This is an article I've been wanting to write for a long time. It's about something that has made a real difference for me; streamlining and automating business processes. Run your business more efficiently by implementing these incredibly easy time savers.
As your business becomes more and more successful, you also become more and more busy. Like, crazy busy. There are so many hats we have to wear on a daily basis; photographer, blogger, sales person, editor, kid wrangler, accountant, marketer etc. etc. It's too much for one person to handle alone, but unfortunately, most of the time, that's the way it is. The secret is to figure out where you can automate processes, streamline things or outsource them. Here are my best time-saving tips, and after reading this article, I hope you'll share yours.
Print and Bind Album Services
Print and bind services are offered through a lot of album companies, and it makes things so much simpler and easier than ordering the prints yourself, checking them over carefully (we used to spend an hour) and then packaging up the prints and shipping them off. Now that album companies offer this, you can send in the layouts and have the album maker print the images and bind the album for you. It's a great way to save time in the office and also get your client albums back faster.
Some labs like WHCC and ProDPI will drop ship prints directly to your client without the invoice. ProDPI offers an upgraded packaging option if you want the prints delivered in a nice box. It's another time saver because instead of receiving prints, reviewing them, packaging them and mailing them out to clients, it's all done on auto-pilot. Now you do lose the option to add your branding with personal packaging, but that's not the end of the world, and I would say it matters less if you are not a high-end photographer, charging high-end prices. The other thing is, sometimes you have to put your family first, and some of these time-savers can go a long way to giving you your life back. And, yes, I am speaking from personal experience.
Photography Business Systems
Hands down the best thing I ever did for my business was set up (and start using) a business system called ShootQ. There are a number of different software systems designed for photographers, so look into a few options to see which is right for you. If you feel like you need an office assistant to send clients directions and reminders, send out emails in a timely manner, collect payments, get your contracts signed, help stay on top of leads, keep track of routine tasks and collect key info from clients prior to or after their sessions, you need to look into photography business systems. I can't say this enough, but having a system like that is absolutely like having an office assistant.
At some point a few years we had seven (7!!!) file drawers filled with client files, vendor files, historical documents, old print orders and all sorts of stuff. The files had outgrown the office space and it was time to either get another file cabinet for the garage or make a change. We decided we wanted to try to go paperless. So we bought a scanner and over time, we started going through all those old files, scanning and shredding as we went. Each time we liberated another file drawer, we had a mini celebration. (OK, not really, but in my mind, I said a little prayer of thanks and/or awarded myself a glass of champagne).
At this point, all of our business documents and personal documents are scanned and saved in Dropbox. It's the coolest thing-not only do we not need a bunch of file cabinets, but we can put our hands on anything in about five seconds. All bills and anything paper gets scanned immediately, and goes into our cloud based storage system. Which means I can pull up documents while out of the office, on my iPhone.
I'm a big fan of scanning everything. It's made such a difference in our life, not only getting rid of all the paper everywhere, but being able to get to what I need instantly.
Along those same lines, we gave up our big bulky cumbersome fax machine in favor of an online fax number. Basically, you send and receive faxes as emails. It's easier to manage, and you pay a small monthly fee. Again, if you are on the road a lot, this is the way to go.
Online Payment Processing
In the old days, we used to have clients fill out a payment form (paper or online when ordering prints) and once a week we'd go through and process each payment. This didn’t take more than about twenty minutes, but usually there would be at least one charge that did not go through. Credit cards have a strange habit of being maxed out around weddings. Or, I would flat out write the number down wrong. Or the client would not remember the card had a different billing address. So these always required another call, another email and so on to track down a working credit card number.
One day, I decided I'd had enough of that, and I called Ryan from Photography Merchant Systems and got set up to have payments taken online. Clients enter their credit card information and the charge goes through immediately, and money is magically deposited into our bank account. It's connected to both our print shopping kart as well as ShootQ. Clients can still pay by check, but for those that are paying with credit card, it's now on them to make their payments and to shuffle credit cards as needed to get the payment taken care of in a timely manner. ShootQ sends auto payment reminders until money is deposited into my bank account. I like it!
Bonus Tip: We used to painstakingly create custom disc labels for each client slideshow. We'd try out a number of images, and only certain ones worked well due to the shape of the label. Don't laugh; we used to spend about 45 minutes or more making this custom label. And then one day we wised up and created a set of branded disc labels (thank you Edyta!). Sometimes, it's the little things that make you slap your forehead and wonder why you've been doing it the hard way for so long.
Honestly, I could have called this article “How Lara Got Her Groove Back” or “How to Be a Photographer and Not get Divorced”. This business we are in is a real labor of love, as we all know. There are not enough hours in the day to get everything done you want. You don't have to sacrifice every free minute to your business. Learn to be efficient. <– Click to Tweet. By implementing at least a few of these ideas, you might just be saving your marriage. Or at least your sanity.
What are your best tips for streamlining and automating?