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What Are Your Administrative Efficiency Hacks?

Published: 20/11/2019
By: Brandon

Zoe, from San Francisco, CA writes:

“Hi Brandon, could I ask you to ask the group for some real-life things they do to stay on top of the administrative side of a photography business? I feel like I'm drowning managing the back end of my business! Thanks.”

What a great question, Zoe; thanks for sending it in! Even though many of us in our industry see ourselves as creatives, we always have to keep in mind that we need to be business people, too. This isn't always the easiest thing to accomplish when most of us get more satisfaction from the creative side of things. That said, for me, the one thing that saves my bacon on the administrative side more than anything else, is using financial software that manages and tracks my invoicing. I used to use an Excel spreadsheet to track my business manually, and this worked fine in my early-days but as I've amped up the number of shoots I did every week, Excel got a little unruly--probably because I’m not very good at it. Anyway, using financial software is always my first piece of business advice.

The other thing that I try to do is not let myself get pulled down the rabbit hole of returning emails immediately. I think we all know how much time and mental energy emails can drain from our day. Many years ago, I used to be obsessed with answering everything in my inbox ASAP, even when I was at a shoot. I stopped this practice for two reasons:

  1. I quickly became aware of the ticked-off looks that I got from agents who were at the shoot with me--probably because I was using their time to answer someone else’s email.
  2. I realized that hardly any of those emails were urgent and that I wasn’t getting any brownie-points for answering emails within a few minutes--especially when they would’ve been thrilled with getting a reply within a couple of hours.

Stopping these two things allowed me to stop being a slave with email and actually, it made my images turn out better because I was more present at the shoot!

So, what “admin-hacks” have helped you run your business more efficiently?

6 comments on “What Are Your Administrative Efficiency Hacks?”

  1. Here’s my list:
    Quickbooks for financial management
    (invoicing and payments)
    Tourbuzz for delivering images and notifying clients images are ready.
    Canon Professional Services for camera repair and servicing.
    Use a separate business checking account to deposit payments and a separate business credit card to pay for and thus be able to track all business expenses.
    Apple Calendar to keep track of appointments.
    Turbotax to file taxes.

  2. Number 1-10 best tips are to Keep It Simple (Stupid). If you are a sole proprietor doing a few jobs each day/week, don't micro-analyze everything. A good accounting program such as QuickBooks or Account Edge will give you all of the functionality and reports you could possibly want. Set the accounting up based on your tax reporting needs. In the US, that's the Form 1040 Schedule C. You can have finer sub-categories but don't make them so specific that you have an account for just prime lenses and another for zoom lenses you purchase. One account for bodies and lenses is going to be fine. You may want another for lighting and one more for grip (stands, clamps, etc). All of those would be under a header for "Photo equipment". Another header would be for office supplies, automotive/transportation, utilities and so on. A big piece of advice is to use an accounting package that lives on your computer rather than online. It's important that you always have control of your accounting. You don't want to be stuck if your internet is down or theirs is offline. You don't want to get a notice or read some news that the company is/has going out of business and you have to figure out how to transition your data today. You also don't want to get an email telling you the monthly fee is going to double starting next month when a stand alone package will continue to work forever (or until an OS update breaks it).

    Set aside time every week to do your accounting. Invoices you will be doing as you do work and likely entering payments as they come it. If you have the time to enter receipts for expenses, that's great, but still set aside a time slot every week to catch up and to run reports so you have a good sense of where you are at. My accounting day is Monday in the afternoon. It's my least booked day. If I have a booking for Monday, I'll spend time on Sunday night making sure everything is caught up. If you are so slammed that you "don't have time to do the paperwork", you aren't running a business, you are just being an employee at a company that has no management. Put a regular time period into your schedule that you don't violate without a very good reason. If you do have to make a change, make your accounting/management session earlier, not later. Shoot the customer's property but tell them you have to delay editing/delivery.

    I had the phone company disable texts on my line. If somebody needs to get a hold of me right away, I would rather they call. With my Bluetooth headset on, I can talk with them and be doing something else at the same time. I also find it many times faster to have a voice call over texting back and forth. If there isn't a big time crunch or the customer needs to send me an address, email is better. I have a workflow for tracking email and it's a far more robust system. I know plenty of people that don't get texts or they are delayed for hours or even a day with no notification to the sender. Text was put together very quickly and with very little development because at the time it was introduced, it was a way for companies to bill for the service without having to get regulatory approval. Now Text is bundled but there is no way to improve the protocol as it's baked in. Maybe someday a new Text replacement will come out, but it still won't be as fast as talking to exchange information. The other downside is that people have this expectation that you are going to drop everything to respond to a text. That's a bad precedent to set. I return calls and emails as quickly as I can, but if I'm on a job or talking with a client, they always take precedence. I use ringtones to tell me who is calling or what category of people are calling. About the only person I will excuse myself to answer a call from is my mother. She doesn't call that often and is older so it could be very important. My friends understand that I may be working and other customers know that I will call them back shortly when I have the chance and should leave a message so I know what they need beforehand.

    There are so many aspects to managing a business that it's hard to be very specific without more of a description of why you are feeling so overwhelmed. Keep thinking about how you run your business the same way that you are always looking for ways to be a more efficient shooter. Take classes at a local community college or Regional Occupational Program on accounting and budgeting. Take online courses to learn all of the features of your accounting program. The advanced courses will often show how many tasks can be automated and the hacks that let you do a certain level of Customer Resource Management without spending all of the time on a dedicated CRM software application. CRM can be a huge time waster for an independent business person/small business. You are more than likely going to know your regular customers well enough without needing a computer to track them minutely.

  3. Being a person that likes to try everything once in their life ( "I'm positive I can replace that transmission"), I have had to resign myself at age 60 to the fact that I can do 3 things - drive a car, take a picture, and write a check.

    Freshbooks does all my invoicing, Photoshelter hosts all my images and delivers the product, my wife does the scheduling, and my accountant takes care of all of the financials, taxes, and payroll (the payroll is just me, Henderson Images files as an S-corp.)

    More important, I also pay a person to clean my house and do my yardwork. To me, it's about realizing that if someone charges 25 cents so that I can go make a dollar, it's worth it.

  4. Most of time is spent shooting and working with customers. I spend very little time doing administrative work because I have been lucky enough to find services that provide the administrative services I need at a low cost.

    Scheduling is done through Acuity and is embedded in my web site. A customer selects the package they want, uses the embedded scheduler to select the day and time they want me to be there. It isn't a request, it is the actual date and time that I am there. My clients love being able to schedule me at the listing presentation without the need to call/coordinate. The customer receives an email when the appt is scheduled confirming time/date and package ordered as well as a reminder text 24 hours before the appt.

    I receive a text and email letting me know that a new appt was just made. I block off all of my personal time (Vacations/drs appts/dentist/etc) so customers cannot book me when I am not available.

    I use tourbuzz - now urban immersive - and am set up so that my customers cannot download their images and links until the tour is paid. My clients can rename/sort/re-arrange/add captions and descriptions/select music/select template all on line in their client panel. I occasionally have to walk a new client through navigating the back end, but rarely. Using the client panel isn't any more difficult that using the MLS system. When a tour is done, Tourbuzz sends out a notification that the tour is done and ready for payment. When the client pays, they receive another email immediately with the link to to the tour, the needed MLS unbranded link, and a link to the download section

    I use Stripe for collecting on line payments, and they integrate with Tourbuzz so that the tour is released immediately upon payment.

    I check my appointments daily and go to the appts as scheduled.

    So my scheduling is online and client controlled, my delivery is online and controlled by Tourbuzz, payment is online and controlled by Stripe. Administratively, I am almost automatic. Accounting is not difficult and I am set up with business account and a business charge card. I also have a car that is owned by my LLC. So auto expenses do not need to be logged and labeled and tracked. It is only used for business so all expenses on that vehicle are business expenses.

    There are little things about each service that I would l would change if I could, but that is true of any service. The system is efficient, requires little intervention, puts the client in control. and leaves me free to be a photographer.

  5. My list is almost identical to Larry's:

    Quickbooks for invoicing and payments
    Tourbuzz for delivering slideshows
    Dropbox or Google Drive for delivery
    Separate business checking account and credit card
    Google calendar to keep track of appointments.
    Turbotax to file taxes.

  6. Shootproof - Invoicing, Credit Carr Payments, Photo Delivery and electronic contracts.

    Wave - Expenses

    Google Sheets spreadsheet to track mileage.

    I like your thoughts about email Brandon!

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