8 Tips for Taming the Production Workflow Beast

8 Production Workflow Beast TipsAs the spring and summer season begin to heat up, photographers are faced with the problem of getting our digital workflow under control, or getting buried. If you don't get your production workflow streamlined now, it will be difficult to grow your photo business to its fullest potential.

Getting out from under the pile of albums that begin building up at the start of summer is not easy, especially since that pile starts on top of last seasons unfinished albums. Oh yes, I am intimately familiar with the production workflow beast. But guess what? I know how to tame it too. Read on for my best tips. Here are eight tips for getting things under control.

1. Edit. Cull. Delete images like your life depends on it. The fewer images to color correct and Photoshop, the better. Plus your best images stand out even more when not surrounded by mediocre shots.

2. Let clients know when they can expect their images from the get-go. We tell clients 4-6 weeks, but we aim for four weeks. When it's the end of the season and things are crazy, we might need that full six weeks, but not usually. By letting them know this when you meet them, before the wedding, and just after the wedding (via automated emails, thank you Shootq) clients know what to expect and you don’t have to waste time answering anxious questions. Plus this really eases up on your anxiety that you know you have a little more time than necessary, so hopefully you can over-deliver.

3. Set dates for client deliverables, and then develop a production schedule based on that. If you know when things are due, and work from that, it makes it possible to stay on top of your workflow without constantly feeling buried. Schedule everything due so that you know when you need to start working on each project.

4. Set a cutoff date for holiday deliveries and put that date in writing on the contract or album details. Share this information in several places. Our cutoff date is weddings after September 1st will not receive albums until the following year, and album orders not received by the end of September will not be ready until the following year. We do this so that we can point back to the standing cutoff date during Thanksgiving week when clients ask if they can get their (yet to be finalized) album back by Christmas. You can do this will all products and prints. If you are constantly feeling the pressure during that week before the holidays this is a great way to relieve that pressure, and it lets clients know well in advance what to expect.

5. Print and bind albums– we used to order the album prints ourselves and spend an hour checking them over for any blemishes, and frequently sent prints back, which caused a delay and was a huge time suck. We wanted everything PERFECT for our clients, but we finally admitted to ourselves that our clients were not going to notice a tiny (tiny) speck of something on an album print and it was not worth all that time for a level of perfection that was not likely noticed by anyone but us. Once we gave that up, it was easy to make the leap to having Leather Craftsmen and Queensberry just print and bind the album.

6. Change your contract to state that clients have one year to complete their wedding album, otherwise it's a done deal and the contract is considered complete. I thought this was super harsh and hated doing it, but the truth is, it gives us the room and justification to insist clients complete their albums by a deadline so we don't have 3 years of old albums hanging over our heads. We used to have 20-30 incomplete albums at any time (combination of those feet draggers plus the ones we were just behind on). Over several years, we revised and streamlined our process significantly, so we only have a small handful of albums to do at any given time.

7. Shootq-this has been a HUGE lifesaver in terms of pretty much everything from getting contracts signed, payments collected, tasks organized, clients informed. It has a very high learning curve and takes a lot of time to understand and implement, but so worth the time. Basically, you set up a production workflow for each item and then each time you book a new client, you set up the workflow that goes with that package and the add-ons and it sets up the task list for you so you don't forget a step along the way, which usually happens for us in October. Plus it is set up so when you check off a task, it can send out an auto email to the client asking for album cover options, letting them know the album was just sent to the lab, etc. So it really keeps us organized and on track and also keeps the client informed of the process along the way. Read more about problems ShootQ  solved for our studio and how to set up Shootq.

8. Batch processing-doing similar production tasks in a batch process will save you time. For example, instead of ordering prints a few at a time, put incoming print orders into a folder for 1-2 weeks and then order them all at once.

Look at the entire production process for little places you can make small improvements. You can really streamline the process over time, but don't expect to do it all in one season. What tips do you have to streamline your workflow?

More tips for organizing your workflow and staying ahead of client deadlines.

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Brooke August 15, 2012 at 2:02 pm

This is a fantastic article, I love your information Lara! Question… what emails do you have automated in ShootQ? I am trying to automate certain things but because I usually hand type things out, I’m having a hard time thinking about what I need in the workflow!

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Lara White August 15, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Oh wow, I have a TON of email templates. I break them down into inquiries/consultations (appointment set ups, reminders and thank yous) booking (welcome, here’s what to expect…) engagement session (let’s schedule it, here are some locations to think about/photos to look at, what to wear, what to buy, appointment reminder, went well, images available in 1 week, here is your slideshow) wedding stuff (think about a first look, here’s when you can expect to see images, the process, how ya doing? vendor questionnaire, album design process) and then albums (after honeymoon, here’s what’s happening, the director’s cut design process, here’s your slideshow, here’s your gallery, here’s your album design, here’s how much the full design costs, reminder to finish your edits, second reminder to finish your edits, album cover choices, we just ordered your album, you can expect to receive it in about 4-6 weeks). Damn, that’s a lot of emails!

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Bryan Green Photography July 10, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Great idea about putting time limits and/or other constraints around ordering products; especially albums!

I feel overwhelmed sometimes when I know in my mind I have 5+ albums that are in draft, some being from wedding of a previous year. I always said I’d be a photographer with a “simple” and easy contract, but it’s growing unfortunately out of necessity 🙂

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Best Exposures April 20, 2012 at 10:02 pm

I have two professions, photographer and pro-pilot. As a pilot, I fly every other week (7 days on, 7 days off) so I know ahead of time what my schedule is… I can tell you what my schedule is 12 years from now!

I took checklists from my flying career and use them for my photography business. The great thing about checklists is that once have a workflow, you complete the corresponding checklists and you know that everything has been done.

Also, it may seem harsh, but I do not spend ANY time on files I don’t have a deposit for. Reason being: My time is worth a lot of money. If I am not getting paid, I rather be with my 2 year old daughter and beautiful wife. So when I open up dates I am available for shoots they are open until I get that 50% non-refundable deposit. Once that happens the file is real and the checklist goes into effect.

The nice thing is that we know EXACTLY what we need to do and when we need to do it. I also offer online proofs (unedited) within 12 hours of the event, and once the pictures are selected online I edit them. One of the things I learned is just because “I” love a picture doesn’t mean my client will, and conversely a picture I may think is not worthy may be extremely important to them. So let them choose. And don’t waste your time editing photos that will never be chosen.

THAT SAID: Erase the bad pictures (accidental exposures, flash didn’t fire, etc) so you look like the pro you are.

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Lara White April 25, 2012 at 1:20 pm

wow, you must have to be very well organized to maintain that kind of schedule. I’m also a big believer in checklists. It can seem unnecessary until things get super busy, and that’s when things start to slip through the cracks, unless you have a reliable system.

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