Running your own photography business takes the kind of time and energy that can be mentally and physically draining. With so many deadlines and due dates, phone calls and special requests from clients, and other immediate, pressing issues at hand, it’s hard to take the time to take a step back and make sure everything is running efficiently and effectively. Balancing your immediate tasks with your long term goals can also seem daunting. And making sure nothing slips through the cracks is something that can keep you up at night.
While there’s not quick fix software or methodology to adopt for solving all of the stresses and burdens of running a business, having step-by-step documentation of your workflows can help. These aren’t necessarily charts or graphs, as you might traditionally associate with the term ‘workflow;’ however it’s important to identify each step associated with each process, no matter how big or small. There are workflows for everything that you do in the photography business, from the critical tasks like preparing for a shoot or designing and delivering a wedding album to the smaller, yet still important tasks like daily Search Engine Optimization practices or marketing an individual blog post to the guests and vendors from a wedding. This may all seems quite obvious, but when it comes down to actually doing it, it’s hard to find the time. So to give you a little nudge to start documenting your workflows, here are 5 reasons to do so.
Note: for the purposes of this article, ‘tasks’ and ‘processes’ are used interchangeably.
1) Standardize Your Processes – The primary issue with not having a documented workflow is inconsistency. While each situation and each client is unique, a straight-forward and documented workflow will ensure a certain level of quality for the end product and service. For example, you never want your albums to vary in quality or creativity. So if your workflow includes standardized instructions and emails for your clients, straight-forward steps for revisions, general timelines for ordering and shipping, and checklists for marking tasks complete, your final product is going to be much more consistent than if you were to allow these steps to be influenced by external factors. Regardless of the attitude of the client, regardless of how busy you are at the time, and regardless of other factors that might influence your work, you should have a very similar product if you follow the same steps in creating the final product.
2) Avoid Mistakes and Failures – A well-documented workflow ensures that nothing slips through the cracks. For example, if the workflow for equipment preparation prior to a shoot includes charging specific items from a checklist the night before, you’re less likely to run into issues on the job because otherwise, you’re relying on memory and habit. In another example, if the workflow for blogging includes renaming your images a certain way to maximize Google Image Search results for your blog, you’re less likely to forget that process if it’s part of a standardized workflow. Especially important are solid, thorough workflows for image backup and archiving. With so many day-to-day tasks, having steps and lists in your workflows to guide you along the way ensures that you remember them all.
3) Transition Your Tasks – Documenting your workflow allows you to potentially transition specific tasks to employees or contractors as your studio continues to grow. These workflows serve as training guides and steps that allow others to perform some of the work and allow you to focus on shooting. For example, if you have a well documented workflow for selecting the images for post production, complete with rules and guidelines detailing the process, you can use this to train an assistant to take this part of the process off of your hands.
4) Identify Inefficiencies – Documenting your workflow allows you to identify inefficiencies in your processes and gives you the information you need to find solutions. How do you know how to make things better if you don’t know exactly what’s going on in each process? For example, if you’re publishing a post on your blog, logging into your Facebook to post it, and then logging into your Twitter account to tweet it, you might identify a solution to save time with a WordPress plugin that automatically posts this information to both services. Without the workflow documented, you may not realize that you’re doing these tasks every time you post; and therefore, you might not search for a solution to speed it up.
5) Set Efficiency Goals – For all of you P90X extreme fitness grads, you probably remember one of Tony Horton’s lines about writing down your progress with each exercise. I think it goes something like, “how do you know what to do, if you don’t know what you did?”
Applying the cheesy goodness of Tony to your business, it’s important to write down each step (and even the time each step takes) so that you know what you can improve on. If it’s taking you two hours to think about and write up information for your blog posts, for example, maybe you need to write notes about the couple and the wedding day right after the wedding when the information is fresh, so that you can pull it up when it’s time to blog the wedding. In another example, if it takes you two hours each time to fulfill a client order for prints, maybe it’s better to go with a third party printing company.
All of these processes take time to write up, especially if you’re detailed and thorough. However, in the end you’ll be thankful that you have these documents. They can potentially save your business if they help you avoid mishaps. They can improve your efficiency and profitability. They can allow you to train employees and outsource. So while they take time to write up and they require a bit of maintenance as your processes evolve, they are, for the most part, a one time investment of time that will make your overall business better.