Post 16: Why I charge a retainer fee
I decided to start charging a retainer fee a little over a year ago. At first, it was only 10% of the total cost, then I decided to raise the retainer to 25% of the cost, which only lasted a few months, and then I finally settled on 50%. Some people might not know the purpose of the retainer fee, or even what a retainer fee is. If you fall into either of these groups, then this post is for you!
What is a retainer fee?
A retainer fee, at least for Dan Pomykalski Photography, is basically a downpayment of 50% of the total cost that's due when the contract is signed. Nothing is official until I have received the retainer fee. If I'm still negotiating with client A and they want a certain date, but client B contacts me and also wants that date and submits their retainer fee first, client B will most likely get that date over client A. Usually, the retainer fee can make paying a little easier for the client; especially with more expensive things, like weddings.
What is the purpose of the retainer fee?
The retainer fee is supposed to deter clients from canceling on me; especially at the last minute, or at least compensate me for the time I spent contacting and negotiating with the client and any potential lost revenue. The retainer fee is non-refundable if the client is responsible for any form of cancelation in any way.
Negotiations with clients are probably one of the things that a lot of people don't think about. Rarely do negotiations get settled quickly, and can take days or even weeks of communication to get something set up. If a client cancels on me, then all of that time that could have been spent elsewhere was for nothing.
Obviously, if a client cancels on me, I'm not going to be getting paid from them. But revenue loss can be even greater than what I was supposed to get from that client. Sessions can take up entire days, so I'll usually only schedule one a day. When a client submits their retainer fee, that whole day is usually theirs incase things run longer than I had anticipated. This means if another client wants to schedule something with me on a day I'm already working with someone, I'll most likely have to turn them away. Sometimes they can schedule something on a different day, but sometimes they can't. If I didn't charge a retainer fee, I not only don't get paid from the client who booked the session, but I also lose out on what the other client would have paid me.
A good example of why a retainer fee is necessary recently happened, and is a big reason why I'm doing this post today. As some of you know, I was supposed to go to Boston this past weekend to photograph the Head of the Charles Regatta. The client had submitted the retainer fee back in April, and I was supposed to be gone from about October 15th to October 22nd, so I blocked off that time and didn't take any clients. Unfortunately, the client had to cancel about a week before we were supposed to leave. Even worse, from the time the client submitted the retainer fee from the time they canceled, I had to turn away at least two clients because I was expecting to be gone for a week. One of the clients was able to schedule a different day, but the other wasn't.
At first, I wasn't sure if a retainer fee would be necessary. I had heard plenty of stories of clients canceling on other photographers, but I wasn't sure how common it actually was. I've had clients cancel on me twice since deciding to charge a retainer fee, and both times, charging a retainer fee was the right thing to do.
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Dan Pomykalski (PAWM-I-KALS-kee) is a portrait photographer based in Madison, WI. Dan works with both individual clients and larger organizations, such as the Wisconsin Alumni Foundation, the Janesville Jets, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and the University of Wisconsin-Rock County. Dan was also the photo editor for the student-run newspaper at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, the Royal Purple, for the 2013 Spring and 2013 Fall semesters. Although Dan's clients are mostly from the Dane County area, he is more than happy to travel wherever necessary.
Although Dan is primarily a portrait photographer, he has ample amounts of experience in other types of photography such as weddings, events, product photography, real estate, and sport photography.
In 2016, expertise.com ranked Dan Pomykalski Photography the 2nd best portrait photographer in Madison, WI out of 204 others in the area.
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