“You’ll have so much fun taking pitchaaahs all day!” they said (with a thick Boston accent). Unbeknownst to me, less than 10% of my time as a photo-entrepreneur would be making images. Leaving a career in management consulting wasn’t easy. It was a secure and cushy position in a large firm – a position that made my family was proud of me. Sadly, the hours, lifestyle, and rat race career ladder wasn’t a good fit for me.
I left that life behind, took many experiences and applied them to what I now consider to be an efficient (and always improving) business. It did take me a while to make the application, though. The tribulations of owning my own Boston wedding photography business smacked me in the face during the first year or two.
It was unlike anything I had ever dealt with. It wasn’t like the pressure from family or a manager; it was self-afflicted pressure: to succeed, to stay busy, to make this passion into a career. That 120+ hours from my rat-race job directly correlated to constantly tending to my business. I couldn’t breathe. I was the intern, administrative assistant, editor, director of marketing, CEO, and the janitor. Thoughts of my continuously growing to-do list absolutely exhausted me.
THERE MUST BE A BETTER WAY
If you’ve ever felt like this, know that you are not alone. I know I don’t have the magic potion to cure you from that drowning-and-gasping-for-air issue, but I do have some morsels that hopefully will get you started on learning how to tread water.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” ~ African Proverb
Advantages Of Outsourcing
I really like sleeping. Not to say that I got more sleep, but I felt lighter and slept better knowing that someone else was in charge of the bulk of my post-processing. The stress of the “to-do list monster” (whose arms and legs grew by the minute) didn’t follow me into my dreams. The quality of rest helped me. Not everyone will feel this way, but it was something that was instrumental for me.
2. More Time
I wanted more time to do more of what I enjoy doing. Now, I go to the gym. I cook and bake more. We host board game nights. I get to take my bike and dog out for runs (or rather, she pulls me on my bike, and I just sit there). I get to see my family. The time that I spend with the people I care about is quality time. I’m not distracted. I’m not constantly on my phone. I’m actually in a pleasant mood. It’s pretty amazing. They’ve noticed it, and so have I.
3. More Room For Creativity
All those ideas that were bouncing in my head finally got some attention. My favorite creative personal project to date was collaborating with Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange and creating composite images of kids’ superhero identities.
4. More Income
Outsourcing does cost money, but in return, I get time back – time that I can reallocate towards significant profit-generating activities or educational opportunities. I’ve been able to:
- Focus on new marketing streams – The free time allowed me to brainstorm different ways of marketing my business to reach my ideal client. Some ideas: New promotional cards and care packages, e-mail marketing newsletter, and updated targeted Facebook ads.
- Grabbing smoothies with industry friends – I’ve become friends with two wedding planners, who often send me incredible referrals. In exchange, I treat them to mac and cheese, drinks, and oysters.
- Unconventional education – I took an impromptu trip to Zion with Roberto Farren, landscape photographer. I learned all about the world of patience, perfect light, and pre-scouting. I applied skills learned when photographing landscapes to when I traveled for destination weddings and ended up selling several prints!
- Attend conferences – I met Stephanie Sinclair at PhotoPlus. We clicked. We traveled to Kenya together to teach a girls’ empowerment and photography workshop through her non-profit, Too Young To Wed. Our images and video have been picked up by international news organizations as well as National Geographic’s blog. Clients resonated with our non-profit contributions and have since donated money and been referred to other non-profits.
- Remote working – I’m no Tim Ferriss, but I do have a desire to travel and able to “turn off” my brain, feeling comfortable that someone, somewhere, is making sure that my e-mail inbox and current clients are being taken care of.
- Process improvements – During the “clarify-each-and-every-step” process, each minute detail needs to be meticulously reviewed and considered. It’s important to communicate to your outsourcee exactly how things are done so that inconsistencies are avoided. Additionally during this process, our oursourcee questioned our methods and made life-changing suggestions.
- Growth – When road mapping what I wanted my future business to look like, the opportunities for growth became visible and much more vast. Team members have control and jurisdiction over their own specific function, meaning I’m available to do what I love more – create and innovate.
Possible tasks Photographers Can outsource
1. Editing / Post-production
The activity of culling and editing thousands of images was the biggest time suck for me. It took me 4-7 dedicated hours to cull and edit each wedding. However, this was likely over a series of several days because I’d shuffle my feet and intentionally distract myself. (Even apps like SelfControl didn’t help). I’ve now outsourced the bulk of my image post-processing, but still keep about a hundred images or so that I edit and tone myself. These are the images that go into the blog and social media. Outsourcing my post-production has been the largest time-saver for me.
I highly recommend The Image Salon. Shoutout to my editor, Chris!
2. Studio Management
I use studio management software to handle everything from categorizing and sending responses to inquires, coordinating my schedule (and then syncing to Google calendar), sending booking proposals with digital-signature enabled contracts, reminding clients of their invoices and providing a portal where they can pay via credit card, and auto-sending questionnaires so that I can reap all information I need to know about their wedding day! This is the second biggest time-saver for me!
3. E-mail and calendar management
All of my inquiries go into my studio management software. My studio manager, Karen, handles all things related to this software and will respond to clients’ inquires with a personalized e-mail. If she thinks we’re a good match, she’ll set up a consultation for us to meet and adds it to my calendar. When it’s time for engagement shoots, she also coordinates with our clients of their desired vibe for their session, provides lots of helpful advice, and adds it to my calendar once a time is identified!
With software like Fundy Designer, it’s simple to train a buddy to help with designing album spreads and then using the handy dandy Fundy Direct function to send off the spreads to your album maker of choice. I find that the most time-consuming part of this task is the back and forth with album revisions and then the wait time in-between when our clients either a) get busy with life or b ) forget.
5. Social Media
Social media services will share your blog links on Facebook, post images with powerful hashtags/captions on Instagram, and share relevant content on Twitter. Many will include statistics on best times to post, what to post, and how often. Something that I learned from my former intern (and Instagram King), Joe – @joethommas is that interaction is essential. Some services also offer “takeovers,” which means that not only do they post, but they also interact with your followers and other industry leaders.
6. In-person Sales
Likely a better fit for an employee or a trusted independent contractor, it’s possible to hire an individual to manage your in-person sales after your portrait session. There are many pros and cons to this. IPS has been known to provide clients a better service because it takes the images that a photographer creates and puts beautiful, high-quality, tangible wall art and albums into the clients’ hands. Outsourcing the IPS sales session saves me plenty of time (transportation, communication, meetings in the evenings and weekends). When done correctly, IPS can be more profitable than the shoot-and-burn method. However, it may be difficult to outsource because the IPS skill set is a specialized one. This person needs to be trustworthy, a gentle salesperson, and genuinely caring about your couples.
Professional writers will help you compose and schedule an SEO-optimized blogpost. Some may even help in curating the best blog images to post, and then resize them and insert them into the blogpost, too! I’ve heard wonderful things about Rachel over at FotoSkribe!
8. Bookkeeping & accounting
I don’t do my own books, even with an accounting and finance background. It’s a repetitive job, that requires specific knowledge. Going through each item, entering it into Quickbooks, and then handling all of those numbers pulled me further back into my corporate mentality. It is something that I was happy to pay someone an hourly fee to do for me.
In my previous big-kid corporate life, working in a flexible, hierarchical structure allowed us to freely share ideas, challenge each other, and comfortably toss ideas around. As a team, we all respected each other (though we had our fair share of altercations). We all grew stronger together because of it. I’m not sure why I felt like I had to build my Boston wedding photography and cinematography business alone. I wish I came to the realization earlier that asking for help would open up a world of growth, process improvement, and so much more valuable free time.
I recommend small business owners to first, perform a self-assessment. Identify your personal strengths and weaknesses. Write down, in detail, each step of you workflow and time yourself during each step. Consider the type of person that would complement your skill set. Building a team won’t happen overnight, so give yourself some time and start slowly. I wish you all the best in building a more efficient business to give you the life that YOU want to live.
If you’ve already outsourced some of your business, I’d love to hear how it’s worked out for you. Did you have any complications with the person you outsourced to? What benefit have you observed? If you’re nervous about outsourcing, I completely understand. Tell me about what areas you’re considering and why you’re hesitant. Maybe I can provide some words of encouragement!
About the Guest Contributor
Nicole Chan is a dark chocolate addict based in Boston, MA. She and her adventurous associate team, Promessa Studios, travel to all ends of the earth to create vibrant, story-driven images and films. Nicole is an international award-winning member of ISPWP and has been named Top 100 wedding photographers in the US by the SLR Lounge in 2016. Nicole loves trying new things. Her current obsessions are skiing, biking with her Husky, and ridiculous brainteasers.