Carrie Swails

I’m a serial entrepreneur. Owner at Photography Awesomesauce, Rock Your Weird and Made in the Lab and I photograph offbeat weddings. In other words, I’m crazy. I have a birthmark in my armpit, and am a terrible mathematician. What I lack in understanding of complex theories such as Pi (clearly a food item – apple is my favorite) and invisible numbers (if I can’t see them, why should I care?) I make up for in awesomesauce. I believe there is no right way to put the toilet paper on – I’m just happy it’s available. I believe there’s no such thing as a bad fortune in a fortune cookie. I believe we only live life once so we should wear costumes as often as possible. I believe wine is like the force – it has a light side and a dark side and it holds the universe together. I howl with my basset hound every morning, call my brother to beat video game bosses for me, and love eating fried cheese.

The Step-by-Step Photography Booking Process

photography bookingAfter you’ve marketed and you have your inquiries rolling in the door and you’ve emailed back and forth about pricing there can be a little bit of that “what’s next” going through your mind. The booking process is almost a workflow in itself and you want to ensure that you are going over the same information and treating each client the same. This is basically a little step-by-step guide on how I go through my booking process and what works best for me. Maybe it can help you out.

Step 1 – Meet in Person

One of the biggest sales tips I got from a well-known mentor on doing sales was to do them in person. Meeting people in person can be an opportunity to develop trust with a client. Once you develop a trust, their desire to work with you is higher. After emailing back and forth with prospective clients about pricing, what’s included and all that jazz I invite them to my office to meet. There’s no guarantee that we’ll sign the contract then and there, but it’s nice to meet in person, show them more photos, and give them an opportunity to ask as many questions as they’d like. By meeting clients in person I find my booking rate is very high. Rarely does anyone who comes to meet with me not book a session. In 2012 I had one prospective client not book with me after meeting and that was it for the year so I find this method to be a great way to be personable and really show clients that they’re not just hiring your photography talent, but also hiring someone they want to work with and be around. If you don’t have an office to meet at you can still plan to meet at a nearby coffee shop and bring sample albums and your portfolio with you. Remember to offer to buy the client coffee.

Step 2 – Follow Up

After a meeting with a client I always follow up within 24 hours. Send them an email letting them know how nice it was to meet them and how you think it would be great to work with them. Offer them an opportunity to sit on their decisions and email or call with more questions if they have any. I’ve received a lot of responses from clients who say that I was the only photographer they met with who followed up with them after so this can be a HUGE plus for them booking with you. Impress them with your attention and customer service.

Step 3 – The Contract & Deposit (Retainer)

Once they’re ready to book you need to have a signed contract. You can do the contract at the initial meeting if they’re ready or after. If I have clients who are ready to book at the meeting I just let them know I’ll email them the contract information after our meeting. I use >Pixifi< to sign contracts and accept deposits online. A retainer (deposit) is required to hold a date and I cannot hold a date without the deposit. Pixifi allows me to send an online invoice to my clients they can pay online with a credit card – it’s super easy!

Step 4 – Confirmation

After they have signed the contract and sent you the deposit be the first person to send them an email and say thanks! If you’re booking a wedding you can start talking about the where and when you want to do engagement photos. If you’re booking another session you can send them information to get prepared and start talking dates and locations.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means Photography Awesomesauce receives commission if you make a purchase using affiliate links.

Step 5 – Share Information

Many photographers have magazines, books, brochures, welcome packets and more. I always wait until after I have a signed contract and deposit to send the information so I’m not wasting valuable time and money I’ve put into products to send it to a client who hasn’t booked. Once you’ve confirmed everything with them you want to send them any materials that will help them prepare for their photoshoot!

Step 6 – Send a Thank You Card or Gift

Depending on what type of client you are booking you may save a thank you gift until the end, but a thank you card right after booking with you is a great treat for your new client to receive in the mail. It can help you seal the deal and start bringing in their referrals before they’ve even been photographed by you!

Simple Wedding Photography
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means Photography Awesomesauce receives commission if you make a purchase using affiliate links.


30 Things You Should Do With Your Photography This Year

I got this email yesterday.


Soooo… tomorrow I’m turning 30.

I read your e-mails everyday and not only aspire to have an awesome photography business some day, but am so awesomely impressed by how you give your knowledge to others. You have already had a profound impact on my life and we’ve never met. That is amazing to me. You touch people so profoundly. I aspire to impact people in that positively awesome way that you do.
So, although you inspire me with all of your followers, I’m hoping you might be able to personally inspire me… I sent this message to several of my friends and family members this evening. I’m hoping you can contribute. I’m getting a lot of ‘go skydiving’ that I can’t say will actually make it onto the list, but I know that whatever you suggest will likely touch my heart and inspire me to live this year is a very great way. Thank you already for all that you do. :)”

Cassie is making a list of 30 things to do while she’s 30. Okay we’re not all turning 30 today, but I thought I’d help Cassie make a list of 30 things to do with her photography this year, and that everyone can do anytime and any year.
1. Take a photo of a lightning strike.
2. Take a self portrait.
3. Plan a day where you have nothing else to do except drive around and take photos of the things you see. Bring a picnic, a friend, your spouse and have fun photographing just for the sake of photographing.
4. Read >The Best Camera is the One That’s With You by Chase Jarvis<
5. Sit down with your photography portfolio and give yourself an honest review.
6. Start a scrapbook of photos of the year. Print out your phone photos, instagram photos, professional photos and make a book of memories.
7. Start storing your photos online so if anything happens to your house or belongings you always have a copy of your memories.
8. Try out some light graffiti photography.
9. Take a picture of the moon.
10. Go to a concert or musical performance and take photos.
11. Rent a creative lens like a fisheye or tiltshift and play with it for a weekend.
12. Learn as much as you can about night photography by planning an evening to go out at the start of sunset and photograph until dark. Downtown areas, cityscapes, and anything with light can be fun to play and learn.
13. Try out some smoke art photography.
14. Get a 20×30 or larger canvas photo printed for your home.
15. Take 52 photo walks. Once per week go out for a walk and photograph.
16. Take a photo of the sunrise.
17. Take a photo of the sunset.
18. Get a polaroid camera. One of those special new ones or an old one, and start photographing your world.
19. Make an effort to be in more photos with your family, spouse, or pets.
20. Practice.
21. Have fun with it.
22. Try a style of photography you’ve never done before.
23. Photograph in the rain. (protect your camera of course)
24. Photograph in the snow (protect your camera here too)
25. Take a picture of someone you love while they’re sleeping.
26. Cook a beautiful meal and practice your professional food photography skills.
27. Photograph your pets (if you have any). Their lives are so short.
28. Get family photos done annually.
29. Make your business kick butt.
30. Love what you do.
Happy Birthday Cassie! Enjoy it!

3 Things Photographers Should Know About Credit Card Fees

credit card feesBeing a small business owner myself means that I often want to support other small businesses in what they do too. However, it can get a little bit awkward when I catch them breaking the law. This has happened to me a few times. I was once nearly charged state, city, and other local sales taxes for a service. In Colorado, services are not subject to sales tax, only tangible items. I quickly caught the business owner and tried to nicely offer my correction and help finding out more information about proper sales taxes. I’ve also been told, when purchasing products like used lenses from someone that if I pay via Paypal I’m expected to pay the Paypal fees as well. My spidey-business-sense sets off red flags when I hear things like that.

Now the legalities of these kinds of surcharges associated with using credit cards are important for you to know as a business owner if you chose to accept credit cards as a form of payment. The legalities are not always easy to find and often depend on the US state you reside in (and some of you it will depend on your country), as well as credit card companies themselves and their own policies.

A surcharge is an extra fee added on to another fee or charge. Some people will call them the Paypal fees, a credit card fee, a checkout fee and a variety of other terms. Usually businesses are interested in tacking on a surcharge that will cover the cost of the transaction of using a credit card. As a business owner it is always going to cost you money to accept credit cards. Different companies take anywhere from 1-4% of the payment. Thus, business owners want to find a way to cover the cost of these fees and will charge their customers and clients a credit card fee.

Here’s what you need to know.

1. Many large credit card companies, like Visa and Mastercard do not allow retailers to charge their cardholders a checkout fee to use their card. If your client wants to pay you with a Visa or Mastercard, you may not charge them any surcharges. You’ll want to check other credit card companies to see what their policies are. What happens when these credit card companies catch you tacking on surcharges to their cardholders, I cannot say, but many of these credit card companies have places online to report retailers for doing just that. >Here< is a link to Visa’s report system.

2. 10 US States have a ‘No Surcharge Law’ which means you cannot charge a surcharge to use a credit card in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma, and Texas. Each state’s laws are slightly different. Visa provide’s a great link to >this page< which outlines each of those 10 state’s laws pretty clearly. In these states if you are charged a surcharge you have a right to report the retailer to your state’s Attorney General. To those of you who reside and do business in these states please check out the laws and see exactly what the surcharge law is for you.

3. Paypal’s Terms of Service prohibits its retailers from charging a surcharge for accepting Paypal as a payment method. You can check out the Paypal User Agreement yourself at this >link< Click on Number 4 at the top (Receiving Money) and then scroll down to Number 4.6 “No Surcharges” to read their entire agreement on this.

It’s important to do your research for your state and see what of these state laws and company policies will apply to you, hopefully this article can start to point you in the right direction for your business. Personally, because of the policies of companies like Paypal, Visa, and Mastercard as well as my state law here in Colorado I do not charge any credit card fees. There are still a lot of great options out there for accepting credit cards. I use both Paypal and Square to accept credit cards and I don’t mind the fees because I can count those fees as a business expense.

Want to learn more about the legal official side of running a legit business? Join Photography Awesomesauce’s 6 week online bootcamp!

5 Tips on Buying Used Camera Equipment

used camera equipmentDisclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means Photography Awesomesauce receives commission if you make a purchase using affiliate links.

1. Buy or trade in your old equipment at Okay let’s admit it now, if you trade in your old equipment you probably won’t get it at optimum value, but you will avoid having to claim the money you get from it as a business profit. Typically when I sell something to KEH it’s because it wouldn’t sell on or because I knew it wouldn’t sell ever and I wanted to get something from it while I could. One of the things I really appreciate about KEH is that you can purchase a used lens and get it with a warranty. I often times feel a bit sketchy purchasing from somewhere else and not being sure that what I get is actually a worthwhile product. If I can purchase it with a warranty that’s a guarantee that if it’s horrible or doesn’t work, I can get it replaced or fixed for free. I’ve paid about $49 per lens from KEH for 2 year warranties and I’ve also been absolutely thrilled with their customer service. The products I purchased were much higher quality wise than they actually rated them and I read online that this is pretty standard for them.

2. A lot of you guys email and ask about purchasing used equipment, especially camera bodies. I wouldn’t recommend purchasing a used camera unless it’s a good deal at a good price and you can guarantee it’s been checked over with the manufacturer recently. Does it come with paperwork proving the shutter count? These are all questions to ask before you dive in and purchase used. I did not purchase my primary camera used, but all of my backup cameras have been purchased used so I could save a little money on a great camera and guarantee that I have a great camera just in case the worst happens. My rule of thumb is that if the seller can provide documents proving it’s been in recently for service and prove the shutter count then I’m good to go. I also want to purchase it through a company where I can be assured that if the sender doesn’t send it or something happens I can get my money back. Remember to ask a lot of questions and be sure about a used camera purchase before you dive in.

3. Buy used equipment from a reputable seller. B&H Photo and Borrow Lenses are great for purchasing used gear. Reputable companies like these selling used gear always inspect and repair anything before selling it. If you purchase used on ebay you cannot guarantee the product is in working condition before you purchase.

pricing - 260x96
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means Photography Awesomesauce receives commission if you make a purchase using affiliate links.

4. There are several buy and sell groups for used equipment on Facebook you can check out. People sell used equipment often and sometimes it’s at a great price. I recently bought a used shootsac among other items from various members of these groups. Here are the links to the groups if you want to ask to join! They’re also a great place to sell used equipment as well. These are the three main groups I’m a part of, but I’m sure there are plenty of others for specific equipment types like Sony, Nikon, and Olympus. If you’re looking for a good deal, do keep these groups in mind. I once saw a Canon 85mm 1.2L going for $1300 and it’s new retail price is normally about $2200!

>Canon Equipment: Buy and Sell<
>Camera Gear<
>Photog Gear Online Swap Meet<

5. If you’re looking for an item that is no longer being made, buying used can definitely save the day. The three Facebook groups I listed above that you can join often have used or vintage cameras come up for sale if you watch closely. You’ll be able to buy film and other items that are no longer being made. The Canon 5D mark i (Classic) is no longer being made as well as the Canon 50D and other cameras, but these great cameras come up for sale often used. – Product Review

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means Photography Awesomesauce receives commission if you make a purchase using affiliate links. 

Back when I first started out my business I spent a lot of time updating my contracts, writing questionnaire sheets for clients and keeping them updated. I used to print them out in bulk so I’d always have one ready to go when needed. Then there was a whole hassle of meeting with a client, giving them the contract and waiting for it to be mailed back to me via the US Postal Service (i.e. we can call this a slow boat to China). Eventually I purchased an app for my iPad when the first generation came out and could have clients sign a contract in person and it would email both of us a copy. This was great, but in order to update contracts I’d have to take an hour or so and sit down with the ipad app and load up a new contract. Not to mention this required always bringing my ipad with me, always having battery power, and always having wifi or data service.

As business grew and I started looking for better ways to save myself time (money), I started looking for some type of studio management software. There weren’t a whole lot of options. There were some options that were very pricey and seeing as I’m not very good at the whole using the internet software for organizing thing I just didn’t want to pay a lot for something I wouldn’t use. After much thought and googling I chose Pixifi and signed up for their free 60 Day trial.

I think services like Pixifi are sometimes overlooked for photographers and ever since I’ve been paying my monthly fee to them I can honestly say it’s been worth every penny and then some. Pixifi is a whole lot of software and I’ve still only barely dived into all it’s able to do. You can run photography workshops out of it, send clients online contracts, send clients questionnaires, invoice clients online so they can pay you with a credit card…

There’s a built in calendar system that you can link to your google calendar and have all of your photography events easily available to you by phone. This calendar can also be shown to potential clients so they can see when and if you are booked. You can keep track of your accounting and print out year-end totals. You can use Pixifi as an entire client communication system and run all of your emails and inquires through the program.

You can also create an entire storefront with your pricing, packages and information that clients can easily click, add to their cart, and order.

For those of you who do a lot of weddings and meet a lot of other vendors like wedding planners, venues, DJs, you can keep all of their contact information in Pixifi and associate them with your clients and leads.

Finally, you can also keep a task list in there instead of using tons of sticky notes.

>Try Pixifi for free< ….yes, there’s a 60 Day free trial. SIXTY DAYS.

I still feel as though I’ve only touched on the features. Being able to use it as a client database, invoicing, contracts, and questionnaires system has been my primary use and it’s been worth the $24.99 per month. Now I can meet with clients and when they decide they are ready to book I just email them a contract and invoice and voila I’m done.

I think it’s really important to keep things in your workflow as a business owner very simple. The more simple something is the more time it saves. Yes, it does have a fee associated with it, but the ease of use and time it saves me is worth it. On the other side of that I think things should be really easy for your clients to use. The easier it is for clients to book and pay you the more they will refer and recommend you for your great customer service. Ever since switching to this method clients have praised how easy it is to pay, book, and sign their contracts.

I highly recommend everyone at least try out Pixifi’s 60 Day Trial. I’ve had such a great experience with them and it’s definitely improved my business. On top of that if you struggle figuring out the Pixifi software there’s a Facebook group where the head honcho, Tim Hussey, and his sidekick, Lisa Otto, are quick to help you out and answer all your questions. Their customer service is top notch. If you sign up for Pixifi, I’d love it if you used my referral link so they know I sent you their direction!

2015 Edit: While this blog post is old, the information is still the same and Pixifi is still my favorite studio management software. In fact, the price is even the same!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means Photography Awesomesauce receives commission if you make a purchase using affiliate links.