It’s summer and school is out, but we know a photographer’s job is never done. To give yourself the best autumn yet, we’ve put together a checklist to help you get ahead for the new school year.
To make decisions looking forward to the upcoming season, it can be beneficial to first look back at last year. Making decisions in advance only works if you base them on such insights. Be sure to compare season to season, as other times of the year are influenced by other factors and can result in misleading conclusions.
As the photographer, you will be able to identify many successes and failures yourself. It can be helpful to pick a specific photo day or school to start with, to focus your memory. Think about answering the following questions:
- What went well on photo day? What didn’t?
- What created stress for you?
- Did you carry out repetitive work?
- Where did you get stuck, either during preparation or on photo day?
- Where did you invest the majority of your time? Did it pay off?
Identifying problems or issues in these separate areas often means needing separate solutions to resolve them, which we will come to later. For now, consider which ones had the biggest impact, both on the business and on you personally.
You are not the only person who might have valuable insight into the running of your volume photography business. Ask other relevant groups, such as customers, institutions, employees, and partners (e.g. labs, system providers), what they think about the same questions as above. They work closely with you and so might see things you don’t. And of course, the customer experience is important in any business; considering what they would like to see in future is always an advantage for maintaining customer loyalty.
It’s not all about processes and stress points; at the end of the day, a business is a business. Sometimes it has to come down to the money. Put together a business plan that includes any costs or losses, revenue, and split it into different categories, such as sports, schools, seniors, or studio sessions – whatever suits your workflow best. Don’t let the term business plan trick you into thinking it has to be pages long – a few simple tables can be enough to illustrate what you need:
- Were last season’s estimates accurate?
- Did the time you invested in certain areas pay off financially?
- Did you incur any surprise costs?
- Where did you incur the most costs?
Do the same evaluation process with products:
- What sold best?
- Was there enough variety in package options?
- Did some products do better in different age groups or sessions?
If you are seeing any kind of high costs, either financial or time, check whether the return was good enough to warrant it. Even if it is, finding a way to automate or streamline the process that uses up a lot of resources can help improve your workflow still further.
Now it’s time to fix the issues and hiccups you’ve just identified. What are the easiest solutions? Instances where you can see you are wasting a lot of time when you could be on a photo day could be solved by either hiring someone to take on that role or automating that process. Think about your position in the company: where do you thrive? What role do you want to have? If you prefer spending time on a shoot rather than handling paperwork, perhaps an office assistant or online system could enable to you to do so. Find a quick solve for the problem and test it.
The testing is vital. If you are introducing any new process, it is important to test it out before you reach high season. Start with a small job at the beginning of the season, or even ask a friend or neighbour to take part in a trial shoot. You get to test out your new ideas and they get some free photos. Win win!
Track the development of this new process and see whether it suits your business and solves the original problem. Be sure to collect direct feedback from everyone involved to get an accurate picture of how things went. You might need to refine it or make changes, but this is always worth doing if it makes the busy periods of the year that bit more manageable.
KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) are a great way to manage goals and targets in a measurable way. The first step is to identify what to measure. Start by pinpointing the value drivers for your volume photography business. This could be anything: revenue per head, heads photographed, order rate, pictures taken – whatever is most important to you and your business. What is your USP (Unique Selling Point)? This can help narrow down what you should focus on improving within your business. For example, if you pride yourself on providing great customer service, a good value indicator could be your complaint rate. You shouldn’t have more than five targets; if there are any more, you will be overwhelmed and not be able to effectively handle any of them.
The next step is to think of your operation drivers. These are the things you can change that might have an impact on your value drivers. For example, influencing your time per head could raise the heads photographed numbers. Reducing admin time can increase the number of pictures taken, and so on.
Then consider the time frame for results. Do you want to evaluate per quarter, per job, or even per year? Regardless, you should check in on your KPI’s monthly, or even weekly, but it’s good to have on overarching timeline as well. It’s important to set specific targets, so you can evaluate successes and failures for the following season and the new set of KPI’s.
Using the SMART criteria can be a good means of making sure your targets are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timebound. Keep your targets visible, perhaps in a spreadsheet or even a poster on the wall. You need to be aware of them throughout your workday and keep them at the forefront of your business decisions.
Tip: GotPhoto’s statistics can be a useful way of tracking and measuring relevant data. If you’re not sure how to make the most of these features, our customer service team is always available to help. You can call on +1 646-362-5100 or email email@example.com.
At the end of the KPI period, take a look at the results and see what worked. Then you can start the process all over again. This second round might include some of the same criteria as the first round, if your system still needs further refining.
If it’s still possible, putting some time into acquiring new schools could make this your best season yet. Some schools might already be tied to a contract, but it’s worth putting out some feelers in any case.
Establish a clear process between contacting initially, following up, and paying a visit. This makes sure that no schools get lost along the way and you deliver the same optimal introduction to every potential customer.
Polish up your positioning. Think about your USP again: what can you offer this school that no one else can? How can you prove it? Gather testimonials from other schools and include it in your materials that you hand out, along with your best images of course. Anything you can use to prove you’re the best photographer available should be up front and centre for the world to see.
Set up targeted ads on Google or Facebook to catch schools that are still actively looking for a photographer. For more information on using targeted ads, check out our useful guide for Facebook ads here.
Put some time into the SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) of your website, or hire a freelancer to polish it up for you. You can be the best photographer in the world, but if no one sees your work when they’re looking for it, you still won’t increase the number of jobs.
Once you’ve laid the groundwork, it’s always wise to follow up. People have busy lives and schedules, so make sure you’re present enough to catch their attention. Don’t give up if they say they already have a photographer, but rather show how you can be better. Even if they don’t change right now, it puts you in their mind for future consideration. Of course, don’t be so pushy that you drive them away, but making some calls and making a visit in person can really show people that you’re willing to go the extra mile and make them remember you.
Admin In Advance
Put It In The Calendar
All the dates you know in advance should of course be put in your calendar. Not only does it make sure you know what you’re doing and when, you can also set up reminders for a week in advance if there is anything that needs doing last-minute. For example, a sport session might need a particular prop that you need to dig out, or something else specific to an individual school.
If you work in a larger team, it can be worth having a physical year plan up on the wall. Digital calendars are great, but there’s nothing like having a physical plan for the year with the big dates and sessions marked. That way, everyone in the team knows the plan for the company and what they are all working towards. We even have several around our own office at GotPhoto!
Do Future You A Favor
You will thank yourself later if you can complete any admin that can be done in advance. Filling out data sheets for schools that require them or carrying out a stock check are some tasks where investing time in now can pay off later. You don’t want to be in the middle of high season and only then realising you are missing a vital supply.
When ordering in to fill any stock items, you could also think about pre-planning anything special you might need for fall. Whether it’s a uniquely-themed background or a special prop, having some festive or seasonal specialities can encourage customers to make a purchase at the time.
In a similar vein as having particular props or backgrounds, decide in advance on when you might have flash or seasonal sales. Christmas and Black Friday are of course key ones to consider, although you might have more that could suit your market.
Once established, you can then forward-plan your marketing schedule, or even create marketing emails or social media ads in advance. When you’re busy with photo days and sessions, you don’t want to potentially miss out on sales by not advertising your promotions to their best advantage. Once again, putting in the leg work now can really pay off during the season.
To hear more detail on how to prepare to the fall season, check out our webinar from our director Benedikt, or head over to our resources page for a wealth of information on all things volume photography.
Do you have any of your own annual preparations that you do before a big season? Let us know in the comments below or head over to the Facebook post for this article.