Measuring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on your business

The coronavirus pandemic is affecting all of us in a variety of ways. We’re a small company and the whole Light Blue team is either currently or previously a professional photographer, so we understand the difficulties that you are going through at the moment.

Being able to measure the impact that the pandemic has had on your business certainly isn’t something that you will want to do, however it is helpful if you are applying for some sort of financial assistance for your business.

This guide walks through how to get the details that could help you.

Using charts to get an overview

The benefit of managing your business with Light Blue is that your data’s all in one place, so the information that you need is already here. So you won’t need to spend ages analysing complicated spreadsheets to get an idea of where you stand.

The charts view is your friend, and here are a few different charts that you could load with a couple of clicks and then present as necessary evidence if required.

Note that I’ve got “cumulative totals” turned on and I’m comparing this year to previous years (feel free to go as far back as you feel is appropriate).

To change the data that your chart is displaying, just tweak the options at the top of the screen.

Income,

Enquiries by enquiry date,

Bookings

Planning ahead

As well as taking a look at how things have changed for your business this year, it could be useful for you to take a look at the road ahead so you can take appropriate action.

Identifying bookings at risk of postponement due to the latest restrictions

The lockdown restrictions and rules keep on changing, and in the UK we’ve recently been told that the current restrictions are likely to be in place for six months.

If you’re taking payments for sessions that haven’t happened yet but are at risk of cancelling, there’s a possibility that you may find ourself in a position whereby you need to return some of what’s been paid. We’re not in a position to offer legal advice so if you’re ever in doubt about what you should be doing with regards to cancellations, we recommend consulting an independent legal professional.

Creating custom reports in Light Blue can help to provide the necessary figures in order to manage the potential financial exposure to cancelations of future bookings. That’s a three step process:

1) Find the right records

Use the query tool to search for all of your shoots that are booked over the next 6 months (for example, you can choose another period if you wish).

2) View the list

Then view the results in the List View and customise that view (Window > Customise List View) to show the information that you’re most interested in.

3) Save a custom report

Finally, save the query and list view settings as a custom report so you can view the most up to date information again in the future with a few clicks.

Forecasting your potential income

Getting a clear picture of when you’re going to receive income is very important and helpful at the best of times, but during this unprecedented period of uncertainty your businesses ability to forecast its income is essential.

No forecasting model is going to be iron clad, but the ability for you to look ahead will allow you to remove some of the guesswork from this situation and help you to make some informed decisions.

We’ve got an in-depth guide on how to use Light Blue’s quoting tools to forecast your income, which you can read here.

Keeping an eye on your fixed outgoings

The money coming in to your business is just one part of the equation and even with a reduction in work you will still encounter a certain amount of fixed costs necessary for keeping the business going.

We’re doing what we can to help reduce those costs for our customers and we know that many other suppliers to the trade are as well.

If you’ve been recording your businesses expenditure within Light Blue then it’s fairly quick to get a picture of the fixed costs that you’ve incurred this year. It may also be helpful to look at the figures for last year in order to establish a trend.

Using the query tool, search for purchases that haven’t been linked to shoots and also haven’t been categorised in a way that indicates that they’re a cost of sales. The advanced options allow you to be more precise in your search.

Then you can customise the list view to show the columns that are most relevant to you, and group the purchases by year so that you can compare this years fixed costs to those of previous years.

Need more help?

We’re always ready and willing to support our customers if they need help with things like this. Send an email to support@lightbluesoftware.com or schedule a free 1:1 call via the help page.

Continuing our help for subscribers affected by COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns are continuing to affect professional photographers in many countries. We’re a small company and the whole Light Blue team is either currently or previously a professional photographer, so we understand the difficulties that you are going through at the moment.

Since March, we’ve been offering to reduce the cost of Light Blue subscriptions by 50% for six months for any of our customers who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. That help is still open to anyone who needs it: if you need assistance but haven’t applied for our offer yet, you can do so by clicking here to log into your account.

We’re still here to help

This is a challenging time for all of us in the photography industry, so we wanted to remind you that we’re here to help you make the most out of Light Blue so that it can support and aid your business.

We’ve been helping business owners to make the most of the opportunities that come along, whether that’s nurturing your existing clients with automated messages, helping postponed shoots to reschedule with our online contract signing service, working out which clients you want to market to when things get back to normal, or using our contact forms and workflows to handle new enquiries. If there’s anything that we can do to help you use Light Blue to its full potential, please get in touch to let us know.

Extended discounts

We hope that your business is starting to recover from the pandemic, but if you’re not yet able to afford your full Light Blue subscription then send us an email and we’ll extend your 50% discount for another three months. We want you to be able to use our tools to bounce back from this!

Spreading the word

We’re a tiny company, so we always appreciate it when customers ask us whether there’s anything that they can do to help us, too.

Telling other photographers about Light Blue and how we’ve helped your business always means a lot to us! If you know anyone who would benefit from using Light Blue, you can use our referral scheme to give them a discount and earn credit towards your own subscription too.

Light Blue 2020.1

Light Blue 2020.1 is a major update that includes big new automation features and a whole load of other improvements.

Payment schedules

Payment schedules allow you to easily break an invoice down into several smaller payments. That means that you can offer a payment plan to your clients and make it easier for them to pay an invoice in more manageable instalments. Because it’s more affordable for your client, a payment schedule can help you to make larger sales or get bookings more easily, too.

Find out more about how you can use payment schedules to make it easier for clients to pay you in this knowledgebase article and video tutorial!

Automated payment reminders

Our new payment schedules feature has given us an opportunity to build another popular feature request: you can now have Light Blue send automatic email payment reminders to your clients. You can set up simple rules for your reminders and your personalised messages will help you to get paid on time.

Want to find out how to start sending automatic payment reminders? Click through to our knowledgebase!

Percentage booking fees

Quotes can still be split into separate invoices for the booking fee and the balance. This is especially useful if you want to have separate tax points for the booking fee and balance. 

Booking fees can now be a fixed amount or a percentage of the quote. You can set up a default booking fee for each of your price lists, and when you raise a quote from a shoot Light Blue automatically fill in any booking fee you’ve set up for the price list you’ve chosen for that shoot.

Email tracking

When you send emails from Light Blue’s email servers, you can now track whether those emails have been opened or if the links in them have been clicked. This is optional, and you can turn the feature on via the Preferences window.

To see whether an email has been opened or a link clicked, open it up from the Outbox or the relevant Activity panel. You’ll see a summary of the tracked email’s status that you can expand to see more details, including when the event happened and the IP address that triggered it.

Click here to find out more about email tracking!

And much, much more…

This update includes hundreds of improvements and changes to make Light Blue faster, better, and more efficient. You can read the full release notes here.

A free upgrade for all of our subscribers

Subscribers to Light Blue’s online services can update to Light Blue 2020.1 by using the ‘Check For Updates’ command within the Light Blue desktop app.

If you already have a Light Blue licence, but don’t subscribe to our online services, the best way of upgrading to version 2020.1 is to add a subscription. As well as being able to upgrade for free, subscribers have access to Light Blue’s most popular features, including our online contract signing service, forms, online invoices, and enhanced email and text messaging features.

Light Blue 2020.1 release notes

Light Blue 2020.1 is a major update that includes big new features and a whole host of other improvements, including:

  • Payment schedules that allow you to easily break an invoice down into several smaller payments, helping you to make larger sales and get bookings more easily.
  • Automated payment reminders help you to get paid on time.
  • Email tracking features that help you to gauge your clients’ engagement.

Read on to find out more about the new features that we’ve added in Light Blue 2020.1!

Invoicing, quoting, and payment improvements

Payment schedules

We’ve added a new payment schedule feature that makes it a lot easier for you to ask your client to pay an invoice in instalments.

A payment schedule can include as many instalments as you want. Each instalment can be for a fixed amount (e.g. £100.00) or for a percentage (e.g. 50% of the invoice total). The due date for each instalment is a number of days, weeks, or months after the invoice date, or before or after the shoot date.

When you apply a payment schedule to a sale, Light Blue automatically calculates the due dates and amounts for each instalment. The due dates and amounts appear on both the printed and online versions of the invoice.

We’ve supplied a few example payment schedules, and you can customise them or create your own in the “Payment Schedules” section of the Preferences window. We recommend having a “100% of the remaining balance” step at the end of all of your payment schedules in case anything changes on the invoice or your client makes some unscheduled payments along the way.

Your existing data works seamlessly with the new payment schedules feature. Old Sale records will display a single “100% of the remaining balance” payment step with the same due date and amount that you had in previous versions of Light Blue.

For online invoices, your clients have simple options to pay each instalment when it’s due, or to pay the full unpaid amount if they want to do it in one go. You can choose which online payment options are available for each instalment, so you could ask them to pay part of the invoice by card and another part by bank transfer.

For online payments, payment records are now created automatically in Light Blue. The payment will still appear in the Inbox so that you can see it’s arrived, and accepting the payment via the Inbox will offer to create a Purchase record for the transaction fee.

All of Light Blue’s built-in quick queries and reports have been updated to work with payment schedules. The “Overdue Payments” quick query in the Sales section now shows you any Sale records that have any overdue instalments. Reports such as “Contact Statement” now use the next payment due date to sort invoices, and for your old invoices this date will be the same as the old “payment due date” field. “Next Payment Due Date” and “Final Payment Due Date” fields are available to use in your own queries and reports.

If you don’t want to ask your clients to pay you in instalments, you can ignore payment schedules. The main change that you’ll notice is the new “Payments” tab on Sale records.

Examples:

  • Using a payment schedule with a single instalment of “100% of the remaining balance” is much the same as the old way of doing things. You have options to set the payment due date relative to the date of the invoice, the date of the linked shoot, or manually select a date.
  • A portrait photographer can ask a client to pay for a large order in any number of monthly instalments.
  • An event photographer can ask for part of the balance before the shoot and a final payment on completion.
  • A photographer who runs their business on a cash basis (i.e. using the payment date rather than invoice date to record their income) could use a payment schedule to set up instalments for a booking fee and as many balance payment instalments as they like. If you run your business on an accrual basis, you might still prefer to raise a separate invoice for the booking fee and balance if the tax points are months apart.

Automated payment reminders

Our new payment schedules feature has given us an opportunity to build another popular feature request: you can now have Light Blue send automatic email payment reminders to your clients. You can set up simple rules for your reminders and your personalised messages will help you to get paid on time.

Payment reminders are set up in your payment schedules. Even if you don’t want to ask your clients to pay your invoices in instalments, you can still use a payment schedule: you can have a payment schedule with a single “100% of the remaining balance” instalment.

You can send a payment reminder before the due date, on the due date, and every X days after the due date if it hasn’t been paid yet.

Payment reminders include a link to view the invoice online, so Light Blue 2020.1 automatically makes invoices available online when you click the “create invoice” button. You no longer need to specifically publish an invoice to make it available online. Online invoices use a randomly generated ID number in their URL so clients will only be able to see an invoice if you send the link to them or set up payment reminders. The online version of the invoice is automatically updated as soon as you make any changes to it in Light Blue 2020.1 and it syncs to your account.

Percentage booking fees

Quotes can still be split into separate invoices for the booking fee and the balance. This is especially useful if you want to have separate tax points for the booking fee and balance.

Booking fees can now be a fixed amount or a percentage of the quote. You can set up a default booking fee for each of your price lists, and when you raise a quote from a shoot Light Blue automatically fill in any booking fee you’ve set up for the price list you’ve chosen for that shoot.

Other financial changes

Online invoices now have a handy “Print This Invoice” button to make it really easy for your clients to print or save a PDF copy of your invoice for their records.

Clicking the “Mark As Paid” button on a sale now displays the payment in a dialog, rather than taking you to the Payments section.

You no longer need to specifically publish an invoice to make it available online. Online invoices use a randomly generated ID number in their URL so clients will only be able to see an invoice if you send the link to them or set up payment reminders. The online version of the invoice is automatically updated as soon as you make any changes to it in Light Blue 2020.1 and it syncs to your account.

The “payment received with thanks” page for online invoices now displays the full invoice details.

The online payment receipt email now includes a link to the online invoice instead of including all of the invoice details in the receipt email. This helps to protect your clients’ privacy against email services that scrape the contents of incoming emails, and also avoids problems with displaying the invoice in some email clients. If your client wants to view or print the invoice, they can click that link.

The old “online invoice publication email” and “online invoice payment receipt” templates have been replaced by email templates. Your old templates are automatically converted on upgrading. You can choose a different publication email template for each payment schedule and different receipt templates for each instalment (e.g. so that you could use a different receipt template for the final instalment).

Email improvements

Email event tracking

When you send emails from Light Blue’s email servers, you can now track whether those emails have been opened or if the links in them have been clicked. This is optional, and you can turn the feature on from the “Email” section of the Preferences window.

To see whether an email has been opened or a link clicked, open it up from the Outbox or the relevant Activity panel. You’ll see a summary of the tracked email’s status that you can expand to see more details, including when the event happened and the IP address that triggered it.

It’s important to note that email open tracking might not be 100% effective, for a variety of reasons. For example, some email providers and email apps can block email open events from being reported back to us. We’ve also heard of email open events being triggered by some automated content filters. If you CC or BCC yourself into emails, be careful not to trigger open or click events yourself!

We’ve also been working hard to make sure that the deliverability of emails that are sent from our own servers is high, and this includes providing personalisation of the address from which these emails are sent. If you’re sending emails using our servers then we’ll use your unique @lightbluecustomermail.com email address, which you can personalise via your account page (e.g. myphotostudio@lightbluecustomermail.com).

Behind the scenes, we’ve created an email suppression list to avoid sending emails to recipients that either don’t exist or have told you that they don’t want to receive emails from you. We’re automatically adding a recipient to your email suppression list if they (or their email provider) send a complaint to us or we receive a permanent bounce notification. Just like opens and clicks, bounces and complaints can only be tracked for emails sent via our servers. If you try to send an email to an address that’s on your suppression list, you’ll be warned and the email address will automatically be removed if you ignore the warning. You can remove an email address from your suppression list by going go the relevant contact record and using the cog menu that appears when you hover your mouse cursor over the email address.

Storing copies of client portal emails

Copies of emails that are sent for Light Blue’s contact forms, questionnaires, contracts, and online invoices are now recorded in Light Blue’s Outbox and the Activity panel for the relevant records. We’re still CCing a copy of these emails to you so that you get an instant notification when your client has done something, but this gives you a clearer record of all of your communications with your client.

If you no longer want to have a copy of these emails CCed to you, there’s now an option to switch that off in the Email section of the Preferences window.

No more “add email template to found set”

Light Blue is designed to send “everyday” emails to your clients and is very good at doing so: dealing with new enquiries, responding to your clients’ messages, automated appointment reminders, and so on.

However, when you’re interested in sending a message to a large group of contacts at once (we’re defining ‘large’ as anything more than about 20 contacts in this context) then specialist marketing tools are a better fit for making sure that those messages reach your audience. Sending lots of marketing emails from your own email address risks damaging the reputation of your email account, making it substantially less likely that your prospects (or paying clients) will receive your messages, that’s why it’s best to use a tool that’s designed for the job.

It’s easy to export email addresses from Light Blue to use with a dedicated email marketing tool.

We’ve removed the “Add email template to found set” command to make it less likely that someone could get themselves into trouble by trying to send lots of emails from Light Blue.

Other changes

As always, we’ve included as many new features, customer requests, and bug fixes in this release. Here’s a list of the biggest changes.

Inbox, Outbox, and Activity

  • The speed of loading or searching the Inbox has been massively improved for customers with large numbers of incoming emails, text messages, and forms.
  • Client portal emails sent on your behalf (e.g. when publishing a contract, or when an enquiry fills in one of your contact forms) are now recorded in the Outbox and linked to the Activity panel of any related records.
  • If an error occurs when sending an email or text message, you’re now notified by a dialog rather than have to spot the error badge appear on the Outbox. Email and text message sending errors are highlighted in red on their parent record’s Activity panel, as well as in the Outbox.
  • Added a button to the Outbox and email dialogs that allows you to dismiss email and text message sending errors. This will remove them from “Errors” category in the Outbox and also stop them from counting towards the count that appears on the Outbox’s badge, but leaves them in your database so that you can refer back to them in future. e.g. if you receive a hard bounce from an email that you send, you might want to have a record of that but not have that bounced email count as an error once you’ve dealt with it.
  • Added an “Automatically CC Client Portal Emails To Yourself” preference.
  • Added French and German translations of Light Blue’s contract signing service terms & conditions.
  • Light Blue’s contract signing service terms & conditions now refer to the text of the “submit” and “save” buttons, if you’ve customised or translated them.
  • Added an option to display your booking fee description on the “pay booking fee” step of online contracts.
  • Removed the indent and outdent buttons from the email editor toolbar. This is because the HTML and CSS used to implement this feature is not supported by some popular email clients (e.g. Gmail’s web interface) and we don’t want to encourage you to use formatting that might not appear correctly in all email clients.
  • When you create an email from a template, we’ve reduced the amount of vertical space between email template body and your default email signature.
  • Fixed a bug that could leave the old signature in place when you select a different email signature while composing an email.
  • Draft emails now appear in the “To Do” section of the “Activity” panel instead of the “History” section.
  • Clarified the warning that’s displayed when you delete an item from the Inbox or Outbox to make it clear that it will also be removed from any linked records too.
  • Contracts and forms can now be sent to contacts that don’t have an email address of their own, but belong to a group of contacts whose head has an email address.
  • You can now include VAT number in the list of contact fields that you can include in online forms.
  • Light Blue can now split name & email address combos of the form “Your Name >”
  • You can no longer include the “confirm email” field in a form that does not include the “email” field.
  • Fixed a bug where the “Accept Contract” dialog could open behind the contract dialog when you try to accept the signed contract from the contract dialog.
  • Checking and unchecking the “preview mail-merge tags” checkbox when editing one of the emails in the contract setup dialog now reloads the dialog much faster.

Finances

  • Added a “print this invoice” button to online invoices, so that clients can more easily print or save a PDF copy for their records.
  • The sale “payment due” field has been replaced by the payment schedule features.
  • Added more fields that can be used in queries, lists, and custom reports: “Shoot Start Date” has been added to the Quotes section; “Shoot Enquiry Source” has been added to the Sales section; “Most Recent Payment Date” and “Most Recent Payment Method” fields have been added to the Purchases section.
  • Added new mail-merge tags: %SaleBillingTitle%, %SaleShippingTitle%
  • Added a “Copy Link for Online Payment” option to the “Create Invoice” dialog.
  • The “Export Financial Information” export now includes the purchase invoice number field.
  • QuickBooks invoice exports now show “None” for items that have no tax applied to them, instead of a blank value.
  • The “Mark Purchases As Paid” housekeeping command now offers you a choice of using today’s date or the purchase records’ invoice date.
  • Online invoices now display the linked shoot’s reference number, if you’ve turned the shoot reference option on in Light Blue.
  • The “Contact Financial History” report no longer shows a value in the “Days Overdue” column for invoices or purchases that have been marked as paid.
  • Removed the “Financial Details” heading and “Included in the items above at the rate shown” text from quotes and invoices.
  • Added a preference to include the purchase reference field in linked records and record selection lists that include purchases.

Shoots

  • Shoots now display payments for their linked sales in their “Linked Records” panel.
  • The printed version of a shoot now includes linked resources’ full names, rather than their abbreviation.
  • When you confirm a shoot that has a single linked quoted, Light Blue can now automatically change the quote’s status to “Accepted”.
  • When you change a confirmed shoot’s status to “cancelled” or “enquiry”, the dialog that offers to tidy outstanding items now includes a clearer “Don’t Tidy” option.
  • The various tools in the Housekeeping section of the Records menu for changing the status of batches of shoots have had their names tidied up, and we’ve added a new “Change Status of Found Shoots to Enquiry” tool.
  • Fixed a bug where an enquiry with multiple sessions might not have its default workflow applied when a single session is confirmed.
  • You can now save a shoot schedule step that doesn’t have a description. A schedule step requires either a description, time, or linked address to be saved.
  • Fixed a bug where changing a shoot’s type from one that has a different default price list to a shoot type that uses the global default price list did not automatically change the price list.

Miscellaneous

  • The ‘Finances’, ‘Printing’, and ‘Shoot Types’ sections of the Preferences window have been redesigned to make the options easier to find and understand.
  • It’s now possible to export and import saved queries and custom reports. If you’re sending a saved query or custom report to someone else, please bear in mind that the way Light Blue handles links to related records means that you should design your query to work based on the name of the related record rather than selecting it from a popup menu.
  • Improved the workflow and messages displayed when you’re going through the process of resetting a member of staff’s password from the staff login dialog.
  • Improved the warnings that are displayed when you turn on the “require password” option.
  • Our old static web gallery generator was deprecated more than two years ago and has now been removed from the app.
  • The record selection dialog now defaults its height to just a tad less than that of Light Blue’s main window when you open it.
  • When you go to related record, the first tab of that record’s tab panel is now always selected.
  • The workflow export and import features now include the member of staff assigned to a task.
  • The quick search feature now includes addresses in the list fields it searches.
  • The bulk text message setup dialog now includes an estimate of the number of credits that will be used.
  • Added the contact VAT number field to the contact import dialog.
  • Changed references to “setup code” to refer to “one-time password” instead.
  • Using the %BusinessAddressCommas% version of the %BusinessAddress% mail-merge tag now converts any paragraphs in the address into a single, comma-delimited line.
  • Company contacts are now displayed in lists using their company name, rather than the value from the “company” field of their address.
  • The list of localisations in the “Template Translations” section of the Preferences window is now in alphabetical order.
  • Fixed a crash that could occur when typing a reply to an email that contains emoji. Also fixed an error that could change the font settings back to default after typing an apostrophe in the email editor.
  • Fixed a bug that could cause the Inbox unread badge count to include text messages that don’t appear in the Inbox.
  • Fixed an obscure bug that could cause a product workflow to be added twice when that product was added to a sale.
  • Fixed a bug where duplicating an appointment with an appointment type adds the appointment type’s resources again.
  • Fixed a bug where going to list view, then double-clicking on the same record to go back to detail view, would display a blank detail panel.
  • Fixed a bug where clicking or tabbing into the “schedule step” field when adding a schedule step to a form would lose focus when there are unsaved changes in other fields.
  • Fixed a bug that could prevent the invoice date in the detail view list from being updated when it’s edited.
  • Fixed a bug where duplicating a shoot and using the “don’t group” option could still group the new shoot with the original.
  • Fixed a bug that could result in upgrading from versions of Light Blue older than version 7 from upgrading workflows properly.
  • Fixed a bug where adding an appointment via the calendar failed to display the full set of workflow options when you close it.
  • Fixed a bug where the “you need to link some contacts to this shoot” warning was displayed in a form setup dialog when it shouldn’t have been.

We’re exhibiting at the virtual Photography Show

This year’s Photography Show has gone virtual, and we’re going to be there on 20 & 21 September for The Photography Show & The Video Show’ Virtual Festival.

If you’d like to find out more about how Light Blue can help you to run a successful photography business, come and see us at the show! The virtual show provides a chat room that we can use to explore how Light Blue can help your business, and we’ll be running demos via Zoom so that you can see it action.

Registering for the virtual show is free, so we hope to see you there!

Can’t make it to the virtual show? We’re always happy to talk!

If you can’t make it to the virtual version of The Photography Show, we’re always available to help new and existing subscribers to boost their business with Light Blue. Use this link to book a demo at a convenient time, or send us an email!

Public beta for new Light Blue features

We’re really excited to announce that we’re launching a public beta of Light Blue’s latest features. Light Blue 2020.1 is a major update that includes big new features and a whole host of other improvements:

  • Payment schedules allow you to easily break an invoice down into several smaller payments, helping you to make larger sales and get bookings more easily.
  • Automated payment reminders help you to get paid on time.
  • Email tracking features that help you to gauge your clients’ engagement.

If you subscribe to Light Blue, we’d be delighted to give you access to these new features before their official release. You’ll be able to use all of its new features while we’re putting the finishing touches in place for the final release.

To find out more about Light Blue 2020.1, get access to the beta, and learn how it can help you to be even more organised, please join us for next week’s beta webinar at 16:00 BST on Tuesday 25 August. Click here to register for the webinar!

Want to join the beta but can’t make it to the webinar? Email support@lightbluesoftware.com and we’ll send the webinar recording to you as soon as it’s available.

Mapping your customer journey

What’s the one thing that you would do to make yourself stand out to your clients?

Running a successful photography business relies on delivering a great service to your clients in a timely manner. There’s many steps involved in doing that and it’s important to make sure that you know what your process is, including any special flourishes that help you to give your clients a great experience.

We spoke to Jennifer Sinclair about the journey she takes her clients on, and how Light Blue helps her to do that.

Jennifer is a specialist newborn baby photographer based near Fareham, Hampshire: “I like to provide an amazing newborn photography experience at a special time in peoples lives. I like to get to know clients and understand what they are looking for in a newborn photo session.”

Jennifer is very passionate about her business and invests time into providing her clients with the best photo experience that she can.

Continue reading “Mapping your customer journey”

How to Master Virtual Viewings

We speak to wedding and portrait specialist Suzanne Black about how to conduct viewings remotely without losing that crucial personal touch.

When it comes to viewing sessions, we’re all familiar with the ideal scenario.

You invite clients to your studio at a mutually convenient time, put the kettle on, pop some biscuits on a stylish plate and spend a few hours together selecting and curating the perfect set of images.

Impressed by the personal service, professional advice and comfortable rapport, they place a decent-sized order and say they’ll be in touch about booking a future shoot.

But what happens if you can’t physically get together? Whether that’s because of the challenges posed by a global pandemic or, in simpler times, just due to geography, there is a solution.

Here established photographer Suzanne shares her insight into conducting virtual viewings, a way of coming together that still keeps it personal.

The Different Viewing Session Options

When your studio is on a farm in the middle of the beautiful Scottish countryside, it’s likely your clients will live many miles away.

This is exactly Suzanne’s challenge. Unless clients are reasonably local or returning to the area on holiday, arranging in-person viewings can prove difficult.

But she’ll always make them happen whenever possible saying: “I’m a massive fan of in-person sales. As an all-round experience, sitting down together and going through the images in person is just the best customer service you can provide. You can easily show them the different options of how those images will work together and chat through ideas.

“Unfortunately, my customer base and location mean that’s not always possible. A lot of my wedding clients will come back to Scotland on holiday and book in a shoot with me, but they don’t then have the time to do an in-person viewing a week later, or they’ve already gone back home by the time the images are ready.”

One option is to send your clients a web gallery. They can browse through the images independently and place their order with minimal collaboration.

But this has various drawbacks. As Suzanne says: “I think you’re doing your customer a disservice by sending them a web gallery. It’s confusing, impersonal, difficult to compare images and less convenient to ask me for advice.

“I’ve experimented a bit with trying to pre-sell images and products through web galleries but I just found that it wasn’t working. The personal connection just isn’t there.”

So now, for any customers who can’t make their way to Suzanne’s stunning but remote studio, she hosts a virtual sales session.

How to Run a Virtual Viewing Session

When it comes to successful virtual viewing sessions for photographers, Suzanne believes that recreating the in-person version as closely as possible is the key.

“I pretty much run it exactly as I would do if a customer came to my studio,” she explains. “Except of course, they’re sat at home and not next to me.”

The first step is to plan a time when there’ll be minimal distractions: children in bed, work put aside and nothing cooking on the hob.

“The aim is to create a completely relaxed environment,” says Suzanne. “That way, everyone can focus on the important job ahead.”

Suzanne preps the session in the same way she would an in-person viewing. So customers will have had the price list in advance, outlining all their options for prints, frames and albums. 

She then sends them a Zoom link to an online meeting which starts with a chat about how the session went and what they’re looking for in terms of images.

“This is the ideal time to reconnect, a bit of a ‘getting to know you again’ exercise to re-establish rapport. After that, I screen share through ProSelect and run the viewing session as I would if they were sitting next to me in the studio.

“We can chat through the images together and discuss options for frames and albums. They’ve proved to be very successful.”

One major benefit to clients being at their home is the chance to see the spaces where they’re planning to place images.

Suzanne expands on this: “Quite often I’ll ask customers to send me a few pictures of wall spaces they have in mind for images. The challenge you have with that is they send you an average picture or they’re not very sure where would be best or they don’t remember to do it.

“During a virtual viewing, I’ll say so we’re thinking about this image as part of a multi-frame and ask where in the house they have in mind. As they’re on their laptop or iPad, they can then ‘take me’ to the wall. 

“I can see the overall style of the room as well as the available space. And I might say, ‘Yes, I really like that but have you thought about an acrylic there as it’s a quite a modern room that you’re in.’ Or if their décor is more traditional, I can suggest that a really nice distressed wooden frame would fit better.

“It’s fun to really get involved in the design process and bounce ideas around. And it results in great customer service that’s uniquely personal.”

How Virtual Viewings Impact on Sales

You may be concerned that a virtual viewing will lead to lower sales than an in-person appointment. But Suzanne has found that’s not the case.

She says: “On average, I sell two to three times more at an in-person viewing session than a web gallery approach. When I started doing virtual sales, I naturally wondered where they would fit in. Will customers spend less or more?

“Generally, I’m pleased to say I’ve found they’re spending the same as if they were sitting beside me. Another plus point of using tech to help bolster sales.”

On the subject of sales, Suzanne advises always being open and transparent about prices. Her customers always get a full price list at the time they first enquire. 

“I don’t believe in hiding prices from people,” she says. “My clients always know what their options are and how much they cost. A viewing session could easily be wasted if you’re not upfront about your prices.

“This is especially useful at virtual viewings as they can easily and discreetly check the price of an album, for example, without having to ask me, which some people may be nervous about doing.

“So they may go into the session thinking they only want a couple of prints but as we go through the process and see how images can work together, they’re comfortable changing their mind as they know how much it will cost.”

Suzanne’s approach proves that when an in-person viewing session simply isn’t possible, the virtual version can still deliver exceptional customer service and sales.

Discover how Light Blue can help manage your viewing session schedules.

New online invoice and email features

We’ve made some small changes to the way that Light Blue’s online invoices and emails work. We’ll be announcing some big new features in the coming weeks but these changes have been made now so that we can start beta testing those other new features.

Online invoices

Our online invoice receipt emails now include a link to view the paid invoice online, rather than including a copy of the invoice in the email itself. There are two main reasons for this change: it works better with a wider range of email clients; and it also protects your clients’ privacy if they’re using an email provider that scrapes the contents of their emails for information.

We’ve also changed the information that’s displayed when your client views a paid invoice. Instead of just displaying your “thanks for paying this invoice” message, we’re displaying all of the details of the invoice so that your client can refer back to it or print it for their records.

Client portal emails

The other new feature that you’ll notice is that copies of emails that are sent for Light Blue’s contact forms, questionnaires, contracts, and online invoices are now recorded in Light Blue’s Outbox and the Activity panel for the relevant records. We’re still CCing a copy of these emails to you so that you get an instant notification when your client has done something, but this gives you a clearer record of all of your communications with your client.

Feedback

As always, we’d love to hear from you if you’ve got any feedback about our new features. And if you’re on our list of beta testers, expect to hear more from us in the coming weeks 🙂

Extended assistance for subscribers affected by COVID-19

We make tools to help photographers to manage & run successful businesses. As a small, independent business ourselves we recognise the challenges that our customers face and we’re keen to help.

In March, we offered to reduce the cost of Light Blue subscriptions by 50% for any of our customers who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. We’re now in mid-May and it’s clear that we’re not out of the woods yet and that our customers would still benefit from a helping hand. That’s why we’ve taken the decision to extend our financial help on subscriptions for another three months.

If you’ve already had this discount applied to your account then there’s nothing you need to do: you will continue to pay your subscription at the reduced rate for a further three months (i.e. six months in total).

If you need assistance but haven’t applied for our offer yet, you can do so by clicking here to log into your account.

We’re here to help you in other ways, too

Our help and support isn’t just financial. We’re working hard to make sure that our customers are in the best possible shape to bounce back as things start to get back to normal:

  • We’ve published a series of guides to help with some specific challenges that you might be facing right now.
  • We’re continually offering free 1:1 screen sharing sessions to help you to get more out of Light Blue and to be ready to start working with your clients again.
  • On Wednesday this week, we’re holding a special day of screen sharing sessions where you can chat with Tom, Ian, or Dani to get help and advice. Click here to book a meeting!

We want you to be able to carry on using all of Light Blue’s tools to ensure that you make the most of the opportunities that come along, whether that’s nurturing your existing clients with automated messages, helping postponed shoots to reschedule with our online contract signing service, working out which clients you want to market to when things get back to normal, or using our contact forms to handle new enquiries.

We’re here for you.

With love from Tom, Ian, and Dani.