It’s important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture from time to time.
As you go about your day to day work, you’re consciously and unconsciously gathering all sorts of information that can help you to run a more effective business.
I had been running my photography and videography business for the best part of a decade and was fairly good at looking at things like where my enquiries were coming from, what my return on investment from those activities was, average customer spends and so on.
But there was one piece of information that I hadn’t reviewed which would have made a substantial impact on my marketing.
It was only in a quiet moment during the pandemic lockdown that my curiosity was piqued and I really wish I’d looked at this sooner!
Day to day I recorded all of my enquiries, including those that I couldn’t do, keeping track of where the enquiry came from, the date the client was enquiring about and why the client didn’t proceed with booking – e.g. they told me they’d booked someone else, they ghosted me or the lead went stale, or I was unavailable on their date.
This gave me useful insights into which marketing channels gave me the most enquiries, but also how well they converted and what the average client spend per marketing channel was.
But something I hadn’t explored in any detail was the enquiries that I hadn’t booked because I wasn’t available.
I’d never given those much more attention than to respond with a standard email listing a few other photographers, wishing them well, noting why I wasn’t booking that enquiry and moving on – a few seconds of my time in total.
Why bother spending any more time? I’m not going to convert that client.
Well, when I looked at how many of those sorts of enquiries I had, I realised that they made up a substantial percentage of all of the enquiries I got through the year.
Everybody will market their business in different ways, using a blend of strategies that involve a combination of your time and money in order to generate enquiries. If a substantial percentage of those hard earned enquiries are falling at the first hurdle because you can’t take the booking, then a portion of your marketing efforts are being wasted too.
It’s near impossible to only market to clients on dates that you can fulfil, so how can you cut down on waste from enquiries that you’re unable to work with because of other commitments?
You, times two
One answer would be to engage an associate photographer. Any dates that you weren’t available for could be passed on to an associate, and since you’re keeping the booking in-house you would still be getting some return on your marketing efforts.
But when is the right time to hire an associate? You’d need to make sure that there’s enough enquiries coming in regularly to sustain that relationship.
That doesn’t happen overnight, so is there a half way point?
Building a close referral network
Earlier I mentioned that I handled enquiries that I couldn’t fulfil by blindly recommending the same handful of photographers – I didn’t check if they were available or not, I simply passed on a list and got on with my day.
But what I could (and should) have done was to build a referral network of a small number of photographers with a similar style and price point, and then referred each enquiry to just one of those photographers. If my network and I shared a calendar of our availabilities – not the fine detail of what we were up to, just an indication of who was free/busy on a given date – then I could confidently refer one of my network to the client and say that I knew they had availability.
That wouldn’t have needed to take a great deal more time than my old approach, a quick check of the shared diary and then selecting the right email template is all it would take.
So why bother doing that? I’m still not booking that enquiry.
Referral networks are a reciprocal relationship and while I’m sending my unavailable enquiries to my network, some of my networks enquiries will be coming to me on dates that I can do.
I can record who I passed my unavailable enquiries on to and which members of my network have sent work back my way when I get those new referred enquiries, so I can ensure that my referral relationship is fair and balanced.
Essentially I’m recycling my unavailable enquiries and turning them in to new enquiries from my network.
What about larger referral networks like Facebook groups, forums and organisations?
It’s less likely that you’ll have a direct exchange of referrals from those larger groups, so keeping track of who you passed work on to and who sent work your way would be much harder.
Instead it could be an idea to think of the whole referral group as one source.
That way you’re able to see the balance of how many jobs you’re bringing into the group and how many are coming back to you. If you’re part of several groups then this allows you to understand which groups are providing a fair relationship for you.
Having all your business information in the right place makes the job easy.
As I was going about the daily running of my business, my Light Blue database was quietly amassing a wealth of useful information. When I took the time to step back and see the bigger picture I had all of that information together already, so there was no need to fiddle with spreadsheets or take time collating and merging information.
Light Blue’s powerful querying and reporting tools did all the hard work for me.
The important lesson is to make sure that you’re reviewing this information on a regular basis so that you’ve got the insights to make smarter decisions.
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.
Enquiries by enquiry date,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As a photographer, you understand the importance of using the right tool for the job; the right lens to give you the desired field of view, the right editing preset to give your image the right look, or the right flash modifier to shape your light to fall how you like.
That doesn’t stop with your images. Using the right tool also applies to the way that you interact with your clients and prospective clients.
If part of your marketing strategy involves acquiring prospects at expos, shows or events, then you’ll understand that effectively following up with those leads is critical to getting a good return on your investment.
Sadly, no matter how great your work is, it’s rare for those leads to jump at the offer of your services right away and so they require a certain degree of nurture. This is where mass marketing tools come into their element.
Marketing tools like Active Campaign, Mailchimp or SendInBlue can take care of the heavy lifting of keeping in touch with your leads. A cleverly constructed campaign of emails, text messages and social contact can warm those leads up from being vaguely interested to positively excited to book you.
Read on to learn how you can design such a campaign and then bring those toasty-warm leads into Light Blue as clients who are excited to work with you.
Martin Cheung is a wedding photographer based in Nottingham & Derby. As well as being a superb wedding photographer he also has 25 years of experience in the IT industry, specialising in networks, firewalls and internet connectivity. With that experience and knowledge, Martin’s kindly provided this guide to help prevent your emails from being marked as junk.
Read on to learn how to keep your messages in your clients inboxes!