How Making Tax Digital affects Light Blue and UK businesses

Making Tax Digital (MTD) is part of the UK government’s plan to make the country’s tax system more efficient. It’s something that we’ve been keeping a close eye on for a while, and it will (probably) start to come into effect in 2019.

You only need to pay attention to MTD in 2019 if you are based in the UK, registered for VAT, and use Light Blue to produce the figures for your VAT return. The scope of MTD will be widened in the future, but it’s very limited at the moment.

HMRC’s current plan is that MTD will require businesses to start submitting their VAT returns via compatible software from April 2019. However, there’s some uncertainty as to whether this will actually happen: as recently as November the House of Lords seemed to be trying to tell HMRC that dealing with Brexit and MTD at the same time might not be good for either businesses or HMRC.

We’re always keen to find ways to help photographers in their day-to-day business, and meeting the needs of MTD is no exception. If this first stage of MTD does indeed go live in April 2019 then we will make sure that Light Blue is able to help you with it.

At a minimum, we’ll make sure that the VAT return figures from Light Blue can be exported in a way that will work with an easily available MTD tool. As the scope and requirements become more clear, we’ll be able to investigate ways that Light Blue can be even more beneficial to our customers.

Key points to take away are:

  • In 2019, you’ll only need to be concerned with this if you’re VAT-registered.
  • There’s a chance that MTD will be postponed to 2020.
  • Helping you to meet the requirements of MTD is important to us.
  • We’ll be making sure that we have tools and features in place to help you meet those requirements in time for MTD’s implementation.

The Societies’ Trade Awards 2018


It’s that time of year again when The Societies of Photographers open voting in their trade awards so that photographers can choose their preferred trade suppliers in a wide range of categories.

We work hard to develop our indispensable business management software to help keep photographers organised & productive. We’d really appreciate your vote for Light Blue as “Best Professional Software” in the The Societies’ Trade Awards.

Vote for Light Blue as ‘Best Professional Software’

Your vote counts and you could win a Masterclass Full 4 Day Pass to The Societies 2019 London Photo Convention! (worth up to £225)

All completed forms will be entered in to the prize draw and the winner will be announced after the 31 December 2018.

Meet Light Blue at the SWPP Roadshow in Coventry

On Thursday 22nd November we’ll be attending The Societies of Photographers Roadshow in Coventry. It’s free to enter if you register in advance, here: https://thesocieties.net/events/coventry/

Free Tradeshow

There’s a free trade show from 09:30, which is a great opportunity to meet a wide range of trade suppliers, including Light Blue!

Free Masterclasses

LauderChristina Lauder FSWPP Master Photographer – Teen Portraits: The Next Big Thing in Portraiture
10:00-11:00

Seniors Portraits in the US has been huge for years. Named for the year in which it is tradition to have them done, their senior year of high school, these teen portraits is a market that hasn’t seen much headway here in the UK. Like newborn, maternity and boudoir, this too can become the next big thing. Build it and they will come. During this one hour talk we will take a look at various ways to style, light, and market a product range that will have this elusive age group begging their parents for a shoot.

Terry Donnelly FSWPP – Sony mirrorless cameras, one year on since making the switch from DSLR.
12:00-13:00

Come and celebrate my Sonyversary with me in this action packed 1 hour presentation and demonstration. I will share my experiences, and many images from my first full year of shooting Sony mirrorless cameras professionally, and also demonstrate some key features.

Was it worth it? Did I make the right choice? What do I like, and dislike? What are the benefits?

Come and join us and have all these questions answered and more at the Societies’ Roadshows where Sony UK will also be in attendance with a full range of kit for you to try and get hands on with.

Gary Hill ASIFGP – Can A Man Shoot Feminine Boudoir?
14:00-15:00

Gary HillIt is often said that men and women have very different styles of shooting especially when it comes to shooting boudoir and glamorous style images.

In this class the art of shooting images which are feminine in style but shot from a man’s perspective will be shown and discussed.

From pre shoot consultation the client needs and expectations will all be covered to show the relevant skills needed in order to ascertain the style and type of imagery the client really wants.

Experienced boudoir photographers know the difference in the type of images clients want for themselves and the type they would like shot for partners of both sexes. The subtle psychology of why this is so will be explained and shown both in the style and in the relative posing of the shot to suit both market places.

The ability to capture this and show that it is appreciated by the photographer leads to greater client satisfaction, larger sales and greater use of word of mouth marketing.

Farmers’ Market


We’re excited to announce that we’ve been nominated for an award for Best Software for Photographers in the Farmers’ Market awards. There’s a variety of other categories to vote in, with many worthy nominees, too. We’d be truly grateful if you could spare a moment to cast a vote:

Vote for Light Blue as ‘Best Software for Photographers’

There’s a whole host of really interesting & worthwhile talks being held at The Farmers’ Market and we’ve shortlisted a few that we thought were especially useful.

Protect yourself: Contracts & Dealing with negative situations – Emilie White

As well as being a busy UK based Wedding Photographer, Emilie White used to be an intellectual property Lawyer. So she has a detailed knowledge of the law and what is required in a contract. She will share her insights as to what should be included to protect yourself and be clear as to what happens with our images.

Learn more & book tickets here.

Fix it in Photoshop – Tigz Rice

Tigz Rice is the Photography Farm’s resident geek girl on all things Adobe. Expect a rattling two hour demo of quick tips and tricks in Photoshop, like swapping heads in a group shot, creating panoramas, creating droplets for resizing images, reducing redness in skin, quick selections and cut outs, changing the colour of an object, using content aware tools, sharpening an image, creating actions… Tools to handle absolutely anything a client might throw at you!

Learn more & book tickets here.

Shooting as a Duo – The Twins

More and more photographers are choosing to shoot as a twosome or upselling a second shooter to clients. But how do you make the partnership work?
The Twins, who have been shooting together since 2012, will take you through the business – branding, marketing, website, and how to divvy up the admin.
Then there’s the wedding day itself. The Twins will tell you how they plan the day, define their roles, and how they work together to ensure seamless storytelling.

Learn more & book tickets here.

Nailing the Candids – Lee Allen

As both a music industry and wedding photographer, Lee Allen knows the power of a good candid shot as well as techniques for insuring that you get some killer ones. So we asked him to lead a class on shooting them at weddings. This session is both an examination into what elements form great candid shots and a practical hands on class with shooting elements.

Learn more & book tickets here.

Teen portraits – The Next Big Thing in Portraiture in the UK – Christina Lauder

Leicestershire family portrait photographer Christina Lauder is originally from Toronto, Canada. She moved to the UK 20 years ago for a job transfer in software consulting & eventually found herself starting a new career as a portrait photographer, something she’d wanted to do since she was a child.

I’ve had the chance to try pretty much every genre there is within portraiture, from newborn to boudoir and everything in between, however what has captured my interest most is the teenage market. I love that I am still working with children but they tend to be with me of their own free will and therefore willing to cooperate which makes my job a whole lot easier and much more interesting.

Teen portraits are becoming a genre in their own right here in the UK. Much like Prom has reached this side of the water, the ever popular teenage portrait industry that has swept across North America is coming to the UK too.

And why not? This is an important milestone in our children’s lives. I for one want to capture this time in my child’s life and I suspect I’m not alone here. Teenagers have strong personalities, they have hobbies and interests worth documenting and moving away from home is well within their sights so we have to capture them while we can.

We’ve had the pleasure of hearing Christina hold seminars at the SWPP Digital Imaging Roadshow and she talks about the challenges of bringing a previously unknown genre of photography to the UK market.

I’m not going to lie, this market is going to take some selling. It won’t happen simply because we offer it. This isn’t typically an age that parents think of taking their kids to a portrait studio. But it is an age where children can ask for such a service. We just need to show them how wonderful their portraits can be and how amazing it will be for them to share in their social media. Then we can let the kids do the selling for us. Of course showing them how wonderful their portraits can be means we need to create portraits that are wonderful. These must be more than your average studio portrait. Thankfully teenagers provide so much scope that this is relatively simple and its one sure way of separating an average photographer from a great photographer.

Christina’s delivering a series of workshops which will provide a solid foundation in lighting that can be applied to any genre of portraiture, although the focus and subject matter for this workshop is teenagers.

You can find more information on Christina’s site about the workshops in FifeChester le Street & Somerset.

Using scheduling tools to allow your customers to book shoots online with Light Blue’s API

Photographers all over the world are using Light Blue’s powerful forms to streamline their workflows, using them to feed new enquiries straight from their website into Light Blue. They’re really easy to set up and embed in your website, and you can also our forms as part of your online booking process.

Light Blue also offers an API that gives you more advanced options for sending information to your Light Blue account. You (or your website designer) could use the API to link a customised contact form to your Inbox, or you could use in combination with Zapier to link a variety of other services to Light Blue.

Online Scheduling tools

Using a powerful combination of our API and calendar publishing options, can be used to link Light Blue to popular online scheduling systems like Acuity Scheduling.

Online scheduling tools like Acuity can allow your clients to book shoots online, based on your availability. The customer can choose their own session without needing any input from you, and the details arrive in Light Blue without needing to type anything in.

This article focusses on how to set up an integration with Acuity using the middle-man service, Zapier, to send booking information into Light Blue for you.

Give Acuity your availability from Light Blue

Once you’ve created and set up your Acuity account, you’ll need to be able to tell their system when are (and aren’t) available for bookings. There’s a couple of different ways that you can do this, either by publishing events from Light Blue to a Google Calendar, or to your iCloud account. You can then authorise Acuity to synchronise with that calendar. Any events that have been added to Light Blue (like other shoots, meetings & time off) will now block out time that could be booked in Acuity and show that you’re unavailable, so you don’t get double-booked.

Using Zapier with the Light Blue API

The next step is to link Acuity back to Light Blue, so that new bookings are sent to Light Blue using our API and integration with Zapier.

Zapier is a service that acts as a middleman between a variety of web services, with some services providing triggers (e.g. “a new booking has been made via Acuity“) and other services providing actions. Zapier allows you to set up a number of “Zaps” that link a trigger to an action. We’ve written a Zapier action that allows you to send information to the Light Blue API in response to one of these triggers.

Requirements

As well as a subscription to our online services, you need a Zapier account. Zapier offers a variety of subscriptions (including a free one) but please be aware that each subscription level will only handle a certain number of tasks per month.

Setup

The Light Blue action for Zapier is currently a “private” action, so you need an invitation code to be able to use it. You can invite yourself to use the Light Blue action by clicking the following link: Light Blue on Zapier

Creating your Zap

The first step in creating your “Zap” is choosing which app or service will trigger the Zap to start running. Choose Acuity Scheduling from the list of apps and enter your account details.

When a new appointment has been created in Acuity, the Zap will be triggered.

Select the ‘Send to Light Blue API’ action

Now you can select Light Blue from the list of action apps. You might need to type “Light Blue” in the search field to find it.

Enter your Light Blue API key

When you’re prompted to select a Light Blue account, enter your Light Blue API key. You can find your API key by logging into the My Account section of our website.

Match up the data from your trigger app to Light Blue API parameters

Once you’ve set up the trigger app for your Zap and linked your Light Blue account to it, you need to associate data from the source app with parameters that the Light Blue API recognises.

To do this, you need to fill in the ‘Light Blue API Parameters’ section shown in the screenshot below. You type Light Blue API parameters in the left-hand column and select items from the trigger app in the right hand column. You can use the + button to add extra items.

You can find a list of the parameters that the Light Blue API recognises in the Supported Parameters section.

You should leave the ‘Type’ and ‘Source’ fields alone.

Working with dates and times

Different systems show dates and times in different formats, which other systems may not necessarily be able to read or understand. When adding the date and time for a shoot from Acuity to Light Blue, we’d recommend using the ShootStartTimestamp API parameter and linking it to the DateTime value from Acuity.

Test and then save your Zap

Once you’ve linked your Zap to parameters that the Light Blue API recognises, Zapier will ask you to test and save your Zap. If any errors occur (e.g. you don’t provide any parameters that the Light Blue API recognises) then Zapier should inform you and display an error message that you can send to us for further help.

Help & support

If you’re having problems setting up your integration with Light Blue’s API, we’d be delighted to help you. The most useful thing to do is send some screenshots of what you’re trying to do and/or where you’re getting stuck. Screenshots of the settings you’re using in your Zap are most helpful!

Sending text messages with Light Blue

Light Blue allows you to send text messages to your clients, which is great for appointment reminders and marketing.

There are two different ways of sending text messages from Light Blue:

  • Via our dedicated number service, which is available in most countries.
  • Or, if you’re based in the UK, Ireland, or Australia, you can send messages that appear to come from your personal mobile number or a short name.

Dedicated number service

With our dedicated number service, you rent a phone number from us. The text messages that you send from Light Blue come from this number, and any replies that your clients send will appear in the Inbox in Light Blue.

We can also forward clients’ replies to your personal phone number if you want to know about replies as soon as they arrive. This will cost you credits, because we’re effectively sending the message out again.

If someone tries to call your dedicated number, they’ll get an automated message saying that it can’t take calls. We can customise the message for you: just tell us what you’d like it to say.

This service is available in most countries. Renting a dedicated number from us costs £5 per month, and text message credits 7p each for UK numbers (please contact us for international pricing).

If you would like us to set up our dedicated number service for you, please get in touch via email!

Sending text messages that appear to come from you

Customers in the UK, Ireland, and Australia can use a version of our text messaging service where messages sent from Light Blue will appear to come from either your personal phone number or a short name.

This service can work in some other countries, but the local phone companies might change the number that the message appears to come from.

There is no monthly fee for using this version of our text messaging service, and text message credits cost between 7p and 9p depending on the quantity that you buy.

Using a “from name”

If you’re using a From Name, text messages appear from a name that can be up to 11 letters and numbers without spaces. Your customers can’t reply to those messages, because SMS only allows you to reply to a phone number. This is useful when you want to display your business name as the sender and don’t want/need to receive replies.

Using a “from number”

If you’ve set a “from number”, text messages appear to be sent from your own mobile phone number. Replies will go to your own mobile phone number just like any other text message, but replies from your clients aren’t imported into Light Blue (you need to use the dedicated number service in order for your clients’ replies to arrive in Light Blue).

How to send text messages from Light Blue

There’s a short tutorial showing how to send text messages from Light Blue, here:

You can set up text messaging from Light Blue via  your account page:

Set up text messaging with your Light Blue account

Importing Light Blue contract templates issued by third parties

Light Blue’s online contract signing service is one of the most popular features of our online services. It’s really easy to publish contracts for your clients to sign quickly. You need to set up at least one contract template which contains your terms and conditions in order to send contracts to your clients.

We don’t provide any sample contract templates with Light Blue, so you’ll either need to create your own,  copy and paste the text from a contract that you already have in perhaps PDF or Word format, or obtain a contract template from a reputable third party.

Only you can know if a contracts wording is right for you, so if you’re in any doubt then talk to a lawyer.

Creating your own contract template

You can create your own contract template within Light Blue by adding your own terms or copying and pasting the text from a contract that you already have. This tutorial walks through the steps of how to do that.

Adding a Light Blue contract template from a third party

Some third parties have created templates that can be imported directly into Light Blue, without needing to copy & paste any wording. There’s a short video tutorial, followed by some step by step instructions on how to import that template, below:

If you’ve obtained a contract template that’s been provided in Light Blue’s contract template format, it’ll be given to you as an XML file.

To import that into Light Blue (you need to be using Light Blue 7.1 or later), click Records > Import > Contract Template, and choose the XML file.

If the contract template also includes an accompanying form template, you’ll be prompted to choose whether or not to import the form, too. You most likely do want to import the accompanying form.

When that’s done, the contract template & form template (if you imported one) will appear in the preferences pane and will be ready to use.

Asking your clients to opt into your mailing list

New Mailing List Opt-In Form

With Light Blue 7.1.2, you can now send your clients to a special form that allows them to opt in to your mailing list. Each of your contact records has a special URL that identifies them, and you can get that URL in two different ways:

  1. If you only want to send mailing list opt-in links to a small number of clients, you can use the %ContactMailingListOptInURL% mail-merge tag in an email template.
  2. If you want to send mailing list opt-in links to lots of clients, you can export a CSV file of contact names, email addresses, and URLs from Light Blue. You can then import this spreadsheet into a service like MailChimp to email it to your clients.

Your client portal branding is automatically applied to your mailing list opt-in form, and can customise the text that appears on the form by logging into your account on our website.

Read on to learn how to use either of those methods of sending a mailing list opt-in form to your clients!

Using Light Blue

If you want to email a small number of contacts, you could send an email to your clients using an email template.

After you’ve queried for the records that you’re interested in, either by using the Query dialog or one of your Quick Queries, then you could send an email to all of those contacts based on a template that you’ve already set up.

There’s a short tutorial covering how to create your own email templates here.

You’ll need to include the %ContactMailingListOptInURL% mail-merge tag in your email template, so that each contact receives their own unique link to the special opt-in page.

It’s a good idea to try sending  a test message to yourself first, to make sure that you’re happy with how everything appears & works, before sending it out to your customers.

We’d discourage you from using this approach to send more than a small number of emails, because you can run the risk of your mail host temporarily suspending your account for sending too much mail or marking your address as a producer of spam.

Using MailChimp

If you have a larger group of clients you’d like to invite to opt into your mailing list, we’d recommend using a service like MailChimp.

MailChimp is great for sending big mail-outs to lots of contacts. You can personalise those messages to include information that’s unique to each person, too. That means that you can include the unique URL that identifies each client in the email to that person.

In order to do that, you need to add a list of contacts to MailChimp.

1. Exporting a spreadsheet of contacts, including their unique opt-in URLs

The first step is to export your contacts’ names, email addresses, and the unique URLs that they can use to opt into your mailing list. You should use the Query dialog or one of your Quick Queries to find the contacts that you want to include in this mailing, and then go into the Housekeeping section of the Records menu and select ‘Ask Contacts To Opt-In To Mailing List’.

Light Blue will give you a preview of the contacts who will be included. You can remove contacts by selecting them and clicking the ‘Remove From List’ button. When you click the ‘Export’ button, Light Blue will export a CSV file that you can import into MailChimp.

2. Creating a special “List” in MailChimp

Log in to your MailChimp account and then, in the Lists section, click ‘Create List’.


Give the list a name and complete the other required information, then save the list. You don’t need to include the “Enable double opt-in” or “Enable GDPR fields” options for this list: the purpose of messaging contacts on the list is to ask them to complete their unique opt-in form which will update Light Blue.

3. Adding a special field to the list for the unique URL

Once you’ve created the list, we need to set up a special list field to store the unique opt-in form URL. In the Settings menu, click on “List fields and *|MERGE|* tags”:


Click the “Add A Field” button at the bottom:

Choose Website as the type:

Give the field a name & tag name (e.g. “Light Blue Opt-In” and “LBOPTIN”) then save your changes:

4. Importing the contacts from Light Blue into the MailChimp list

You’re now ready to import the CSV of contacts from Light Blue into MailChimp. To do that, click Add Contacts > Import Contacts:

Choose CSV or tab-delimited text file and click Next:

Choose the file that you exported from Light Blue. Now you can map the columns in the CSV file to the relevant MailChimp fields.
Light Blue’s CSV file includes a full name field, which isn’t relevant to MailChimp, so you can click “skip” so MailChimp ignores it:


When you get to the unique Opt-In Form URL column, choose to map that to the “Light Blue Opt In” field that you created earlier:

Click Save, then click Next.
Categorise the imported contacts as “subscribed” so that we can send the email to them:

When you click Import, MailChimp will import the contents of the CSV.

5. Creating & sending the email message

You can now create your email message which will be addressed to the contacts in this list by creating a new email campaign. To do that, return to your MailChimp account home screen and click the “Create Campaign” button.

Choose to “create an email” and give the campaign a name (e.g. “Opt in mailout”). In the To field, click “Add Recipients”, then choose the list you created earlier:


Enter relevant “from” & “subject” fields, then click on the “Design Email” button to design the content of your message.

Choose a layout format that you want to work with and start to compose your email message. Click on the text of your email, choose to edit the text block.

You can now customise the text of the email so that it can include the unique URL. To do that, click on the “Merge Tags” button and choose the “Light Blue Opt In” tag that you created earlier:

Once you’re done, click “Save & Close”. You can send a test message to preview how the email looks. When you’re ready, click the “Send” button to send the email to all of the contacts that you imported.

Customising your mailing list opt-in form

Your client portal branding is automatically applied to your mailing list opt-in form, and can customise the text that appears on the form by logging into your account on our website.

The customisation options for your opt-in form include:

  • Whether or not you want to receive a notification email whenever a client opts in or out of your mailing list via this form.
  • The heading and text that appears on the form.
  • The text of the buttons on the form.
  • The headings and text that appears on the pages that are displayed when a client opts in or out.

 

Come and see Light Blue at The Societies’ trade show!

We love meeting photographers and hearing how they’re using Light Blue to grow and streamline their photography businesses, and we’re going to be doing just that at The Societies’ 2018 convention and trade show, which runs from Friday 12 January to Sunday 14 January.

If you’d like to find out more about how Light Blue can help you to run a successful photography business, we’d be delighted to see you there. We’ll be running demos throughout the day on stand K8/K9 in the King’s Suite, and coming to see us at the show is the perfect opportunity to ask us any questions you might have about how you can put Light Blue to work for your business.

Free one-to-one training at the show

We’re going to be running demos throughout the show for people who are new to Light Blue, but we love seeing existing customers so please come and say hello!

This year, we’re also offering free one-to-one training at the show. If there’s anything that we can help you with, or that you’d like to talk to us about, you can book a free 20 minute session with us so that we can give you our undivided attention.

We’re only able to offer a limited number of one-to-one sessions at such a busy show, so please make sure to book in advance to avoid disappointment.

Unmissable masterclasses at the convention

One of the things that makes The Societies’ convention much more compelling than many other trade shows is the extensive masterclass programme that’s running alongside the show.

We’ve got acclaimed children’s photographer and Canon ambassador Helen Bartlett working with us on the Light Blue Software stand throughout the show, and she’ll be presenting a masterclass about how to find your own style of photography on the Sunday afternoon.

There’s going to be dozens of other great speakers at the convention who are already using Light Blue to run their businesses, and we’ve put together a list of some of the highlights of the programme on our blog.