October is the month where wedding and portrait photographers push their business systems and processes to breaking point, as the summer’s post-production and pre-Christmas run-up overlap. And its when you push yourself for your fourth quarter success to help you hit your year’s financial targets.
To help you navigate this month and the fourth quarter, here are some steps you can put in place to avoid overwhelm and manage your clients so that you’re not dropping off albums and prints on Christmas Eve, unless you really, really want to.
REVIEW CLIENT WORK
Have a look at all of your client jobs you’re currently working on and which are due to coming up in the coming three months. This includes:
– Current post-production and orders
– Clients from earlier in the year who have outstanding album or print orders or who might want to make an order for Christmas
– Clients booked into your coming three months
– Clients from past years who might want shoots or orders
The goal of this is to assess your workload, to proactively manage your clients and maximise your revenue from existing clients.
YOUR CALENDAR: PART 1 OF YOUR FOURTH QUARTER SUCCESS PLAN
Get out a calendar and make sure you have marked on it:
– Client shoots and appointments
– Supplier deadlines (albums, prints, framing)
– Your deadlines for clients (if you have them)
– Any personal commitments that impact your working life e.g. your child’s Christmas carol concert
You can download a free printable planner of 2018 fourth quarter I’ve designed just for you here.
If you don’t already have your deadlines for clients, now is the time to set some, based on your supplier deadlines, time for you to do your work and including a cushion to cover epic courier failures, mistakes and illness. Add these to your calendar.
It can be useful to have this printed or written on a large sheet of paper that hangs on a wall you can see from your desk. Now back to your list of existing and possible client work. Add an approximate time for each chunk of existing work. Map that into your calendar in pencil or erasable pen, allowing daily time for admin and emails.
What are all the supplies you could need for this quarter? Check printer ink, sticky tape, Sharpies, bubble wrap, brown paper, labels, scissors, batteries. Either check everything now and order or make a note on your calendar when you are going to do this.
If you usually give your suppliers a little extra something at Christmas, now would be a good time to schedule that. Black Friday comes up at the end of the month if you’re buying things that might be discounted.
Ditto, if you send Christmas or New Year cards, schedule in time for those which could include: planning, shooting, designing, ordering, writing and addressing.
An inbox is not a task list. So if you have hundreds or thousands of emails in there that want actioning, move them to a sub-folder so you don’t get drawn in every time you go to your inbox.
Going forward, you’re going to empty your inbox daily Monday to Friday or whatever your business week is. Check your inbox between one and three times a day and close it at other times. This will allow you to concentrate on the big chunks of work you need to get through without email being a distraction.
Answer anything that you can do inside a couple of minutes and for anything that will take longer, turn it into a task. Copy and paste the relevant piece of the email to the task. If you have a system that links emails like LightBlue or Daylite, that’s fabulous.
Once you’ve either replied or turned the email into a task, file the email in a sub-folder. Given that you can search for the email by content or sender, you could just have one sub-folder for ‘dealt with’ emails.
This system of handling email is based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done. It’s a fabulous book for managing your business and life generally – perhaps a Christmas read?
You also need to go through your current inbox for the past month or so and triage it: either respond inside a few minutes or turn into a task. You do not want one of these coming back in a few weeks to trip you up when you’re at your busiest. Schedule your triage session in your calendar in the next few days if you can’t do this today.
MAXIMISE INCOME FOR FOURTH QUARTER SUCCESS
Have a look at where you could maximise your income for this year. Do you need to check with regular clients to book in a portrait shoot for Christmas gifts? If you’ve done this already, fantastic. Do your wedding clients want to give their parents something extra like a framed print or album?
If so, set a time to draft emails to those clients with your deadlines, send them and follow up. You might even have a bonus for those who take action early.
PROJECTS & TASKS: PART 2 OF YOUR FOURTH QUARTER SUCCESS PLAN
When you’re planning your client projects, it can be useful to keep the notes and thoughts for each project in a separate folder. Breaking down projects helps prevent overwhelm and keeps them on track.
For instance, ‘do album’ may include:
– Request favourites from client / choose favourites
– Import image folder into album design software
– Check size of album + number of pages
– Design album
– Export design as double-page spreads
– Resize spreads and save for web
– Upload to online review software, write intro blurb, publish.
– Email client with link, next steps and album deadlines.
If your list flags you to check album size details, you can be doing this while the image folder imports and perhaps setting up the online review page.
For sets of repeating tasks such as the steps in designing an album, it can be helpful to keep a list of them which you print and tick off. Electronic task managers sometimes have their own versions of this; for instance, Daylite has activity sets.
Although you may know all the steps, remembering them in the right order can take up space in your head that you may want for other things.
If it looks as if you have too much on your plate, there are a few things you can do.
One is to truly look at how efficient you are. For instance, designing albums and making album changes all on one day is more efficient than doing an hour a day for the week. This is because when you switch context between different tasks, it takes us time to adjust from one to the next.
This means that a one-minute email in the midst of album design is more like a five to 10-minute email as you lose your train of thought on the album. There is also something intrinsically rewarding with getting something as complex as an album design done in just one or two concentrated sittings without distractions.
If you are being efficient, then what support could you get? Concentrate on removing or reducing tasks that suck your willpower. For one person, this could be using social media hashtags, for another, it could be the thought of what to cook for dinner. Social media management or food boxes with recipes such as Hello Fresh might help.
Also keep in mind services such as Fiverr and Upwork for online business tasks and Helping Hands and local teenagers/parents to deal with physical ones such as packing orders and post office runs. Try to get your support set up before you need it.
Schedule time in your calendar for you too. This includes time off, family/friends time and workouts. You can download a free printable planner of your 2018 fourth quarter I’ve designed just for you here.
You should now have a calendar with important dates and deadlines and a set of projects, each of which contains tasks. These two pieces can help you stay on top of this quarter like a boss. Check your projects each week – it will probably take you less than 30 minutes – to make sure that everything is progressing as it should be: clients or suppliers have responded to emails and nothing you were meant to do has fallen through the cracks.
We’re all human and things WILL get lost along the way, but the weekly checks will bring you back on course quickly and help you plan your tasks for the week. Don’t forget, you can download a free printable planner of 2018 fourth quarter I’ve designed just for you here.
I hope this helps you plan your fourth quarter success, staying sane and delivering a great service to your clients.