Please excuse my absence, but I’m busy getting our amazing brand new education site (AND ONLINE COURSE!) up and running! Please get your name on our VIP list to be notified as soon as it launches!!!
Even if you are the most talented photographer providing the very best customer service possible, you will at some point in your business have to deal with an unhappy client. It happens to us all. We can’t please everyone, and at some point we will probably drop the ball and not deliver our best work or best service.
So what do we do when we have a client who is unhappy?
1. Pick up the Phone
Call the client rather than email. This will show them how important they are to you and how serious you take their complaint. Additionally, a client is much more likely to be calm and understanding if they are listening to your sympathetic voice rather than reading a dispassionate email.
2. Stay Calm
Do your very best to keep your cool. If you are already feeling upset or emotional, wait a day to call. Email right away, and ask her the best time for you to call the next day, so that you have a day to try to calm yourself. When you do speak with her, no matter what she says, try not to get defensive. This will only make matters worse. Try to be sympathetic and see things from her perspective.
Find out why she is unhappy, then apologize, whether you think she’s wrong or not. This is Customer Service 101: the customer is always right. Repeat back to her what you heard and offer your apology. “I understand that I didn’t capture the sibling photos you had expected to receive from your session and I am terribly sorry. I can see how disappointed you are.”
4. Have The Client Suggest a Resolution
Ask her how she thinks you can resolve the issue together. She might already have something in mind, and it might be simpler than what you would expect. Keep in mind you don’t have to give her what she is asking for. If her solution is unrelated to the problem, it won’t be helpful. A free Wall Portrait will not be an appropriate solution for missed shots.
5. Offer A Resolution
After you’ve heard what she would like, you can offer what you feel is an appropriate solution based on the situation and what she wants. In some cases it might be a free print, a reshoot, an extra mini session to capture shots that you missed. Or if you feel that this work was up to your standards and you don’t believe you could do anything better to make them happy, I would just offer a refund of their session fee and offer to refer them to another photographer that would be a better fit for them. Do your very best to make the client happy without compromising yourself or your business policies. But remember that it’s better and often easier to make a client happy than to deal with bad reviews.
6. Do Better Next Time
Once this issue is resolved take some time to look at what went wrong, and how you can prevent this problem in the future. I have found that most issues come from a lack of communication. Are you sure you fully educated your client. Could a new client preparation guide or new studio policy prevent this from happening in the future? Did you know what the client was expecting to get out of their shoot? Would a new client questionnaire or a phone call prior to the session keep this from happening again? Make sure you learn from your mistakes and make your business better by reflecting on them.
Do you have a tricky customer service issue you need help with? Email me and I might answer your question in a future blog post.
One of the biggest reasons that I own my own business is that I wanted a job that would allow me to be there for my kids when they need me, at-home with them when they were babies, and before and after school as they get older. Being a work-at-home mom definitely has huge benefits. I set my own schedule, so when I first started my business I saved on child care by keeping my little one home with me using just a part-time nanny, and now that my kids are in Preschool & Elementary school I can volunteer in the classroom, be there for every school event, take them to after-school extra-curriculars, doctor appointments, etc. I love knowing that I can be there for them when they need me. BUT along with those benefits come significant challenges.
It can be a huge struggle juggling life as a business owner and a mom. I know that I’m never managing everything perfectly, or finding “balance.” I don’t believe that balance can truly exist. You will never be able to give what you feel is your very best to either your business or your children, but I do believe that you can give ENOUGH to both. You don’t have to be the perfect mom or most successful business owner. You just have to do the best you can. Over the years, I’ve created a few strategies to help me be the best mom and business owner I can be. I hope these tips help you do the same.
1. Set Boundaries
I know that this can be so hard at first. But you need to set business hours. These may only be early in the morning, during nap time, and after your littles are in bed, BUT those hours should be for business only! And vice versa, family time is for your family. Don’t take a call or send an email while you are taking care of your kids. And please remember that even though you are working at home, you are a business owner, NOT a stay-at-home-mom. DO NOT even think about cleaning, laundry, or grocery shopping during your business hours.
2. Write Daily Goals
At the end of each day I write down what I want to accomplish the following day. In the morning I try to tackle the items that are the most difficult or require the most focus first.
3. Kill the Time-Wasters
Try to identify what wastes a lot of your time each day. We all have a time waster or two: facebook, email, phone calls from friends or family. Whatever it is you get distracted by, do your best to eliminate it, or give it a scheduled block of time each day.
4. Get Help
The most helpful thing I ever did for my business when my second child was a baby was to hire a part-time nanny. She came in 2-3 days a week and allowed me to have time to work without having to put him into daycare. I felt secure knowing that he was getting excellent care right on the other side of my office door. This allowed me the freedom to schedule appointments, take phone calls, and work without interruption. Now, I get the entire school day to work during the week, and when I’m working on a weekend, my husband takes care of the kids and household chores.
5. Schedule Time Off
Schedule at least one weekend off a month to spend time with family. If you don’t schedule family time, you’ll end up working every weekend and your kids and husband will not be happy, and neither will you. I take every Sunday off, and every other weekend off entirely.
Lastly, I want you to give yourself permission to fail. I’m going to say that again, GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO FAIL. It’s going to happen, there will be days that are far from organized and productive. Things will go wrong, you will get behind, you will feel like you can never get everything done, you will feel overwhelmed, and you will shut down and not want to do a damn thing. On those days just take a break, enjoy a nap or an iced coffee and your favorite magazine. On those days, I want you to do exactly what you tell your kids to do — Just DO YOUR BEST and then accept that you will never get everything done, you will never feel 100% on top of everything in your life, and that is absolutely fine. No one is perfect, except maybe Oprah, and you don’t have to be Oprah, you just have to be the very best perfectly imperfect you.
Looking back at our teenage years it’s so easy to say, “Yes, plucking my eyebrows into non-existence was a bad idea”, or, “skipping school to hang-out with that boy who would end up being a real jerk was a really bad idea,” or, “driving my friend’s car before I had my license was a really, really bad idea.” Starting a business is alot like going through your teens. While you’re in the middle of it, everything you do seems okay in the moment. But when you look back later, you realize that you had a lot of bad ideas and made a lot of big mistakes. But just like our undeveloped teenage brains, we did the best we could with our undeveloped business sense.
It’s common in our industry for photographers to start their businesses bit-by-bit, rather than doing all of the planning BEFORE they open for business. They’ll start with a camera, a lens and some friends willing to pay. Then maybe they’ll add some fun props, and then they might think about charging a little more, and then they will hopefully realize they should have insurance, and maybe they’ll even learn about “cost of goods” and start selling products! But there often isn’t a plan in place or a good grasp on how to be successful, make a profit, and have the kind of business they want for themselves and their family. Without a plan they often make a lot of mistakes.
In looking back at my own mistakes and some of the mistakes I see my students and other photographers around me making, I’ve created a list to help you avoid some of the common mistakes new photographers make:
Focusing on Shooting Skills at the Expense of Business Skills
This one is HUGE. I see far too many photographers who spend all of their time (which is often limited) learning how to shoot better. Of course that is important. I think you should take pride in your craft and do your best to improve and become truly great at what you do. BUT, to be completely frank, your skill level at the craft doesn’t really matter when it comes to running a full-time photography business. I know a few photographers who do very well, but their work is barely adequate, and I know A LOT of photographers whose work is AMAZING but they can’t seem make a living with photography.
What sets successful photographers apart is their Business skills, things like having a business plan, creating systems that help you work efficiently, understanding how to build a brand with visuals and messaging, understanding who your target client is and what they want, and providing great customer service. I truly wish I had spent more time on these things in my first year of business. It would have saved me time and money and helped me to grow so much more quickly than I did.
Study how to create a stable successful business first, and once you know how to run your business, then you can focus on your shooting skills.
Investing in the Wrong Things
I have at times been guilty of this one, you want the prettiest new thing that you think will make you and your business look great, but in reality will do very little for you. I see photographers wasting their money on things like photoshop actions, gear they don’t need, beautiful props (I’m looking at you newborn photographers – do you really need that extra basket?) backdrops, and business cards they don’t use. But while all of these are fun, none of them are necessary.
What you should be spending your money on is essentials like insurance and an accountant, systems that save you time and stay organized like studio management software (I love ShootQ), and EDUCATION, especially Business Education. Save your money for books, online classes, and the occasional in-person workshops that will help you learn how to profitably run the business you want to have. Once you’ve got that figured, out feel free to buy as many gold sequined backdrops as you like!
Here is your new test before you make a purchase: Can I afford this and do I NEED this, will it make me money or help me reach a business goal? If the answer is “YES!” go for it, if its a “no” you gotta skip it and save for the important stuff.
Not Investing Back into Your Business
This is the flip-side of the last mistake, and is just as common. So many photographers are treating their businesses like a hobby, and taking all of their profit right out of the business without putting anything back in. You’ve heard the phrase, “It takes money to make money,” this absolutely the truth in the early years of business. If you are following the purchasing decision test I described above, then the investments you are making will be worth spending your money on, because they will bring you back even more money
Not Charging Enough
Your low prices are hurting you, not helping you. Inexperienced photographers often try to undercut their “competition” by charging less. They think that by being the most inexpensive photographer, they will get the most business. But in reality they are doing 3-4 times as much work as they would be doing if they priced themselves appropriately. In most cases they are making less than minimum wage.
Now, I know many of you would argue that you are too new, your work isn’t good enough. But if you really believe your work isn’t good enough, should you be selling it at all? The truth is, there are so many photographers out there whose work is good (even if they don’t realize it) or even great, who are charging very little. And I’m sure they all would argue that they are profitable, but if they were actually attempting to earn a living and be truly profitable they would have to be bringing in the same high-volume as a chain like Picture People. To do that you need a team and the systems in place to handle it, and the marketing to bring the clients in. I would guess that 99% of these cheap photographers don’t.
I hate to see photographers giving their time and images away for next to nothing. To be profitable you need to know your numbers. Understand the true cost of the service you are providing, both in actual cost of goods and the hours you spend. Your time and your talent are valuable, charge like you understand that.
Not Running Your Business Legally
For some photographers it comes from not doing your research, and some know exactly what they are doing. In either cases, there are huge risks of not being a legal business, from fines for not having a business license or DBA, to tax audits with fines and payment of back-taxes, and most importantly loosing everything you own to a client who sues.
If your business is not protected legally, you are opening yourself up to a world of trouble. Please check with your city, county and state to determine what licenses you must have for your business, talk to an accountant about the best way to protect your assets if you get sued, accurately report your earnings and pay your taxes, and please get insurance!
I am not an organized person. I am a tornado. I have a mind that bounces from thought to thought, and wants to be constantly moving, not stopping to plan or analyze. Which is why I LOVE systems, organization, and efficiency. I know, that doesn’t really make sense right? Why would a messy person love organization? Well, I learned in the early years in business that I was not good at managing my time and keeping track of all of the various aspects of my business. So, I decided that I needed to put systems in place that would manage me. I needed lists and schedules and rules to keep myself from destroying my business.
The following are some of my best organization and efficiency tips that will save you time and keep your business running smoothly:
Make a Plan
To start, I recommend doing a purge and reorganization of your physical workspace. Get everything clean, organized, and if possible, pretty. As photographers we crave visual inspiration, so put something in your workspace that inspires you. Having a clean organized workspace will help to keep your thoughts organized as well. Next, you need to start planning ahead. Determine what work needs to be done and when and how you will do it. We’ll start that by creating some To Do Lists And, yes, I absolutely have a system for creating my “To Do” lists.
Get it All Out – Start by getting every single idea that is written on notepads or sticky notes or are just in your head, out and down on paper, or your computer. I prefer the computer to make it easier to do the following steps. I love using Wunderlist for this, so that I can create different to do lists and then drag and drop different items into each list.
Organize It – I next take my enormous list and I put them into separate category lists (i.e. Marketing, Business Admin, Business Planning, Client Work, Bookkeeping, Education, etc.). Everything on my list goes into a different category.
Prioritize It – Next I prioritize which order these categories need to be tackled in. Which is most important or needs to be taken care of first. For me, it’s Client Work, Marketing, Business Admin, Design Work, Business Planning, Pricing & Sales, Bookkeeping, Education, and Long Term Projects.
Schedule It – Break each item large item down into the individual tasks that need to be done to complete it, give it a due date, and then put each task on your calendar. Try to be realistic about how long each task will take you and how much you can get done in a day.
At the end of each day I create my “to do” list of essential tasks for the following day. To create this, I look at my lists, as well as what I have scheduled on the calendar. If I have something scheduled for that day, it goes on the daily to do list. And then I review, in priority order what needs to be done, and I put the items that need to be done right away on my daily “to do” list.
Some items you have to do every day, like email and social media updates. For those tasks I block out specific times of the day to get those done. I like email to be checked first thing in the morning, mid-day, and last thing of the day. That keeps new inquiries and clients, from waiting more than a few hours to receive a reply. I give myself 30 minutes and then, when I’m done I close down my email. The same goes for Social Media, Facebook can be a HUGE time suck, so I schedule my 30 minute check-ins for a couple times a day, and keep it closed outside of those times.
To get these daily tasks done more easily I recommend automating as much of your work as possible. Use templates for all of your emails, so you’re not writing the same email to different clients over and over again. Create a list of FAQ answers so that you don’t have to rewrite your answers every time you get the questions. Use scripts for answering phone inquiries, session planning calls/meetings and sales sessions. Doing everything the same every time will allow you to both do everything more quickly and create consistency for your clients.
Another part of automation is the use of a Workflow. If you don’t already have one, I want you to make it now (And I have one in my shop if you want to save some time and see the steps I go through with my sessions). Create a list of every single task you do for each and every session. If you shoot multiple genres you’ll want to create multiple workflows. Use these lists to ensure that you never miss a step with a client and that every client receives consistently great service from you.
To keep track of email templates and workflows, I recommend using a good studio management software. It will save you so much time and keep you organized. I love ShootQ, I’ve used it for years. One of it’s most useful features is the ability to schedule emails to go out in the future. So when a client books you can schedule all of their session prep and reminder emails right then. You won’t have to remember to do it when it’s due to go out. And those emails can be edited and custom written, not just an auto-template that you can’t change. This alone changed my business dramatically. There are a number of other programs out there, Tave, Pixifi, Sprout, etc. I hear good things about most of them. When you start looking, the features that I think are most useful are Workflows, Session Scheduling, Invoicing with the ability to integrate with an online payment provider, Client Database, and the ability to pre-schedule custom emails (not just automated templates) to be send in the future. I would suggest looking for a software that has all of these or at least one that offers the features that would be most useful to your specific business.
How to Get it Done
Once you have your system of templates and workflows set-up you can get to work. I love the Pomodoro Technique, especially in the summer. The technique is based on use of a kitchen timer. I use an app instead, but the way it works is to set yourself a 25 minute timer ( I do 30 minutes) and work on a single task for that period, then when your time is up, take a short break. If you need more time for a task, you’ll set another timer for yourself. This technique helps you to plan your day and get work done more quickly. BUT the key to this is to Mono Task and avoid distractions. Keep Facebook, your email, and any other program that you might be tempted to switch over to closed while you’re working. And just do one thing at a time. A lot of people brag about being able to multi-task, but studies have show that because we are quickly switching back and forth from one task to another rather than actually doing them simultaneously, our concentration is diminished, which causes us to take up to three times longer to get each of our tasks done, than if we had just worked on one thing at a time. So instead, I want you to block off bits of time throughout your day when you can get specific items done.
I hope all of these tips help! I know it’s a lot, but if you add each tip to your workday bit by bit, it will be more manageable and your business will be running more smoothly in no time!
Forget RESOLUTIONS. The best thing you can do for your business is to start your year with a PLAN. Business is slow for most portrait photographers in these first months of the year, which makes it the perfect time to get organized, evaluate the state of your business, and make a plan for the year ahead.
So what do you need to do for your business to start your year out right? Here are some of the tasks that I tackle each January to ensure success in the year ahead.
Start 2016 Right
1. Look back at 2015 – What worked, what didn’t, what do you want to do differently in year ahead? Try doing a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats).
2. Review Your Books – Is there anywhere you overspent last year but could save money this year? What was your best selling product? What was your worst selling product? What were your slow months and can you plan some additional marketing to make them busier this year?
3. Revisit and Revise your Business Plan – Have your goals changed or your plans to get there? Make sure that your business plan reflects that.
4. Create Your 2016 Marketing Plan – Choose your marketing activities for the year, and schedule them on your calendar.
5. Tweak Your Systems – Are they working for you? Anything you need to do differently? Do you need to update your Workflows, Phone Scripts, Client Questionnaires or Email Templates? Do you still need to create any of these?
6. Update Your Pricing – Do you plan to offer a new product this year? Do you need to make some changes to your collections (maybe you discovered your best selling items when you reviewed your books and want to create a new collection to include those items)?
7. Update Your Contracts and Business Policies – Did you run into any problems this year that could be addressed with a new policy or clause in your client contract.
8. Update Your Website – Get your best, latest work up in your galleries, make any necessary changes to your pricing, services, or other copy.
9. Set up a New Hard Drive – And while you’re at it access your back-up plan. A great resource for setting up a back-up plan is Photography Concentrate’s Backup or Die Guide.
10. Clean Up – Lastly, start the year out fresh. Get your studio and office clean and organized. Throw out, sell, or giveaway anything you aren’t using. Tidy up your print and packaging area and supplies, re-order supplies you are low on. Go through all your loose receipts and paperwork. File what you need to keep and trash what you don’t. A clean space will make you feel amazing and ready to take on the year ahead.
At the start of each year I sit down at my desk to plan for the year ahead. But more often than not I immediately feel overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done and all of the ideas I want to implement. And that makes me want to get right back up walk into the kitchen to find some leftover Christmas cookies, then lay down on the couch and take a nap. Because just thinking about all that work makes me exhausted.
Okay, I don’t actually go get the cookies, instead I take a deep breath and remind myself of how to handle that feeling of being overwhelmed.
1. Get it All Out – Start by getting every single idea in your head out and down on paper, or your computer. I prefer the computer to make it easier to do the follow the next steps. I love using Wunderlist for this, so that I can create different to do lists and then drag and drop different items into each list.
2. Organize It – I next take my enormous list and I put them into separate category lists (Marketing, Business Planning, Systems & Organization, Customer Service, Bookkeeping, Education, etc.). Everything on my list goes into a different category.
3. Prioritize It – Next I prioritize which order these categories need to be tackled in. Which is most important or needs to be taken care of first.
4. Schedule It – Break each item down into the individual tasks that need to be done to complete that item, give it a due date, and then put each task on your calendar. Try to be realistic about how long each task will take you and how much you can get done in a day.
I’ve been home for almost two weeks now, trying to settle back into the hectic pace of my work and life during the busy fall season. It’s been exhausting and disorienting. I feel like I’ve crashed from a child’s sugar high. I can’t help but smile as I remember the conference rooms filled with photographers eager to learn and grow, the lights of San Antonio reflected on the surface of the river at night, the women who laughed with me, thanked me, and hugged me.
When I started this business more than 6 years ago I didn’t imagine that in such a short time I’d be standing at the front of a room full of photographers ready to learn from me. That I’d be teaching at a conference with some of the most talented and respected names in my industry, photographers who I admire and whose work inspires my own. But there I was stepping in front of my first class, a group of women who had chosen to learn from me among all of the other classes offered. I was and am beyond humbled and grateful to look out at all of those faces. I secretly thought, in the months leading up to Click Away, that my classes would be empty. I imagined the embarrassment of having just a few students that I planned to play off as a big benefit to them, “wow, you guys get me all to yourself, look how much time you’ll have to learn and shoot,” I’d say. But instead I faced a full class of amazing photographers ready to learn from me.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. Even though I teach often, I’ve had a fear of public speaking since I was a child. The thought of being called on by a teacher to answer a question in front of the whole class made my heart race, my palms sweat and my stomach churn. But over the years, and really since my children were born (because after braving parenthood, nothing else is so scary anymore), I’ve developed a bravery that often surprises me. I step in front of that crowd take a deep breath and tell myself that I am strong, beautiful and brilliant and that I have nothing to fear. Because I believe in my words, my students will believe in me and we will all learn and grow together. And we did, and the classes were all incredible. They went so much better than I could have imagined.
We laughed and had an absolute blast, and all of my students were able to shoot and ask all of their questions. Things couldn’t have gone better! I think I got more hugs in those two days teaching than any other time in my life! And I do have to give credit to my amazing models! Chae Chambers is the most talented model with the biggest heart and best sense of humor. She rocked my boudoir classes! The students absolutely LOVED her!
And my wonderful maternity family, the Coronados were so sweet and lovely. The little girls were adorable and cooperative, and so was dad. And Mama was gorgeous and funny and did a fabulous job modeling!
Thank you to all of the amazing women who took my classes! Your kindness and thanks means so much to me! And thank you to my incredible studio manager Georgie, without your help, I don’t think I could have made it through the week! And a HUGE thank you to my amazing lab Millers, who sponsored my classes, making my trip possible and allowing me to give away a free Signature Album at each of my Click Away classes. My students were thrilled! Thank you so much Millers!
Thank you so much for visiting my brand new Mentoring site. Over the last 6 years I have built a portrait photography business that I am proud of. My success has come from my willingness to work hard, take risks, and to spend every free moment learning as much as I possibly can about running a business. Few photographers understand the importance of business education. They love photography and therefore spend their time learning their craft rather than building their business knowledge. While both are important, when you need to earn an income from your photography, it’s business education that will help you do it. That’s why I mentor, to benefit other photographers with the education that I’ve spent the last six years devouring. I want to save you from making some of the mistakes I made, and get you to a place where you’re able to earn a living doing what you love.
Along my business journey I have taught and mentored other photographers. For me, learning, practicing, and teaching business is fun. And I’m thrilled to have this new site to teach from! I believe that when your own unique creative voice is combined with a strong business foundation, you can create success and happiness in a career you truly love.