Websites such as Petapixel and Professional Photographers Association (PPA) estimate that photographers spend close to 30% of their time behind the computer and less than 15% clicking the shutter. There’s a really good chance that wasn’t part of your vision when you set out to be photographer, so let’s discuss some ways to streamline your time behind that computer!
The General Time Suck.
There’s a good chance you are aware there is a problem, but you just don’t know where to begin to solve it. When it comes to making your day to day more efficient, the first thing that you need to know is where your time is going. Spend a week jotting down some simple items: what activity you are doing and how long you spend doing that activity – go ahead and either use an excel spreadsheet if your handwriting is illegible or your Hello Kitty notepad if it’s nearby.
Now that you have everything written down highlight the most obvious items that are taking up your precious time and start with those. Go ahead and read on, I have a feeling a few of these will be on your list:
If you find yourself doing the same thing over and over, it’s time to create a template. Templates can mean a variety of things depending on the task you are trying to make more efficient. For example, if you are sending the same email multiple times a day or even multiple times a week, it’s time to create a single copy that you can easily get out in under a minute. Common items that photographers send over and over include: responding to a price inquiry, onboarding a new client, sending a client timeline or confirmation, thanking a vendor/client, or sharing images. Use your email program to set up a draft copy of these types of emails or set up a signature template. Either way, you can easily access these pre-created copies, make a custom tweak here and there, and send it off within minutes.
Contracts can also be easily templated by highlighting items that need to be updated from client to client. Save them on your computer with a detailed filename to differentiate between them – you can create separate copies for each photography package and/or each different type of photo session so all you only need to do is add the client’s information and click send. No need to fiddle with updating the contents of each contract and pricing. This is especially great if you don’t math too well and/or forget when to apply sales tax.
Expenses, expenses, expenses
When it comes to dealing with receipts, mileage, and even taxes (bleh!), it can all get overwhelming very quickly. Look into apps that scan your receipt and save it in either pdf or jpg form. Some favorite apps include Evernote and or Google Drive. Google Drive allows you to “Use Camera” to add an image of your receipt directly into your Drive account. You can even track your mileage with MileIQ or TripLog, both of which are paid apps, or you keep a notepad and pen in your car to quickly jot you trips down. Either way, you will have the information at hand when it’s time to do your taxes and enter it into your accounting software.
Wait? Are you not using accounting software? Let’s remedy that right now. Spreadsheets can be magical, but you can also set up a free account with Mint.com, saving you time from hand-entering expenses and (possibly) making errors in your mathematical computations. Online accounts such as Mint, can import and categorize your expenses from your bank account and even your credit cards. The best part of these tools is that they are constantly evolving and learning from your spending habits – once you classify an expense, it remembers it the next time it is entered and you can easily create custom classification buckets to make taxes super-duper easy. If you are looking for something a bit more robust, Intuit’s Quickbooks solution offers a variety of plans that include reporting, invoicing, bill management, payroll and even mileage tracking. It’s a comprehensive option if you have several accounting-related items on your list.
Paper, Paper everywhere!
If you are still writing checks to pay your vendors, consider using online payment options through your bank or sites such as Paypal or Venmo. Any of these can be set up to deduct directly from your bank account. Venmo has the added bonus of allowing you to add a note (or silly emoji) so you can keep a proper record for later in case you forget.
If you are still receiving checks, offer your clients the flexibility of accepting credit cards without the risk – either Square and Paypal are great options here. Both services allow your clients the easy and secure ability to pay their invoices without you having to touch their private credit card information. Square even allows you to schedule recurring or future invoices and to send reminders when items are past due.
Don’t forget you can spend less time at the bank, too – download your banking institution’s mobile app, which should allow you to make all of your deposits from the comfort of your studio. Since you are using their mobile app, go ahead and put some of your most frequent payments on autopilot so you have one (or two! or three!) fewer things to worry about each month.
If you are still emailing and scanning contracts, try a simplifying with a digital signing service such as Hellosign or Adobe Document Cloud. This allows you to set up those aforementioned contract templates and send off for a quick and easy signature within minutes!
The Post Office
I used to spend so much time at the post office, mostly standing in line and waiting. Purchasing a simple mail scale and Dymo label/postage printer from Amazon really gave me a chunk of time back every week. Dymo printers come with free software that allows you to print USPS approved postage up until a certain weight. You can also pay a monthly fee if you are sending larger packages, but if you are like me and mostly send thank you notes or USBs, the free service has you covered – you just pay for postage as you go, all from your studio or home office.
Most post offices locations also offer 24/7 self-service stations, so take a moment to peruse the USPS website to find the closest one to you.
The back and forth with clients to find mutual availability can be easily handled by using services such as Acuity Scheduling. Acuity allows clients to pick their own date and timeslot, saving you from multiple back and forth emails. The software will also set up pre-defined emails and/or text messages reminding them of their appointment and allowing them to reschedule or cancel, if necessary. As a bonus, you can hook up your credit card processing company to the scheduler, allowing clients to pay directly upon booking or shortly thereafter, depending on what you prefer. Integrate this with your online calendar, and you are all set to give your customer a really easy experience they can self-manage, and huge time savings for you.
Speaking of calendars, do you have a digital one that keeps you informed? With so many different types of technology integrating with iCal and Google calendar, you can set up reminders so you always know what and where you should be!
As a bonus, the driving app Waze can now access your digital calendar to inform you of when you need to leave to arrive on time (or fashionably early) and already has the address ready to go so you can get in your car and just … go.
File & Image Sharing
Over the years, a photographer’s final product delivery has really evolved: some have run the full gambit of sharing physical proofs all the way through sending a handful of .jpgs via email. Is it easy for you to deliver files to your clients and vendors or are you still spending hours burning files on a DVD and creating custom covers? If you are ready to switch to an easy USB delivery or even just sending a zip file to your clients, this is a great time to do so!
There is file sharing options such as DropBox, Google Drive, Box in addition to professional photography file sharing services such as Smugmug. Each service has different limitations and pricing structure.
Since we are talking about uploading large amounts of data to the great land of the internet, it may be a good time to take a look at your internet plan. For photographers who are sharing large amounts of images, upload speed is much more important than download speed. In the Dallas area, upload speeds usually max out at 3Mbps for DSL, 5Mbps for cable, and up to 1000MBps for fiber. Your experience and results will vary on a variety of factors, but these are just some general guidelines as a starting point. If you are spending hours waiting for an upload, this can be a great way to get your clients their images faster!
Almost everything can be backed up automatically, so why not set it and forget about it?
Every single thing on your computer becomes priceless and important the moment you encounter a complete and utter system crash. Avoid the agony by taking some easy steps to back it all up. As a bonus, you can set it up now and forget about it. And I hope you will never have to access it, but it’s there if you need it. You will need a location where to back things up too – that location can be in the cloud, an additional hard drive in your computer that is dedicated to back up, or external hard drive storage.
Windows & Mac computers natively have backup options as part of their operating system. Mac calls it “Time Machine” and in Windows, it can be found in the Control Panel under “File History” as well as in “Backup and Restore”. Since I’m more familiar with Windows, it’s recommended to use both. If you want something a bit more comprehensive, Carbonite & Backblaze are cloud solutions have a small monthly price tag and allow additional scheduling options as well as unlimited amounts of cloud storage. Wanting something a bit more … free? There’s that nifty Google Drive option again, utilizing their Backup and Sync option. However, there is a charge if you start to exceed 15gb and are not a GSuite subscriber.
Next, let’s tackle your blog. UpdraftPlus is just one of many free WordPress plugins that allow you to schedule hourly, daily, weekly or monthly backups all the way down to the specific time. You are also given a variety of remote backup storage options which include, but are not limited to Google Drive, Dropbox, and Amazon web services.
Final note: I am not sponsored by nor have I been paid by any of the companies above. I’m just a photographer who likes to maximize my efficiency and save as much time as possible so I can photograph more and spend less time behind the computer. I hope that you find a few ways to minimize your day to day life in front of the computer and instead enjoy doing the parts of the job that you love the most!
Lynn Michelle is a Certified Professional Photographer (CPP) based out of Dallas, Texas. She specializes in wedding and boudoir photography, and has been in business over 15 years. Lynn graduated from the University of Texas at Dallas with a degree in Computer Science in and has been a Project Management practitioner since 2006 – she loves efficiency, vintage video games and her dog, Milo. www.lynnmichelle.com