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Old October 2nd, 2009, 06:31 PM   #1
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Small Claims or not?

Hi Guys,
Had a bride cancel our services today at 4:30pm est saying we were no longer needed cause we weren't in the budget. The wedding is tomorrow morning. They did pay a small deposit but now I am out quite a bit and turned down multiple other clients. They also booked a year in advance. Should I take them to small claims court for the loss of revenue? No contract was signed, just receipt of deposit as well as information for the day. Bride had a bridesmaid tell me and avoided all contact with me for the last few days.
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Old October 2nd, 2009, 06:36 PM   #2
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Hi Jason

Depends on what you class as "small" !! A couple of hundred may not be worth the bad vibes and time and effort!!
I get a contract signed even before any money changes hands and then they pay 1/3rd on contract signing and a further 1/3rd 2 weeks before the wedding. If the bride did cancel at the last minute I still have 2/3rds of the price already paid

Chris
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Old October 2nd, 2009, 06:40 PM   #3
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Hi Chris,
We require a $500 deposit that books your day. We don't work back to back so essentially the whole weekend belongs to that bride. The outstanding amount is $2200.
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Old October 2nd, 2009, 07:49 PM   #4
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Jason,
Not to rub salt in your wound but why would you do a job without a written/signed agreement? In business you have nothing without a signed agreement. IMO don't waste your time trying to get the money-I don't think a court would even look at a case like this without a service agreement.
This one you need to write off to experience which as you know is defined as "something that happens to you that you wish had happened to someone else".
Second, get your money up front. Whatever payment options you decide on is up to you but make sure you have ALL your money at least 14 days prior to the event.
Some will disagree but in 26 years, I've been burned 2 times which was just enough to make me change to 100% of my money 30 days before the wedding. I've had maybe 2 or 3 people balk at that and I work it out with them. In my area at least almost every vendor is paid prior to the event and every bride knows it. There's a good reason, actually 2. Your situation is one reason but also what happens if you take the small retainer upfront, do the job, edit, print the cases etc etc, you go to deliver the job and BAM! They're out of money. They're broke. The money they got at the wedding is gone, he just lost his job whatever. Now you're out a lot of TIME and TIME is MONEY. Don't laugh, it's happened. Not to me but to 3 guys I know.
I'm not telling you how to run your business but if you're going to do the work you want to get paid and it all starts with a Service Agreement (not a contract as a contract can be broken per my lawyer) and a Retainer (not a deposit as a deposit may have to be returned again per my lawyer). Without that you're not running a business and have zero recourse.
Just my thoughts. I hate to see anyone get burned but it does happen to everyone at sometime or another.
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Old October 2nd, 2009, 07:58 PM   #5
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Thanks Don,
We didn't have a contract on hand and as this family is friends with my wife's I didn't think pursuing them was necessary as it was the last family I would have expected. Our contract does state that full payment is due no later than one week prior to the wedding and if not we will not show up at the wedding. Again she called me two weeks prior to the wedding to setup our final meeting and go over the itinerary, but had to meet with the photographer first. I never heard from her again. A verbal contract is just as binding as a written and seeing as I have the receipt of the retainer I am sure I have a case. Could chalk it up to a learning experience but we turned down multiple brides at much more money and that is what hurts. The money was really needed to pay for the 7D.
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Old October 2nd, 2009, 08:58 PM   #6
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not much you can do, with out a contract chances are you will not only not win, but have to refund the deposit.

A deposit is refundable, a retainer is not. When you hire an attorney, they charge you a retainer for a reason.

Get a 1/3 retainer to book the date, 1/3 60 days prior to the wedding and the balance 30 days before. This works for us, never a problem and I learned after a year that I do not want to bug a bride on the wedding day, you will be told the father has it, or the groom.

We have had to refund all be the retainer before, but the 1/3 retainer has never been disputed. Had 2 cancel this year, so we got paid $1000 to take the day off. We have never booked anything, even in the studio on those dates.
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Old October 2nd, 2009, 10:48 PM   #7
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When you take a civil dispute like this to a small claims judge, his only concern is what the parties contracted with each other. Words like fair, right and wrong don't play much of a role in a small claims judge's decision on a civil matter. Don't expect the judge to side with you about a sad story of how you were "done wrong" by the bride. He has heard every "done bad by" whine that exists and is probably jaded to it.
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Old October 3rd, 2009, 06:10 AM   #8
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I know nothing about legalities in Canada but my instinct is that Jason's case is lost because he didn't have a contract. I always do - even if it's a friend and I do so on the basis that if I drop dead at least they'll know how I intend to fulfil my part of the contract ie it's for their benefit as much as mine.

On the broader topic of money I am amazed that people ask and get full payment before they've shot a frame. We ask a non-ref deposit, 50% a month before and the rest on their satisfaction and our delivery of the DVDs.

I have to add that most UK wedding services demand and get their money before the day. No doubt some people eg florists can justify it but I can't see how photographer/video producer can.

I always recommend wavering potential clients to ask the competitor demanding 100% up front why. Are they not confident their work will be worth paying for? I see no reason for altering a system, of payment which all my commercial clients, large and small, found acceptable for 25 years.

There is one other aspect - doing it my way means there's always money to come in - helps when the Revenue ask for tax etc.
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Old October 3rd, 2009, 06:34 AM   #9
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I do over 20 weddings a year, no one questions our method. I have seen weddings last less than a month, do you think they will finish paying you for their special wedding day memories.

I have heard clients say they shy away from vendors who do not collect up front, they feel they are waiting to see if everything comes out well before they finish collecting.

Guess much depends on your reputation and the clients comfort with you.
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Old October 3rd, 2009, 07:06 AM   #10
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I agree with Don - money up front. Remember the b & g pay up front for the church, flowers, venue, band, food, cars, dresses, shoes, candles and choir. Why should you be the last man standing?
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Old October 3rd, 2009, 07:22 AM   #11
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Thanks Guys,
This much I probably expected. Also the bad vibe that comes from suing a bride isn't worth the money. Chalk it up to a bad experience and make sure the service agreement is signed for next time. Thanks for the input.

JB
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Old October 3rd, 2009, 09:41 AM   #12
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I've been to small claims several times, both as a plaintiff and as a defendant. All things being equal, judges almost always side with the consumer in business/consumer cases. Odds are good the judge would say "You got $500 and a weekend off - consider yourself lucky."
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Old October 3rd, 2009, 10:51 PM   #13
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First off I'll offer this caveat, I'm not a fighter and I give in way too easily on most things.

That being said, I'd write this off as a $2200 life lesson. Never, never, never do business without a written contract.

We all have to pay stupid tax from time to time. It's never fun, but I bet you'll not make the same mistake again.
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Old October 4th, 2009, 02:24 AM   #14
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To me, the entire purpose of the retainer is to secure a comfortable amount of money (to both pay my scheduled shooters in full and pocket a small amount myself) in exchange for not accepting any other weddings on that particular day. It would be a significant loss of income to have a couple cancel, but at least I would receive something for having kept the date for them.

Take what you will from this story...
My retainer when I first started out was $100. At the time, I felt that a retainer was more symbolic than anything else. Well, after booking with a couple and receiving my $100, I got a call from the bride telling me that she had just discovered her parents had already hired a videographer as a surprise wedding gift. She then explained that although she wanted me to film her wedding, the other videographer had already been paid a much higher and non-refundable retainer (50% up front I think). The result was that the established (I assume) videographer kept the gig and the rookie was out. Perhaps I should have kept the retainer, but given that it was only $100, I didn't even cash the check.

Fortunately, I had not yet hired the second shooter I would have required for this particular job by the time I got the call from the bride. Had I already secured my shooter, I would have been obligated to cover their fee out of my own pocket. The amount of my retainer increased that very day.

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Old October 4th, 2009, 07:32 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jason Bowers View Post
Hi Chris,
We require a $500 deposit that books your day. We don't work back to back so essentially the whole weekend belongs to that bride. The outstanding amount is $2200.
Jason, that $500 is pure profit for you, and required no work. Sure you're out $2200, but you don't have to pay anyone to shoot or edit. Is it really that painful a loss?

I'm not trying to be combative at all. I just don't understand why it's such a big deal. Think of it as not having lost $2200, but having lost the difference in what your true profit would have been, and the $500 you got for doing nothing (okay, you probably spent some office time on that client. So, almost nothing.).

And next time get a contract...
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