Each August starts the same way, with a commitment not to overcommit.
Then, it’s like a snowball slowly rolling down the hill.
You say yes to one session because they are current clients and you aim to please. The next request gets a yes because, well, winter is coming and things always slow down in the winter.
You say yes to another request because the holidays are coming and your children have already started drafting their Christmas wish lists (and they look long!). Another email comes in and you think you should squeeze them in because if you don’t your local competitors will.
Before you know it, every weekend from August 1st through November 30th is booked with work and you can hear Brittany Spears singing “Oops, I did it again.”
After being in business for 8 years, I wish I could tell you that I have it all figured out. Even though I haven’t yet completely mastered the art of maintaining my sanity during busy season, I have started following five simple rules in order to maintain my sanity during the influx of fall work.
1. Book time for yourself.
Prior to busy season starting, block off one weekend each month on your calendar and don’t give it up for anything. Treat this booking like any other session. When clients ask about that date let them know it’s booked.
They don’t need to know that you are reserving the date for your mental health. Treat yourself with the same level of respect you treat a client and keep the commitment to yourself. Do NOT give in!
2. Charge more than last year.
This doesn’t have to be a permanent fee increase but it’s not uncommon in business to pay more during peak times. That’s why weekend travel and movies at prime time are more expensive.
If you sold out your mini sessions last year, charge more for minis held August through November. If you are uncomfortable charging more, then offer less. For example, if you normally offer 10 digital images then only offer seven. It’s less to edit. If you end up with more images you can charge a flat fee for the extras.
3. Hire seasonal help.
You can’t clone yourself but you can find activities that you can temporarily reassign. Last year I brainstormed activities that took up a lot of my time but did not exclusively have to be done by me.
Sit down right now with some paper and an open mind and write down what takes the most amount of time out of your day. Next, go back and look at the items you listed and evaluate if it has to be done by you or if it could be reassigned to someone else.
Here are some of the things I came up with when I went through this exercise. Your list may be different, and that’s ok, but this should give you a jump start on your personal list.
Use an editing service.
“But they will never do it the way I do it!” This is one I avoided for years thinking there is no way anyone else could do edit like I edit. After all, I am the artist. It took me years to learn Photoshop, identify color casts, nail exposure, etc.
While it’s great to have creative expression, it can be exhausting sitting in your office, staring at a screen for hours on end. While I view myself as an artist, in the late hours of the evening while I am hitting the same buttons over and over again, I feel more like a robot! So, I decided to give an editor a try.
What I started to do is edit one image from each location and then write down the “formula” for someone else to copy to the other images in the session. Yes, a simple sync gets you there quickly but you still need to look at each image and make sure it looks ok.
Exporting out of Lightroom and small tweaks in Photoshop (cloning, Portraiture, etc.) still take time. I use a digital delivery service for galleries so my editor also uploads the images after I look at them quickly.
So how do you find a service? A simple google search will yield hundreds of results like Lavalu and Fotofafa. Rather than guessing at the right one for you, talk to other photographer friends (wedding photographers use editing services all the time). Alternatively, you could train a spouse or your friend. Spouses offer very reasonable rates!
Hire a temporary assistant.
An assistant can answer your emails and send contracts so you don’t get pulled into the email pit.
Am I the only one who says “I just have to respond to a few clients and then I will go to bed”? Three hours later, I’m climbing into bed at 1 a.m. and wondering what happened!
Respond to one client, send out a few contracts, a few more invoices, update QuickBooks and your night is gone. This is another great job to give to a spouse, friend or even an older teenager. Nothing that I do is overly complicated. With a few simple instructions, anyone can respond to my emails.
To make things even easier for myself, I have a Word document where I have drafted responses to the most common inquiries. When an inquiry comes in, your assistant just has to copy and paste most responses. If you use Gmail, you can draft canned responses right within Gmail.
Hire a house cleaner.
This is a no-brainer all year long for me but at the very least, during busy season. If finances are an issue, try finding someone who is willing to come and do the “high traffic areas” in your house. For us, that’s the bathrooms, kitchen, living room and hardwood floors. Nothing makes me happier than a clean bathroom!
Use a meal prep service.
Eating out is expensive but companies like Blue Apron, Plated and Hello Fresh offer meal prep services. They cut down on your planning and shopping time. You don’t have to use them seven days a week but a few nights a week will save you countless hours.
Start online grocery shopping.
This is another one that feels a bit overwhelming to start. However, once you do you will wonder why you didn’t do it sooner!
4. Use studio management software.
If your studio management system currently involves post-it notes all over your desk then I encourage you to consider an actual studio management software system.
Software such as Studio Cloud, Iris Works and ShootQ are designed to help you manage clients and new leads. In addition, they help manage contracts, send invoices and essentially create and step-by-step workflow using automated messaging.
The best part is that everything’s in one place and utilizing automation saves you time. Are you catching a theme here? Time is money!
5. Schedule editing time.
This is one of the most beneficial activities I have implemented. If you’ve been in the business for awhile, you know how long it takes to edit a typical session. For every session you book, schedule editing time (not between the hours of 9 pm and 2 am!).
Treat this as a session so you allow yourself time to edit and you don’t burn out working into the late hours of the evening. If you don’t have time to edit, you don’t have time for the session.
Realizing it’s already mid-September, don’t let another day go by without implementing some of these tactics. Carve out time for yourself and for the non-photography portions of your business (which, if we are being honest, are the biggest parts of a photography business).
My hope is that on December 1st you can say that your business survived and you thrived during busy season!