Like most photographers, I started my studio because I love the creative process. Capturing powerful images that delight my clients (while scratching my creative itch) is my passion— so much so that initially, I didn’t care much about whether I made any money along the way. In fact, I didn’t want my photography to be “about the money” at all. I just wanted to create great images and make my clients happy. I wanted to be an artist. And then I got busy. Extremely busy. I was working all the time but making very little profit, and as a result, I wasn’t feeling creative and I wasn’t having fun. Been there? I’ll bet you have…
Then I had an epiphany. Maybe in order to become a better artist, I had to get better at running my business.
The product of this realization has been a systematic workflow for my photography business that has helped me increase my average session sale by over 500% while saving me time. I went from hoping to bring in $500 per session to averaging $2,500/session. By following a consistent repeatable workflow— from initial client inquiry through ordering and delivery— I’ve gained control of my calendar, and my session revenue is remarkably consistent. And best of all, I’m having fun and feeling creative and valued by my clients.
Essential Elements of a Successful Studio Workflow
For every session I book, there’s a list of about 30 steps that I need to follow in order to do a great job for my clients and to keep my business running successfully. For purposes of brevity, I’ll summarize these steps into three major categories:
- Client Communication & Education,
- The Session and Social Media Buzz, and
- In-Person Ordering and the Boutique Experience
Client Communication & Education
My workflow begins with the initial client inquiry— ranging from a simple Facebook message, like “how much do you charge for senior pictures?” to a very specific request from a prospect who has done a lot of homework and knows she wants to work with me. At this point, I have two objectives: respond immediately with a friendly but detailed reply (that I have prepared in advance), and get the prospect to fill out a session inquiry form on my website. If they don’t bother to fill out my session inquiry form, I don’t spend any more time or energy on them. I’ve learned to not waste time chasing down leads. I respond quickly with a thank you and some information about my sessions, but I put the ball right back in their court to complete my session form. This typically filters out the “tire kickers” and eliminates a lot of work for me.
Those prospects who fill out my session inquiry form get a nice carrot: a digital copy of my studio magazine and specifics on available session types and dates. At this point our prospect has everything she needs to make a decision on whether to book a session with me, so once again, I leave the ball in her court. If she contacts me again to request one of my available dates, then I’ll immediately shoot over an email invoice for the session fee, payable online via credit card. It is only once this invoice is paid that a prospect becomes a client. By now, you may have noticed a pattern: my early interactions with prospects are all quick replies, prepared in advance, that bounce the responsibility back over to the lead. Our prospective client gets a good experience— timely responses and plenty of detail from me to make an informed decision (with no sales pressure)— and my total time investment up to this point is less than 5 minutes. If you are spending countless hours chatting up prospects who don’t wind up as clients, you’re doing it wrong!
Once a session fee is paid, the real fun begins. This is when I send out a gorgeous welcome packet, containing a welcome letter, a physical copy of my magazine, a what to wear guide, a session reminder card, tips on preparing for the session and more. I have these packets all prepared before my season starts, so all I have to do is fill out the session date and time on the reminder card, write the client’s address on a mailing label and drop the packet in the mail. This takes another 5 minutes of my time, but the client feels like I have given them so much information. I have a couple of email “touchpoints” that I send out in the days leading up to the session so that the client knows I am thinking of them and preparing for an awesome and creative time together.
The Session and Social Media Buzz
Obviously, the day of the photo session is a critical step in the overall workflow. It is often the first time my client meets me in person, and I’ll take advantage of gaps in the shooting schedule to plant seeds for what to expect at the photo reveal and ordering session. Typically before we are done shooting, I’ll pin the client down on a date and time for her in-person ordering session. Since this is her first chance to see all the photos from her session, scheduling the ordering session is very easy. Also, while we are out shooting, I will post a couple of back-of-camera previews to Instagram. This is fun, because my client will immediately start getting notifications on her phone from all of her friends, oohing and aahing over her photos while we are still out shooting. This builds her confidence and helps the rest of the session go that much better. It’s also great real-time marketing for me.
When I get home from the session, I’ll pick one great image from the session, edit it and post a single sneak peek to Facebook. Then I’ll offer a second sneak peek in exchange for a testimonial or review from my client. In this way, I almost always get written reviews I can use in future marketing, and my clients almost always get a second image to share all over social media (with my logo, naturally).
In-Person Ordering and the Boutique Experience
The remaining session tasks are driven by the scheduled date of the in-person ordering session. Since I know I need to have my editing and wall art previews ready in advance of the ordering session, I plan those deadlines accordingly. Since my session calendar is very full, it is very helpful to spend my editing hours in the order they are needed, rather than by the date of the original photo session. Occasionally, a client will have difficulty finding a good time to come in for her ordering session. If that happens, it doesn’t throw off my schedule, since I’m not going to spend time editing session images until her ordering session is scheduled anyway. After the ordering session, I’ll have some additional workflow steps to process selected images at my lab, for boutique packaging and pick-up. And, of course, I always finish the workflow with a personal thank-you note to the client.
How Do I Keep Track of All This? There’s an App for That!
So, a few years into my photography business, I finally felt that I had refined a workflow that keeps me on track while maximizing the value of each session— dozens of simple steps that repeat for each session I book. But in my busy months, I’m shooting 4 or 5 sessions a week, and I was having a heck of a time keeping track of tasks for all my sessions.
Yes, I’ve used paper planners and tried wall charts, but ultimately, I wanted something I’d always have with me that would let me see at a glance what I needed to do next. And ideally, I wanted a way to book a session, send an invoice and have reminders set up for me for all my tasks automatically. Big studio management software seemed way too heavy. I don’t want to do a lot of data entry or learn a whole new software suite. I want something lightweight and easy that lets me click off tasks as I complete them and move on with my day. But I couldn’t find anything that worked the way I wanted to work.
So I consulted on a new iPhone app that recently launched on the Apple App Store. It’s called StudioFlow— and I am super exited about it! I’ve been using StudioFlow on my iPhone for a while, and it has been a lifesaver for me! Check out the video at http://studioflow.com to see how it works.