I posted a short piece a while ago about being accurate regarding what you provide to clients so there is no confusion by either party. Well, you are about to do the work, but have you agreed how and when payment will be made? These are the commercial Terms and Conditions of your business and could end your business before it has started unless you get it right.
You must have Terms and Conditions and your client must sign/accept them before you do any work. There is no maybe about this one, if you want payment for work then your clients must have no misunderstandings about your business terms.
Two words to govern your business life - CASH FLOW. You can't afford to buy an album for a new client because the last one has not paid you yet - NEGATIVE CASH FLOW, three very, very bad words. Your terms of business are designed to protect you from slipping into this oily pit.
Rule one - NO CREDIT. Accept deposits but nothing less than will cover your expenses and material costs. Get the balance the second the work is done, no extended terms. This is a business, not a charity and when it comes to money, stop being nice, nice does not get people to pry open their wallets.
So, what should your Terms and Conditions say? I have no intention of writing them for you. A business lawyer did mine and it wasn't cheap, but you can start with some simple things.
1. Payment terms - Deposits and when the balance is due.
2. Methods of payment - Cheques (checks) must clear before any work done. Set up a merchant account (not sure what that is in the US) to accept credit cards and add any surcharge the bank applies to you. Get that money into the bank before you pick up your camera.
3. Discounts - For cash only and 100% up front.
4. Refunds - No, this isn't a joke. If you make a mess of the work, give the money back, it is your fault. If they make it impossible for you to do your work, then you should either not refund or retain enough to cover all your costs.
5. Copyright - Up to you. In my work I retain all copyright and only give permission for use. You may want to charge for re-prints or other use of the same images. Don't give this away unless you have a very good reason and the payment makes it worth while.
6. Disputes - Give a fixed number of days for a complaint to be registered. Make sure you follow up any complaint, do not bury your head in the sand, they will not go away and trust me, they will come back to haunt you.
Don't forget that your terms of business should include a statement about booking dates. This is very important for wedding photographers in particular. You know your business and it is your decision how you handle this. You could allow 3 months notice of cancellation with say a 10% charge if you think you can fill the slot in that time. If you are struggling to fill slots you may want to keep a larger percentage. Whatever you decide, it should be part of your standard terms.
I could go on and add to the list, but I hope you can see the point here. Tell the client up front how/when you want payment for the work and make sure the deposit covers your costs. You will probably have to average this out and it may be that 50% deposit will normally cover your costs. Some you will win and some you will lose, but the aim is to make sure you never slip into the oily negative cash flow pit.
You can get ready made T'c and C's to adapt for your business. I have known people adapt them from copies they have had to sign themselves. However you do it, just make sure you have them. If a dispute goes to court they could save the day, or even your business.