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Get it Together: 10 Steps To Streamline Your Studio For Success

Get it Together: 10 Steps To Streamline Your Studio For Success

If you run a photography business, you may feel like you spend 10% of your time actually creating images and the other 90% juggling endless administrative tasks. And when you’re focused on taking care of your clients, taking care of your business can get pushed to the back burner. But…that needs to stop. Organization isn’t a luxury. A streamlined studio gives you a solid foundation on which to build a successful business. So go ahead and make those brass tacks a priority. Here are the ducks you should get in a row, like, yesterday.

1. Get your workflow in check. 
Being a full-service photographer is all about going the extra mile, which means providing those extra touches -- welcome packets, thank-you notes, customized packaging-- that elevate your client’s experience. But unless you’re a time-management ninja, keeping track of those tasks can be daunting. One solution, of course, is to hire an office assistant. But if that’s not feasible for you, we recommend the Studio Workflow Assistant, a system you can print and hang in your office to keep you on track and make sure you don’t skip a step.

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2. Check email faster with form letters. 
We realize email templates can feel like the exact opposite of personalized service, but hear us out: If you’re spending an hour or two on emails, you’re taking valuable time away from building your brand and serving your current clients. Look through your inbox to get a sense of the inquiries and customer service questions you receive most often, then draft a standard reply for each. If writing and spelling out studio policies isn’t your strong point, download our Studio Email Assistant for customizable correspondence and pre-written answers to tricky client questions. You can always tweak your reply so it doesn’t sound canned, but having a framework will make life easier.

3. Stop playing the field with products.
Picture an upscale clothing boutique. Are the racks stuffed with clothes, or are there a few carefully curated pieces displayed neatly on hangers? If you’re a boutique photographer, your product line should mirror a high-end store. You don’t need to offer 50 different card designs, five types of albums, canvas wraps, wood blocks, metal prints, camera-shaped USBs, ornaments, jewelry, driftwood frames, accordion books, collages, and quirky whatnots. All of those products are awesome. All of those products at once can overwhelm your clients. Whittle down your product line to the handful of items that best represent your brand, and stick with those. Make buying easy and fun for your clients, not a burden with endless decisions, and your sales will soar.

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4. Get in a committed relationship with vendors.
Speaking of overwhelming, make sure you’re not causing yourself unnecessary anxiety by shopping around too much. If you use one lab for albums, another for prints, another for canvas, another for USBs, another for welcome folders, another for business tools, and so on, you’re going to feel like your business is literally all over the place. Pick your favorite two vendors, and limit yourself to the products they offer. You’ll simplify your product line and improve consistency across your brand, all in one fell swoop. We suggest starting at Polished by Design, where you can use Design Aglow templates to order directly from ProDPI’s extensive line of high-end products.

5. Balance your books.
If you have a mild panic attack every time quarterly taxes are due, then it’s time to tackle your finances head-on. Check out an accounting software like QuickBooks, or hire a CPA -- or both. Treat your finances with the same obsessive attention to detail that you treat your images or your branding, because income is kind of the whole point of being in business. (Not the point of being a photographer, mind you, but the point of running a photography business.)

6. Back up your backups.
Until you’ve delivered your final product, every image should be stored in three places:

  • a working copy on your hard drive
  • a backup copy on an external hard drive
  • an offsite copy in cloud storage

Don’t limit this to your image files, either. Make sure you also back up all purchased products (actions, templates, software, custom logos, etc.) along with any contracts, spreadsheets, financial docs, and marketing materials you’ve created. Wouldn’t it suck to have to rebuild your brand from scratch just because your hard drive failed?

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7. Set an archiving schedule.
Sure, you archive your images in theory -- you might even guarantee it in your contract -- but do you have a clear-cut plan in place? After all, not every image can live on your hard drive forever, and even a 5TB external drive will fill up eventually. So then what? Here are a few things to consider when you’re figuring out your archiving strategy:

  • How long do you keep the RAWs from a gig? Until delivery? One year? Forever?
  • How soon after a session do your memory cards get deleted and reformatted?
  • When do sessions get moved to an external drive?
  • Do you archive through an online gallery or backup software? Do you have a Plan B in case you lose access to those files?
  • Does your contract guarantee archiving for a specific period of time? Where are those files backed up during that time frame?

Make archiving a part of your workflow so you won’t have to sweat bullets every time you delete a file off your hard drive.

8. Organize your files.
Have you been stuffing papers in a file box marked “Photography” since the day you opened your business? Do you have thousands of images in a folder called “file me”? Now’s the time to clean it all up. On your computer, for example, you could create one folder for each type of session, then subfolders for each year, then break it down into client names. Use consistent file names -- like date-clientname-sessiontype.jpg -- to make searching easier. For actual paper files, make sure all your docs are sorted into manila folders, with the most important ones -- licenses, tax returns, etc -- in a fire-safe file box.

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9. Have a real paper calendar.

Online calendars are sleek and high-tech and wonderful, but a wall calendar or weekly planner lets you see your schedule at a glance. While you’re at it, be sure to write automatic renewal dates on your calendar, so you can see when they’re coming up and make sure the service is still the best choice for your studio before your card is charged. Of course, we suggest our Big Picture Planner, which gives you daily, weekly, and monthly planners -- along with a section to help organize your workflow, big ideas, inspiration, and notes-to-self.

10. Protect your assets.
One last thing: This business you’ve worked so hard to create needs to be protected. Period. People sue for the weirdest things; even if you’re an LLC, remember the first L stands for “limited.” Liability insurance is about the same price per day as a cup of coffee and takes about 30 minutes to set up over the phone, so there’s really no excuse to leave your assets vulnerable. While you’re in legal-beagle mode, get a lawyer to look over your contract and make sure It’s airtight, since that’s your first line of defense if an issue arises.

These nuts and bolts may not be the most exciting part of being a photographer, but getting your business organized behind the scenes will help you feel less stressed -- and when you no longer feel like you’re treading water all the time, you’ll have way more energy to focus on the creative side of your business.

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