In order to hold a date for a bride, I require a one-third down, non-refundable "Reservation Fee" and a standard "Agreement" (a lawyer who spoke at a meeting of my local videographers association, the IVA, recommended avoiding the words "deposit" and "contract"). The remaining two-thirds of the fee is due at least two weeks before the wedding. I have a planning meeting either over the phone or in person at this time, which gives me a perfect opportunity to remind the bride if she hasn't already paid.
I have been doing business this way since I first set up shop. Only a few people have ever questioned it, and I've never lost any business because of it. This eliminates a lot of headaches, as you can imagine. The majority of wedding vendors are getting paid ahead of time, so why shouldn't we? We are providing a specialized custom service that we can't sell to anyone else except the couple who signed the agreement with us.
If you are not getting paid in full before the day of the wedding, I can only imagine some of the frustrations you've experienced. You've just spent days, possibly weeks, editing a wedding and you can't wait for the bride to see the masterpiece you have completed. But wait—you can't send it out because the bride needs to send you the balance. Ideally, she brings cash and you hand her the tapes and/or DVDs.
In the real world, the bride could be out of town on business or might not return your call in a timely fashion. The bride and groom could be low on cash since they now have outstanding bills, a mortgage, a baby on the way, etc. They know they will eventually have the money to pay for the wedding video, but it isn't today. What if the bride writes you a rubber check? She now has her finished product and your headaches are just starting. What if you hired a freelance editor? He's expecting to get paid for the editing job that he just completed, yet you haven't received final payment from this bride.
Under no circumstances should you send out any version of the video before you have received payment in full. Make sure a check clears before the bride gets her DVDs.
You might eliminate some of this if you have approval to charge their credit card when you are finished, but what if you can't finish the video because she is late in getting her materials to you? You need to set a deadline or you could end up with tapes sitting on your shelf for months or years waiting to be edited.
I edit the weddings in the order I videotaped them. If necessary, I will remind the bride of what else I need (honeymoon pictures, music, bridal party credits that she needs to email over, etc.). If the bride doesn't provide this in a timely manner, then I'm under no obligation to use them. My agreement states, "The couple is welcome to provide Elegant Videos by Kris with additional music to be used as necessary throughout the video; otherwise, Elegant Videos by Kris will select music. Please include a copy of the invitation and program. Pictures and other materials to be used in the wedding video need to be submitted to Elegant Videos by Kris no later than 30 days after the wedding. After that, Elegant Videos by Kris is under no obligation to use those items in the finished video." Due to backlog, I rarely start editing a wedding video within the first month after shooting it. I will not allow my editing schedule to be dictated by the bride.
Once I have the project in my computer, I want to clear it out as soon as it is delivered on DVD. A completed wedding can take up a lot of hard drive space that could be used for loading new weddings. I've had to change my agreement a little to accommodate for brides who are late in getting back to me for "final approval." I send out a VHS preview copy and ask the bride to check for any misspellings before I go to DVD. It states in my agreement, "Elegant Videos by Kris has control over editing and style. Any changes made by the couple will be at the cost of $150 per hour (editing errors are corrected at no charge). Changes and fees must be received within seven (7) days of receipt of the VHS wedding video; otherwise, additional copies and DVDs will be made from the original master. Upon delivery of the DVDs, the couple has three (3) days to confirm that all DVDs are in working order."
Of course, I'm flexible with the couple and those time frames depending on circumstances, but those clauses are necessary just in case a bride and groom decide to take advantage of my good nature.
So, if you like having your money sooner rather than later, just change your payment schedule. And if you want to clear your backlog faster, then have a materials deadline too. Show me the money . . . now!