It’s always at this point in the year, when I’m wrapping up my senior season, that I’m either ecstatic that it’s been such an amazing year or ready to chuck it all and run away because it’s been more like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. I am sure y’all struggle with much of the same, so I wanted to share a couple of things with you that have actually made my struggles much, much, lighter. They’re my “easy buttons”, so to speak, and make my life so much easier. I may be having an Oprah moment here, but here is a list of my favorite things, in no particular order. Just know that I love them and that each has paid for itself in terms of saving me money, time, and sanity, and helping me grow my business.
Kitchen Sink Workshop
I have a confession to make: I’m a junkie. Well, a recovering junkie. You see, in my early days as a photographer, I had a slight addiction to photography workshops. In fact, one of the very first articles I wrote for Senior Style Guide was titled “Confessions of a Workshop Junkie”. Big ones, little ones, on-line, in person, photo tours, retreats, conventions, seminars…whatever you want to call them, there’s a pretty good chance I’ve done them. If I add up all the money I’ve spent on registration fees and travel costs, I could have probably paid cash for my Suburban.
By far, the Kitchen Sink Workshop hosted by Amanda Holloway Photography was the best investment I’ve made in my business. You can go online and read the reviews yourself, but I will simply say that this workshop changed my business. I attended KSW in June of 2012, and yes, I learned important things about pricing and products and marketing and styling. But the truly valuable knowledge I learned – the Golden Nugget – was how to go back to Tucson, Arizona, where I have a completely different type of client and market than Amanda has in Texas, and use what I learned to build my OWN profitable and sustainable business by applying and adapting what I learned to fit my own business model. I’ve since grown my own knowledge using my KSW foundation and have been able to adjust my business to adapt to changes in my market. Oh, and I earned my workshop registration fee back in the first in person ordering session I did. It’s a game changer, friends, it really is.
The LawTog Contracts
These are the best ever. If you’re struggling with your contracts, wondering if you need them (you do!) or what to include in them, The LawTog contracts will save you from a big fat headache. They are designed by Rachel Brenke, who is not only a photographer and business owner, but also a lawyer. I’ve purchased a few of her contracts and customized them to my own business and state laws and let me tell you, they have saved my bacon more than once. The templates are straight forward and easily understandable by my clients. I’ve even had compliments on how well written they are by clients who are attorneys themselves. I can run my business with peace of mind knowing that both my clients and myself are protected.
All the forms. In one place. As many as I want. I simply LOVE MachForms by AppNitro. I am sooo not a technical wizard and MachForms are so easy to use. I can custom design branded forms of all kinds. I use MachForms to create and organize my contracts, model releases, spokesmodel applications, credit card payment forms, payment plan forms, client information questionnaires, surveys, order forms, you name it. MachForms makes it easy to keep track of everything, including client data. The data captured by the form can be extrapolated into Excel report; I’m able to download information and view it in a snap: I can quickly see which high schools are booking me the most, which zip code the majority of my clients reside in, what trends are common from school year to school year. I can also use the data to easily create a client database complete with home addresses, emails, and phone numbers. You can include a place for your client to draw their signature or connect to payment accepting softwares, and you can email your client a PDF of their completed contract right from the MachForm App. Plus, you can access MachForms from your phone or device too.
You can embed the forms on your website or send them via email with a link. I had a few questions through the installation process and AppNitro customer support responded to me within a day, AND took over the installation so I didn’t have to fuss with it. You can purchase MachForms with a monthly subscription or a one time fee. Easy peasy.
I don’t do math. Or at least, I don’t do math well. So I let BizBooks do most of my accounting for me. QuickBooks was way too much for me to manage, and BizBooks does the trick without making my head explode. It’s really a giant spreadsheet created by a photographer for photographers to track your expenses and income throughout the year. It’s basic data entry. The template does the calculating for you and even creates a variety of reports and graphs to make things easy on you! Sole Proprietors, you’re gonna love this, because Biz Books was created with income taxes in mind. There’s an easy workflow that maps to your Schedule C. It makes things so easy for me at tax time, because all I do is print the Year To Date Profit/Loss summary sheet and all of the numbers I need are right there broken down by the categories the IRS requires. And since it’s an Excel product, I can just copy paste my client list from MachForms and my sales data for session fees and orders from Square. Best $75 I’ve ever spent!
Fundy Album Builder
If you don’t have Fundy (or any album design software, really) you need to get it. Stat. I hate designing. Honestly, I’m not good at it. It takes me forever. And I have spent thousands of dollars, literally, on templates that I don’t really love and that end up needing too much tweaking. Fundy saved me a ton of money because I’m no longer outsourcing design and paying someone else to do it, purchasing templates, and spending hours in front of my computer being frustrated. Last year, I saved over $2400 in business expenses on outsourcing design alone, which means that my cost of goods are lower and my profit is higher. Who doesn’t like that, right? AND, my average sale increased because I am more excited about selling albums and my clients are ordering them almost every time. I can design a 15 spread album in about 20 minutes, with the right print specifications for the lab I use. And you can choose specs for just about any lab – the list is huge! If you hate designing albums as much as I do, make your life easier and grab some design software; there are lots of options/companies to choose from!
This little gem has saved me hours of time in tracking my mileage. You download the app to your phone and it runs in the background while you drive. It has an automatic drive detection feature that you can turn on or off as needed, and it tracks your starts and stops from point A to B and in between. You can name your destinations (e.g. studio, post office, salon, Grandma’s house…whatever) and you just swipe left or right for to classify your drives as personal or business. Then you can run a weekly, monthly or yearly report, complete with total miles per drive and the mileage value associated with the IRS mileage rate. No more little notebooks, recording start and stop readings on your odometer, no more guesstimating or tracking back through your planner. You can even go back in history to classify drives you missed. It’s accessible using your phone app or on the computer. Download it. You’ll be so happy!
Affiliate / Photographer Program
Did I mention I hate designing? I did. And I do. Right up there with my nonlove of designing albums is designing graduation cards and announcements. I’m sure I’m doing it wrong because I always seem to end up with last minute orders, last minute changes, clients who want grad announcements but didn’t purchase a digital file and don’t want to purchase one with their grad card order (what?!). Sigh. So, I’ve found a happy medium between offering grad cards and not designing them: Tiny Prints! They have a photographer/affiliate program where you can establish a storefront and url and direct your clients there for ordering their grad cards. The cards include your business url on the back and you receive a portion of the sale from Tiny Prints. They still require a digital file to include the senior’s photo on the cards and your clients can upload one that they’ve purchased from you OR you can offer a “card use only” digital file for a smaller price or usage fee, and upload a file yourself. You provide your client a PIN so they can access it to create the grad card without actually downloading the digital file. Win Win,right?
I hope sharing these few of my favorite things makes your struggle a little easier! Let me know what you try and what you think!