Using text messages to stay in touch with clients and cut down on missed appointments

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Light Blue makes it easier than ever to stay in touch with your clients, or make sure that they turn up for their appointments because you can send text messages directly from within our desktop and mobile apps.

Text messages can be sent to individual clients, but we’ve also created tools that make it easy to send messages to a selection of clients, or send out reminders for the shoots and appointments that they’ve booked with you. Your clients’ replies can go straight to your mobile phone, and our customisable templates make it easy to set up personalised messages using our mail-merge tags.

You don’t need a subscription to our online services to send text messages from Light Blue, and text messaging credits cost as little as 7p per message. We’ve given everyone five free credits, so that you can try it out for yourself.

You can find out more about Light Blue’s text messaging features in this short video tutorial, and we’ll be presenting a webinar that goes into more detail at 13:30 on Wednesday 9 November. As with all of our webinars, we’ll be going into more detail than we can in our short video tutorials and also answering any questions that you might have about our text messaging service.

You can sign up for the webinar here.

(Text messages can’t be sent to US or Canadian phone numbers at the moment. We’re hoping to be able to let all our customers in the USA and Canada take advantage of this feature in the near future.)

Light Blue 6.1.4: an important update for Mac users

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Apple released macOS Sierra last week, and by most accounts it’s a good, stable update to macOS. We’ve heard very little about incompatibilities and Light Blue is running well on it, with one potential snag.
Sierra introduces a new iCloud feature called Desktop & Documents sync. This moves the contents of your Desktop and Documents into iCloud and syncs them across all of the devices that are linked to your iCloud account. While it’s convenient for a lot of Mac users, photographers might find this a bit problematic in that if you’ve got a lot of data in these folders (big piles of RAW files all over your Desktop, anyone?) then you’ll quickly run into iCloud’s storage limits unless you upgrade to one of Apple’s more expensive iCloud plans. You can find out more about how these feature works (including some scary things that can happen while setting it up, or turning this feature off again) here.
More importantly, this new synchronisation feature has the potential to interfere with Light Blue’s own data and file syncing. Therefore, we’ve released an update that moves Light Blue’s data folder to a location that won’t be affected by this feature.
All you need to do to ensure that your copy of Light Blue 6 doesn’t run into this potential problem is to update to version 6.1.4, and we strongly recommend that you do so before upgrading your Mac to Sierra. Light Blue 6.1.4 will automatically move its data folder to a new, safer location:  ~/Library/Application Support/com.lightbluesoftware.lightblue/
This new data folder location is less convenient for anyone who wants to manually create or restore backups, but avoids any potential problems caused by this new iCloud feature.

You can update to Light Blue 6.1.4 b1 by using the ‘Check for Updates’ command, which can be found in the Light Blue menu on a Mac or in the Help menu on Windows.

Versions of Light Blue older than Light Blue 6 store their data in a different location, and aren’t affected by this new iCloud feature.

Importing purchases from a spreadsheet

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It’s all very well recording your income, but unless you also have your expenditure in the same system then you can’t see how profitable your business is.

The advantage of managing your photography business in Light Blue is that everything linked together. It allows you to quickly & easily run reports on the financial state of your business, something we discussed in more detail in an earlier article.

You may have previously recorded your business’ expenditure in another system, or perhaps you’re using some receipt scanning software that produces a spreadsheet of purchases. Alternatively, you may have recurring expenditure in the form of subscriptions or regular purchases.

We introduced a really handy feature in Light Blue 6 which allows you to create many purchase records in one go by importing from a spreadsheet file (.csv). It’s a huge time saver when you’ve got lots of expenditure records to add at once.

Here’s an example of how to format your CSV file, you’ll notice that each line of the spreadsheet represents a new purchase, with the details about that purchase recorded in separate columns.

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The formatting of dates and numbers is quite important. You must make sure that dates are written as dd/mm/yyyy (separated with slashes and using 4 figures for the year). You don’t need to include the currency symbol for financial amounts, just the number.

Importing this spreadsheet into Light Blue is really straightforward:

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You can choose which fields in Light Blue will correspond to the columns in your CSV file & drag to re-order them:

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Once you click import, Light Blue will create a new purchase record for each of the lines in the CSV file, as well as a payment record for the date that you indicated the purchase was paid for.

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All of your expenditure data is now in one place with just a few clicks. It’s ideal if you’re moving from an old system or have a record of your purchases in another format.

Light Blue 6.1.3

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We regularly release free updates to Light Blue that tweak existing features and fix bugs. Today, we released Light Blue 6.1.3 for Mac OS X and Windows.

If you’re one of our subscribers, or if you’ve bought a standalone licence for Light Blue 6, you can download this latest update by using the ‘Check For Updates’ command from within Light Blue. If you’re using a Mac, you’ll find this command in the ‘Light Blue’ menu. If you’re using Windows, it will be in the ‘Help’ menu.

Light Blue 6.1.3 includes the following changes:

  • Forms that have been submitted but not imported into Light Blue can now be printed via the linked shoot’s Activity panel.
  • Fixed a problem where some mail-merge tags that contained special characters could fail to work properly in contracts.
  • We’ve changed the “Your details” heading in our sample wedding booking forms to “Wedding couple’s details”.
  • You can now use all of the usual date options when using the ‘Email Date’ field in the query dialog.
  • Appointments that have been created but not linked to any other records can now be edited via the calendar.
  • Fixed a problem that could prevent our licence agreement from being displayed on Windows.
  • Fixed a problem that could occur when trying to link a shoot that doesn’t exist to a purchase item.
  • Fixed a problem that could prevent you from importing an MPA Cherubs data file that contains inconsistent data.
  • When you delete incoming data via the Inbox, any associated form is now always deleted as well.
  • Fixed a problem where, on Windows, changing the price list in a sale or quote item dialog failed to take effect until the dialog was closed and reopened.
  • We’ve fixed any unexpected quits that have been reported to us.

We’ve also been continuing to update our client portal, and have recently made the following changes live:

  • Required fields are more prominent and, if they haven’t all been filled in, an explanation is included next to the disabled ‘Submit’ button.
  • ‘Wedding Couple’ controls on forms now always require two contacts to be added.
  • Added a drop-down menu to time controls, to make it easier for clients to enter times correctly.
  • When a client adds new contacts to a form, they now appear in the correct order in Light Blue Inbox and in the email that’s sent to you.
  • When using a popup contact form, clicking the ‘Submit’ button scrolls you back to the top of the page to ensure that the thank you page is visible.
  • Popup contact forms are now reloaded if you close and reopen them.

Compatibility with macOS Sierra and iOS 10

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In a couple of weeks, Apple are going to be releasing macOS Sierra (yes, they really have stopped called it “Mac OS X”) and iOS 10. Because many of our customers like to upgrade their Macs, iPhones, and iPads as soon as new operating systems become available, we’ve been testing the latest versions of our apps with both new operating systems.

The good news is that Light Blue 6.1.2 seems to work well with macOS Sierra, and our new iOS app appears to be working well with iOS 10. However, we can never be entirely sure that Apple won’t change something before the release of either operating system, so please read on for the important health warning…

Health warning

As with all major operating system updates, it is a very sensible idea to be cautious about updating all of your computers and mobile devices at the same time. Although our testing of Light Blue 6 and version 3 of our iOS app has been positive so far, there is every chance that Apple could change something that breaks compatibility or that we’ve missed something because we can’t test every conceivable combination of devices and settings.

If you rely on Light Blue to run your business, we would therefore recommend holding off from updating your operating system as soon as the latest versions of macOS and iOS come out. At the very least, if you absolutely must update on day one, make sure that you have at least one computer and iOS device on the ‘old’ operating system until you’ve had a chance to test that all of the features that you depend on are fully functional.

Also, please note that our testing has been has been focussed on the latest versions of our desktop and mobile app. The vast majority of our customers are already using Light Blue 6.1.2 and version 3 of our iOS app, and if you’re using older version of either the desktop or mobile app then please update to the latest version to ensure that you’re able to take advantage of all of the new features and bug fixes that we’ve been adding. You can update the desktop app by using the ‘Check for updates’ command (in the ‘Light Blue’ menu if you’re on a Mac, or in the ‘Help’ menu if you’re using it on Windows), and you can update the iOS app via the App Store.

Exporting data from Light Blue

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Throughout this short series of articles, we’ve been covering how to make the most out of the information that you’ve already entered into Light Blue.

There’s a few different ways of finding useful information that’s already in Light Blue, both with Quick Queries and creating your own more specific searches using the Query Dialog. Once you’ve found the data you’re looking for, you can step back and look at the bigger picture using List View.

But there’s even more that you can do to make the most out of the valuable data in Light Blue, and in this article we’ll have a look at exporting information from Light Blue for use with third-party tools.

Finding the information you need

Before you export anything from Light Blue, you’ll need to find the records that you’re interested in. These could be within one of the Quick Queries (the saved searches in each of the main sections in Light Blue), a more detailed search that you’ve performed using the Query Dialog, or the result of one of the Custom Reports you’ve saved.

Simple PDFs

Clicking the Print/Send in the toolbar while you’re using List View allows you to produce a simple PDF of the results of your search. It’s read-only, but that’s still useful for getting a snapshot of your data.

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More flexibility…

There may be occasions when you want to export a specific set of fields from your search, perhaps to import into a spreadsheet in Excel.

Clicking File > Export… opens a dialog similar to the Customise List View dialog we looked at in the last article. Here you can specify which fields of data you’d like to export (and in which order).

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That will produce a CSV file (a simple spreadsheet) of the selected information from the records in your list.

You may be exporting the same information on a regular basis, and want to keep the format consistent. Saving a field set means that you can load the selected fields (and their order) again in the future, so you don’t have to remember which fields you were exporting.

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If you want to send out a large email newsletter to a list of your contacts, using a service like Mail Chimp for example, you can export a list of email addresses at the click of a button. This produces a CSV file which you can upload/import into whichever application you’re using.

Finally, when preparing information for your accountant, there’s a really handy ‘Export Financial Information’ command. Once you’ve specified the period you’d like to cover (last financial year, for example), Light Blue will save a number of CSVs which you can send over to your accountant, without having to spend ages setting anything up!

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Light Blue making your life easier

Because all of your information is in one place, making use of it is really simple. There’s no need to spend ages collating the data, to be copying and pasting things, or doing anything complicated, and because reports & queries pull up your live data, you’re always seeing the most up to date information.

You can use everything you’ve entered into Light Blue to give you an overview of how your business is performing and where you need to focus your efforts so that you can hit your goals!

Light Blue’s List View & Custom Reports

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In this short series of articles, we’ve been covering how to make the most out of the information that you’ve already entered into Light Blue. We’ve previously looked at different ways of finding useful information that’s already in Light Blue, both with Quick Queries and creating your own more specific searches using the Query Dialog.

That data is really useful and can tell you a lot about how your business is doing. In this article we’ll explore how we can step back and look at the bigger picture using List View.

More than just a list of records

When you view the results of a query, you can see all the records that fall into that found set in either Detail View (the default), or List View. List View is a really good way of seeing a big group of records all at once, and the totals and averages that it provides are great for quickly understanding your data.

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When you go into List View, Light Blue will show you a default set of columns, but you can choose to customise this to display the fields that are relevant to you.

For example, you may be interested to see how profitable all your shoots from the previous month were. Having queried for those records, you can now customise the list view (by clicking Window > Customise List View) to show columns of the most relevant information.

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Grouping records together

In List View, you can view the found records as one big list, or you can group them to give you a more helpful view of your data.

For example, it’s really useful to get an idea of how your bookings are doing year on year, so running a query for all of your confirmed or completed shoots in last year, this year and next year is a good starting point.

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While you can sort all of these records by their start date, it can be pretty hard to see where one year ends and another begins, and without totals you’d need to count them up in your head.

Grouping the list view by year means that there’s a clear separation between shoots from one year and another.

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You’ll notice that we’ve now got sub-totals and averages for each group, essentially a list within a list. At a glance we can now easily compare how one year has performed against another.

Grouping records together isn’t limited to just one criteria, either. If you wanted to group your shoots first by year and then by enquiry source, that gives a useful picture of how many shoots you’ve booked for each year and also which types of marketing are proving most effective.

Saving custom reports

There’ll be some cases where you want to run a one-off analysis like this, but plenty of other cases where you might want to keep an eye on a particular set of figures regularly.

Light Blue allows you to save a query and the customised list view as a custom report, so it’s ready with a couple of clicks. It’s a huge time-saver for anyone who’s interested in getting the most out of their data.

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Whenever you want to re-run your report, you’ll find it in the Custom Reports submenu of the Reports menu.

Doing even more with your Light Blue data…

There’s even more that you can do to make the most out of the valuable data in Light Blue, and in the next article we’ll have a look at exporting information from Light Blue for use with third-party tools.

Using the Quick Queries to find useful information in Light Blue
Using the Query dialog to dig deep into your data
Exporting Data from Light Blue for use with third-party tools

Using the Query dialog to dig deep into your data

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This is the second instalment of a short series of articles that will be covering how to make the most out of the information that you’ve already entered into Light Blue. That data can tell you a lot about how your business is doing, and help you to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

The great thing about using Light Blue is that all of the information that you need for this is in one place. In the first article, we talked about Quick Queries, which are saved searches of your current data. These queries are automatically updated and show all of the relevant records that match each saved search.

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Using the Query dialog to dig deep into your data

Compared to using Quick Queries, Light Blue’s Query dialog allows you to be much more specific about the information that you’re searching for, and construct your own queries. These queries can be as simple or detailed as you like, and all of our Quick Queries were built in the Query dialog and can be loaded into it.

For example, you may be interested in targeting some of your clients for a particular promotion. For example, all of your portrait clients who’ve spent more than £500. You can narrow down the selection of records that the Query dialog returns by adding extra criteria, as you can see in this screenshot.

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Using advanced mode for more detailed queries

 

In most cases, when you’re building a query and want to add extra criteria, you’re adding them to narrow down the selection of records that Light Blue will find for you. In our first example, we started off with all of our portrait shoots, and then narrowed that down by specifying that we were only interested in those portraits shoots that also spent more than £500.

This is an example of what’s know as an “and” search, where you’re looking for records that match all of your criteria. You also have the option of adding more advanced options to your queries, including “or” operators and grouping parts of your query together using brackets.

We’ll go into more detail on these advanced features in a future article, but for now here’s an example of how you could modify our example query to search for portrait shoots that spent more than £500 or wedding shoots that spent more than £1,000.

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Using an existing Quick Query as a starting point for your own custom queries

You may find that our existing Quick Queries are helpful, but that you’d like to refine the search a little more. With the Query dialog, you can load an existing Quick Query to use as a starting point, and then add more criteria to your search.

 

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The “Stale Enquiries” query is shows you all of the unconfirmed shoots that first got in touch more than a month ago, but don’t have any more outstanding tasks.

However, let’s say that you’re only interested in a specific type of shoot you could add that criteria to the query.

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Saving queries saves you time!

Everyone runs their photography business in their own particular way, and that means that the information that’s important to you is likely to be different to whatever’s important to the next photographer. Light Blue allows you to add your own queries to your list of Quick Queries, and therefore makes it easy to keep an eye on whatever’s important to you.

To do that, first build your query in the Query dialog. When you’re happy with it, click the “Save Query” button and give your query a name.

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More detailed analysis…

So far, we’ve talked about using Quick Queries and the Query dialog to find a selection of records. In the next article in the series, we’ll look at how you can use the List View & Custom Reports to analyse data in more detail.

Using the Quick Queries to find useful information in Light Blue
Using List View & Custom Reports to analyse data in more detail
Exporting Data from Light Blue for use with third-party tools

Using Quick Queries to find information in Light Blue

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One of the great advantages of using Light Blue is that all of the information that you need is in one place. That data can tell you a lot about how your business is doing, and help you to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

That’s where Light Blue’s reporting features are invaluable, allowing you to use everything you’ve entered into it to give you an overview of how your business is performing and where you need to focus your efforts so that you can hit your goals.

You don’t need to spend ages collating the data, there’s no need to be copying and pasting things, formatting spreadsheets or setting up complicated pivot tables in Excel!

Reports & queries pull up your live data, so you’re always seeing the most up to date information. We’ve got a lot of useful reports already in Light Blue, and we’ve taken a quick look at those in this handy tutorial video:

Quickly finding useful information in Light Blue

This is the first in a short series of articles that will be covering how to make the most out of the information that you’ve already entered into Light Blue. We’ll be looking at how to create your own reports, with some specific useful examples, and also discussing when exporting information out of Light Blue may come in handy.

Before that, I’d like to tell you more about Quick Queries which are saved searches of your current data. The queries are automatically updated and show all of the relevant records that match each saved search. In each of the main sections in Light Blue, you’ll notice a column on the left hand side which displays a set of Quick Queries.

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You’ll see a different set of Quick Queries, depending on whether you’re looking at the Shoot screen, Contacts screen, Sales screen or Purchases screen, for example.

Keeping an eye on your outgoings is important for any business, and there’s a load of Quick Queries in the Purchases screen to help you. You can see all of the purchases that have been made within a variety of periods – all of last months purchases or all of the purchases you’ve made this financial year, for example.

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In the Sales screen, you can see a list of all of your invoices that have been sent to customers and should have been paid by now, but are currently marked as unpaid. This is really helpful for seeing all of your overdue invoices in one place and allows you to quickly chase them all up at once. You could send an email to all of those billing contacts, so you’re not spending ages sending them all messages.

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In the Contacts screen, there’s a few Quick Queries that help you to see when you’ve got upcoming birthdays within your customer base. That’s great for sending a simple “happy birthday” message, or planning ahead and suggesting that they book a portrait session.

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Giving you control…

One of the really great things about Light Blue is how flexible and customisable it is, and that’s what I’d like to focus on in this series. It’s possible to create and save your own Quick Queries, which we’ll be talking about in our next post.

Using the Query dialog to dig deep into your data
Using List View & Custom Reports to analyse data in more detail
Exporting Data from Light Blue for use with third-party tools 

Using price lists to save time in Light Blue

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Price lists are one of the many time-saving features built into Light Blue, allowing you to create a list of predefined products & services that can be used to quickly and accurately enter a quote or sale. They save lots of repetitive typing, or copying and pasting from old invoices.

You can find out how to set up a price lists in our video tutorials section.

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Templated, but flexible…

Light Blue is full of features that allow you to set up templates to save time, but those templates are always designed to give you the flexibility you need to treat your clients as individuals. Price lists are no different.

Sometimes, you may have a client who requests a small change to an existing product or service that you offer. Perhaps you’re a wedding photographer, and they’re not interested in the parent albums that are included in the package that they’ve chosen?

The simplest approach is for you to use your price list, but then adjust the description and value of a product once it’s been added to a quote or sale.

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Keeping an eye on profitability

Another handy feature of price lists is being able to include an estimated cost for each item. These costs are used when creating quotes, and allow you to keep a close eye on your estimated profit for the job when setting up a bespoke quote.

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Offering packages

Many photographers sell packages of products and services, and there are a variety of ways of structuring these in your quotes and sales in Light Blue. Again, price lists can help you to set up them up quickly and flexibly.

The simplest and most popular approach is to create a single item in your price list for the package, give it a sensible name, and list the contents of the package in the description field.

However, some photographers prefer to break the package down into separate items. One drawback of this more granular approach is that this could encourage your client to chop and change things a little more than you’d like, or invite them to scale down their package by more than you are comfortable.

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To avoid that, you could create a dedicated “Bespoke package” price list where the unit price of each item is £0, but you’ve still entered the unit costs as accurately as you can. Then, have another item just called “Bespoke Package”, to which you manually add whatever unit price you intend to charge. That way you’ve got a good idea of your material costs before you decide what you plan to charge for the package.

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