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.

3 Steps for Creating an Annual Marketing Plan

PHOTOGRAPHYAWESOMESAUCE.COM-2There’s this business I know personally. It seems like every week I see them floundering when it comes to marketing. Whether you’re a business owner yet or not you’ve probably seen another business and thought the same. You’ve wondered how they have survived so long on such a minuscule marketing plan. I wonder that about businesses sometimes. I was having a conversation with someone the other day and they said this business is ‘reactive’ and not ‘proactive.’ I’m pretty sure that statement created immediate fireworks and has sat with me ever since. Reactive marketing. Proactive marketing. I’ve been throwing those words around inside my brain for weeks now and decided to write about it.
Here’s what I’ve realized. Reactive marketing is the kind that responds to customer complaints and tries to fix problems after they’ve raised. Proactive marketing anticipates everything in advance, plans in advance and avoids those kinds of fixes and complaints that come with not being prepared. So…I want you to be prepared! The best way to prepare yourself for any business marketing is to create an annual marketing plan. I realize it might be March, but that doesn’t matter. We don’t have to start these things at the New Year no matter how much my organizational issues like it.
An annual marketing plan can help you create a plan of attack in advance that anticipates customers needs, reactions and basically beats them to the punch. Not all business owners are planners  though. I get it. I know I’m in the minority with my hand written planner, notebook full of scribbled notes and need for a very specific type of pens in my office. Even though planning and organizational skills come natural to so many people you can still work toward having a more organized approach to your marketing plan and here’s a few tips that can help.
  • Create a marketing calendar. This is your first step. I don’t care how it’s done. Print out a blank monthly calendar, write it in your planner, write down the months in your Evernote or a Word document. Just create a calendar somewhere right now, or at least after reading this blog post. In order to create an organized marketing plan you need a calendar. This calendar will serve as a place to make notes on what you need to do to prepare in advance for different events.
  • List out holidays and events. Tons of businesses plan holiday-related sales and events. I want you to go through your calendar for the remainder of this year (or next year or wherever you are in the future reading this) and mark down any holiday you are using as a marketing opportunity for business. If you’re a photographer and you do Fourth of July mini sessions, or Halloween Costume photo sessions you need to mark down the dates and set them aside in this calendar right now. The more you plan in advance the more successful you’ll be.
  • Planning! That’s what’s next. Now that you have your calendar and your dates you are holding events or need to plan marketing events around you actually have to do the work. If you have Fourth of July mini photo sessions on your calendar then you need to go in and mark the date when you are going to start marketing and selling these to your customers. If you want to get really fancy, maybe make a few notes about how you are going to do the marketing. Email, social media, fliers…you name it. This is how you build your marketing plan.
I’m hoping this blog post helped you stop what you are doing and break out a notebook and pen (my preference) or Evernote (eww digital stuffs) and start brainstorming and creating some organization for your business when it comes to your marketing efforts. You’re going to be so much more prepared and booked when you’ve spent a few minutes planning in advance. This isn’t a project that has to take hours or days by any means. Just sit down for an hour and make a list or two and put it somewhere you’ll be able to find and check into regularly. Add the reminders for your marketing plan into your Google Calendar or iCal. Take some action and you’ll see the results!

If you want to learn more awesome behind the business stuff like this make sure you subscribe to our weekly newsletter below, where we’ll be giving out extra special discounts and a few free products only for subscribers this Winter. You can also join our Facebook group, follow us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram, and even follow me on Pinterest where I love to pin social media, blogging, business, and photography tips from all over the web! If you subscribe to our newsletter you’ll need to head on over to your email after you hit the submit button here to confirm your subscription. If you don’t see a confirmation check your junk/spam!

5 Things To Know Before Photographing Your First Wedding

5 THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE PHOTOGRAPHING YOUR FIRST WEDDINGDuring that time as a photographer where I was just delving into the wedding world I would find myself lying awake at night staring at my popcorn ceiling wondering if photographing weddings was a path I truly wanted to follow. Weddings are just so big and incredibly final. What would happen if I messed up? I’ve always been a cautious person so these thoughts are the ones I always found racing through my mind at inopportune times, like the night before I was going to photograph a wedding and really needed the sleep.
Despite the challenges that weddings possessed I took the ups and downs and learned as much as I could from them. I am still learning. I’ll always be learning, but today I hope to pass down a few tips that I wish I’d learned before photographing weddings. It’s easy to see these points written down on a blog post in some far corner of the internet and not take them seriously. In fact, I would venture to guess most people reading this blog post will be nodding and thinking they’ve got all this stuff down. You probably do. Or maybe you’ve heard these things a thousand times before in a Facebook group when some newbie photographer posts asking for tips and all the experienced togs swoop in with world advice and experience and scare off that newbie. My hope is to never scare anyone away from doing something they love, but instead to be here with a few tips to remind you of just how important weddings are before you start documenting the memories of the day.
  1. Study hard and invest well. Never cut corners. Do you hear me? NEVER CUT CORNERS. A wedding is (hopefully) a once in a lifetime event. If you’re cutting corners and just doing the minimum amount of work to get by then you’re doing the clients a disservice. Be an advocate of their wedding day and do the best job you possibly can.
  2. Get that back up gear! When I started photographing weddings I couldn’t afford all the fancy lenses and camera bodies that all the big leaders of the time used. Sometimes it felt as though I could never be a real wedding photographer without all the fancy equipment. We know that’s not true. The talent comes from behind the camera and the equipment is just a tool you use to create. Back up gear is essential to making sure your clients are secure and you’ll always get the shot. Camera drops into a fountain? Falls and breaks? You must have extras! The problem is that we don’t all have the financial ability to run out and buy whatever we want. Make sure you build a budget into your business for renting back up gear until you can afford to buy it. That way you’ll never let your clients down.
  3. Contracts are essential! You’ve probably heard that before. I know legal agreements are daunting. You might be nervous about having clients sign one. Just remember contracts aren’t just for you. You’re not using this tool to hoodwink your clients into submission. This is a tool for both of you. It protects both them and you. It outlines and sets the expectations for the day. A contract makes sure that everyone knows exactly what is happening and precisely what their roles are.
  4. Be prepared! There are so many levels of preparedness that go into weddings. I don’t think it’s even possible to be prepared enough. Anything that you can do to prepare yourself for this big business step of shooting a wedding is something you should do. If you have the opportunity to go to a venue walk through, do it. The wedding rehearsal? Do it. If those aren’t happening schedule a time to visit the venue on your own. Read anything and everything you can find about photographing a wedding. Second shoot as much as possible or be an intern at a wedding. Take every opportunity to learn and you’ll become more prepared.
  5. Timelines are essential. A wedding timeline is something you can work together to create with your clients and their planner (if they have one). This timeline will help you prepare for any major lighting traditions and let you know when you have time for a quick bathroom break. You need a timeline. If nobody has created one, talk to your clients about creating one. Everything seems less stressful and rushed when there is a timeline, even if you deviate from it.
If you’re getting ready to shoot your first wedding don’t be afraid to ask for help and tips. Sometimes you just need someone to commiserate with when you’re nervous. Just remember everyone who was ever successful at photographing weddings was EXACTLY where you are right now asking themselves the same questions. If you want to learn more awesome behind the business stuff like this make sure you subscribe to our weekly newsletter below, where we’ll be giving out extra special discounts and a few free products only for subscribers this Winter. You can also join our Facebook group, follow us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram, and even follow me on Pinterest where I love to pin social media, blogging, business, and photography tips from all over the web! If you subscribe to our newsletter you’ll need to head on over to your email after you hit the submit button here to confirm your subscription. If you don’t see a confirmation check your junk/spam!

3 Ways to Increase Your Facebook Reach

3 ways to increase your Facebook reachQuestions fill my inbox on a regular basis asking me what I think about Facebook today compared to the Facebook of 5 or 10 years ago (back to when it’s started). It’s changed so much and you guys have noticed that overall it’s becoming harder and harder to reach your audience with your business page. I love it when you guys email me questions and I can turn them into blog posts and elaborate on things for you. I’ve decided to give a few tips tips on how to increase your Facebook reach, even in today’s world.

However, I definitely want to send any photographer who is only using Facebook as their social media marketing and no other platforms to go check out this blog post about why you shouldn’t limit yourself to Facebook. The best thing to increase your reach overall is to diversify where your audience can find you. So if Facebook isn’t working as great as it used to be, start utilizing new platforms in addition to implementing the tips below.

  1. Provide Beneficial Content – If what you’re writing about on Facebook is only about you, you need to start providing content that makes your Facebook page about your followers instead. Stop posting incessantly about your latest sale or mini-session deal and instead provide content that can help your followers. Tips and tricks for looking better in photos, things they should know to prepare for their session with you, resources for what they can do with their photos afterward and a variety of other bits and pieces of information they might be interested in. Make your page about them instead of all about you.
  2. Post More Often – It’s easy to just not post content when we’re not shooting, right? As photographers we post up our sneak peeks after a session and then, for the most part, we feel done with those images. However, our audiences are constantly changing (and hopefully growing), plus Facebook only shows our posts to a certain amount of people. So, it would make sense to re-post our favorite images from our portfolio to ensure more of our audience gets a chance to see them. When you aren’t out shooting in the Winter, or when you have a few weeks off but you still know your followers want to see your amazing work, share it! I started using a service called meetedgar.com which is all about social media scheduling from a completely different strategy – the strategy of re-using old content. I used it to create a library of around 260 images (enough to post one image a day for 5 days a week for a year) and then Edgar automatically schedules and cycles through those images. As my portfolio grows during busy season I can swap some out, but this gives me new content and interaction with people every day on my page. I have seen photographers just not post at all in between jobs and that’s a quick way to lose interest from your followers. Remember that they originally followed you because they loved what you did in the first place, so make sure you keep on showcasing your photography!
  3. Be Genuine – It’s easy to get wrapped up in the marketing lingo and business when you’re out their trying to hustle. All business owners hustle. Sometimes that starts to come across in our Facebook updates when we start to sound like robots posting the same captions all the time, or not including a bit of a story or quote to go with our images when we share them. Be genuine and let your voice be unique when on Facebook, it’s one of the best ways to stand out. If you sound like all the other business owners and photographers out there because your voice is too “business-y” then you just become one of many, instead of the one standing out!

If you want to learn more awesome behind the business stuff like this make sure you subscribe to our weekly newsletter below, where we’ll be giving out extra special discounts and a few free products only for subscribers this Winter. You can also join our Facebook group, follow us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram, and even follow me on Pinterest where I love to pin social media, blogging, business, and photography tips from all over the web! If you subscribe to our newsletter you’ll need to head on over to your email after you hit the submit button here to confirm your subscription. If you don’t see a confirmation check your junk/spam!

5 Reasons You Need Studio Management Software

photographyawesomesauce.com-2Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means Photography Awesomesauce receives commission if you make a purchase using affiliate links.

What is studio management software? Well it’s usually downloadable software or an online service you can use to manage everything behind the scenes with your photography business. I’m all about simplicity when it comes to business. Work smarter, not harder and all that jazz. Here are some reasons you – YES YOU – may need to invest in studio management software this year.

  1. You’re unorganized. Let’s face it, business is hard. You probably became a photographer because you loved taking photos and not because you loved handing all the paperwork and crap behind the scenes, right? You have stacks of receipts, paper contracts, and stuff scattered all over your office and files and it would be super nice to streamline things and not have to deal with all this behind the scenes stuff in the unorganized way you’ve been attempting to deal with it for a long time. Studio management software can take all that unorganization and organize it for you online.
  2. Go Paperless. If you’ve been printing out and sending contracts to your clients through the mail, or sending them a PDF to send back to you in the mail, you could go paperless using studio management software. Snail mail is for snails. If you want to get your bookings, contracts and payments much faster and make the experience much easier on your customers, then studio management software is the way to go. You can just send a contract online that can be signed digitally and connect it to an invoice – so your clients aren’t really booked until they’ve both signed and paid – and you get paid faster! Plus there’s less error for double booking clients!
  3. Automate Emails! AUTOMATE! Have you ever thought about all the information you need to send clients after they’ve booked (or before) about the booking process, what to wear for their session, other tips and information? Or had clients ask you incessantly for photos and you keep having to answer repeated questions for them over and over again? Wouldn’t it be awesome if all that information was sent to them and right at their fingertips and you didn’t have to remember to send it? One of my favorite features of studio management software is the ability to send a series of automated emails to clients based on the date they’ve booked. I use this tool to send clients links to my favorite wedding vendors and resources, reminders about when they’ll receive their photos, tips for their wedding day, reminders about engagement session and in general – to just provide useful information and resources for them. For a long time I was kind of against the automated email idea. I mean, it just seems really impersonal, but the truth is that I don’t have the time or memory to remember to send out these emails and rewrite them for each individual customer on time. My clients know there’s an email system to send them info and reminders and I’ve received nothing but compliments on it over the last year. Plus, if they want more info they can just hit reply and we can have a personal conversation about whatever the email topic is. Clients have loved the additional resources and have felt like I was more attentive and helpful than they initially expected. With weddings especially, I never want my clients to feel like the dead time in between booking and their wedding (which can be months or even a year or more) is time that I’m not attentive to them. I want them to know I’m thinking about them even when we’re not doing the actual work and automated emails definitely provide me the tool to level up my customer service.
  4. Let clients book automatically. Have you ever though it would be super cool to have a section of your website where clients could pick their session date and time from a calendar and then automatically book with you online? They could book everything and sign their contract and pay their invoice, without you having to do much work on your end? Studio management systems have that – specifically, Pixifi, the best studio management system out there, has this option perfected!
  5. Track some accounting. Accounting is the bane of any creative’s existence. I mean, who wants to punch numbers? You did not become a photographer to punch numbers! Lots of studio management programs have some accounting tools to help you manage this behind the scenes!

Now, the question might be, where can you find an awesome service that will help you with these tasks? My first recommendation is Pixifi. There may be other companies out there can do one or all of these things, but Pixifi is THE BEST. There’s simply no question. Of all the options out there, Pixifi is the one that truly cares and invests time back into its customers and creating tools and options you ask for. You literally can’t beat their customer service. In fact, you can read about how I feel about their customer service in this blog post about How to Win at Customer Service. Pixifi has a 60-day free trial which gives you more than enough time to set it up, test it out and start utilizing all of its tools. Setting up a management software can be tough and it tends to be one of the reasons why people shy away from these programs more often than not. However, there’s tons of resources out there to get you set up on Pixifi. First, when you sign up there’s a wizard built in that will walk you through a lot of the initial set up. Second, you can join the Pixifi Facebook group once you’ve signed up where there’s a great community to ask questions and get help from other users. Third, you can also pay someone to set it up for you too. Our very own blogger, Lisa Otto, offers this service and can make it quick and easy if it’s too overwhelming for you. That said, I’ve now gone through Pixifi set up twice, and I have to say the current Pixifi is so much easier to set up. In fact, the automated email system in particular is incredibly easy.

If you’re interested in trying out Pixifi, you can use my referral link. Please know that I may make a commission if you use my link to sign up and decide Pixifi is right for you! I’d recommend Pixifi with or without a referral system though. 😉

If you want to learn more awesome behind the business stuff like this make sure you subscribe to our weekly newsletter below, where we’ll be giving out extra special discounts and a few free products only for subscribers this Winter. You can also join our Facebook group, follow us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram, and even follow me on Pinterest where I love to pin social media, blogging, business, and photography tips from all over the web! If you subscribe to our newsletter you’ll need to head on over to your email after you hit the submit button here to confirm your subscription. If you don’t see a confirmation check your junk/spam!

How to Actually Schedule Instagram Posts in Advance

photographyawesomesauce.comIf you know anything about me, you know that automation is my jam. Anything I can automate in business gives me my life back and is worth the money spent. Even though I’m running four businesses, I’d still want to automate as much as possible with just one business so I could spend less time working and more time having freedom. That’s part of why we started businesses anyway, right? More freedom? More time?

To help you get back more of your life today I’m going to blog and share about how you can really schedule Instagram posts in advance. If you have ever tried to schedule Instagram posts in advance you’ll know that you can’t do it in the Instagram app, and you can’t do it when you log into Instagram from your desktop browser. One of the easiest solutions for business owners is Latergram. Here’s the problem with services like Latergram, while they allow you to schedule photos and captions in advance, all they really do is send a reminder to your phone at the time you wanted the post to go live and you still have to go in and actually make the post go live. It can definitely help you save time by not having to make decisions on the run with what you want to post, but wouldn’t it be better if the entire scheduling process was completely automated? Wouldn’t it be better if instead of having to still go in and make the post live, if something just did that for you?

Enter, Schedugram, my new favorite service. I’ve been with Schedugram since it was relatively new, so it’s actually not my new favorite thing, it’s been one of my favorite services for awhile. Schedugram allows you to log into a desktop internet browser, schedule your Instagram photos, captions and a first comment, and then completely automates the post going live from there, so you don’t have to drop what you’re doing at 3pm to make that post go live – they make it live for you.

Right now Schedugram is the only service of its kind and they do have a free 7-day trial if you want to try it out. I’m not writing this blog post because I get any kind of kickback from them. I, in fact, get nothing. I’m writing about Schedugram because it’s been such an incredible time saving tool for me in business, and because since using it seriously and taking advantage of all it has to offer, I’ve more than tripled my Instagram following.

Schedugram helps me be consistent with my presence on Instagram and consistency is one of the keys to booking more clients and connecting with new people. It also lets me manage social media and be more productive during my work hours because I don’t have to drop whatever I’m doing to think about, decide, and then post something on Instagram. I can create my plan of attack in advance, schedule it for however far in advance I’d like and voila my work is done.

To top it off, Schedugram has also provided a really good customer service experience for me. They’re very responsive when you email, and if their server is having issues they’re prompt at notifying you and making sure you are still happy and getting what you need out of the company. That kind of incident is incredibly rare though, but I appreciate their efforts to be great at communicating anything that may be going on that will affect my experience as a user.

So, if you want to take back some of your life in 2016, increase your presence on Instagram, and start having some consistency to your online presence – jump on the Schedugram wagon with me and hopefully it can be another tool in your arsenal that will help you take your business to new heights.

If you want to learn more awesome behind the business stuff like this make sure you subscribe to our weekly newsletter below, where we’ll be giving out extra special discounts and a few free products only for subscribers this Winter. You can also join our Facebook group, follow us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram, and even follow me on Pinterest where I love to pin social media, blogging, business, and photography tips from all over the web! If you subscribe to our newsletter you’ll need to head on over to your email after you hit the submit button here to confirm your subscription. If you don’t see a confirmation check your junk/spam!