As a photographer, you are only making money when you are shooting. That’s why spending too much time on admin can be frustrating.
And if you have family responsibilities to juggle also, then finding the right balance is even more challenging. So, how do you make the most of your time?
At Automately, we’re all about making your business run smarter using the power of automation.
So we’ve put together this guide for photographers with 10 ways that you can start automating and systemising your business today.
1. Use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System
Being a successful photographer isn’t just about having great shooting skills – it’s also about building and maintaining relationships within your community with your clients and prospects.
This is relatively easy in the beginning, while the number of contacts you have is low. But the list quickly grows, and you need a place to store important information about each contact.
That’s why our first recommendation is to get yourself a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.
A typical CRM allows you to record important information about each contact, and helps you to segment your database of contacts for reporting and taking action.
A good, well maintained CRM should be able to answer the question, “how many clients with 2 or more children have purchased a newborn session in the past 12 months?”
A great CRM should also be able to tell you what pages on your website they have visited, which of your emails they have opened, and what links they have clicked.
There are countless CRM tools available, each with their own points of difference, to suit any budget and requirements.
The CRM that I use in my business is called ActiveCampaign, and I love it because it also combines marketing automation features with a CRM, which is really helpful for automating workflows. Plus it comes at a really affordable price point, making it a viable option for start-ups and solo businesses.
ActiveCampaign is more of a general CRM (meaning it is not designed for any specific industry), however, there a number of great products that are designed for the creative industry, like photography. Check out Studio Ninja and Táve to name a couple.
When I get asked the question, what CRM should I use for my business, my first response is: the best CRM is the one you actually use.
2. Organising Appointments Online
Most photographers work across a variety of times, days and places, which makes organising appointments particularly chaotic. The solution? Streamline the process with a high-quality, customisable online scheduling tool.
This makes it easy for clients to book, change and cancel appointments themselves, eliminating the need for time-consuming phone calls. Plus it allows you to view and track bookings in just a few clicks.
We use and recommend Acuity Scheduling, which is great for photography businesses. It’s packed with features, such as a powerful calendar that links with your personal calendar (Google, iCalendar, Office and Office 365); the ability to send reminders and follow-ups via SMS and email, and the ability to integrate with many other online services, such as Zapier and MailChimp (more on this later).
That said, there are loads of other possibilities, catering to various budgets and requirements. Check out Calendly, Setmore and SimplyBook, to name a few.
3. Posting on Social Media
It’s fair to say that in this day and age you need to be using social media to promote your business – that’s where your clients are, so that’s where you need to be too.
But maintaining your social media presence across multiple channels (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc) and analysing results can be a massive time suck.
You can optimise your effort using a social media management tool, which allows you to schedule posts in advance, post across multiple social accounts at once, and provide reports on performance to help you improve your content in order to maximise engagement.
4. Live Chat
Your ability to respond quickly to enquiries from prospective clients can be crucial to winning their business. The challenge that many photographers face is that enquiries often come in at really inopportune times, such as when you are in the middle of a shoot, during family time, or even while you are sleeping (ever get an enquiry at 1AM asking for prices?).
That’s where an automated Messenger service or chatbot can be a life saver.
A chatbot is essentially an automated chat service that connects up to your website and Facebook Business Page, and can handle enquiries in a personalised and conversational manner, like an automated virtual assistant.
At Automately, we have developed a chatbot specifically for photography businesses, called the myAssistant. Our Bot has been designed to provide prospective clients with the information they want, when they want it, and help convert enquiries into bookings.
The Bot can answer questions such as:
- what are your prices?
- what are your packages?
- what is your availability?
- how do I get to your shoot location?
It can also automatically follow up on enquiries after a period of time, take bookings if you have an online scheduling tool, and capture important information, such as a potential client’s contact details (email address or phone number), which are valuable for future marketing purposes.
If a client doesn’t want to talk to a bot, then it can reach out to you to let you know that someone wants to chat, whilst informing the user of your usual response time (eg. within the next hour).
Chatbots are quickly emerging as the next big trend in technology. With over 8 billion messages sent between people and businesses each month on Facebook alone (and that excludes person to person messages), plus the continual advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), this is one trend that you shouldn’t ignore.
5. Facebook Ads
Remember our trusty chatbot? Well your automated virtual assistant can also be setup to respond to comments and enquiries on Facebook posts and ads.
For photographers, this is a brilliant tool. If a potential client posts a complimentary comment beneath one of your shots, the chatbot can start a conversation designed to generate leads and sales. Furthermore, speedy response to comments boosts your relevance score, ensuring your posts reach more people.
But the awesomeness doesn’t stop there! Perhaps even more valuable, your chatbot can be configured to handle enquiries on Facebook promotional campaigns.
When setup properly, your ad campaign can direct potential clients into your Facebook Messenger, where your chatbot can act as a conversational sales funnel, to capture leads and convert to sales.
The benefit of a chatbot over a human in this scenario is that a Bot is working 24x7, and can handle an unlimited number of enquiries at the same time.
6. Use Zapier as the Glue that Binds your Software Tools Together
OK, bear with me on this one as we will get a little technical here. But I promise you that with a little bit of effort you will be able to use this tool within your business to save hours in administrative effort.
Zapier is a software integration tool, which basically means it can connect various applications with one another, so they can share information. The analogy that I like to use when describing Zapier is that it’s the ‘glue’ that binds online applications.
Zapier is able to integrate over 1,000 popular online applications, including Facebook, Instagram, Xero, MailChimp, Google Apps (GMail, Sheets, Drive, etc), DropBox, Acuity, and Calendly, to name a few.
The benefit of using Zapier is best explained with an example, so let me give a real-world example using two of the areas that we have already covered above – chatbot and CRM.
When your chatbot identifies a new lead, for example, a prospective client requests a maternity brochure, Zapier can be configured to detect this and automatically update your CRM with the contact details of the prospect. If you use a CRM with automated workflows, such as ActiveCampaign or Tave, then you can automatically enter your new contact into sales funnel workflow.
This can save hours of effort in manually copying data between one system and another, as well as countless other administrative activities that photographers perform on a daily basis.
Zapier has a simple and intuitive interface, and does not require any coding knowledge to get started.
I recommend taking a look at the extensive list of applications that Zapier can work with, and if you see two or more that you use on a regular basis, then I guarantee there will be a way to integrate and get more time back in your business.
The next set of tips all use Zapier to create a seamless automated workflow to save you time and make your business run smarter…
7. Sending Brochures
In the real-world example provided earlier, where a prospect enquiries about one of your packages, I glossed over a key point around sending the brochure. This can be done in an automated way, so let’s dive into that one now.
Brochures are a quick, eye-catching and convenient way to send marketing and promotional information to a contact. Most photographers will have some form of brochure for their packages – be it an email, a PDF, or a page on a website.
When a prospect enquires about a package, rather than manually responding with the same information again and again, you can leverage tools like MailChimp, ActiveCampaign or Táve to automatically send an email with information about your package(s).
To achieve this you would typically need to use a tool like Zapier to detect a specific event or trigger, and pass the relevant information to MailChimp for example.
A ‘trigger’ could be:
- a website contact form is submitted;
- a particular tag is added to a contact in your CRM; or
- a contact taps a Request Brochure button in your chatbot
In MailChimp, an automated email campaign can then be triggered to send your email brochure, which can easily be designed using MailChimp’s simple email builder.
Setting up an automated email sequence using ActiveCampaign is even easier, with its intuitive automation workflow builder.
Whilst this tip requires a little more technical knowledge to setup, the solution only needs to be implemented once for it to be working around the clock to send beautifully designed email brochures to your prospective clients, whilst leaving you free to focus on other important tasks.
8. Cross-selling Complementary Packages
Whilst cross-selling technically occurs at the point of sale, in this tip we’re referring to selling a complementary package after a set period of time.
For example, following a maternity shoot a client could purchase a newborn shoot, then a
1st birthday cake smash, followed by a family portrait session each year.
You can use a tool like ActiveCampaign to create workflows that will automatically send promotional material to a client after a set period of time.
Automating this sequence is really handy, because who can remember to send an email to a newborn session client 10 months later to see if they are interested in a 1st birthday cake smash?
9. Work Procedures and Checklists for Repeatable Tasks
The way you operate and do things is a big part of your brand. If you have anyone else working in your business, they are essentially an extension of your brand, and therefore it’s important they consistently do things they way you expect.
The best way to achieve this is to have these tasks written down in the form of work procedures and checklists.
If your photography business consists of just you, then you may think that this tip is not for you. However, I would encourage you to start documenting your work procedures and writing checklists now, because when you do need to bring in some outside help it’s usually because you are stretched – and the last thing you want to be spending your time on is writing procedures or checklists!
10. Sending Handwritten Birthday or Anniversary Cards
This tip is really cool, and can be a point of difference for your business if done right.
Receiving a letter in the mail that isn’t a bill or brochure is quite rare these days. Which is exactly why using “snail mail” can be a great strategy for creating strong brand awareness.
Moreso, sending a handwritten letter and card significantly increases the likelihood that your letter will get opened, and makes the whole experience more personal.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could automate the sending of a personal, handwritten birthday or anniversary card to a client.
Well, using a service like Thankster.com, you can!
Thankster is an online service that allows you to easily create and mail personalised cards that look genuinely handwritten.
By using zapier to link your CRM with Thankster, you can setup a workflow that can trigger a handwritten card to be sent to a client couple on the anniversary of their wedding for example.
You can choose to keep it just at a happy anniversary, or you can use it as an opportunity to cross-sell a complementary package.
Can you imagine if your business had all these tools in place? You’d have so much more time to shoot, spend time with family or, simply relax without feeling guilty.
If you are worried about where to start, just start at the beginning and implement one at a time.
If you don’t have the time or expertise to implement any of the tips from this list, then give us a call today and we would be happy to look at these, plus many other ways to automate your photography business.
- The Ultimate Guide to CRM Apps, Zapier Blog
- The 17 Best Appointment Scheduling Apps, Emily Irish, November 2017