FriendOR or Vendor – To be or NOT to be?

ˈfrendər,ˈfrenˌdôr – noun
A friend whose skills are employed as a vendor at an event or a wedding. Results may vary, as some friendors are highly skilled (as a DJ, photographer, baker, etc), while others are not.
 i.e., The bride & groom hired a friendor for their photography.
ˈvendər,ˈvenˌdôr  – nounA person or company offering something a service or something for sale .
i.e., a wedding photography vendor.
This is a very touchy subject in my industry and as long as I could remember, as a business person, it has been one for me as well.  Where do we draw the line?  Or do we?  You bet your bottom dollar we do!
 I love when I get a call or a referral inquiring about my services, I am humbled each time because obviously someone has seen my work and loved it or they have received rave reviews and there’s a lot to be said for that.  Where do things go south?  When a friend calls? Why? It’s a friend isn’t it? Let me put it this way so it makes sense.  I am going to reproduce a hypothetical phone call or inquiry by a “friend” or acquaintance so you get where I am going.
Phone rings:  “Good afternoon, studio, this is Barbara, how can I help you?
Friend:  “Hi Barb, guess what?  I am getting married, I love your work, and I would love for you to photograph my wedding!”
Me:  “Wow! I am speechless you thought of me, first of all, congratulations!  Tell me how did he or she propose?” (and so on)…
The conversation is lively, bubbly, exciting and fun!  Immediately I give loads of ideas and suggestions and if I am available on the date, I will say “OK, let’s do this!”
Where it goes “south,”
Friend:  “How much do you charge?
Me: GULP, pause, sweat……. (ok, I have got this, and it’s taken me years to figure this out and make this work).  Here’s what works for my studio, again, this is a business decision and what makes sense for my studio and practice, if you are an artisan in business, yours may differ.
  • Reality – Would you have received a wedding invitation to this wedding if you were not photographing it?  Are you really a “friend” or acquaintance?
  • Expenses – You may have studio rent (home or commercial), and a plethora of overhead costs (rent or live work space costs, liability insurance, time, and talent, pre-production, staff-assistants, travel, post-production, image/digital or film storage and backups, image deliver, and product if ordered by clients). Don’t forget all that gorgeous packaging, letterhead, stationery, marketing materials,  and well you know where I am going…..
  • Season – Are you passing up possible business to book this date for your friend?  If so, it is something to consider, think again, is this an event you would normally be invited to?
  • Business smart or huge heart – In the beginning of our business, it did not take us too long to realize we cannot afford to shoot for nothing, there are costs, and although in the beginning one is looking to build a brand or business, it won’t last….it is reality.  It will cost, it is a decision one has to make and live with.  Face it if a friend owned a restaurant, you may get a complimentary wine or dessert at their expense, but you will get a bill, it’s expected and you should want to pay and contribute to their efforts.

Face it folks, we all have overhead costs whether you are a business owner or not, we all have families and roofs to keep over our heads, and food to place on the table.  The conscious decision to work for yourself is no different than going out and getting and education, a job and securing a career.  I myself worked for local government for many years, before I took the leap in 2012 to leave my career and dive right into my own artisan photography business.

Here’s where I have to put my foot down….yes I am honored, and would love to photograph you, your children, your family and even your event or wedding, however, I am in business and when you ask me to do so there has to be this understanding.  Is there a price?  YES, technically a price is something expected from all vendors be it a cake, flowers, dress, outfit, heck even hair and beauty, why would a photography vendor be any different? Why would a friend not want to support you and your business?

I could easily take my camera, shoot an event and hand over the unedited files, sure it is doable, but as a person who has dedicated thousands of hours  and investment into education, gear, business administration, management, and more, why would I do that?  I would not care for my time, business, or even  my clients. if I chose to do that.   As a business, we are responsible for the complete experience from the first phone call or inquiry to the very last meeting when clients return to pick up their precious photographs, albums and more.

Please do not think I am in anyway shape or form coming down on those who have a cap on budgets, I get that!  I am a good example of that myself, I know what I can and cannot afford.  Therefore, when you are thinking about taking the role of a “friend” at a friends event, make sure you treat the situation as you would any other client, it is your reputation, it is your brand and eventually your product, but YOU also have to be compensated.  Once compensated, you will be “expected” to perform at a professional level, you may or may not have a seat at a table with guests, and you WILL have expenses to take care of.  Whatever you decide, make sure you are ready to deal with whatever costs you wish to consume, and  know what you are getting into if one thing goes south, there is no going back and it can cost you much more than money!

I will end with this scenario… walk into a store, you see something you HAVE to have, it has a price tag, do you ask for a discount?  Does the salesclerk work at the counter for no salary?  Will she hand you your goods without a bag and a bow perhaps or just shove it into your purse?  Is the store you are walking into a free space for the business, meaning no rent?  There are overhead costs one does not realize and if you think that this is not thought of in the pricing of merchandise, guess again.  Take Louis Vuitton for instance…..their packaging alone is very thought out and planned as a psychological sales ploy, and it works!  There is a price for everything in this world, and the price in deciding to be a “friendor” at a milestone event, can be very costly not only in business expenses, but in your friendship.  Is it worth it?  You have to decide, but in the end, you also have to take care of business – no pun intended!

Best wishes on whatever you decide, if done right, this can be a great experience for everyone, but make sure you take care of YOU!

Thank you to Mimi Rodriguez of Creative Mimi Designs in the creation of my lovely stationery, visit her page to see her gorgeous wedding invitations, stationery and MORE!



(At work on a lovely Sonoma Wedding),  with Chelsea & Reijo also in this photo are past clients and a fabulous couple Serena & Greg click on their links to see their wedding!