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the f stops here: how to stay sane in the insane holiday season

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For wedding photogs, it’s summer. For portrait photogs, it’s now.

That’s right: it’s crazy time. Your inbox explodeth, and your phone doth hellishly ring. Not to get all Shakespearean about it, but an overflow of good converts to bad.

So how do you manage it all? When the long view looks bleak (which in photographer terms means from now until late December), what will your coping mechanisms be?

The only way out is through; the only way through is by making some tough decisions about what you will and won’t/can and can’t/love and hate to do.

That’s right: we’re giving you permission to say no. No to last minute clients, no to products with complicated design, no to late orders, no to the naysayers who say that no one can edit like you do. You could even say no to holiday sessions, if they’re just not your thing. (More on that in a minute.)

Because as Shakespeare also says, “Go wisely and slowly. Those who rush stumble and fall.” To get through the holidays with mirth still in your heart, choose your path deliberately, with consideration to both your business and your personal life.

Here are our four best tips to guide you over the holiday finish line:

1. Don’t overbook. This truism is so obvious, yet so overlooked when it comes to planning your time. Go over your holiday schedules for the past few years (haven’t kept these records? start this year!) and figure out what your happy place is, that magical number of sessions where everything gets delivered to clients on time and you can still enjoy holiday events and downtime with friends and family. Depending on how your business is set up, this may be 15 sessions, or it may be 75; only you know your numbers. Once you book up to that mark, stop scheduling clients. Don’t fall into the trap of “well, just this one.” Because once you start squeezing your schedule to fit in more clients, it’s easy to justify why you should take “just one more.”

The exception to this rule: set aside two days for referrals from exceptionally qualified clients, or loyal customers that might have scheduling issues. If you happen to photograph a great client in September and they refer a friend with similar spending habits in November, you want to have a little wiggle room to make that happen. And if those days don’t get booked, you have extra hours to edit, or–bonus alert!–free time to spend with those you love.

2. Shrink your product lineup. Do you really have time to design 25 page albums for 25 clients, before the 25th of November? Yeah. We didn’t think so. So why offer albums? Choose a couple of high profit items–small canvas collections, a storyboard–along with some framed gift prints (our Frame Shop can help with this!), and just a few card designs (think modular or minimalist) for your holiday offerings. Let your clients know ahead of time what their choices will be, to prepare them for their ordering session.

Our holiday motto? KISS: keep it super simple to save design time and reduce indecision at your selling appointment. Your clients only want a few select images from these holiday sessions anyway, so they’ll be thankful when you don’t waste their time by presenting a full product lineup.

3. Charge a premium for premium service. We know that you’re smart enough to have an strict ordering cutoff; December 1st is a nice round number. But what about the clients who just can’t get it together by then? If clients really want to place an order, you’ll let them…for a price. By the time December 1st rolls around, you want to be decking the halls, not decking their walls. (Not to mention that you’ve probably got other orders still in production.)

We suggest the following pricing structure for rush orders: from December 1-10, charge a 50% rush fee; from December 11-19, that charge goes up to 100%. And under absolutely, positively no circumstances will you accept an order after December 20. You’ve got to protect your time, and raising your prices as Christmas approaches lets clients know where your boundaries lie.

4. Do what you love. Dump what you don’t. Sure, no one can edit like you do; yet you loathe the process, because you’re spending 15 minutes on each image. Outsourcing your editing–sacrilege, some of you say!–earns some of that precious time back, and results in polished photographs that will look exactly as if you edited them with your own hand. The same goes for all aspects of your holiday sessions. Hate answering emails? Hire an assistant, in house or virtual, for the season!

And here’s the biggie: if your heart’s just not into taking photos during the holidays…then give yourself permission not to. You heard us: there’s no professional photographer rule that says you’re a bad business person if you don’t cram 10 sessions into each week in November. Think about what works for you and your schedule: maybe that’s just taking photos on Fridays. Or maybe that’s doubling down on sessions during the Valentine’s and Easter holidays to replace potential holiday income.

So go forth! Shape this busy season, but don’t let it shape you! As a wise man once said, “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves”–which is perhaps our best advice for photographers trying to harness the holidays.

‘Tis the season for your star to shine bright. Get prepared with our special Holiday section in the Shop.

~ The F Stops Here is an exclusive collection of articles by Design Aglow, designed to be used and shared by photographers. Look for this column twice monthly here on the Design Aglow Blog and feel free to grab & share on your site, blog and/or social media pages with a byline and link to DesignAglow.com.

CATEGORIES: Education, The F-Stops Here

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