Milestone sessions are very popular as a sales tool among newborn and child photographers. But, pre-booking a series of different sessions and transactions as is often the case with milestone sessions can give rise to specific legal issues.
Clear communication is key. When you meet with a client for a pre-booking consultation, be sure to explain your policies about deposits, scheduling and rescheduling, payments, payment plans and deadlines, contracts and model releases.
Great general advice is to decide on your policy and procedures for how you want to handle milestone sessions and stick to them. Consistency is important to show standard business procedures and will help you as your business grows.
So what are your options when it comes to milestone sessions?
You could set up two different tracks for milestone sessions, like many photographers do.
These tracks usually look something like:
- Individually purchased sessions at: newborn (less than 2 weeks), 3 months, 6 months, and 1 year.
- Set of 3 or 4 milestone sessions (at similar ages to the individually purchased sessions) as a package.
Of course you could come up with some other combination and other ages. These ages are just the most commonly seen within the newborn and child photography niche.
If you are offering individual sessions you can provide your usual children’s portrait contract and have a separate one signed to secure the session time for each separate milestone session. If separate contracts is the route you choose to take, here’s some advice on the most important provisions to ensure are included in your photography contract. The business risk with this approach is that by not locking in a client to multiple sessions over time you risk losing their business for future sessions.
But what if you want to offer a package of sessions that will be offered over the course of a year?
If you want to set up a package that involves a series of sessions with a set price or prices, a specific contract for milestone sessions (when using a package of multiple sessions) is advisable as an attorney will be able to help you work through some of the complexities that can arise. These complexities include making sure the contract clearly deals with the responsibilities of both parties when it comes to scheduling each of the different sessions and rescheduling (if applicable) both in terms of timeline and a process for navigating lack of availability on the part of the client or the photographer. A contract should indicate the cost for each session and payment deadlines even if you are not requiring full payment in advance, and what the client will receive for their money.
Your contract should clearly indicate the length of each photo shoot session: 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 1 hour or whatever you choose – and each session included in the package contract does not have to be the same length. It should also clearly indicate in the contract any deposits required, minimum product purchase (if applicable) or session fees for all sessions whether individually purchased or for the package. You may set a set rate for each individual session even if they sign a contract for a series of sessions and you require pre-payment prior to, or at the time of, the first session.
You should also have the parents sign a model release that covers the period of the contract and all sessions shot during its duration if you plan to use any of the images for promotion or advertising (including your portfolio). You should also clearly indicate if the sessions include family photos or are only for the purpose of shooting images of the child. Being clear about who you will photograph during the sessions may be important, and many photographers have felt like they have not made this sufficiently clear to their clients in advance.
Your contract should indicate when deposits for each session need to be paid by, and whether any deposit paid for each session secures the session time and if it applies to the cost of session fee or any products ordered. It is particularly important to detail any policy or procedure for rescheduling session appointment and the consequences financially for the client if they cancel or no-show a session that is pre-booked.
You should decide how you want to handle payment plans, how those are detailed in the contract, and the consequences for non-payment. You may also want to include clauses that address ways to cancel the contract for a reason outside the foreseeable future, including illness, injury, unavailability of any pre-determined location, or you moving out of state or closing your business before completing all work detailed in the contract.
So what kind of setup should I have? Session based contracts or one contract for multiple sessions?
Good news! A contract can be structured to take into account all of the planned milestone sessions, and detailing the deposits and payment plans, and any product minimums. So, whatever set up you decide, a well drafted contract can make that possible. However, some photographers (especially if they are unsure of their own future plans or commitments) may feel more comfortable with separate contracts for each session. Part of this decision is going to be about implementing your marketing plan and making sure that you protect yourself and your business as well as providing the best customer experience you can! Loyal clients are valuable to your business and milestone sessions are one way to encourage that loyalty!
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