I have just returned from holidays. Two glorious weeks tromping around Mexico – from the city to the jungle and everywhere in between. It was awesome to say the least (but more about that later). If you run your own business or if you are your own business, you know how stressful it can be to leave it all for any period of time. It’s stressful and causes great anxiety.
If you are like me, you need to choose when you go away wisely. It needs to be before wedding season begins. But somehow also in between the weeks that all of those babies will be born, or after your corporate clients have received their images that they will need for their next quarter or season or however it is that they work. When I go on a true holiday, I leave my computer at home. I only bring my camera(s) and iPad. This means that I am not physically capable of sending any images to clients should they have a photo emergency. (Oh my!) This means that I need to be organised. All of my ducks need to be in a row. I warn my clients weeks in advanced when I am going to be away. If they need to make image choices before then, I give them strict deadlines. If they miss the deadline, they have to wait until I get back. I manage those expectations and everyone is cool with it once you lay out the plan. I then put on an auto-responder on my email, change my voicemail and I am off.
In the past six months, I have simplified my
life business and because of that, when I disappear for a couple of days or weeks at a time, I feel that I can do it without the previous stress I experienced and it feels so good. Nearly a year ago, my friend Amanda approached me to offer her services. She works with small businesses to help make them more efficient and run more smoothly behind the scenes. At the time I was feeling overwhelmed with work that I had to complete so I pushed her off for a couple of months until I reached a point where I realised that really, there would never be the optimal “quiet” time to revamp my business. There was no time like the present to take action. I can tell you that I 100% regret not taking care of my business earlier because today everything runs so smoothly that it’s almost too easy.
I have always been an organised person. I am a virgo after all. I have also alway been a techie kind of person. I’m not the most technologically apt but I am pretty good and I think that I’m also pretty good at keeping up with the latest things (except for Snapchat, someone please teach me that) but after having Amanda assess my business, I realised that I was missing a few great things to make my business work smoother. I also realised how many different components and apps I was using to do things and she was able to bring a lot of those things together. Conclusion: my life is a heck of a lot easier now. I sleep better at night and I have more free time. Oh yes. Here are a few ways that I simplified my business to make it all run that much better.
If you are not using Freshbooks yet, please run on over to their website and immediately sign up. Getting my Freshbooks account has by far been the biggest change that I made for my business. Previous to Freshbooks, I was using a much less sophisticated way of doing my invoicing and expenses. Let’s just say this method involved Word and Excel. Which is fine, if you only have one computer/location and always have that computer on-hand. But if you like to travel (me!) and have a studio as well as a home from where you work from (me!), this is a pretty clunky way of doing things. Freshbooks has saved my life and that may only be a slight exaggeration. It costs $39.95/month and is worth every penny. They are a Canadian company (yay!) and it was super easy to set up my account. From there I can do all of my invoicing, keep track of payments, deposits and credits, and all of that fun stuff. I can also enter Expenses through my phone and take a photo of the receipt. At the end of the year, I then gave my accountant access to my Freshbooks account and bang, my income taxes were complete and ready for me to sign off on. Freshbooks allows me to accept credit cards directly through them. Previously I was accepting these payments through Square which meant an extra step for me and my clients. Now I can directly send an invoice to my clients through Freshbooks and they can immediately pay via credit card. A couple of days later, that money is in my bank account without me having to make an extra moves. It’s a dream. As well, Freshbooks keeps on top of you. The opening page lets you know what invoices are outstanding and how far past due they are. There are also reports so you can keep track of how much you have invoiced versus spent in expenses in a set period of time. I feel so on top of my business because of Freshbooks. It’s awesome.
If you would like to try out Freshbooks yourself, click on this handy link and we will both benefit. 😛
Previous to signing up with 17hats, I was using another studio management software called Shootq. While I liked it, it was very expensive. With the Canadian dollar as it currently is, I was paying nearly $60 per month to use Shootq or $720 a year. Part of Amanda’s goal for me was to save me money annually so the first thing we did was get rid of Shootq. While I loved the interface, spending that much money on it made me cringe (so did the fact that they never updated their iPhone app so it was pretty useless). I had tried a couple of other studio management softwares but nothing else seemed to work for me. Then I saw a sale for 17hats and I thought that I would try it out. I played around with how it worked and decided I would jump on in. I paid $333 CDN for a two year subscription. I don’t need to tell you that that is a pretty great savings from my previous program.
I love 17hats for a number of reasons. It’s a great way to manage my current clients. They have their own profile there where I have their contracts, questionnaires and any email correspondence. What I really love though, is that it allows me to track any new client inquiries. When you run a business like mine, it’s crucial that you keep on top of any potential new clients. On my website, I have a contact form for new clients to fill out. Once they do, that form is automatically entered into 17hats as a new lead. The date is added to my calendar as a lead and I am then notified if there is any conflict with the date, such as a previously booked shoot. From there, I add a workflow that I created to the new lead. Once I respond to their inquiry, I check that “to do” box off on my workflow and four days later, I am reminded to follow up with that person. (I will say this now: If you do not follow up on new leads, you need to start immediately. The magic number is to do so is four days after the initial response.) It’s also great to have all of your leads together so you can keep track of how many inquiries you get for certain dates and how many leads turn into actual clients, etc. 17hats is geared towards any small business, not just photographers. While I was away, it was great to be able to check in on 17hats to see where I was at with all of the new leads that had come in so that no one was waiting for a response from me and I was on top of following up with everyone, even while in the jungle of Chiapas, with dodgy internet. (True story: plan a vacation and that is when all of the new client inquiries come in. It never fails!)
I also have a referral link to 17hats if you would like to try it out (seriously, you ought to!).
Google Apps for Work
I have always had my own email address, meaning one that ends in my domain name. But the way that I had it working was a bit clunky. Okay, a lot clunky. I never liked the interface of the webmail provided by my web host so I had a gmail account import my business emails and from there in Gmail, I would reply to them. It was clunky in that the emails would never appear in my inbox in real time, they would often be delayed, sometimes by hours. Regularly I wouldn’t be able to send emails from my iPhone in this way for indeterminate reasons. As well, I discovered that a lot of clients were not receiving my emails at all which is a terrifying realisation. It was all around frustrating.
First thing that I did was drop my “info@” email address. I learned that sometimes “info@” email addresses are flagged for spam and this was likely why my messages were sometimes not being received. I created a “jessica@” address and signed up for Google Apps for Work. It costs $5/month but I think it is worth it as I am loving it so far. New emails arrive in my inbox immediately and my clients are receiving my replies. I know that these are basic things to expect when it comes to email but when you have had these issues in the past, they feel like bonus items. I haven’t yet dove into all of the other great features of Google Apps for Work but thus far, I am in love.
If you have an iPhone, you know that the calendar app that comes with the phone is the worst. It is ridiculously difficult to put an appointment in the calendar. I cannot tell you how many times I put one in, only to discover that it was actually entered as the wrong time or date or calendar. The worst. Enter, Sunrise calendar. It’s a free app. It syncs with your Google calendar or whatever calendar type you use and it WORKS. No more missed dates or times. What a dream.
Instagram is a pretty big deal these days, as I am sure that you know. I try to take my IG account pretty seriously by posting only images that are actually good. A lot of them are taken on a real camera that I process on my computer. I used to then resize the image and email it to myself to then post on Instagram. That is, until I discovered Latergramme. The Latergramme website allows you to upload photos and then schedule your posts. You are allowed to schedule thirty posts in any given month for free. If you want to do more, you can pay for it. When it’s time for a scheduled post to go live, you will get a notification on your phone via the Latergramme app. From there, it copies and pastes the image and text into Instargram. This is a great time saver.