Buckle up. You may just want to send this post to your Evernote account right now so that you can keep referring back to it when you need a workflow streamline tweaking. Thank you so much to Melbourne Pet Photography Caitlin McColl from Ragamuffin Pet Photography for guest authoring this incredible post on efficiency. Read on….
Top 6 Efficiency Tips for Pet Photographers
You're trying to grow your business but that looming inbox of unanswered emails is weighing you down. You'd love more time to work on your marketing, but you're stressed enough just trying to juggle a schedule of sessions, post production, social media, blogging – oh and maybe you should see your family every now and then? Or you're just starting out and you feel overwhelmed by everything you think you *should* be doing, but have no idea where to start.
Running a pet photography doesn't need to be stressful. We have one of the most AWESOME jobs in the world (like seriously? I get paid to photograph dogs?!) but without systems, automation and workflow management you will struggle to grow your business. The reality is that as solopreneurs we have a hundred different “hats” to wear – marketer, secretary, accountant, customer service, photographer.
[SIDE NOTE: What is automation? Automation occurs when you use systems to take yourself out of the equation. Making tasks run automatically. Automation can make entire processes more cost-efficient, streamlined, error-proof and accessible. It gives you more time to work on the things that are important, like connecting with your clients and working on your marketing.]
I'm here today to share some of my favourite efficiency shortcuts for pet photography businesses – proven techniques that allowed me to grow my own business from a part time passion to a full time, six figure career in 12 months.
1. Zapier is your friend
Zapier is the hub of my business automation. You use Zapier to create “zaps” – links between two online apps that you are using for your business. Zaps run automatically in the background every few minutes to move and manage data on your behalf. You set your “trigger” (e.g. client fills in booking questionnaire from Gravity Forms) and your “action” (e.g. a blog post draft is created with the pet's name and details).
There is a free plan for Zapier, but I operate using the Business Plan, which is $49/month and worth it's weight in gold.
Real Life Example of Zapier Use:
I create an order invoice in Xero (see Tip#2)
Invoice is emailed to my Gmail as a PDF attachment, with a “label” thanks to a filter that I'm pre-determined (sidenote: you should be using Gmail and you can read my blogpost on 8 Reasons Why Gmail Rocks My Socks. That label is simply called “Orders”
Zapier sees that new email in “Orders” and automatically adds the attached PDF to my dropbox in a folder creatively called “New Orders”
Zapier automatically renames that PDF to be the invoice number and my client's email address
I have created 5 other folders in my dropbox that correspond to each stage a client's order might be at for any given time. These are: Awaiting Payment, Design Stage, At Lab, Order Ready and Order Complete
When an order has moved to the next stage (I use Insightly to keep track of specific tasks due for each project), I simply drag and drop the PDF into the next folder. Zapier automatically sends an email to my client updating them about their order. This serves two purposes: a) my clients can be more informed and involved in the whole process and b) I can, at a glance, see what is happening for all my orders. No more complicated filing systems and paperwork – this system takes advantage of the flexible potential of digital automation AND I don't have to keep paper AND I can access my orders from any computer, anywhere in the world. No more paper! No more paper!
[Sidenote: What is Dropbox? Dropbox is a personal cloud storage service, frequently used for file sharing and online backup. You can access it through the website and download the desktop application. Basically it allows you to access files from any device with internet in the world. Other uses I personally have for Dropbox include: sending album proofs, backing up high-res jpegs of my images, uploading photos to be printed to send to my lab and backing up my Lightroom catalog.]
2. Data Entry is the Worst (Automate your bank feeds)
Eurgh. I pity the fool who is still using spreadsheets to keep track of expenses – I pity the fool! Mostly because I was that fool – spending hours and hours inputting receipts and invoices and cashflow into an excel spreadsheet. I would procrastinate my data entry, putting it off for as long as possible until it was tax time and I had no choice. There is another way!
Online accounting software that allows you to automatically import bank and Paypal statements will save you from that tedious manual entry. I personally use Xero. Plans start from $25/month – you couldn't get a bookkeeper for that. I chose Xero because it plays nicely with Zapier, integrates with Shoeboxed, the website itself easy and intuitive to use and I like the reports that you can generate.
[Sidenote: What is Shoeboxed? Shoeboxed is the best way I've found to keep track of your receipts (Can you hear my chanting NO MORE PAPER yet?) You just send in your receipt (you can use their mobile app to snap a photo of it), Shoeboxed scans and organises the receipt and extracts the data for you to keep online. Awesome!]
3. IFTTT (Not a typo)
IFTTT (pronounced from “gift” without the “g”) is like Zapier for social media. It stands for IF THIS THEN THAT. It's free and you can connect all different social media accounts (e.g. instagram, facebook, twitter, wordpress, dropbox, youtube, tumblr etc)
Real Life Example of IFTTT Use:
I take a photo of a canvas display that a client has ordered. I upload it to Instagram and in the comment box I add the hashtag #artwork. I click that “Share” button (I don't link to facebook, twitter etc)
IFTTT sees the #artwork in my instagram feed. It automatically posts the photo, with my comment (minus the hashtag) to an album on my facebook page (shameless plug: like me at Ragamuffin Pet Photography). That album is called Printed Artwork, Albums and Reviews. What a perfect place to send any client enquiries.
At the same time, IFTTT is seeing my #artwork in instagram so it also creates a new blogpost in WordPress. The post title is called “New Ragamuffin Artwork & Client Review” and is immediately published into my “Artwork” category. The post is super simple – the photo plus whatever comment I wrote. Not a huge SEO benefit (other than I use a plugin called Auto Featured Images to help me out here (you can read another blog post about that here: http://theunderdogs.com.au/working-online/featured-image-for-wordpress)
How many hours do you spend removing leashes from your photos? Tedious work like leash removal can and should be outsourced. I have also attempted to find somewhere to outsource my entire post-production, but unfortunately after much experimentation I've come to the conclusion that the nuances of my style were much more difficult to replicate that I imagined. No biggie – I'll keep doing the creative stuff myself, but for the technical work like leash removal – I've got better ways to spend my time!
I found my digital artist on Elance.com. It's free to post a job and all different freelancers will respond to your post with proposals, quotes, portfolios etc. I had two test images that I requested all potential candidates to complete. From there I picked the person whose work I liked the most and who was charging within my budget. He is super easy to work with – I just dropbox him my images, he removes the leashes (really quickly) and I pay his invoice. It's super affordable for me AND I worked out that what I pay him each week is high above the average monthly wage in India. Makes me feel great and I have halved the hours I spend on post-production.
What tedious jobs are you doing in your business? If they can't be automated, is there someone who could be doing those tasks for you? OUTSOURCE!!
5. Time Accountability
The best way to become more efficient is to be accountable for your time. Do you know exactly how long you spend on productive tasks (e.g. photoshop and blogging) versus unproductive tasks (ooops did I just spend 45 minutes on Pinterest?!)
First of all, get your booty over to RescueTime and sign up for a free account. That will track the time that you spend in websites and application and send you a weekly report.
If you find the sweet, sweet call of Facebook irresistible I also recommend using the Google Chrome plugin StayFocusd so you can predefine how many minutes per day you want to allow yourself access to time-sucks like Facebook/Youtube/Ebay/Twitter etc.
To become accountable for your time you must preschedule your tasks. Obviously you are already scheduling your sessions and appointments, but I recommend scheduling everything that you have to do in a working day. This ensures you really think about how long each task requires and allows you to prioritise. For my fellow workaholics, you can/should also preschedule “down time”.
The BEST calendar tool you can use is Google Calendar. It's free, it's easy and it plays nicely with loads of other online applications (plus you can sync it to your ical and phone). I used to be a pen and paper gal so if you’re fretting about not using your trusty Day Planner – I hear you! But the simple fact is that you cannot take full advantage of digital automation if you are not using an online calendar.
With Google Calendar, you can reschedule recurring tasks. For example, every Tuesday – Saturday from 9AM – 10AM I have devoted to my email (seriously – you are using Gmail right?). Every Second Friday night is Date night. Every Sunday morning I plan and create my Facebook posts (using Buffer). Every 10 weeks on a Monday I get my hair done. The beauty of this is that your mind no longer has to keep track of mundane facts and todos. Give your mind more space to think creatively and let Google Calendar take control of your schedule.
This screenshot is from my actual calendar this week – it is such a relief to know exactly what I need to be doing at any given hour! If I had someone request an hour of my time this week, I would have to decide to either bump something from my schedule (which would mean drag and dropping it to another time the following week) or I could confidently tell them that I'm sorry, I don't have time for that this week.
This is the screenshot for the second week of April 2014. That's one whole month away from when I'm writing this, yet I already have a pretty good idea of what my week will look like. Yes things will change, but I can easily drag, swap and delete tasks. As I get closer to this date, little 15 minute todos will be added to fill the gaps (e.g. research new printing lab).
What's another time-suck for pet photographers? All the back and forth attempting to schedule session dates, order appointments, session reschedules (especially if you live somewhere with unpredictable rain like me in Melbourne, Australia). What's the super simple solution? ScheduleOnce. I have to credit the amazing Alicia Caine from Profit First Photography for showing me this awesomeness that is ScheduleOnce.
ScheduleOnce is an online system that integrates with your Google Calendar (See tip #5). There is a totally free plan, although I find the whole system so integral to my booking process that I use the Professional Plan (still only $19/month).
The calendar retrieves your real-time availability so that clients only see your available hours. I'm personally a golden hour addict, so my times are preset to only allow sessions in the late afternoon.
My Pet Photography Booking Workflow:
Pet lover finds my website (usually through Google, Facebook or a referral). Sees photos, reads about me, is super keen. Fills in the enquiry form on my sidebar (gravity forms!) which also allows them to opt into my mailing list through Mailchimp
I get enquiry – ooooh I would love to work with them *fingers crossed* I respond by customising my canned response in Gmail. My response answers their questions, tells them a little about the experience, links to my pricing menu and includes a link to my booking form (gravity forms!) I use Boomerang for Gmail to make sure I remember to followup in a couple of weeks if they don't respond back.
Yay! They want to work with me too! They fill in the booking form (which takes their payment – paypal or a bank transfer).
Booking form is connected to Xero through Zapier so invoice is automatically created.
Booking form also connected to Insightly (my project management/customer database tool) so contact info is automatically inputted.
Booking form also emailed to me so I can read all about them and their pooch straight away.
Booking form automatically brings them to the ScheduleOnce page of my website, where they pick a time and date that suits them (customer service high five – flexibility for your clients!)
After they pick a time/date, page is transferred to the Pre-Session Questionnaire (gravity forms!)
I get an email with two of the selected times/dates – I confirm my preferred selection with the click of a button. Session is automatically added to my Google Calendar.
One day before session, automatic email reminder is sent to client. Extra customer service high fives.
Apps/Website Mentioned in this post
Zapier (free account available)
Gravity Forms (starts from $39)
Dropbox (free account available)
Insightly (free account available)
Xero (starts from $25)
Shoeboxed (free account available)
Auto Featured Images Plugin (free)
Elance (price varies)
Buffer (free account available)
RescueTime (free account available)
Google Calendar (free)
Mailchimp (free account available)
Boomerang for Gmail (free account available)
ScheduleOnce (free account available)
Canned Responses (free)
Clearly I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to productivity but these are all techniques that you can and should be implementing in your own business. A short investment of time to set a system up will result in minutes, hours, days, weeks saved in the long run. This will give you more time to grow your business and do the things that make you happy!
Caitlin McColl is the pet photographer behind Ragamuffin Pet Photography, a university lecturer on the business of photography and founder of The Underdogs for Young Entrepreneurs. When she's not photographing animals or getting her business geek on, you'll find her reading in the sun with one of her cats or out running with her dog, Lyra. For more tips and insights into running your pet photography business, sign up to her free monthly e-zine A Little Bit Awesome here: theunderdogs.com.au/success/signup