Payment plans can be a great way to make a larger amount of portrait product more affordable to your clients. This means higher sales for you and more convenience for your client. Win win!
The benefits of a payment plan would include:
-better income flow for your busines
-convenience for your client
-makes your business more accessible/affordable
Offering this type of payment is very helpful for the flow of your business, but ONLY IF you set rules for your payment plan ahead of time.
Like anything within your business you need to come up with a plan, map it out, create rules, and stick with it. Not having set rules for your payment plan will create a lack of consistency and confusion for your client and yourself.
I've been offering payment plan options within my own business for years now. Here are some of the top tips I would recommend for you to implement in your portrait payment plan:
Rule #1) SET LIMITS
Figure out how many months you'd like your longest payment plan to be. When I first started offering payment plans I would say to my clients up front “we offer payment plans from 2-6 months.” …and I bet you can guess which option everyone chose, 6 months 😉 If you offer it, they will take you up on it. However, I was unhappy with 6 months. That's far too long (in my opinion) to track an order, follow up on payments, take payments, store their photos, etc.
So, I switched from that method to this one: We don't mention the payment plan unless somebody sounds uncertain or asks questions about it. This way we're not TRYING to get people to use the payment plan, we're simply offering it if they need it or ask.
We also offer up to 3 months (instead of 6) for a payment plan. So, if somebody asks what payment options we offer, I say “How would a 2 month payment plan work for you?” If they say yes, then great. If they say no, then say “We could do a 3 month payment plan for you.” Most people will go with this option but if they really sound uncertain I will push the envelope and let them do 4 months, but I let them know we're doing it to help them out and that we don't normally offer this option. They're usually very grateful and it works out for everyone.
Rule #2) HAVE PAPERWORK
Once we have agreed upon the length of their payment plan (if needed). I use THIS FORM. The form is a contract that spells out the payment plan terms, length of the payment plan, what the amount per month is, and when each payment is due. They sign at the bottom stating that they understand and agree with the terms.
This is very important because it avoids future problems such as: a client asking to change their order, asking to change their payment plan, and it also spells out the terms so far as when they get their order once paid, and what happens if it's not paid on time.
Rule #3) SET PAYMENT METHODS
It's important to think up HOW you will take the money for payments and how you will track all of your orders/payments. What payments are owed, which are already paid, etc.
At my studio, we use SHOOTQ, which is client management software. Each client has their own “virtual file” where we can place their order, list what they have purchased, see which payments they have made and which are still owed and when.
The best part is that it automatically emails each client when their payment is due. Each client gets their own log in and password so that they can log in and pay online at any point before or when their payment is due. It alerts us once they've paid. We also allow them to call in and we can take their order over the phone via Paypal Terminal.
You certainly don't have to use the same businesses that I used for taking payments. Just think about what you want to offer, what will work for you, and research which companies offer the services you need at the best rates.
#4) TURN AROUND TIME
You need to make a rule as to WHEN your client will receive their order. At my studio we get our clients orders to them within 2 weeks of being paid in full. So, for instance, if they paid that day in full they would receive their order in 2 weeks. If they opt for the payment plan, they will receive their order within 2 weeks of their order being paid in full.
At my studio we chose 2 weeks because that gives us a good amount of time to complete their product and still get it to them in a timely manner. This will depend on what products you are offering and how fast you are able to packaging, ship, etc. Make sure you pick a turn around length that you can follow through with, BUT ALSO get them their product earlier then they are expecting. If you say turn around time is 2 weeks, get them their order in 1.5 as it will make them super happy. So, if you KNOW you can turn around their order in 3 weeks, then say 3.5 or 4 weeks, etc.
#5) WHAT IF THEY WANT TO PAY IT OFF EARLIER?
Some of our clients will opt for a payment plan but then call to pay off their order earlier because they don't want to wait that long for their photos. In this case we stick to our rule; “Once your order is paid in full you can expect to receive it in 2 weeks.”
Make sure you have this rule set as you will get asked this question.
Rule #6) WHEN TO DELIVER AN UN-PAID PRODUCT
NEVER deliver a product to a client until it has been paid for in full. You might think this makes you seem like you don't trust your clients, however, that has nothing to do with it. You are running a business and it is NORMAL for you to have rules in place to protect your business from mishaps. Just think of other businesses. Would they give you new tires before you paid for them? Would you walk out of best buy with a new camera without it being paid for?
I used to think this rule wasn't necessary until unfortunately I delivered a product to a client without it being paid in full, and never received my payment. I learned the hard way. It was hard for me though because I LOVE to trust people and give them the benefit of the doubt. I also didn't want to come off as “mean” by implementing this rule. It's funny though, because once I implemented this rule and stated it to clients they responded with “well, of course, I would never expect you to give me a product that was't paid for.” So, its not mean at all, its just smart.
Rules are great 🙂 I know I've said this before but once you have them in place they're so easy to follow through with and if somebody complains you can say that it's company policy, because well, it is.
This all might seem like a lot of work to set up at first, and it might be, but its worth it. Just block off time in your calendar to get it all done. Once everything is in place it will be there for you for life or until you decide that you need to tweak portions or make changes to make it work better for you.
Once everything is in place you will be glad you are offering a payment option. Watch your sales sore, and give me an air high five 😉
Do tell! What's your next step in offering a payment option to your clients? Or, if you already offer payment plans to your clients, what's one thing that you'll improve in your payment plan process? Share with us in the comments below, we love hearing from you!