Years ago, I used to take very small down payments from my wedding clients. The reason, of course, is my own overblown sense of empathy. When my wife and I were planning our wedding, we were never as broke as we were before, or have been since! So, I thought, keeping down payments small would help a struggling couple pull off their wedding more easily. And, for the most part, it worked, and my clients appreciated it. But then there were these two that didn’t…
Client #1 had returned their contract and check promptly over a year before their reception. Not having heard from them with a month to go before the wedding, I decided to give them a call. Odd; the number was disconnected. No problem! At the time, it was common for people to switch cell phone companies frequently. Thinking nothing of it, I quickly dashed-off a post card. (They had not given me an e-mail address.) Flash forward a week: the postcard is returned, marked, “Undeliverable. No such person at this address.” Yet there is the contract, in my hand, with everyone’s signatures on it.
A phone call to the venue didn’t help, as they refused to give out any information citing confidentiality concerns. So here it is, the supposed wedding day, and I am obligated to head to the venue with truck packed, tuxedo in bag and roadie ready to set up the gear. Only THEN does the venue manager say, “It looks as if that party was canceled.” So I end up paying my help out of pocket and had an unscheduled Saturday night off.
Client #2 called to say that, regretfully, they had to cancel their reception. I guided them through the cancelation process, reminding them that all down payments are non-refundable. Having ample time, I later managed to rebook the date. I forgot all about the original clients until the night of the party when I’m pulling up to the venue. It’s one of those large banquet centers with several rooms opening onto a common entry hall. As I’m moving my gear into my party space, I notice a sign on the ballroom next-door. It has the name of the original couple who had canceled!
I bumped into the bride in the hallway later that night. She confessed that another DJ company had contacted her, offering her a fantastic deal. They said, “Even if you forfeit the deposit you gave to the other DJ, you’ll still save money!” (Yes, they were pushing their DJs that cheaply!) She also confessed that she regretted the move. “That’s why I’m out here in the hallway. They’re terrible. I wish I hadn’t listened to them and kept you.” I actually felt a little sorry for her.
These two incidents made one thing clear: taking too little upfront was only hurting my business. I immediately raised my down payment significantly. Since then, the only cancelations have been the unavoidable wedding couple break-ups.
Recently, I’ve read similar sentiments from other well-meaning DJs on social media forums about keeping down payments small. My advice: DON’T! Commitment is not supposed to be easy. You’re committing your time and energy to your clients, so don’t give them away cheaply! Require sufficient “skin in the game” from your clientele so that they don’t simply cancel on a whim. I currently take 50% upfront in order to place an event on my calendar, and then require the balance to be paid in full the week prior to the event. Payment technologies being what they are, I’m also able to offer my clients scheduled monthly or single automatic payments, which have been very popular.
This may seem pretty basic, yet apparently more than a few DJs are tempted to think with their hearts rather than their heads. I hope that my real world examples act as a cure to that impulse. It’s simply better for all concerned.