One of the ways I set myself apart from other photographers is by posting clients’ images within 1-2 days of each shoot, for both commercial and portrait clients. In order to do this, I continually hone my workflow. I use a home-made project management tool that helps me keep track of the oodles of details that go into every job. So far, this custom excel system works for me and I haven’t purchased any software (yet).
I am kind of an excel nerd…don’t laugh.
My process is somewhat different for portrait and commercial jobs, so this post focuses on portrait client workflow, and a future post will highlight commercial client workflow.
The process outlined below begins after lead conversion. A previous post in this series reviewed my lead tracking system.
- Do as much as possible before shooting. Taking care of as many small details before a shoot adds up to big time savings after the shoot, which allows my boutique service model to work.
- Spread out jobs as much as possible. I prefer a low-volume/higher-rate model to a high-volume/low-rate model. This is a matter of personal preference, however. Either model can be very successful. Fast image delivery is part of what separates me from the large pack of photographers, and if I over book myself, I cannot deliver in 48 hours.
- Systematize. I follow the same orderly process for every job, guided by my notes in my chart shown above. I’ve worked hard to become an expert in Lightroom, SmugMug, and social media workflow, creating as much automation as possible. I constantly attempt to eliminate all redundancies – down to the keystroke level. The only way to achieve this is to study, research, and practice.
- Offer Online Proofing and Ordering. Photographers love to debate the merits of in-person projection sales versus online ordering, but I opt for the latter, which seems to more closely suit my particular clientele. They tell me that they want time to look at the images over time, think about their choices, measure their spaces, buy frames, etc. Some people feel pressured in-person, which I try to avoid (partly because I am a terrible saleswoman, let’s be honest -just ask my brother, who is in sales. He will just sigh and shake his head wearily…). I’ve also attempted to create a business model that isn’t overly dependent on print sales, because I think that business model is dying, if not already dead. (But that’s an entire post unto itself. We can get into that topic some other time.) Lastly, I do about an equal amount of commercial photography, so I prefer to keep my calendar free of follow-up portrait appointments so I have more availability for those jobs when the phone rings.
- Note Referral Source. I reward referrals, so I always ask how they found me and record it.
- Note any discounts or specials offered. I reward repeat clients with reduced Creative and Product Fees, so I always make a note of their status so I don’t forget this during invoicing.
Negotiating Package Choice and Payment
- Send Creative Fee Invoice & Product Pricing. I collect a non-refundable payment that covers my consultations, on-location time, post-processing, and web-hosting. This payment is particularly important when I travel, which is relatively frequently. Invoices are always emailed as PDFs, and they are created from templates by updating simple fields for each new job. Along with the Creative Fee invoice, I send a PDF file containing a detailed product price list, to help the family plan in advance financially for their order. I also have an Portrait Client FAQ on a static page on my blog to which I point people when necessary.
- Collect Countersigned Contract. I’ve learned that contracts are a must, regardless of how well I know the client. Sometimes contract terms scare people, so it’s important to talk through them, which I am still learning how to do (I’ve definitely made mistakes in this area). But it’s so important to be on the same page, and have some mutual protections in place, prior to shooting.
- Collect, Deposit, and Log Creative Fee Income. I never go to the bank anymore; I deposit checks upon receipt using Chase Bank’s Mobile Deposit App. I do all of my own bookkeeping and log income as it arrives. (See my recent post about business tasks to keep on your recurring calendar.)
- Add Client Info to Contacts. Once we have a signed contract and confirmed session date, I move into job planning mode. For new clients, this includes adding them to my email contacts and a distribution list for former portrait clients. I back up my contacts on my iMac desktop in the Address Book as well, which then sync to my iPhone.
- Create Client Folder on Hard Drive. I explained my file naming and archive system in my previous post about Backup Procedures.
- Create SmugMug Gallery and Event. I preset all gallery settings and make a note of the password choice. Then I add the gallery to a custom event, even if there is only one gallery. Events allow clients to tag their favorites, and therefore, for me to see their favorites, which is great feedback. More importantly, it makes buying easier for the client, since they can narrow down their choices.
- Confirm Shoot and Email Release. I confirm shoots via email 3 days prior to the scheduled date. At that time I attach my (optional) PDF model release templates, suggesting that they print, sign, scan, and email back to me. Not everyone does this in advance, but for those that do, it saves time later.
- Collect Release Forms. I bring blank backup copies with me in my camera bag.
- Show Print Size Templates. Using black foam board, I cut templates for each print size I offer, and bring those along (when shooting at a client’s home) so they can see which sizes will work best in their space.
I’ll spare you the nitty gritty details of my editing workflow for now, and save that for another post. But here are a few key concepts:
- First and Foremost, Be Decisive. Trust Thyself. The longer I’ve worked as a photographer, the better I get at this. It usually takes me about 20-30 minutes to pick the images I am going to keep from any shoot, and start editing. I ignore the rejects completely. I don’t delete them, however, just in case.
- Add Keywords and Basic Metadata at Import. Keywords are automatically recognized and applied to images posted on SmugMug and Flickr. And, I copy and paste those keywords as Tags on my WordPress blog posts. So, I am only key-wording once.
- Use the Lightroom Collections Feature. There are several ways to use Collections to speed workflow. I use Quick Collections, mostly. If you aren’t familiar with Collections, study up on it. Amazing tool.
- Save Metadata to all Files. Always. Before export.
- Use Plugins. For example, upload to SmugMug and Flickr from inside Lightroom to keep your web browser free for other tasks while images are uploading (like blog writing or emailing clients).
- Zip Client Gallery. If client purchased a package that includes digital files, I use SmugMug’s Download All function to deliver images to clients via a one-click link. (DVDs be damned. Haven’t used them in years.) Once requested, the zip file link is usually emailed to me within about 5 minutes.
- Notify Client Proofs are Available. I email my clients their custom event link. I attached detailed how-to-order-online instructions with screenshots in a PDF document, and if applicable, product coupon code and image download link. This is what I guarantee within 48 hours (unless travel prevents meeting that deadline).
- Deliver Rewards. For clients that opt for a print-only product order, I offer them 70ppi web-quality copies with a text watermark for each pose ordered, for use on Facebook or other social media. I also send other stuff to clients they aren’t expecting at some point. But I can’t tell you what…or it wouldn’t be a surprise… Lastly, when applicable, I send a $50 gift card to referrers.
- Send Branded Thank You Note. Handwritten, via snail mail, with my gratitude coming in loud and clear. I do this while the images are uploading, before I leave my desk.
- Email Gallery Expiration Reminder. My client galleries are active for 90 days. One week prior to expiration, I email a reminder. I do this for multiple reasons: to remind them about me and how much they loved their portraits, to drive them to my website again where they can encounter my recent work, and to put my contact information in their hands again. Sometimes, this reminder results in additional print sales, which is a bonus. But that’s not actually why I do it.
- Move Gallery to Expired Gallery Area on Website. I never remove them entirely from my website; leaving them online is a source of backup. But I do hide them after 90 days, which helps me manage cash flow by putting a timeline on the ordering process. If necessary, I can make them public again with a few clicks.
So there you have it. Definitely room for improvement…so if you have suggestions, let me know! This system does work really well for me, though! Hopefully it will get your juices flowing. I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this topic.