I will agree with you to a degree. Written contracts are necessary. But underneath our vendor-client relationship, we were continually writing a separate “contract,” an emotional contract that began the first day that the bride saw my work and fell in love with my style.
We then had our first “date.” The couple came to my office, I put on some soft music, I wined and wooed them, and they committed to me. After all of my overtures, how could they turn me down?
In the moment they signed on the bottom line, they weren’t thinking about the length of the delivery time. They were so emotionally wrapped up in my sweet nothings that when I told them, “It’ll take 12 months,” they didn’t give it a second thought.
Initially, they weren’t feeling the weight of the wait that awaited them. Instead, they were experiencing the heart palpitations that accompany the bonding between two lovers.
On the other hand, there was no tangible reason for their satisfaction. Booking me 6 months in advance of the wedding, they wouldn’t realize a return on their money until 18 months after they first started putting coins in my coffer. Eighteen months was plenty of time for their initial enthusiasm to wear off and be replaced with something less preferable.
When the bride called me 6 months after the wedding to “check in and see if there was anything to preview,” I responded (with a smile) that, “according to our contract, her video will be delivered right on time.”
That’s not the answer she wanted to hear. Even though 12 months prior we agreed in writing to the terms of delivery, that didn’t matter to her now. There was a bigger force at play in our legal relationship: emotion. While the clients’ emotions did not negate the terms of the legal contract, the legal contract had no sway over how they were allowed to feel as long as I was keeping up my end of the bargain. Our “honeymoon” was over.
After the wedding and their honeymoon, newlyweds slowly lose their place in the center of the universe. Fewer family and friends leave messages complimenting the bride on how heavenly she looked in her Vera Wang gown. The bride and groom have to return to their day jobs, and at the end of a hard day’s work, they are bogged down in a backlog of their own—writing thank you notes! After a few weeks, they’re looking for anything to distract them from their mundane chores and to renew the amazing high of their wedding day.
They look to me to be their Superman, to rescue their emotions from the quagmire in which they are now sinking. In the movies, everybody knows when the superhero is going to step in: just in the nick of time. When all hope seems lost, “It’s a bird, it’s a plane,” it’s me, their event filmmaker, making the delivery.
Except that I didn’t. And at that time, I was failing to deliver for probably 100% of my clients.
Imagine if Superman regularly arrived on the scene 20 minutes after the criminals flew the coop. Even if he tracked down the thieves and captured them a few days later, the bank tellers would start whispering to their counterparts across town, “Let’s hope for Batman next time.” In the same way, I was showing up with my super work, but well after my clients’ enthusiasm for it had cooled. Even though I had fulfilled the letter of my contract, it did not necessarily guarantee a satisfied client.
When it comes to maintaining satisfied clients, clients who will sing your praises and refer you to the ends of the earth, your contracted deadlines do not matter! You can argue with them until you are blue in the face, pointing out that their satisfaction should rest upon you holding up your commitments, but it’s futile. You have to strike while the iron is hot.
Delivering at 12 months is simply too risky from an emotional standpoint. Choosing to deliver at 6 months is better, but it still lessens the number of referrals you’ll receive and the power they’ll carry. As a rule of thumb, once the clients start checking in, they’ve already started checking out. The best way to create nothing but bliss is to guarantee the video in 3 months and deliver in less. Once you begin to satisfy your clients on an emotional level as well as a legal level, you will reap the just rewards of your efforts!
Chris P. Jones (firstname.lastname@example.org), an Austin, Texas-based EventDV 25 All-Star, has been shooting weddings for nearly a decade and is a co-founder of the wedding filmmaking educational gathering IN[FOCUS].