Just say how much!
While emailing with another photographer recently, I was reminded of a simple but easily forgotten business practice of never saying no to a client's request. Heed warning, this does not mean you must say yes to everything, only provide alternate options. Here are a few examples of what I mean...
Very often a client requests a date that I'm unavailable. Rather than simply saying I'm sorry, I'm already booked. I often say, here are some other photographers who may be able to help you! This shows the client who was originally interested in me that I have a sincere interest in helping them find what they're looking for. I'm also paying it forward to another photographer, who may return the favor in the future. Everyone comes out on top and I didn't have to say no, only give another option.
One client had a family member that was interested in swapping some people in photos, yet I knew that I didn't have the time or skills for the amount of work that would come with the request. Rather than saying no, I investigated how much it would cost to hire a professional retouch artist for the job and provided the family with a quote. By providing an estimate of how much additional the retouching would cost, it gave the family an opportunity to evaluate if the project was worth it to them. This allows me to provide the service to my clients, and give them the quality that they deserve, while allowing me to focus on the aspects of my job that I do best.
I had a request from a client to take portraits of every family in attendance at the reception. Rather than saying I won't do that because it isn't my style, I instead offered to hire a dedicated portrait photographer who would be available to take family portraits while I focused on the candid work that I do best. I gave them a quote of how much the additional photographer would cost along with the benefits of having someone dedicated to just the portraits they were looking for, and they agreed that it was worth it for them. In the end we all win because I get to do the work I love, they get the family portraits they want to give to their guests, and another photographer gets to be paid for their time.
This last year my turn around times were much too slow and rather than telling my clients they simply had to wait and get nothing, I gave them several options: to simply have their unfinished images as is, or to get a few finished images to use in the paper or for a thank you note before the rest were finished. Most clients opted to have just a few finished images and wait for the quality of work that they had originally paid for rather than getting the unfinished work or nothing for quite sometime. However, if I had not been able to offer any alternate options, I wouldn't have provided the best service possible to my clients.
Hopefully the next time you encounter a difficult situation when you would normally find yourself saying no to a client, you'll instead find a way to offer other options that serve both you and your client better.