Life is busy no matter who we talk to.  In creative fields there are countless people working their normal 9-5 jobs while they try to build their businesses and it’s hard to find any time for themselves.  Even the people who are full time with their businesses run into time being an issue.  There are just too many things to do to run a business and there is rarely enough time in the day.

A little over a week ago we had the honor of speaking about our first year being full time to group of around 40 photographers at a photography conference called Photo Lush in Bellingham.  During our speech one of the talking points was about outsourcing and how it was really important for our business as we started to get more busy and we were trying to balance our business with my full time job, the Air National Guard and having a family.  During our talk we had a lot of ground to cover so we didn’t get to go as deep into our outsourcing process as we would have liked and I figured it would be a great thing to write a blog about.Small Business advice and photography mentoring by Bellingham wedding photographer joe and patience

We already outsource a lot of things that used to be done at home only 50 years ago.  As our technology has progressed the education level required to maintain the items we use in our daily lives has hit a point where we are no longer capable of maintaining them.  Cars are a great example!  How many people still take the time to change their own oil?  How many of us are even capable of repairing small problems with our cars?  I’m guessing not very many of us.  House projects are another big one.  Last winter we were having issues with our furnace turning on when the thermostat was triggering it to turn on.  We had to call someone out because the thermostat was too complicated for me to fix.  Even if I knew how to fix it I probably couldn’t have though because it was something completely separate and I never would have known it was an issue.  In all of these situations we are outsourcing a task to someone because we don’t know how to do it, know someone who can do it better or realize our time is more valuable doing other things than spending hours trying to take care of tasks that take a professional very little time.

A huge turning point in our business came in the thick of us working way too many hours and being spread as thin as we could possibly be spread.  We hit a point where there was almost no choice but to outsource some of our business tasks.  It doesn’t have to get to this point though.  If you can take a little bit of time to see where your time is best spent and then find the right people to outsource the things you are either not excited to do or aren’t good at doing in the first place you will free yourself up to do the tasks that you are best at.  For us that meant we needed to get rid of a few big things so we could give ourselves the time to do the things that would bring us the most business while also giving ourselves more time with our family.Small Business advice and photography mentoring by Bellingham wedding photographer joe and patience

We didn’t outsource our taxes first but it’s first on the list.  Hire an accountant!  We tried to do our own taxes for several years and it was like banging our heads against the wall.  As a small business owner it is a nightmare to try to navigate tax code and it’s easy to spend way too much time figuring it out.  It will also minimize the number of mistakes you will make.  The people who do this for a living know exactly how everything needs to be filed.  Even more importantly, if you don’t have an accountant doing your taxes you are more than likely throwing money away because they will know the small details in tax code that can save you money.  Seriously, hire an accountant!  I wish we would have done it the moment we started our business and it will literally pay for itself.

Outsource your editing.  I know that there are a lot of people out there that really enjoy editing and if you’re one of them I think you should stick with it.  I’m not one of those people.  Editing is exhausting and I realized that there were a lot of other things I could be doing that would help us bring in more business.

There is a bit of a rule to this though.  Well, it’s my rule but I think it’s a good one.  If you’re going to outsource your editing please make sure you’re sending your work to someone who is more skilled than you are.  I see a lot of people sending out there editing to some of the big names in editing only to get it back once the editing is done and still have to make changes to every photo.  There are a so many companies offering editing services now that it just doesn’t make any sense to me that people are sending their work out, paying for it and then still have to work on it.  Find an option that fits the style you are known for.

The other part of this is that you need to feel comfortable communicating with the person you are sending your photos to.  If you want a style that’s light and airy but you get back photos that aren’t done this way you need to communicate that.  We have been sending our work out to Weditoo for almost three years and I am in constant communication with them.  That’s the reason we are able to get our photos back and not need to make any changes to them.  We have built a working relationship with them where I can tell them the look I want or how I want my profile to change and they can tell me why I may not be getting it based on how I’m shooting and give me recommendations on how to adjust how I’m doing things.  It’s been a great working relationship!Small Business advice and photography mentoring by Bellingham wedding photographer joe and patience

Outsource your graphic design!  When we first started we typed our business name, Patience Ivory Photography at the time, into a Word file and went through all of the fonts on our computer until we found a cool one.  It wasn’t exactly a well thought out process.  Sure it worked for a while but it wasn’t the best fit for what our business was.

We also spent hours and hours for months trying to figure out building a website.  It was a huge waste of time and is probably one of the reasons our business growth in the first few years was so slow.

Just like we are passionate about photography, graphic designers are passionate about graphic design.  They love figuring out the design of a logo and brand based on what that business stands for.  When we finally decided to move our business in a different direction and go with Joe and Patience as a business name that was accurate for what we do we also decided to hire Caava Design to design our logo and build a custom website.  The process was awesome!  It dug deep into the style of brands that we liked and ultimately resulted in the logo we are using now.  Of all of the money we have spent for our business, the money spent on building our brand has had the biggest return.  We have to give credit to not only the Caava Design process but also to the fact that they love what they do.  Seriously, it’s worth every single penny!Small Business advice and photography mentoring by Bellingham wedding photographer joe and patience

If you aren’t sure where to start with outsourcing, take a little bit to sit down and figure out what tasks you don’t like doing.  There are always going to be things that suck away time at a rate that gets out of control quickly.  Those are the things you should consider.  Taxes, editing, graphic design, culling, etc.  We know people who have hired someone to do office work like emailing for an hour or two per day because they know that they are either not very good at that side of the business or because they have to much other work.  You might have to dig deep and it might not be an easy decision to let go of a little bit of control but if it means your business can operate more efficiently or that you get more time with your family it’s worth giving it a serious thought.

Thank you so much for reading!  We hope you have a great day!

If you want to check out the other posts in this series you can get to them with these links…

Personal Fear

Financial Fear

Marketing Part I

When Were We Ready?

Marketing Part II

Learning from Setbacks

Taking Risks  

Hawaii Vacation Photography by Oahu Photographer Joe and Patience

Hey all!  Thanks for tuning back in!  We’re going to be touching on some the aspects of how we approach marketing this week with even more planned for next week.  Marketing is one of those subjects that seems like a never ending process that needs to be attacked from multiple angles.  It only seems proper that we break it down and try to cover all of our marketing bases.

When we first started our business we were slow.  When I say slow I mean we were really, really slow.  Like three months between inquiries slow.  We didn’t even need to check our email things were so slow. It was because of this lack of business that we figured it would be worthwhile to spend several hundred dollars to put an ad in a local magazine.  That’s what people who wanted to look professional did, right?  We spent $670 and it netted us exactly one inquiry and zero bookings.  A huge part of that failure falls on our shoulders because we did a terrible job with designing our ad but it also taught us a huge lesson.  

Even though we were slow we were getting return clients and more importantly, they were slowly but surely referring their family and friends to us.  What if we took our marketing budget and applied it to the products we were delivering to our clients?  Instead of delivering a Sharpie’d CD or DVD in a jewel case like it was some kind of crappy mix tape, what if we delivered something much higher quality?  The process of going from those sweet mix tape style disks to what we do now was a long one but ultimately we found an approach that suited us extremely well and more importantly, it results in quality referrals.

Another lesson for us wasn’t necessarily something we learned through making mistakes or embarrassing ourselves but actually came from our clients and their previous experience with other photographers.  While there are some amazing photographers out there that deliver an absolutely amazing customer experience there are also a lot of photographers out there that do the exact opposite.  We heard story after story about bad experiences people had with photographers and it always had to do with the experience.  We heard about awkward sessions, photos being delivered months late and in some cases about photographers that never even delivered the photos they took.  The thing that was really crazy about these stories is that we weren’t asking them about the experiences they have had with other photographers.  If people are willing to share these things with us during their sessions you can imagine what they are telling the people they are close with.

Hawaii Vacation Photography by Oahu Photographer Joe and Patience

We are all about referrals.  Our business is about 80% referral with the remaining 20% being from random Google searches and people finding us on Facebook.  Without referrals we wouldn’t even be in business so it seems like a good place to start with marketing.

First and foremost, our approach to marketing is to impress the clients we have already booked.  Our current and former clients are the people that are going to rave about us and recommend us to everyone they know so why not allocate the largest part of our marketing budget to them?  They might not reach more people than that random magazine ad but the people they do reach will have something that magazine ad could never have.  Personal experience.  That personal experience being shared with other potential clients can easily change our status from being one of many photographers being considered to the only photographers being considered.  It’s a huge deal to us!

The following things we do all have a huge impact on our client experience which directly affects our referrals.

Tangible products.  When we decided to move away from our awesome CD in a jewel case look we decided to approach it in a way where what we would want was the focal point of our delivery rather than what was popular in the industry.  This all happened when PASS came onto the scene with sites like Pixieset and Shoot Proof right on PASS’s heals.  While electronic delivery seemed like a great option we realized that it seemed very impersonal.  If we were to receive photos we would love to be able to flip through them in the same way that we flipped through the photos our parents got back when we were kids.  There was something so cool about seeing photos for the first time in print.  Plus, you really can’t beat the experience of actually holding your photos rather than only being able to see them on the screen.

Killing it with your customer service.  This can easily be applied to any business.  If you don’t do a great job with your customer service you’re fighting a losing battle if you want referrals from your current and former customers.  It’s the small things that count.  Respond to people in a timely fashion, do the things you say you’re going to do and don’t surprise them with extra charges on their sessions.  As crazy as these sound they are all problems that people run into.  The saying that any publicity is good publicity is completely inaccurate here.  No matter how great the photos you take are you’ll kill your business if you can’t provide good customer service.

Hawaii Vacation Photography by Oahu Photographer Joe and Patience

Beyond good customer service, why not throw in a few things they aren’t expecting.  Take the time to help them with their wedding timeline and create a family formal list that will minimize any uncomfortable family issues that could cause them stress.  This not only helps them with planning but it will also build their trust that you are confident in what you do.

A few years ago we read “The Guide” by Justin and Mary.  It is a great resource that we definitely recommend.  It was also the first place we had heard about giving couples a date night box.  A couple of months before the wedding we send out this package with our favorite candy, popcorn with our favorite popcorn recipe and our favorite “romantic” movie.  We also include a note asking them to take one night to not think about anything wedding related and to enjoy the movie and each other’s company.  We regularly hear back from our couples about how thankful they are for sending the box and that it was such a great reminder that even though the planning and details are great their wedding is still about the two of them starting their life together.  It’s the perfect thing to show that we really care about them not only as our client but as people that have come into our life.  There’s no better customer service than showing that you genuinely care for and appreciate your clients.

Product consistency.  This is another huge thing that can’t be underestimated in the world of referrals.  You absolutely need to be able to provide work that is consistent with the work that causes people to book you for their weddings or sessions.  If they book you because they like the dark and moody look in your portfolio or in the photos you took for their friends and you shoot light and airy for their session there’s little chance they will be happy with their photos.  More importantly, this lack of consistency will kill your ability to get referrals.

Our approach to building consistency is one of practice, practice and more practice.  Patience and I like the light and airy look so that’s how we shoot everything.  We shot weddings that way, family sessions that way and our personal work that way.  We try to get that look with off camera flash, with natural light and indoors with available light.  We shoot absolutely everything with that look because it’s a look that we love.  There will be times when the light isn’t right or you have to shoot indoors but that shouldn’t be as much of an obstacle as it might sound.  Practice shooting in as many situations as you can.  Find a way to take photos you love in every lighting condition so that you’re ready for any challenge you might face.  This takes an enormous amount of practice but it’s something that will pay off in the long run because your clients will know what to expect and you will have the ability to deliver it.

Hawaii Vacation Photography by Oahu Photographer Joe and Patience

The rest of what I’m going to talk about isn’t necessarily marketing in a traditional sense.  These are all small things that don’t cost you anything at all but go a long way towards building a great client experience.  

Always smile.  This sounds like a little bit ridiculous but we are constantly told by people when we are leaving weddings about how impressed they were with how we handled the stress of family photos or how we handled the stress of the wedding getting behind schedule.  It always comes down to this one simple thing too.  No matter how stressed you are, make sure you’re smiling, acting confident and assuring people that things will work out great.  Like I said, this gets mentioned to us all of the time and it has shown us that people are watching what we do a lot closer than we might expect.

Take the time to talk with the guests at the wedding.  Most weddings have a little bit of downtime and we use that time to take photos of other couples and families that are attending.  Not only is this a great opportunity to get your work in front of a few more people by making sure they are in your photos but it’s a great way to talk to people.  Our industry is almost completely built on personal connection so take the time to actually connect with people.

Treat people as more than just a transaction.  This falls into the personal connection category too.  As a small business owner in an industry that is flooded we feel like it’s extremely important to build a relationship with our clients that is much more than just taking someone’s money and completing the work they paid you to do.  If you want to build a strong referral base and want to work with the same clients again you really need to care about them as people.  Take the time to learn more about them and remember some of the important details in their lives.  We go out of our way to remember where people went to college, where they work, the names of their kids and to figure out what they really value.  I have to stress that this is something that shouldn’t just be thrown into a spreadsheet so it can appear like you care, you really have to care and it needs to show.  This approach is the reason why we are now doing maternity and newborn photos for the wedding clients from 2012 and 2013.  When you approach your clients like this it can turn into a much longer friendship and it’s entirely possible that you’ll be there to continue to document the most important moments in your clients lives.

All of these things together build our customer experience which I feel is much more powerful than a traditional approach to marketing.  Next week I am going to talk a little bit about how we approach social media, working with other vendors and one of our marketing secrets that has had huge success.

Thanks again for taking the time to read!

Check out the other posts in this series:

Personal Fear

Financial Fear

Photographer Mentoring and Business Growth by Joe and Patience

Talking about finances is one of my least favorite things to do.  Monthly budget meetings and the long winded discussions we have about pricing adjustments are like nails on a chalkboard.  To be completely honest, when I hear Patience mention that we need to talk about our budget I either look for the nearest escape or I freak out like a two year old having a temper tantrum.  I’m guessing that unless you’re an accountant you probably feel the same way as I do.  Unfortunately, this is one of the most important things you’ll need to consider and work through in great detail when running a small, creative and sometimes very seasonal business.

The following steps in gaining the financial confidence to go full time are things that made a big difference for me…

Educate yourself on how to make budgets and get out of debt.  We attended Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace classes a few years ago and it made an incredible difference in not only the way we budget but the way we try to live.  Dave Ramsey lays out simple step by step instructions on how to build your emergency fund and pay off debt before you start to try and build wealth.  By going through the steps he teaches we have felt a lot more freedom to take the chance on going full time with our business.  I can’t even put into words how much I recommend this class if you’re trying to position yourself to take the giant leap to full time or if you want to cut back at a 9-5 to devote more time to your own business.  Actually, I recommend Financial Peace to everyone.  It doesn’t matter if you own business or hope to start a business, it has the potential to help everyone who attends if they apply the simple principles Dave Ramsey teaches.

Photographer Mentoring and Business Growth by Joe and Patience

Find ways to minimize excess in your life.  A while back I was doing what I do way too much of, getting swallowed by the huge black hole we know as the internet, and I stumbled on one of the most awesome blogs I’ve ever found, becoming minimalist.  I’m one of those people that wants a clean and simple life and it’s something Patience and I had been discussing for quite a while so finding this blog was a huge deal for me.  I love how Joshua Becker breaks the idea that we need possessions to feel complete and reminds people that it’s more about the things you do and the people you help that will be fulfilling.

Think about that for just a second…   Life feels more complete when you make a difference in people’s lives.  Isn’t that exactly why most of us got started in photography or with our small business in the first place?  I know I got started in photography because I wanted to do something that would make a difference for people.  Of course we need to make a living and therefore charge for the service we provide but deep down it’s still about serving others.  I realize this part doesn’t have anything to do with finances but it is a byproduct of a lifestyle decision that can start out with financial motivation and quickly turn into something even more fulfilling.

Back to the financial side of becoming minimalist.  By cutting back the excess in your life you are eliminating expenses and positioning yourself to take advantage of opportunities you may have missed out on otherwise.  Sounds like a win, win to me!

Here are a few ways we have been able to cut back while still living a life that is comfortable with the things we absolutely need.

We got rid of our iPhones.  We were paying about $1700 a year to have smart phones.  Now we have those super awesome slider phones that were really popular back in the mid 2000’s and we’re saving about half of what we were paying previously.  We are also on our phones less and are much more invested in what is going on with our kids when we are out and about than we used to be.  This change has also allowed us to have more steady business hours since we don’t have constant access to our email.  

We sold one of our vehicles.  Since we work together now it just doesn’t really make sense to have 2 vehicles.  We were able to sell one of our cars to pay off a decent amount of debt and save money on our insurance.  Of course we’ve had moments where it would have been really convenient to have had both of our cars but we’re finding ways to plan ahead and be much more efficient with our time.

Sell or donate the stuff you aren’t using.  If it’s sitting around taking up space in your house it’s taking up space in your life.  Get rid of it!  We had a lot of stuff in our garage and around our house that we realized was taking up our space and our time.  We donated stuff, we sold stuff and we’re still finding more.  As you can see, this is going to be a lifelong process for me with cameras and something I’ll probably always struggle with.

Photographer Mentoring and Business Growth by Joe and Patience

One thing to remember is that all of these decisions are things that aren’t permanent.  If our situation changes we can get another vehicle or switch back to our iPhones or buy back the things we got rid of.  By making this decision to go full time we made decisions that will have small, temporary effects on our lifestyle but they definitely aren’t for the worse.  In most ways our life is much better because we were willing to get rid of things that don’t matter as much as the time that we have gained with our family.  

Alright, on to the numbers stuff.

Know what you need to make to survive.  This means every single thing!  Figure out all of your expenses so you have don’t just have an approximate budget.  It needs to be exact!  We have to regularly go into our spreadsheets as our expenses change so we can keep track of everything.  This is where those monthly budget/nails on a chalkboard meetings come into play.  I may fight it every single time but I know it’s necessary.  Once you get into the habit of doing this it will get a lot easier.

Mapping out our income.  The biggest fear I have encountered in this whole process is the fear of failing to provide for my family.  Income is a big deal to everyone and for me it was only amplified by having a young family.  The only way I was able to minimize this fear was to figure out exactly what our income was going to be over the remaining 9 months of our year as I was preparing to leave my last job.

I know this may seem like a no brainer but there are parts that could definitely get looked over so I want to talk about a few parts in detail.  It doesn’t matter if you’re planning on going full time with your business or just cutting back to part time with your 9-5, you need to have a solid understanding of what you’ll be bringing in financially.

Here’s what we did.  We took all of the contracted work, which was mostly weddings, and figured out the total.  This number is going to be the minimum you will make so you’ll also need to figure out what your average number of other sessions is per year along with what you expect to make at each session.  Most family sessions aren’t booked very far in advance so you’re going to need to look back at the past few years to get an idea of how many sessions you do on average and when you do them.  I personally think using 3 years is a pretty solid amount.  Year to year can see some pretty wild fluctuations but an average of sessions booked each year for 3 years should flatten out some of the peaks and valleys and give you a more accurate number.

Also, be conservative with your estimates!  I can’t stress that enough!  The last thing you want to do is plan to do more shoots than you’ll actually end up doing.  I would much rather make more money than I was expecting to make than less.

Photographer Mentoring and Business Growth by Joe and Patience

If you realize you might come up short of your target income you’ll need to really push your marketing muscle.  It’s been our experience that any marketing you do will have an effect about 3 months after you do it.  If you need to book mini sessions in September, start marketing for them on Facebook, Instagram and your blog in June.  That’s something we also need to be a lot better at doing too.

Speaking of marketing, it is really important to come up with a marketing strategy for your entire year.  Do you want to book a few family mini session dates between September and October?  Is there a certain part of the year you have noticed you seem to slow down quite a bit based on the numbers you figured out when looking at your session averages?  Right now is the time to make those marketing plans!  Pick the session dates, put them on the calendar and then plan your marketing strategy around those dates.  Remember that it’s good to market for the sessions you’re hoping to book around three months in advance like I mentioned previously.  Figure out the best times to post on Instagram and Facebook and post regularly about the dates you have chosen.  Post links to the blog posts from similar sessions you have done in previous years.  You have to get that work in front of people if you want to get more work.  By marketing for the work you need to do you will stabilize your income which will make a huge difference if you want to cut back at your full time job or if you want to go full time with your small business.

These are all steps that we have taken to help with the fears we have about the financial side of running a business full time.  Understanding our budget, cutting back on things we don’t need and marketing to help gain business during slow times of the year have all worked together to help us feel more confident that we will be able to provide for our family.

We can’t thank you enough for taking the time to read about our financial fears and what we continually try to do to ease them.  Next week we’re going to talk more about our marketing approaching since it has such a huge effect on our finances.

You can take a look back at our previous post about our personal fear here.

Also, if you missed the links to Financial Peace and Becoming Minimalist, here they are again.  I highly recommend checking both of them out!

Financial Peace University

Becoming Minimalist