Business

12 Tools to Rock Your Photography Business This Year

12 Tools to Rock Your Photography Business This YearDisclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means Photography Awesomesauce receives commission if you make a purchase using affiliate links.

Hey hey! Today I put together a list of some of my favorite tools I use to rock my photography business daily. Everything from gear related tools to business tools. If you’re really looking for a way to level up your business this year and take something that’s a weakness for you (maybe it’s social media) having the tools available to help you make it a strength can make a huge difference in your business.

I’m not saying you need to run out and buy all these things right now. Everyone has a budget for your business, but I strongly encourage each of you to sit down and figure out what you’re strengths and weaknesses are when it comes to business and how you can use one of these tools to make a weakness into a strength. I’ve always been a believer in investing in your business and looking at these types of purchases as an investment that lets me get my life back and do a better job for my clients.

  1. Fundy Designer – Fundy is an album design software program – primarily. The cool thing is that Fundy has also come out with software to help you design wall galleries for your clients, or to help you collage blog posts and more. If you’re going to invest in some software to automate processes like album design Fundy is simply the best there is out there.
  2. Pixifi – Pixifi is my favorite tool for studio management. I run all my contracts and payments digitally through Pixifi, but it also automates my client reminders and communications as well, which means I get to take back my life and let Pixifi do the hard work for me so I can enjoy more time with family or getting out and shooting!
  3. Made in the Lab – If you haven’t heard of my new business venture with my business partners, Rachael and Jason, then you need to get over and read all about it. Made in the Lab is a web design focused company. We’re dedicated to creating affordable website templates for creative business owners like photographers. If you need a professionally designed website but typically can’t afford all the high fees associated with purchasing a template to design one, well look no further. You can grab a template for only $60.
  4. Showit5 – Showit5 is a brand new website design platform geared specifically toward photographers. It’s all about simple drag and drop website creation, no need to know how to code! Right now Showit5 is invite only based, but you can grab an invite for free from Made in the Lab over here.
  5. Lens Flipper – The Lens Flipper might be my favorite new thing I’ve found at WPPI this past year! If you’re a photographer then you probably know exactly what I’m talking about when you want to switch lenses and you just don’t have enough hands, or a place to set down a lens to do it properly. The lens flipper is a little attachment cap so you don’t have to worry about swapping lenses and having extra hands. It’s so cool. I was able to use it at weddings already and I’m in love. It’s incredibly helpful for swapping out lenses on the go.
  6. Holdfast Moneymaker – I struggle a lot with neck and back problems so the Holdfast Moneymaker harness system is the best way ever for me to hold my cameras. Whether you shoot with two cameras at once, or one (you can attach a lens bag on the other side to even out the weight), it’s perfect for keeping your back happy and healthy. Plus you look badass.
  7. Shootproof – Photo CDs and USBs are out for me and I love delivering photos through digital download with Shootproof. If digital download isn’t your thing that’s okay too, you can still use them as an online proofing gallery and sell prints! There are tons of reasons I could go on about why I love Shootproof, but instead you can read about how Shootproof’s automated email system can help you sell more prints, 9 reasons Shootproof is the best, and this review about Shootproof. You can also take 25% off any annual plan on Shootproof if you use the code SWAILS25.
  8. Lens Rentals Membership – For $79 a year you can never pay shipping fees ever again from Lens Rentals. I’ve only rented a few times and it paid for itself multiple times over already. It can cost $25-50 per rental to ship, so if you plan on renting more than once a year – you already save money. Lens Rentals is also Lens Authority, a used gear sales shop. They are seriously my favorite place to buy used gear. Everything is in pristine condition and the customer service is out of this world.
  9. Professional Graphic Designer – If you’re not into templates for web design (as mentioned earlier) and you want something a little more custom then I highly recommend hiring a professional designer. I’m terrible at design myself, and having Rachael Earl on my team to custom design two websites for me this year (among other projects) has been one of the best investments in life ever. Professional design can go such a long way to making your business look professional. After all, if it doesn’t look like you invest in your business, you can’t expect your clients to as well.
  10. Coschedule – Struggle with blogging? Writing and scheduling posts in advance is an amazing way to keep up with blogging and take advantage of all its marketing benefits. One of the best ways to help me with scheduling is Coschedule. It’s a plugin for WordPress blogs that adds an editorial schedule, but most importantly, it adds a box under each blog post that allows you to schedule social media blasts in advance for after your post is scheduled to go live. It means you can automate the blogging process, write when it works best for you, and then not have to worry about remembering to post on social media about your blogs.
  11. Edgar – Speaking of social media scheduling tools, let me tell you about Edgar. Edgar is a bit pricey in terms of scheduling, but if social media is something you majorly struggle with – Edgar can also be a lifesaver. I would say it’s definitely one of the best investments I have spent in the last year. It’s a social media scheduling tool for Facebook and Twitter. Unlike Hootsuite, where you have to go in and schedule posts, Edgar allows you to create a huge library of updates and sort them into various categories. Then you can assign the categories to post at specific times of the week to specific accounts. So Edgar actually does the scheduling for you, by cycling through your library and then making the posts go live. Even though it seems pricey in terms of a monthly investment, it’s WAY cheaper than hiring a social media assistant and it makes your social media basically hands free.
  12. Schedugram – The only thing Edgar can’t do is schedule on Instagram. In fact, a lot of Instagram scheduling programs still don’t fully automate the process. They have to send a reminder to your phone to post something. You have to drop everything you’re doing to post it at the time you wanted it to go live and then who knows…you’re probably off track chasing down weird hashtags on Instagram.  Hours later you’ve lost tons of productive work time. Am I right? That’s where Schedugram is different, it schedules and fully automates the process for you, unlike Latergram. You just schedule everything by logging into your browser on your desktop and then voila – it takes care of Instagram for you and you get your editing done. Between this and Edgar, I do often feel like I’m spending a big investment on social media, but I can’t tell you enough how much I’ve also earned back from that investment in terms of followers, leads, and actual bookings…plus happier clients and a happier husband who I can actually spend time with! Here’s a blog post I wrote about Schedugram and how to actually automate your Instagram posts.

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 Last Minute Things to Do Before Wedding Season Starts (aka: Holy shi@—is it spring already?)

wedding photographer tips

3 Last Minute Things to Do Before Wedding Season Starts (AKA:  Holy shi@—is it spring already?) 

 3 LAST MINUTE
As wedding season wrapped,  and the winter months settled in—the list of ‘to do’s’ I had in mind to conquer was a-plenty.
All of the ‘workflow, ‘marketing’ and ‘business development’ ideas I had stuffed into my perpetual to-dolist  (but did not have the time to complete while fully engaged in ‘season’ ) were ready to hit the scene over the winter months I had off.  (I mean man, a whole three months “off!”)
And yet, though I did accomplish some of these things:  somehow, its nearly April. I blinked. And,  here we are again.  Its wedding season 2016 and many of those tasks remain untouched.
So what’s a girl to do when, in two weeks:  it is prime wedding season?  Here are a few ‘hail Mary’s’ for my fellow photogs friends who are also in my last-minute shoes:
Wine and cocktails anyone?  (no, seriously.)  Vendors Relationships are everything!   Get out there and set some appointments with your favorite venues/wedding pros.  Invite a few of your planners, hair and makeup artists or caterers to a meet-up over coffee or cocktails.  (I always prefer cocktails;-) About 80% of my business comes to me via relationships with others in our industry who refer me to their clients.  Keep in mind—this is the same for many other (successful) photographers in your market!  So when you sit down to chat—discuss both of your ‘ideal clients’ (uh-hum: referrals are a two-way street my dear!) so you can each keep a lookout for each other in a more specific way than ‘refer-me-all-the-things.’
Its a lot more difficult in the sea of photographers for folks to refer you if you don’t immediatley pop into their brain as the ‘right’ fit for their specific clients. (I.e, I adore intimate weddings of wild-child,  adventurers having elegant/outdoor weddings .  I want my wedding industry peers to think of me when they come across these folks.)  So in a few weeks, Im hosting a little cocktail party at the studio to gather some of my favorites all in one place as we hop into season.  (Its impossible to be referred if you are not on the forefront of people’s minds and you cant be if you are not in contact..)
 best charlotte wedding pros
(My ‘theme’ for our our vendor cocktail meet up. Who doesn’t freaking like tacos? If you say ‘you’–you are not my people.)
Get your Gear in Gear:  If you are like me—since I do not photograph much outside of weddings—my gear does not get as much use in the off-season (other than an ocaasional workshop or personal project)  Other than my core body and a few lens/flashes.. some of it is gathering dust.  So, pull open those drawers, closets, bags and boxes and compile all of your gear.  Inventory it.  Make sure everything is functional and organized in the manner you prefer. (I recently purchased the Think Tank (ginormous) rolling bag,  so for once—ALL of my gear can fit int one professional looking bag that can rolled into the venue doors.)
Get any replacement gear orders rolling—for example, I found one of my flash triggers was no longer functioning and placed an order  along with a few extra camera batteries.  (Thank you Lord, for Amazon Prime.)   Also—think about sending off anything that may need annual ‘clean and check.’ (If you are Canon and are not a CPS member—get on it!)
think tank logistics manager
(Totally expensive..but totally worth it.)
Blog it!  If you are a better woman than me-you kept up with your blog all winter.  Kudos! If not—time to step up. Make this week a crash-course in giving your blog some lovin.’  (The last thing you want is for a prospective client stop by your blog and see content that is from last fall. You look both not busy and a little lazy.
‘But Cass—how can I cram 3 months of blogging in in a few weeks?’   Drum roll please:  Year-end wraps-ups are a great way to recap your favorite images of the year. (As are behind-the-scenes posts which always get a laugh.)  Both of these types of posts are some of the highest rated for me in terms of both ‘google juice’ and my most mentioned by clients/peers.  They are also a great place to link to when replying to client inquires. Clients get to see a bit of your ‘high lights reel’ all in once place with a bit more ‘personality’ than dropping by a website gallery as you have the ability to tell stories with your copy.
best charlotte wedding photographer
(you can check out mine here)
 
Bonus Tip:  Take a an overnight get-away.  My hubby and I are getting the hell outta dodge this weekend for a little mountain air before season starts and ‘life’ gets away from me.  (As you may recall from this post...I am a BIG believer in how much you enjoy your business and stay creatively motivated is directly proportionate to how much you are enjoying your life.)  Taking a day or two to just ‘be’ before the chaos of season allows you step into it refreshed and ready.
Now, go forth young soldier—we’ve got a wedding season to slay!

Volunteering your Photography

If there’s one thing I love, it’s dogs.  Funny thing is, it’s mainly bullie breeds (pitbulls, rotties, etc) but that’s a personal thing and it’s really because they get so overlooked and have a seriously bad stigma attached to them.  But that’s not what this is about.  It’s about using your skills.  It’s about getting out into the community (people or animals) and helping out.

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4+ years ago a friend of mine asked me if I would come to an adoption event to take some photos of adoptables.  Of course I said yes, so we headed down, got some great pictures, I brought home a dog and that’s all she wrote.

I’m a firm believer that photos of sad dogs behind cage bars, is no sure fire way to get a dog adopted.  They’re sad, confused, scared among other things and in all honesty, not a flattering photo.  Getting these animals out of the shelter and into a neutral environment helps their personalities shine a little more.  This is where you can sit back and capture they’re goofy personality that’s going to get them adopted!

So where do you start?

With me it was a little easy since I was asked to do it but there are tons of rescues and shelters that need help.  Start sending messages on Facebook offering your services.  DO NOT CHARGE them for these!!  Seriously.  All rescues are non-profit and make no money so charging them is just plain stupid.  Same goes for the shelters.  Most shelters have a volunteer program that you will have to go through in order to start shooting for them but each one is different so you’ll need to contact them to see what their rules and regulations are.

Now remember something, just because you go to a rescue’s Facebook or website and see that another photographer has taken photos, don’t just assume that they won’t want your services.  Most of the time, their fosters are all over the place so having more than one photographer can be a benefit for them.  Scheduling, etc, things like that can make it difficult for one photographer to take photos of 20+ dogs so don’t assume.

I love working with the rescues more because they are usually foster based rescues, so they will take any help they can get.  The more great pictures they get, the more they can get adopted and the more they can save.  Just remember that volunteering isn’t going to bring business busting down your door, or it could but don’t bet on it.  You should do this because you want to, not because you think it’s going to zoom you to the top of the photography food chain.

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WPPI Wrap Up: My #1 Suggestion for Newbies (and Veterans too!)

WPPIWrapUp_BrienneMichellePhotography

If you’ve never attended WPPI (Wedding and Portrait Photographers International), it might be hard to understand the scope of what I’m about to write about (and why it even needs to be written about). The thing is, Las Vegas is a whole bucket of cray-cray all on it’s own. Add tens of thousands of photographers to that mix, throw in a handful of photographer “rock stars”, and a ginormous trade show to boot? It’s like crazy took crazy pills. There is so much to do, so much to see, so many vendors and new gear and demonstrations and platform classes and that’s just the photography side! Add the parties, the casino floor, aaaaaall that cigarette smoke, the focus groups, the meals and meetups, the let’s-go-test-what-we-just-learned-and-have-a-photoshoot-in-our-room-oh-crap-who-can-we-get-to-model-forget-it-we’ll-just-shoot-each-other moments, the no sleep, the endless walking, the lights, the shows…. it’s seriously nuts.

And if it’s your first time attending, it can be really (REALLY) overwhelming. It’s easy to get lost in the fray and to feel truly starstruck as you walk around passing by your photography heroes and meeting so many people that seem to be doing all the things you wish you were doing too.

Now, I’ve been in this business full-time for over a decade now, and I feel like I’ve finally gotten the hang of this whole insane conference thing. I had the opportunity to not only room with a few people who were brand new to WPPI this year, but to observe several different levels of experience. I spent time with WPPI’s marketing team, with one of this year’s Grand Award winners, with various “famous” photographers, with a lot of the vendors, and with a whole lot of people just like me who spend their year day-in-and-day-out in the trenches of this business. One of the things that struck me was how people choose to let their conference experience go.

Hands down, the best advice I can possibly give to anyone attending WPPI (or similar conferences) is this: go up and talk to people.

It sounds simple, but let me expound for a minute here. I watched so many new conference goers “fan girl” and freak out about talking to someone (a photography hero, a vendor, etc). I’ve been that person myself. I’m watched people do the circling-to-land maneuver, flying around the periphery before finally working up the courage to say a simple hello. And I can’t tell you how much I’ve seen people leave the conversation at a simple “I love your work”, take a selfie, run away combo.

Whether you’re new or not, I would urge you to try to connect with people. Is it terrifying? Yeah. Of course it is. Even the most extroverted of people get a flutter of I’m-about-to-make-a-fool-of-myself when they open themselves up like that. But I’m telling you, there is nothing more inviting and nothing more rewarding than being vulnerable. It is the universal connector. It is the author of authenticity. If you see a photography hero in the halls, walk over, introduce yourself, tell them something you learned from them, and then listen. Ask them a few questions. Connect with them as a person. Smile. Be confident in knowing that you’re both just people. Give them the space to do what they need to, but acknowledging the vulnerability you both feel to be opened up to the world like that will allow for a genuine connection.

Don’t have time to talk one-on-one with someone (ps – after a class or presentation is a bad time to try to do that), that’s ok. Leave them a thank you note (scribbled on the back of an envelope if you have to, but if you bring cards, awesome!). Tell them something you’re thankful for in their presentation. You’d be surprised how many of the presenters never hear that stuff. Leave your email address on the bottom and let them know you’d love to connect.

But the bottom line? Choose connection. Choose to talk to people instead of skirt the edges. Choose to be vulnerable. Choose to put yourself out there not only with presenters and “famous people”, but with the people you sit next to at your classes, the people you bump into on the trade show floor. Go to lunch together in that lame food court and learn from each other through conversation and shared stories. Grab coffee or sit in the hallways charging your phones and really listen to what the people around you have to say.

The best moments at a place like WPPI rarely come from the presentations or the tech talk or the selfies. It’s the people and connections you make. I promise you won’t regret it.

~Brienne

* Brienne is a the snarky chick behind the camera and under the water for briennemichelle.com and hipeanut.com. Besides her love of sarcasm and wine, she also loves to connect with people, mentor, educate, and generally get her geek on with photography. Have questions? Want more input? Email her directly connect through the cool crowd on her website — briennemichelle.com/coolcrowd *

4 Things My (Photography) Mentor Taught Me that Changed My Life

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Most of us in this business have a mentor. I’m convinced that the woman who was my mentor was the best one out there. She started out as simply my wedding photographer when I hired her over 11 years ago. She became my teacher, my friend, eventually my colleague and always remained my go-to for advice and input on all things business and photography. I have gotten input from so many people of the years, but she was my only mentor. Despite being only a few months older than me, she had so much to offer. Tragically, at only a few years into her 30’s, she passed away just two days ago. In her honor, I’m sharing the top 4 things she taught me that absolutely shaped and changed me as a photographer and business owner.

 

  1. Find Your Tribe:  Have you seen those threads on social media? The ones that start out with “So-and-So said they can’t believe I charge $___ for a 5×7! How do I explain to them why it’s worth this much!?” This usually is followed by a long (looooong) parade of photographers encouraging the OP (“original poster” if you’re not a this-facebook-group-thread-is-so-long-I-forgot-to-feed-my-kids-dinner veteran and you’re lost on that acronym…) to “educate” the client. I mean, we’ve seen the memes, right? The ones that breakdown the “real cost” of photography. The ones that breakdown mileage and hours and editing and the cost of insurance, the cost of education, the cost of gas…. (can you feel my eyes rolling?). Those things are all real. Very very real. And you should know your CODB (cost of doing business…. I’m all about the acronyms today I guess!) in order to set your pricing because most photographers are woefully undercharging. But here’s the thing. None of that means anything to the client that questioned your pricing. One of the best things that my mentor taught me was to let that kind of thing roll off my back. Because if you have to convince someone to pay for you, you’re already lost them. Don’t spend your time wording your website, your social media posts, your emails, your conversations with keyboard warriors defending what you do and what you charge. Spend your energy finding and connecting to your Tribe. The ones that get you already. The ones that understand your value without you ever having to explain. Those are the clients that will keep coming back, will evangelize their friends, will do all that explaining in a way you never could and actually be heard by the potential clients out there. And believe me, it’s a much more rewarding experience, both personally and financially.  And they will be so much happier as your clients knowing that your energy, creativity, and efforts are dedicated to them. All the wins right there.
  2. Be Frugal: This seems like an odd thing (or maybe just a boring one) but it’s huge. I was brand new to the business (when I first started taking lessons with my mentor, I didn’t even know I’d be starting my own business yet!) and she counseled me to be very smart about my purchases, my investments, and to avoid credit like the plague. She offered guidance on investment purchases when needed or asked for, but constantly taught me to think about ROI (return on investment…more acronyms!). Did I want a fisheye lens? Sure. But would that be a smart buy for maybe a handful of images per wedding? NOPE (with a big ‘ol p-pop). Because of her guidance, I started (and kept) my business 100% debt free. I didn’t take out a line of credit, I bought everything for cash, and I kept my overhead low. And I have no doubt that is a big reason why I didn’t sink when business was slow or when I had to cut back on work load from time to time. Boring advice? Maybe. But HUGE. Be frugal people. Don’t buy it just because you like it. If I had done credit I might have some sweet lenses and a whole lotta ONA bags, but I wouldn’t be a more successful business. I’d just be in debt.
  3. Stay Timeless: When I look back at my wedding photos (over 10 years old now), one of the things I appreciate most about them is that they still look good. There’s no wacky editing, not strange colors/filters/angles/overlays/double-exposures/layouts…. It’s classic. It’s timeless. And other than my choice of dress and hair styles, it will stay that way. The photos will remain timeless because that is exactly the style she shot weddings with. Portraits were a source of artistic expression and a place to occasionally try out a trend, but weddings? No way. Timeless was always the goal. She taught me to see trends for exactly what they are – trends. And much like my poofy bangs in the 80’s, my Lisa Frank trapper keeper (holla!) and my everything-has-glitter makeup choices from the 90’s, trends have a way of becoming embarrassing later. Keep the bulk of your photography clean, classic, and straight ahead and watch it stand the test of time.
  4. Pay It Forward: This is quite possibly the biggest thing that my mentor taught me. She took me under her wing, with no hesitation (that I knew about anyway) and willingly shared with me everything she knew. She brought me on shoots. She helped me setup my own to test new techniques and get more guidance. She pointed me in the direction of places to learn the things she couldn’t personally teach me. She taught me to love not only learning about it all, but to help others as well. She taught me to not see other photographers – even the local ones – as competition, but as co-workers. She would laugh when talks of “stealing work” came up between catty photographers because she’d always point out that there’s PLENTY of work to go around. She never hesitated to refer people to me (she knew her tribe too!) and she believed that “a rising tide raises all ships”. Because of how she treated me, I promised myself that my business would always do the same for others. I have helped to teach or guide several photographers and photographer-hopefuls along the way this past decade and I have maintained a internship for several years. I operate an online forum for educating underwater photographers and I teach through my local photography meetup group when I can. I never became a “cards close to the vest” photographer because she taught me to be generous with my knowledge, just as she was with hers. Her legacy lives on in the work of so many photographers because of it. It’s a legacy I’m proud to be a part of.

Whether your find your mentoring here on Photography Awesomesauce, or you have a specific person you are able to go to, I hope you one day have the chance to pass on what you’re learning to someone else. This business can be brutal and working from home or running your own business can be lonely. Find your tribe, find your connections, find your colleagues, find your voice, and know that you are creating a legacy that you may never be fully aware of. I wish I had told my mentor more clearly just how much she meant to me. But I hope that my work will honor her investment in me.

Happy February, friends.