For six years, I ran my business part-time while I completed my undergraduate and graduate degrees. People asked me all the time how I managed to get any sleep. However, I think most people have more available time than they realize, and I’m really passionate about making people’s lives less stressful! In the hopes that this will help another photographer, here are the top five things that save my sanity as a (now full-time) photography business owner:
1) Use time as efficiently as possible. For instance, I love calling my mom to talk, and I also walk between 40-60 minutes a day since I live in a city. So, instead of talking on the phone when I’m home, I call her while I’m walking to my office or in between running errands. This is just a small example, but I make so many decisions like this every day. Minutes saved add up to hours saved.
2) Outsource the things you don’t do best. For instance, I’m the only person who can edit photos in exactly my style, but to be totally honest, I despise cooking and washing dishes on a daily basis. The money that I spend to buy my food at the grocery store or restaurant more than makes up for the value of the time I spend completing tasks that are my specialty.
3) Limit time on social media. Although it’s absolutely necessary to stay active on social media sites to promote your small business, it can be soul-sucking to spend too much time refreshing notifications and hoping for new fans. The best thing you can do for your business is make your current clients happy, and the rest will follow. I also try to avoid spending too much time surfing other photographers’ websites. There’s so much talent out there that it can be overwhelming, and I find that I’m more happy with my own progress when I set personal goals instead of comparing my work to other people’s.
4) Take time to shoot for yourself. In 2014, I photographed a whopping 133 client sessions. I felt overwhelmed just trying to keep up with delivery deadlines, and I started to lose the joy in my work. It’s not that I didn’t love photography anymore; I was just burned out! This New Year’s Eve, I resolved not only to take on less client sessions, but also to photograph more personal work. Follow along with me during my Project 52! I’m having a blast playing around with my camera and creating work that’s close to my heart. And in turn, I’m more inspired to photograph my clients again.
5) Separate work from home. Renting an office space was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for my business. Going to my office every day forces me to get out of my pajamas, and it allows me to leave work at work at the end of the evening. All of my packaging, equipment, props, and samples are kept in one tidy space. If renting an office isn’t possible for you, try to set aside space for a home office. The mental shift is absolutely beneficial to having a productive business.
6) Charge what you’re worth. You’ve heard this over and over, but you are WORTH charging more for your work. You fight for your business every day, and you deserve to be paid for your efforts. When I made the leap to full-time photography, I quadrupled my prices and I was scared beyond belief. But clients weren’t– they kept calling! Now, the clients who pay full price for my work truly value the images that we create together. There are so many pricing resources for photographers out there, so it’s easier than ever to figure out what you need to make per session.
7) Use technology and other resources to the MAX to speed up and automate your tasks. Here are a few of my favorite resources, grouped into categories.
Photo Mechanic allows me to cull images from each session at lightning speed. I used to cull in Lightroom, but I waited a long time for each preview to render. Photo Mechanic’s previews render instantaneously, which allows me to cull an entire session in 5 minutes flat. Other handy features include lots of options for starring/sorting images, and the ability to batch edit the copyright information for each session.
Trello allows me to sort my current clients into categories (upcoming shoots, clients to proof, orders to edit, etc.) I can edit each board and add a custom checklist for each client. I can also set due dates and reminders for time-sensitive projects.
Wunderlist keeps me on track for my daily to-do lists and makes a fun sound when I complete each task.
My Google calendar is the single most important piece of technology I use to manage my time. I used to use a pen-and-paper planner…until I lost it. Womp womp. Then, in 2008, I discovered the magic of Google Calendar. The magic of The Cloud means that I have access to my Google Calendar ANYWHERE…so if my backpack is stolen or my laptop crashes, I don’t have to panic about losing my schedule.
Since I’m a visual person, I love being able to see how my time is allocated on any given day. I use color coding to represent different kinds of events (for instance, green for photography sessions and red for concerts/other flute obligations).
I can easily share my calendar with other people if I’m trying to schedule a meeting with someone. Other people can also share their calendars with me, and I toggle them on/off with my own calendar.
The BEST part of Google Calendar is the ability to set reminders via text message or email. My favorite way to use this function is to beat companies at the “free trial” game. I sign up for the free trial and set a reminder in my GCal to cancel the trial the day before they charge my credit card. Free services galore!
I sync GCal with my iPhone, but NOT with the default IOS app…the most recent design drives me crazy. Instead, I use the app Sunrise. The beautiful interface and week view won me over. The app also adds alerts to new events by default, so I never have to worry about missing a meeting. If you sync the app with your Facebook account, it will pull in your events automatically, and you can RSVP straight from your calendar.
Banking, Budgeting, & Bookkeeping
I’m a total financial NERD, so bear with me 😉
Most of my finances are completely linked and automated: My business account automatically transfers my salary to my personal account on the first of every month, my bills and credit card are set to auto-pay on the second of every month, and a certain percentage of my money is automatically transferred to savings and retirement accounts. I save time by depositing checks with an iPhone app instead of making an extra trip to the bank.
I track my spending with You Need a Budget, software that helps me categorize my transactions into budgets that I adjust on a monthly basis. I have budgets for income tax, sales tax, packaging, software, education, insurance, salary, and a bunch of other spending categories that make up my business. YNAB makes it easy to see how much I have left to spend in any given month, and it allows me to roll over savings (for instance, each month I contribute $400 for the eventual purchase of a new computer). I have a YNAB account for my business, and another for my personal spending.
The best part about YNAB is that the company offers free education to help you learn how to use it, taught by LIVE instructors!
The BEST book I have ever read about finances is “I Will Teach You to be Rich” by Ramit Sethi. Seriously…this book changed my entire perception of money and gave me so many practical tips. I asked my best friends to buy a copy and they love it too.
I use WaveApps to maintain the books for my business. It’s FREE, and here’s why I love it:
1) I can email customized invoices directly to my clients
2) Clients can pay invoices by credit card, and payment imports directly to my books
3) I can track expenses by either forwarding email receipts or taking a picture using the Wave iPhone app
4) It makes paying sales tax a cinch
5) It syncs to my business account so I can double-check transactions
6) Pretty charts. Enough said 🙂
Emails are THE bane of my existence, and I’ll be the first to admit I am not perfect in responding, but here’s how I try to keep it under control:
Once I finish answering an email, I archive it so that I can see exactly how many emails I still have to take care of in my inbox. Sometimes I’m not able to answer my emails as quickly as I’d like, but with my email system, I know that eventually every person will hear back from me.
I use filters to automatically organize my Gmail. Incoming client inquiries are tagged with a red label and sorted into a “Clients” folder. Clients’ info forms are sorted into another folder so I can easily access info before sessions. I have different folders for different steps in my workflow, and I have folders for every year so I can save my tax receipts.
I keep my junk mail under control using a combination of Unroll.me (an free one-stop unsubscribe service) and filters to remove the stubborn messages that just won’t go away.
Gmail Labs plugins that I use and love: (enable in your Gmail settings)
Canned Responses: Stores my most commonly used email templates. For instance, I send almost a hundred proof galleries a year to my clients, so I have a saved Canned Response that provides information about how to access the gallery and what happens next. You can use Canned Responses for virtually anything you can think of…for instance, you could make one that says, “Yes, mom, I went in last week” to respond to your mom when she asks you if you’ve been for a checkup at the doctor lately. 😉 Just kidding, of course.
Boomerang: Allows me to archive an email and set it to bounce back to my inbox at a specific time.
Undo Send: This has saved me SO many times! It holds your email draft for about 20 seconds so that if you catch a typo after you hit send, you can “undo send” and fix it.