Wedding Supplier Background Checks
This article aims to give some practical advice on how to do some basic wedding photographer background checks on your potential wedding photographer. The principles can of course also be used to vet many different types of supplier.
I decided to write this article after receiving my latest Disclosure certificate for a youth charity I am involved with. The certificate is produced by the Disclosure and Barring Service and is designed to check the backgrounds of anybody working with vulnerable or young people and includes amongst other things police records. It also made me think back to my time when I worked in the city and was taught by ex-special branch police officers how to clone an identity and build trust, so that I could better recognise and prevent fraud.
Now my record is as clean as they come, not so much as a speeding ticket but it made me think, how much do we really know about the suppliers we hire?
There are many reasons why we would want do background checks on a wedding photographer, or any supplier for that matter and these reasons include:
- Protect ourselves against financial loss.
- To ensure the wedding photographer or other supplier has the experience they claim to have.
- To protect ourselves from disappointment.
Financial loss can occur from deliberate fraudulent activity or possibly more likely, through having to pay to put things right or losing money if the supplier goes bankrupt.
Many wedding photographers and other suppliers do not have scruples when it comes to inflating their experience, expertise or intentions. We shouldn’t take them at face value and there are some basic checks we can do to help protect yourselves
Step 1: Dispel the Myths!
These are all genuine comments that have been made to me and I will try to explain why each myth doesn’t necessarily hold true.
But your a proper photographer right, because you’ve got a website and everything.
Anybody can set up a website. All you need do is register a domain and hire a web hosting company then upload your pages. It can cost is as little as £20 a year in total. I could setup a website for a property maintenance website in a couple of days and I know next to nothing about it. That website cant be taken at face value. Do you remember a program on the TV called Hustle about a group of conmen in for the long con? One of the first things they did on each con was setup a website to give themselves some credibility.
They have to be genuine because we met him at a wedding fair, they wouldn’t have them there otherwise.
The organisers of wedding fairs are in the business of selling advertising space. They have no requirement to vet exhibitors who simply pay a sum of money in order to setup a stand at the wedding fair. Is it worth paying out £150 or so to man a stand in the hope somebody will book and handover a thousand pounds or more to photograph or supply their wedding? Do the math, to those without morals the answer is emphatically yes!
They are members of the xxx professional body, so they have to be decent.
Many professional bodies have no formal standard of entry or any kind of vetting process. They are essentially membership organisations and they make their money through membership subscriptions so want to make it easy for people to join. On it’s own membership of a professional body is worth very little.
They had really good reviews on the Internet so they must be OK.
Reviews are easily faked. Just think how easy it is to setup a free Google account and then log in to Google places and write a favourable review. Read glowing reviews with scepticism.
Step 2: Free Online Checks
None of these checks prove or disprove anything by themselves, but taken in conjunction with other checks either help establish the credibility of a supplier, or signal not everything may be as it first appears.
Earlier on I said a persons website couldn’t be taken at face value. One useful check that is useful is to do a WhoIs lookup on the website. This tells you all about when the website was registered and who registered it, including a registered address and contact details.
This is useful stuff. If a photographer tells you they have been operating as “XZY Wedding Photography” for 20 years but their website was only registered a year ago, its a signal something may not be quite right.
If a site was registered days or weeks ago, the registrant address info is not listed or at a different location (or country) to that in the contact page then that is a warning signal and could be part of a complex con and I would avoid handing over any money upfront without running more detailed checks.
On the positive side, a website that was registered several years ago, the registered address and contact details match those on the websites contact page then you can take that as a positive signal that the website and owner are genuine.
Here is my own entry on www.betterwhois.com. As you can see my website was registered in 2003 and my contact details are listed and match my website. Nothing to hide here!
As simple as it sounds google the business, try different search terms like <Business Name> + review, <Business Name> + scandal etc.
Does the business have a google places listing? Does the address match?
If a wedding photographer or other wedding supplier tells you they are a member of a professional body, ask the professional body to verify that. Many bodies have online lists of verified members which can be searched. If they claim to be members but not listed, that can be taken as a negative signal.
Also please note that just about anybody can join many professional bodies you just need to pay a fee, the body is in many cases a private membership organisation and is under no obligation to check the work of their members. Just like a gym, they get their money from subscription fee’s regardless if the member is actually using the gym to get fit or not! Some professional bodies offer accreditation however and that is different, accredited members usually have to have their work assessed by the professional body and usually requires some effort and expense to pass so can be taken as a positive signal that the wedding photographer or other supplier is at least serious about their trade.
For example as a member of the Society of Wedding and Portrait Photographers I simply pay my £99 a year subscription fee, easy as. However to gain my accredited licentiate status I had to submit a body of work from at least 5 weddings and have that panel of work professionally presented. This was then assessed by a panel of industry professionals and found to be of sufficient standard to meet the Societies standards.
Not being a member of a professional body is not a negative on its own, but taken in conjunction with other indicators can start to portray a picture of that suppliers commitment and standing.
Step 3: Offline Checks
The Internet is a wonderful thing because it allows personal publishing to all, that fact is also makes it a double edged sword. As the Internet is largely unregulated, there is nothing to stop people making fraudulent claims or simply misrepresenting themselves there. After doing the basic online checks its worth doing a few simple ‘offline’ checks in order to make sure thing stack up.
Its impractical to do this for every single supplier, but for those you are handing over a substantial sum of money too in advance it is well worth investing a little shoe leather to protect yourself.
Wedding Fairs / Venue showcases
Wedding fairs and showcases put on by the wedding venues are a great way to go and meet suppliers face to face. Being present at the wedding fair alone means nothing, your potential supplier has often just paid a sum of money to attend, but the value of interviewing them face to face is valuable.
Don’t be afraid to grill them and ask them questions and treat as though you were interviewing them for a job which you essentially are. With a little research you should be able to weed out those who know their stuff and those who are trying to break into the industry or even worse, trying to con you.
Look at examples of their work, any supplier will have examples of their work on show from the cake makers to wedding photographers. If a wedding photographer claims to be anything other than brand new and doesn’t have a small selection of albums to show that is your signal to run for the hills.
Don’t take their word for it, go and visit their premises. Even if a wedding supplier doesn’t have commercial premises and many (most in some professions) do not you can still insist on seeing them at their home address. If a supplier doesn’t want to reveal their home address but wants money in advance that is a risk, what happens if the product or service you paid for is not delivered? Its very hard to demand a refund if all you have is a unethical supplier and an email address.
Traditionally many wedding suppliers are based on a cottage industry, people running a small business from home either full-time or part-time. Whether a business is run from home or commercial premises is not usually an indication of anything other than if the suppliers uses commercial premises you are going to be paying them enough that they can afford to run them! What is key is that the supplier is willing to reveal their address to you and you can verify that you can physically get hold of them at that address.
Use the telephone to ring up and see if anybody answers and importantly how they answer.
If they answer professionally with a ‘This is xyz wedding photography, how can I help you?’ that can be taken as much more positive signal than ‘Stop calling, I told you, your not getting your money back!
Referrals / Ask round
With the Internet this method is used far less than it used to be but is so incredibly valuable. Simply asking people if they know anybody they can recommend not only filters out the good from the bad, but it also shows proven delivery of the service in the past from a trustworthy source. Online reviews are fine, but are easily faked.
The Internet can be a murky place at times and there is always someone lurking willing to take your money off you or simply oversell themselves in the belief they can live up their own unproven expectations. That said it is possible to apply a little bit of common sense with and with some basic checks protect yourself from those whose morals are less than pure. The checks are easy and free to do and don’t involve going undercover or on stakeout outside a potential suppliers listed address.
I hope you have found the article useful and should you have any need for an ethical wedding photographer, feel free to give me a call!