diana Elizabeth blogger holding iPhone in hands

How to keep your commitments + solutions when you have to break them – as a professional

diana Elizabeth blogger holding iPhone in hands

I heard about a shoot from an editorial art director about a well-known, successful commercial photographer who was on schedule to shoot an assignment. The photographer, after committing to the assignment was later approached by a huge brand for an advertisement campaign. We’re talking thousands, if not tens of thousands. But, he kept his editorial assignment commitment (one that paid a small fraction in comparison). My friend the art director, was surprised. The reason the photographer gave was that if he flaked out for something better, it might go around town that he was unreliable and he’d never find work again – dependability and local reputation was paramount for a successful business.

Now I’m going to tell you an opposite story – as in, a time when I did the opposite.

My real life story – I had two small job assignments at that magazine and I was approached by another person at the same publication with an all day assignment. The pay was 3x more – and I’ve been dying for an assignment like it. I actually passed along the email explaining the situation – and said I would happily take on my commitment but had a photographer friend in waiting who could readily take those assignments, if he was OK with it. With his blessing, and a few jokes, I went off to my other shoot. I also brought him back wine from the vineyards shoot as a thank you (this doesn’t pardon me, but it was another way to say, thank you for being OK with this).

There are some situations you can make it, and times you can’t – and times you somehow compromise. Here’s my experience on keeping your word, or when you feel like you can’t because life is life – and never leave a client or friend hanging.

You just absolutely cannot make it – Find a replacement if you’re going to bail.

The night before I committed to a charity event, I came down with a fever, with chills. I looked and felt gross – there’s no way anyone would want to even let me take their photo I looked like I was dying. I text a girlfriend and told her my situation – she was saving my butt, and not even getting paid. She stepped in anyway and I never forgot it (thank you Courtney). The charity director was surprised and thankful when I called to tell her the bad news followed up with good news.

I later introduced Court to a magazine art director and she got regular work. I will always remember kindness, people who save my tush and I will always find a way to repay the favor whether immediately or down the line when I can.

It’s one thing to pass up a commitment because life happens, and another to totally ditch it. Instead, make sure you have a solution and can offer that so the client you committed do isn’t left scrambling for another replacement last minute. Take care of your people and avoid tarnishing your reputation.

If it’s on you and you are dealing with a paid client and you must reschedule due to something on your end, consider a discount or adding a print to the package.

You are hoping to get out of it – But you could possibly keep the commitment if necessary. 

Back to the story I mentioned about who I did – finding a substitute for my job so I wouldn’t live my client hanging. Thankfully they were fine with it.

If you cannot find a replacement and you said you would, keep your commitment and deal with the consequences. It’s far better to give that part of yourself and whatever loss (sanity, money) than a bad reputation that could spread further.

If a job comes up that pays more, then you can decide if you take it but I’d advice not taking it without offering a solution. Looking into the future, perhaps know what your minimum rate is so you don’t feel like taking one job would be forfeiting any profit should another come up.

These examples are for work commitments, not personal. If you need to cancel a lunch date, mentorship, etc., those are different. I’m referring to professional jobs where your service is paramount to create a delivered product for a business that cannot be rescheduled.

Last summer I had been battling exhaustion and a summer cold and wanted to try a new photographer who was affordable. Everything I had been feeling occurred last minute but I did need her help to get a few posts out of the way. I went to bed early to be ready for a 7 am shoot only to wake up and find the photographer emailed me at 4 am cancelling because she booked a shoot for herself (she was also a blogger and photographer). I understand cancellations, and regardless of how crazy the reason was, it seemed as if she could have given me cancellation way ahead of time and that would have been fine. I never booked her again, for obvious reasons and I use these bad customer service experiences to ensure I stay on top of my customer service for my clients.

Photo by Julianne Marie Photography

Have you ever broken a work commitment? How did you approach it? Share in the comments!


Diana Elizabeth is an author, photographer, and obsessive thrift shopper. You can typically find her in the garden wrist deep in dirt, at a local estate sale or planning her next epic party. She continues to blog weekly.


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