. So I started with travel and then I introduced it into anniversary sessions and then my ballerina portraits, which I just shoot for personal work. But then weddings were the last thing to fall in line, and it was only because people like Lauren Swann and Natalie Frank were like, “Abby, why are you not shooting film? You should it with everything else, and it’s so good. You do your best work on film. Why are you not doing it at weddings?” and it was because I was afraid.

So then last year I started shooting film at weddings and it’s been so amazing. Like my work is leaps and bounds. I mean, you know this. Just fall in love with your work more when you’re shooting a medium that speaks to you.

[00:13:20] DJ: Yeah. We started shooting film for really a similar reason. I audited a class. This was after college, black and white film photography class at the Community College and I would show up – I wouldn’t even show up to the classroom days when they were just doing lecture. I would only show up to the days that we’re developing and things like that. Krista, the reason she convinced me to come second shoot for her, she would say, “Hey, you can take a couple of – You can use a couple of rolls of film.”

Ironically after a while, my film work was so much better than my digital work, because my digital work, it was kind of like grab my camera and take as many photos as possible and hope that one of them is in focus. Whereas with film, you can’t do that.

[00:13:57] AG: Right.

[00:13:58] DJ: Like you said, you got to slow down. Again, I think there’s something beautiful about just the process of film work. I mean, it’s definitely scary though sending your film away in the mail.

[00:14:11] AG: Like hoping that it gets there. Hoping that USPS [inaudible 00:14:13].

[00:14:15] DJ: Yeah, but at the end of the day too, I think I’ve only ever lost one roll of film ever off the dock into water. But you lose 16 photos. If I lost a memory card off the dock in the water, it would never be recovered.

[00:14:28] AG: Oh my gosh! Just thinking about that.

[00:14:31] DJ: Yeah, a lot of people at home just cringed. But anyways, so I totally understand that, and your work and your personal work too is beautiful. If you had just a little advice for those photographers who are sitting at home maybe also love film but don’t want to make the leap into actually doing it at weddings or whatever, what piece of advice would you give them?

[00:14:52] AG: Oh, gosh! That’s good. I would say start small with things that can be reshot. If you want to start introducing it with your clients, I wouldn’t necessarily say start by taking it to an engagement session, but maybe like put together a shoot with like, let’s say you have a couple of friends in your neighborhood and you’re like, “Hey, you’re attractive. Can I photograph you?” Just shoot. Shoot a lot. Shoot frequently. I think keeping track of your exposures is also super helpful to get an idea of like, “Okay, I overexposed this one by three stops, and I didn’t like that as much as when I only overexposed my one and a half stops.”

But, honestly, shooting in low-pressure situations, that was – I took my phone camera everywhere with me. I took it to my parents’ when we go over for dinner, and I would take it to family gathering, I took it on vacation. I started taking it to engagement sessions and I’d shoot like maybe two roles only after I felt like I got what I wanted with digital. So it was risk-free and it was never anything that couldn’t be reshot if for some reason the film was totally terrible.

[00:15:52] DJ: Yeah. I think that’s how we got started as well, just low-pressure situations, doing it in little batches and then before ever making that switch to shooting most of the portraits and that kind of stuff at weddings on film, but we have lots of non-film things to talk about today, even though I could probably talk to you about this for another 45 minutes.

[00:16:11] AG: Forever. Yeah.

[00:16:12] DJ: Yeah, exactly. I want to talk to you about setting boundaries with your clients, but first, in general, what are some of the mistakes that you feel like you made early on in your business that if you could go back in time that you would fix for sure right off the bat?

[00:16:27] AG: Yeah, I think it was just this concept that like I didn’t have a right to make rules in my own business, like if a client emailed and asked something, that it was the equivalent of the subpoena that I couldn’t say no. I learned pretty quickly that that’s a genuinely terrible way to run your business of allowing other people to dictate how you run your – I mean, that’s the beauty of a small business, is your business can look like whatever you want it to.

I struggle feeling legalistic about it, because I came from a corporate industry. I started off with an 8 to 5 job, and like because I was also building my small business, I felt like there was never enough time to get all the things done. So like I was allowing other people to make the rules for me to run a business that I was hoping then I could somehow fit my life around as supposed to determining like, “There are things that are the most important to me, and then my business will be formed around those.”

One of our main pillars of business is that we desire to run a business that enables a life we love, not a life that’s governed by our work’s needs. I wasn’t acting like that in my first couple of years, and I think these are natural growing pains for a lot of small business owners, especially if you come from a corporate background. But like just learning to be like, “You know what? Actually, that doesn’t work for me.”

For example, there was a season for me, I think it was August 16th to Thanksgiving of 2011 and I didn’t have a single day off. I worked every –I’m not exaggerating. There was no day on my calendar that didn’t have something on it. So I would work 8 to 5 at my corporate job, come home, start editing at like 5:30, probably eat dinner at my computer and like go to bed at like maybe 11:30 or 12 and then go to work the next they, do it all over again. Then on weekends, I was shooting on Saturdays and Sundays and I was editing like all the time that I wasn’t shooting. I was exhausted. I mean, it was total burnout by the time we got to Thanksgiving. I was like, “I cannot keep doing this. This is not sustainable.

What I really learned in that season was, like I said, when clients would email to ask for something, I thought just the very nature of them asking meant that I had to say yes, because the customer is always right, and I don’t necessarily believe that – Our heart is always to serve our client super well, but we want to sever – Our clients are not the only people we want to serve well. I also want to serve my family. I want to serve my husband. I want to be able to see our family and friends, and I have a church life that also really matters to me more than most other things.

When I was saying yes to my clients, I was in turn them saying no to the things in our life that mattered the most. So we’d get an email from a client that would say something like – Or I would say, “Okay, we’re booked. We’re officially official. It’s time to book your engagement session. When do you want to do that?” Then they would email me and ask me for Saturday two weeks from now and I would feel like I had to say yes. As supposed to proactively communicating boundaries to my clients about when I could say yes so that they would feel freedom to ask for my time within those pre-set aside windows, and it meant that I could say a lot more frequently, because I was giving them a very gentle no right at the beginning without ever having to say no. Just the very act of having boundaries is a way to assert, “This is when I’m available,” and then the implication after that is, “This is what I am not available.” So your clients don’t even ask.

Then we find that in turn it just – I was a better business owner, because I was happy to say yes when I was available to say yes, not feeling like I was being cornered into saying yes during times where I didn’t really want to be shooting.

[00:20:00] DJ: I imagine that there were situations where in saying yes you really weren’t serving your clients well. I mean, at least I felt like that in the past. Saying yes to client, because it was something they wanted, but knowing that it would result maybe not in what’s best for them, but it was easier just to say yes.

[00:20:18] AG: Right. Like if your clients are – If a couple asks you if you’re a wedding photographer and a couple asks you, “Hey, can we get all the raw photos from our wedding?” I, as the photography, know they don’t actually want that. That maybe something that like relative has told them to ask or like they think they’re going to want to play around with, but if I give them the raw files from their wedding, first of all, they might not even have the software to read those. So like they’d have to then go buy Lightroom or Photoshop or like they’d probably never get through them. They would probably never end up printing any of their wedding photographs as a result, and like my heart for their photos is that they’d be on their walls.

If I say yes to giving your raw files, what I’m actually doing is preventing you from using these photographs to enrich your marriage, which is how we desire those photographs to be used, because we know that’s good for our client. Yeah, we learn that pretty thoroughly of like, “I thought I needed to say yes because they knew what they wanted,” but I’m learning as a professional, sometimes actually we know what our clients need, and what they want and what they need are two very different things. They may think that they want something that we know is actually going to end up being detrimental to the end goal of serving them really, really well.

[00:21:25] DJ: Yeah, and that makes total sense. What are some ways just in general, like from the outset, and you already kind of mentioned one just in how you frame questions so that you get a specific type of response. I imagine it with engagement sessions, maybe it’s you only shoot during the weekdays or something similar to that. So it’s, “What weekdays are you free in this month?” right?

[00:21:44] AG: Yeah. We have an email template, and I love Gmail Canned Responses. We have one for like everything, but we have one that we send out when a client has paid retainer, sign the contract. Like everything is good to go. Their day is officially booked. The email says something along the lines of, “We’re officially official. I’m so excited to photograph your wedding. Let’s get to talking about your engagement session.”

Just so you all know, I shoot all of my engagement sessions Tuesday through Thursday at either sunrise or sunset. Generally, we book up about 6 to 8 weeks in advance. So that being said, do you guys have like a season in mind? A location in mind? Because I would love to get your date on the calendar within the next week. Not to say we have to shoot it in the next week, because like I said I book 6 to 8 weeks in advance, but I just want to get it on the calendar.

So what that does in that email, it communicates, you probably shouldn’t asked for a Saturday, because I just told you I only shoot Tuesday through Thursday. If they come back and ask for a Saturday, I’m happy to explain, “We have weddings on weekends, and any non-wedding weekends we spend with family and friends.” But I communicate, “Okay, we’re going to shoot Tuesday through Thursday. So no weekends. And we’re going to shoot it either at the very beginning of the day or the very end of the day. That cuts back on people asking, “Hey, can we shoot at 12 noon?” because I as the photographer know – They may think they want that, but as a prime example of where I as the photographer know, that’s not actually what they want.

[00:23:01] DJ: Yeah, absolutely.  Yeah, absolutely.

[00:23:02] AG: I shot my very first engagement session ever at 12 o’clock, because, “Hey, that’s when the most light is out, right? Like more light equals more better.” I know that that’s not true. I want to give my clients my best yes possible, and so I give them the boundaries that they need in order for me to give them an amazing yes so that they end up with an amazing product.

[00:23:21] DJ: Yeah, awesome. Just along those lines. One thing that I constantly see around setting boundaries around this topic of setting boundaries, and you mentioned that most of this communication seem to happen via email. Is that right? A lot of times when I see on Facebook groups people asking for help, it’s like, “SOS! I have this client that wants X, Y, Z,” and what they’re posting a screenshot of is like a text message thread. Is there a reason that you choose email versus something like texting with –

[00:23:50] AG: So many reasons.

[00:23:51] DJ: Yeah, or even like Instagram DM, or Facebook Messenger?

[00:23:55] AG: Yeah. My rule is we choose email for anything that needs a paper trail, and I don’t just mean paper trail in case you get in hot water. I just mean paper trail in case you need to refer back to something. Like a date, settling on a date for an engagement session or a portrait shoot, I need to be able to track that.

So we do anything that needs to be tracked we do over email. If a client texts me, I just have like a keyboard shortcut that says something like, “Hey, got your text. Heads up. I am literally the worst at text messaging. Do me a favor and shoot me an email and I’ll get back to you.” If they continue to text, I’ll just shoot them an email the next morning assuming they’re like texting me out of office hours, or I’ll just respond with an email to very gently – Rather than having to be like, “Don’t text me,” because that’s a hard no. I give them a gentle no either by directing them to email or just not replying to the text and sending them an email. In that email I’d say, “Hey, I’m the worst at texting. I literally don’t text my husband back half the time. If there’s anything you need to – Like you need a response from me for, please make sure you email me, because I would definitely be able to get back to you.”

My clients are super respectful. I think it’s just a matter of training your clients to know that those are the boundaries and place and everyone in a while we have a client who doesn’t necessarily get it, and so it takes a little bit more training, but it’s okay. It’s never done out of irritation. It’s just I know that I can give you my best attention when I email you, because that’s right in front of me during the times when I’m present in my inbox. Whereas my phone, I can’t guarantee you I’m going to text you back, because I don’t text Matt that half the time.

[00:25:26] DJ: Yeah, absolutely, and text messages get buried. There’s not a good way to archive those or snooze those for later. All the –

[00:25:32] AG: You can’t search them either. I mean, you can, but I mean Macbook and my phone don’t always reconcile each other, so if I’m trying to find something on my computer that wasn’t on my – It’s a mess. Email, it’s eternal. I have emails dating back from the very first day I set up my Gmail account, and it’s spans the generational gap. You’ve got like 12-year-olds who have email. I mean, my 9-year-old nephew has an email account and so does my 81-year-old grandmother.  Everyone can use email. It’s universally regarded as the professionals means of communication. You don’t have to worry about stuff getting lost. Yeah, email all the time.

[00:26:05] DJ: Yeah, I think the communication is just simply clear over email than something over text. But I do want to dive into some of these different scenarios, and one you already hinted at here throughout the interview, and I think it’s one of the hardest ones where somebody reaches out that wants to work with you and you simply, for whatever reason, don’t want to work with them. There might be a couple of reasons, but in general they’re not a good fit for some reason, but they’re willing to work with you. I think that’s hard, because they’re basically saying, “Hey, I’ve already chosen you. I want to give you money,” and you have to somehow say, “Well, I can’t accept it and I don’t want to work with you because –” You don’t want it to come off personal. So how do you navigate that situation?

[00:26:51] AG: There’re two ways you can answer that. The first for us, my preferred method, is filtering heavily upfront so that we don’t have to say no in the first place, so that it never comes to a situation where a client is like, “Okay, I’m ready to go,” and you’re like, “Oh! I am not ready to go.”

I’m a firm believer in proactively communicating so that you don’t have to reactively communicate when something like this happens. We put a lot of my personality out there on Instagram, on my website, just being very clear about, “This is who I am and these are the kinds of services that I offer and these are the kind of couples that I photograph,” and just making it undeniably clear who I am, what I’m about and who I serve, so that if you don’t fall into that category, you hopefully will just never contact me in the first place. I don’t mean for that to sound unkind, just that you would take a look at my work and say, “It’s not for me.”

We also have filters through our contact form. We have a Showit website. So when the Showit robot comes in and says, “Hey, you’ve got a new inquiry,” we ask names, their date, their venue. That’s an important one for me. Then ask them to tell us a little bit more information. If anything on that contact form sticks out as like a red flag, like if they’re getting married at a venue that I’ve maybe had a bad experience at or just a venue that’s not a good fit for me, then we’ll just respond that we’re not available.

It’s not to be unkind. It’s just all of these is done out of a sense of duty that I have a duty to serve the clients that we take – The limited number of clients that we take per year to serve them extraordinarily well, and if I don’t think I can serve you extraordinarily well due to whatever the circumstances, then I don’t want to take your money because I’m going to be doing you a disservice. I think you would be happier with someone else, and you may not think that, but like I know if I don’t feel passionately about you and your project, I can’t serve you as well as the clients that I do feel passionately about.

The main way that we do that is just by responding that we’re not available. I don’t say that we’re book if we’re not, because that would be lying. People have mixed feelings on that. For me, I personally feel more comfortable saying, “I’m so sorry, I’m not available,” or if someone emails me to ask me to do a project that’s like beyond the scope of what I normally – If someone emailed me to ask for maternity portraits, we don’t do those. So I would just say that’s not something that I offer. I would love to refer you to someone else.

I think that’s one of the keys is that if you’re going to say no, rather than just like a hard no, hard stop, “Bye, Felicia.” Having some kind of way that you can give them a no, but then a yes, like, “I’m so sorry. I’m not available for your wedding day, but I’d love to refer you to Sarah Brandshaw Photography. She’s wonderful. Her style is very similar to mine. She shot at that venue before or she –” Whatever. Talking up some other photographer that I have already confirmed is available on that date. So that way I can still give them a yes. It’s not just like a, “No. Bye.” It’s “No, but here’s a way that I can say yes to you.”

So because we’re so proactive about communicating like who we are and what we’re about, who we serve, and then filtering through the website is very, very seldom that we have to give someone an, “Ooh! You manage to make it past all of these barriers and then when we met in person I figured out you’re actually kind of cra –”

[00:30:02] DJ: Crazy.

[00:30:04] AG: Now I have to like do the awkward work of like walking back and saying no. We do as much of that on the frontend as possible. I think on the uncomfortable situation that you do have to give them like, “Oops! Sorry. Now we got to walk backwards and say no.” I think just the best way to phrase that is that the whole Seinfeld, like, “It’s not you. It’s me.”

But like taking as much of the focus off of the person and putting it on to like the circumstance or the situation. You could say something like, “I’m sorry, but due to demand, we’re no longer available,” or like just that it sounds like you guys would be so much happier with this other person. I think making it – Not impersonal, like you don’t want it to feel cold, but you don’t want it to feel like you’re saying no to them. You’re saying no to situations, which unfortunately they are part of, but I think that it just helps people feel a little bit better that it’s not a rejection of them.

[00:30:56] DJ: Yeah. No, I think that makes total sense. I know we’ve had situations in the past where – And we send them questions after people inquire, like, “Tell us a little bit about your wedding day or whatnot,” or “Are you going to do a first look?” that sort of thing. As a film photographers, one thing we’re looking at is like if you want to book us in February and you’re not doing a first look and your ceremony is at 6 at night, we just might not be the best fit, because we’re not going to be able to do really any of your portraits on film. We don’t use any off-camera lighting for our film work, in general with the exception of some getting ready stuff. But we’re just not the best fit.” So we just kind of explain that to them, like, “Hey, this is what you’re looking for. Whether you realize it or not, this is what we can provide. We recommend reaching out to these people.”

[00:31:39] AG: Yeah, and then having qualified people that you’re sending them to, people who are like, “Hey, this person specifically loves shooting with off-camera flash. You would be so happy with them.” Because really what you’re doing is you’re serving – Like it may feel awkward to say no, because I think we, as human beings or maybe just as Americans, I don’t know, we equate the word no with negativity, and they’re not the same thing. So when you say no to someone, it’s not a negative thing. No can actually be a really positive word, because you’re finding a way to serve that couple better than if you had said yes. They would be happier because you said no than if you had said.

[00:32:12] DJ: Yeah. A couple of things that I really like about what you’re saying here is, one, how many boundaries that you communicate before they’ve ever really asked a question or tried to do something? You do seems like a ton of legwork in the beginning that makes your life so much easier down the road. I really appreciate that.

The next thing, you really are trying to say yes. I think clients feel more comfortable when they understand the boundaries and understand what’s possible and they feel more guidance and direction and security in that and it seems like you do a really good job of setting up those boundaries through your initial emails and your initial correspondence with people so that they understand that kind of stuff right off the bat.

[00:32:48] AG: Yeah. I mean, when you think about it in terms of like, I’m going to say parenting. I’m not a parent yet, and we’re not pregnant, we’re adopting for anyone who’s listening to that — they were strong inferences. But in parenting, they talk about how important like routine is with your children and like routine so that your kids can get familiar with what they can anticipate with what they can expect. When you change up their routine is when you start to see behavioral problems, or when you’re inconsistent with the yeses that you’re like, “Yes, you can have candy today.” “No, you can’t have candy tomorrow.” “Well, I can I have to day? You said I could have it yesterday.” When you’re inconsistent with that with children, the resulting behavior is often one of rebellion, or like because that feels negative. I don’t like being told no.

But when you set up a routine with your kids in a way that you like, “We can always say yes to a bath at bedtime, because this is what you’d come to accept. This is part of our routine and this is part of our boundaries. We always do this.” So yes, we can give a full and complete yes within the conference of those boundaries, is when you see kids that are settled and like comfortable and adjusted I would assume just based in my limiting, like experiencing watching friend’s parent.

But the same thing with your could, is that like people don’t like being told no. Nobody likes hearing that word no. It’s not a good feeling unless it’s like, “Do I have to get blood drawn today?” “No.” “Great!” But when they’re asking for something, they’re asking for it because they want it, and when you have to say no, it feels icky. So rather than having to say no to what your clients are asking for, you give them like basically a list of things that they can anticipate you saying yes to, and then like that gives them freedom to operate within those boundaries of what you can say yes too which results in a happier client, a more adjusted client, one who’s more satisfied in the product that you gave them, because they weren’t constantly hearing the word no. You are able to say yes more frequently, because you communicated from the outset, the parameters within which you could say yes.

[00:34:40] DJ: I want to talk about another scenario with you as well. One of those scenarios actually has to do not really with the client, but by maybe somebody else that’s involved in the transaction, but not the client themselves. So talking like mother of the bride specifically. We’ve had situations in the past where there’s varying levels of involvement from family members. Have you ever had a situation where like maybe the mother of the bride wanted something or demanded something that maybe you’ve laid out is something you don’t do with clients normally or you’ve communicated to clients and the mom seems to be going over the head of your clients? Have you ever had to deal with saying no to somebody who’s not really your client?

[00:35:22] AG: Yeah, and it’s uncomfortable when you get the email of like, “Where are my prints? I haven’t received any prints yet.” You’re like, “They were no prints in your package. I’ve never included prints in packages,” that something that our clients have always done a la carte.

Even that, I was like, “I have no reason to feel guilty,” but I feel guilty, because I don’t like telling people no. So I think in those situations, it’s so hard over email too, because – And especially when you look at generational differences, like my way of communicating is a lot of exclamation points and like smiley face. Whereas like my dad’s generation, for example, doesn’t always communicate that way. It can feel a lot more stern when it’s coming across over email.

I think the thing to just assume when you get those kind of emails is to assume they have the best of intentions and assume they’re excited about the product or excited about whatever it is they’re asking for. If it’s something that like you really – It depends on the ask. If it’s like an awkward thing where the parent is like saying, “You didn’t do a good job on this.” Okay, for example, we got an email from a mother of the groom from a wedding a few years ago who was dissatisfied about the wedding day photographers, because she felt that there were more photographs of like the bride’s family than the groom’s family, and I thought – I was so sad to receive that email, because I didn’t want her to feel like she wasn’t important on the wedding day, but the email was also pretty – It was not gently written.

In that situation, because my contract is with the bride and groom, any communication that I feel like has the potential to become like abrasive, I do CC the bride in my reply back if it seems appropriate, not like I’m tattling on you kind of way, but just like, “Hey, I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page.”

We had a situation a couple of years ago where the mother of the groom called me after the wedding to express her displeasure about some things that were not actually real, not accurate. It was a very unusual phone call. Before I gave the mother – I let it roll the voicemail before I gave her a callback. I called the bride just to be like, “Hey, is there anything I need to be concerned about?” The bride was like, “No. Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry. Here’s what’s going on. Feel free to give her a callback, but like please know we are thrilled with what we’ve received.”

I think in those situations it’s best to like – If you feel like there’s potential for that to get like sticky, check in with the contract signees, the people that you actually have a contract with just to – If you can concern that moving forward might be sticky, gosh, that’s hard though. I try to respond as gracefully as possible. I think the key there is just not getting aggressive, because when you get aggressive it just escalates the situation like 10 times.

[00:37:58] DJ: Yeah. Again, I think one thing, one key thing you said was expecting that they are really pleased with the product. Yeah, they have the best intentions. They’re not out to get you. Because I think we do immediately go to that. We feel offensive. We feel challenged, and so we act that way. If the situation wasn’t that and we act defensive, then all of a sudden there is this sort of, I guess, intense situation that really you could have avoided just simply by reaching back out and understanding what their concerns were. I really appreciate that response.

That kind of stuff does happen, because – I mean, depending on what you’re doing. So we’ve been using a lot of photography examples here. I’m sure there are other examples in other industries as well, but especially in photography, something like wedding photography, you’re not just taking pictures of the bride and groom that day. You’re taking pictures of family members and friends and so on and so forth. So occasionally have to deal with situations like that as well.

[00:38:53] AG: I’m just going to touch on that real quick. I think where some of that discomfort comes from, being challenged by someone who is not the contract holder. For me, that came from a place of feeling like it was me versus the families of the brides and grooms that was like, “Me and the bride and groom, we were in this together and it was us versus everyone else,” because of a couple of really uncomfortable situations that I’d had my first year of business, and I carried that, like me versus them sort of spirit through the first couple of years of Abby Grace Photography. It wasn’t until a friend pointed it out to me that I realized how heavy that is to carry, this just like attitude of defensiveness all the time. When I learned to shift from me versus them to a way of thinking that like it is my job to serve a bride and groom and their families. That changed everything.

[00:39:44] DJ: So, there is one more scenario that I want to talk with you about, Abby, and it’s about just being booked up having too much work, client reaches out and wondering if you could just fit one more client in. If you’re not a photographer, maybe it’s just simply like you’ve booked a bunch of design projects, but somebody wants to get started right away and you feel like, “Well, they might not wait a month or two months to come back to you or wait for your services.” How would you go about saying no to that client or that perspective client?

[00:40:17] AG: Yeah, that’s a great, great question, because I feel like that happens especially during like the heavier seasons. For photographers, like spring and fall for engagement sessions. I’m sure, for designers it’s probably sometime in the winter when all of the photographers are like, “Okay, wedding season is over. Now, let’s work on my website.”

I think the thing that you have to do there is you have to already have in place, like not necessarily boundaries, but almost like a quota of what like I’m comfortable saying yes to like this many projects within this period of time and anything on top of that I will say no to.

So for us, for example, I don’t take more than four wedding weekends in a row, because I know past that I start to get run ragged and I’m tired and I need a weekend off. If we have four weddings in a row booked and someone comes and asks to book the fifth weekend in a row, I say, “I’m so sorry, I’m not available. I’d love to refer you to this person.” If it’s like a really promising inquiry, I might make some kind of comment about like, “There’s no chance like your date is flexible is it? We’re available the next weekend.” Because sometimes they do. Sometimes that happens.

If you’re a designer and your – My designer, Jeff Shipley, he often has like several weeks or a couple of months lead time on, “Hey, I’m all booked up for the next two months, but I would be happy to get you in like February first. If you’re comfortable with that, you’ll need to like send this retainer and then we’ll start on February 1st.”

I just think knowing when you would be able to say yes is key. If you are willing to make an exception to thoroughly count out, “Okay, what am I going to have to say no to in order to say yes to this client?” Because that’s the fact to the matter is like your time is finite.  Your time is not a renewable resource. You cannot get more of it. You cannot create more of it. Once your time is used up, it’s used up. There’s only ever going to be 24 hours in a day. So if you say – Let’s say you normally work 8 hours in a day and the other time is spent with family or the other time is spent – Like you spend some time exercising or like, God forbid, you want to sleep. If you say yes to working 10 or 12 hours a day, something has to give. You can’t fit 12 hours of work into a 24-hour day if you’re only ever used to working 8 hours and not have to sacrifice some things.

What are you willing to sacrifice? What are you willing to say no to in order to say yes to that client? Or if you do want to do an exception, let’s say you’ve got – Let’s say it’s September and you’re all booked up for the month of October, but you have a client that’s asking you to please, please, please, pretty please, make an exception for me and my family, because we just really want family pictures with fall colors and you’re like, “Okay. I love you as a human. I can say yes to you. However, it needs to be under this specific circumstance. I only have this one day open. I have this one time slot open. It must be within 30 miles of my home. These are the circumstances in which I will be happy to say yes. If you can say yes to this and you’re willing to pay my cost, then we can move forward.”

But I think asking yourself, “Am I going to resent myself or my client if I say yes to this?” If the answer is yes, then you should probably say no. I think it’s just – A really easy escape is just to say, “Due to demand, I just don’t have – All my time is booked up. I’m booked from here to this particular date. If you’d like to work together after that date, I’m happy to say yes.” Then I think being able to give that client like a quick win.

Win is like a relative term. A quick thing that they can take action on, so, “Hey, I’m booked up from now until February 1st. If you’d like to work together after that, you can put a deposit here and link to that in the email,” because it allows them to take action, or “If you’d like to schedule your portrait session six weeks from now when I’m available, here is the Calendly link that you can use to schedule that to get on my calendar.”

But I think  in that scenario of I’m all booked up, if you want to work with them and it needs to be put off for a while, ask them to commit to it. If you lose them, it’s not the end of the world. I think creatives have this huge tendency towards FOMO. But if you’re booked up now, chances are you’re not going to have trouble booking up again in the future. So don’t do that thing where we say to ourselves like, “Oh my gosh! If I say no to this one opportunity, who knows? Is it ever going to come again?” I believe that we live in a bountiful world full of opportunities plenty for everyone, and if you have to say no to this one, that there’s probably going to be another one that comes along again.” Choosing to live in a mindset of plenty instead of scarcity, and it helps make saying no in like a scheduling situation a little bit easier.

[00:44:56] DJ: Yeah, for sure. I mean, just what you were just saying, every time you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else. Likewise, when you say no to things, you’re making time for things that you probably want to make time for, like a spouse, or family, or friends, or whatever. I think this conversation is just so important and one that I wish I had early on in our business for sure, because it can be so hard to say no.

But again, just kind of like recap what you’re saying, it seems like every time you say no, you are trying to give whoever you’re saying no to some sort of win or some sort of – Or give them some sort of yes on the tail end, like, “No, but I can serve you this way.” Would that be correct?

[00:45:39] AG: Yeah. I don’t like giving just a hard no without, like you said, some kind of win or some kind of redirect or some kind of deflection. I’m not deflecting responsibility, but just like, “Hey, I can’t say yes to this, but I could say yes to this over here.” Because I think it’s softens the blow a little bit of having to say no.

Sometimes you just have to say no. If a client’s like, “Hey, did you get any photos of my niece playing with the rubix cube in the corner of my wedding reception?” and you’re like, “No. I’m so sorry. I just don’t have that.” There’s nothing you can’t deflect in that. You can’t be like, “No, I don’t have the rubix cube, but I do have this great photo of you dancing with your dad.” That doesn’t work in that situation. But as often as I can, I like to follow a no with a yes if possible.

[00:46:23] DJ: Yeah, and I think that really does – It probably comes through to your clients as well, just this effort that there are boundaries, and I think there’s security in that for the client as well, but then also I really am here to serve you and I do want to do a good job and I do want to get the things that are important to you as well.


Again, I just with this is a conversation that I listened to really early on, because sometimes when you end up not saying no like to a client that you know is not a good fit, it’s hard to say no. The 20 minutes it takes you to draft that email to say no, that might be difficult, but it’s not going to be as difficult as if you say yes and then spend the next 8 months working with that person on a project that doesn’t bring you joy. It’s not a good fit for you and probably not a good fit for that person either.

[00:47:10] AG: Yeah, and then the follow up from that is like maybe you don’t feel like you did your best work, and as a result that clients goes forth with like a so-so experience. So then you’re not booking referrals off of that client, because – I think it takes courage to say no, because it takes courage to assert like, “This is what I as the professional know is best for my working conditions, and this is what I as the professional know you actually need as the consumer.” But it’s still hard to say, because we’re like, “Oh! No is a negative word.”

Again, just no and negativity, they’re just not the same thing. Negativity is seeing the world through brown color glasses, whereas no can lead to freedom, and no can lead to a job done better than if you had tried to say yes to everything. So, yes, it’s awkward to draft that email that you read 13 times before you finally hit send that you call your best friend and read it to them and then you read it to yourself again. But you’re serving the client better. You’re serving yourself better. You’re serving your service better. You’re hopefully pushing your business more towards whatever direction you want it to go by saying, “I know this isn’t a good fit. I know this isn’t a good time, or I know this isn’t a good project for me because it doesn’t align with the things that I know I want to say yes to.” If I say no to the things that aren’t a good fit, you’re able to give a better yes to the things that matter most.

[00:48:25] DJ: Yeah, absolutely. I know that you have all sorts of tools that you use in your business to make communication a little bit easier. I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but if you just have a few things that you think are indispensible when it comes to communicating with clients, I’d love to hear them. Before you get to that, because I know you probably won’t say it, but I’ll say it again, you have email templates in a shop that go over probably 10 to 15 different scenarios probably more than what we covered here today.

If you don’t want to spend that time agonizing over what email to write, you can go to purchase one of these templates, and that could save you a bunch of time where you could be  doing other stuff that you do enjoy doing. So can you, after you tell us some of these tools that you use, like Gmail Canned Responses, where we can find these email templates.

[00:49:16] AG: Yeah. So I’ll even start with that so I don’t forget it. If you go to shop.abbygracephotography.com, you’ll find all of our email templates there. We’ve got four different packs. One of them is for creative entrepreneurs in general, then we’ve got three packs specifically written for photographers. It’s kind of like outsourcing the no so that you don’t have to feel awkward writing it. I already done it for you. You can just let me be the awkward one.

But when it comes to tools for communicating, I love Gmail Canned Responses. If you use Gmail and you’re not using Canned Responses, hold the phone, pause this podcast and go turn them on right now. it’s super easy. It saves so much time. My general rule is that if I have to write an email more than twice, I create a Canned Response for it. It saves hours every week. It’s like outsourcing part of our inbox. We also use – I have a Gmail inbox, but we use a program called G Suites. Do you guys use that?

[00:50:07] DJ: Yeah, we use G Suite as well.

[00:50:08] AG: Yeah, and that’s so that I can answer all of my Gmail emails from my actual like at abbygracephotography.com account so that I’m not answering emails from abbygracephoto@gmail.com, because it just doesn’t look as professional. So even if you like you don’t have a URL or like a – If you don’t have a website setup but you own a URL, you can use G Suite to create that sort of like vanity email address, so let’s say it’s janedoephotography.com, but janedoephotography.com is like a coming soon kind of thing. You can use G Suite to like redirect all of that email through Gmail. It just makes it a little bit more user friendly.

[00:50:44] DJ: It’s only $5 a month. It’s pretty easy to set up. It’s on the Gmail platform. I mean, who doesn’t love Gmail?

[00:50:51] AG: Google owns the world anyway, so you may as well get on board with the email.

[00:50:55] DJ: Yeah, exactly. I always thought it was more reliable than when we had our email set up through our host. If you own a domain, you can generally set up email through whatever your hosting provider is, GoDaddy, DreamHost, whoever that is. But you always have that – There’s always once every – I don’t know, six months, you have that week where all of a sudden none of your emails are getting through because of X, Y, Z. We just haven’t had that issue with G Suite.

[00:50:55] AG: Right. Yeah, same experience. Never had a problem with G Suite. The only time we used to have problems with Gmail was when like my webmail would fill up and then when we started – Because I just have like a redirect set from my webmail to forward everything to Gmail. But then when we started using G Suite, it actually like – It sends and receives everything just through Gmail. So we’re no longer having to do the work around of the webmail.

[00:51:45] DJ: Exactly. Yeah.

[00:51:46] AG: Yeah. Then the other tool that I love so much, it’s called Boomerang, not like Instagram Boomerang, but like Boomerang – I think it’s a Chrome Plugin, and what that lets you do is schedule emails to send out later. My office hours in my email signature say 10 AM to 4 PM, but sometimes situations arises where I need to be on my computer later than that and I need to – If I’m in my inbox, I want to be able to answer emails but not have them send outside of my office hours. So like let’s say for some reason I was answering an email at like 7 PM at night, I don’t want to send that email until the next morning, because when I send those emails outside of my office hours what I’m kind of telling my clients is, “Don’t bother paying attention to those boundaries that I told you matter, because they don’t actually matter.”

So I may write an email at 7 PM, but I schedule it to send the next day at like 9 or 10 AM, so technically when I’m back in the office again. That’s been hugely valuable, and you can also. Also with Boomerang, it allows you to pause your inbox. So if you’re one of those people who has their inbox open in the background of your web browser all day. First of all, stop doing that, because it’s so counterproductive. Second of all, when you pause your inbox, it means that it will hold all emails from coming in until whenever you set it to un-pause so that you’re not constantly getting distracted by your inbox saying you have new emails arriving.

[00:53:07] DJ: Yeah, Krista is a big believer in Boomerang. She loves it. I use another one called Gmelius. I don’t know if I’m even saying that right, but it’s G-M-E-L-I-U-S, but it’s basically the same thing. It just allows you to schedule emails so that – Especially if you don’t want to answer email right away. So people don’t think that they should get a response in 30 seconds. Same thing, you can  just schedule it to go out a couple of hours later. But pausing your email inbox, that’s something that Krista still gets on me about. I’m so bad about that and need to do that. Because it is such a productivity suck.

[00:53:39] AG: Oh, yeah.

[00:53:39] DJ: We really, really appreciate you taking the time to join us on the podcast and tell us how to say no to people. It is way more difficult I think especially when you first get started, but even down the line when you’re getting maybe a bunch of cool opportunities and you just can’t say yes to them all. So I think this is such an important conversation and we’re so grateful that you took time out of your day to share your wisdom with us.

[00:54:02] AG: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. It was a joy and I sincerely hope that this was super helpful for people.

[00:54:08] DJ: Definitely. You can find more stuff from Abby at shop.abbygracephotography.com, but you can also follow along where?

[00:54:16] AG: On Instagram @abbygracephoto.

[00:54:19] DJ: Awesome. Thank you.

[END OF INTERVIEW]

[00:54:23] DJ: Thanks for tuning in to the Brands that Book Show. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider subscribing and leaving a review in iTunes. For show notes and other resources, head on over to daveyandkrista.com.

[END]

BTB Episode 30: The Gentle No Abby Grace

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