For Photographers

The Principle of Plugging Leaks - Workflow Series pt. 20

So you are working hard on your business. You want it to be the best it can be. You've been following this series and see the value of systematizing so you can give your clients a consistent experience, stay efficient with your workflow, make sure nothing falls through the cracks and make your business scalable and able to handle growth. Despite your best efforts something goes wrong. A client is upset about something that wasn't they way they expected it to be. You forgot to send an email at just the right time so that you have the information you need from the client to meet the next deadline in your workflow. You're struggling to get any response from your client and as a result you are backed up on album orders for years. AHHHHH! SO FRUSTRATING!! What now!?

Today I am sharing another installment of my workflow series for photographers -- my "Principle for Plugging Leaks". If this is your first time tuning in, click here to find a complete list of the posts in The Workflow Series and get caught up!

So here's the thing. No matter how good our intensions are, no matter how hard we work to make our businesses the best they can be -- to manage our client's expectations, to make our workflow speedy and efficient, to set up our systems so that nothing falls through the cracks -- things inevitably will. Problems arise, and they will continue to do so for every business until the end of time. And while this news is an incredible bummer for those of us who are recovering perfectionists (finger pointed at self), it helps me to realize this truth so I don't spiral into a pit of despair every time something goes wrong. Instead, I try my best to take a more constructive approach to problems.

There's an analogy I like to use to help me explain systematizing a business, and help paint a picture of this effort as an ongoing process. Let's pretend for a moment that you and I are for some reason out in nature and we're each trying to build a dam. The dam is in a dry river bed, but we know the water is coming. The goal is to build the dam super-strong with sticks, rocks, debris -- anything we can get our hands on -- so that when the water does come, it can't penetrate our creation. We do our best to build it strong, and to fill in any holes we can see with our naked eye. But we don't really know how well it will hold up until it is put to the test. When the water finally comes, we stand on the other side and wait in expectation. It does a pretty good job holding back the bulk of the water, but guess what? There are leaks. The water has found a path through at points that we didn't even notice before.

Since this isn't a remarkably sophisticated analogy, you've probably figured out that the dam is the system we build for our business. We build it to the best of our ability, attempting to anticipate issues that might arise, but problems, or leaks, are bound to happen. Part of the process of systematizing is plugging those leaks when we find them. And because problems are bound to continue to arise throughout the life of a business, plugging these leaks will be an ongoing process. The goal is to plug the leak or solve the problem by tweaking the system so that that specific issue does not arise again.

For instance, when a client is upset about something that wasn't they way they expected it to be, rather than writing them off for not paying attention when you so clearly explained it during your initial client meeting, add additional client education for future clients. In addition to telling them verbally, add a clause to the contract and add it to an email template you send out as a reminder of what they can expect from you.

If you forget to send an email at a specific point in your workflow process, don't get mad at yourself and simply determine to try harder to remember next time. Add a reminder to iCal and make putting this reminder on iCal a step on your workflow checklist.

If you're struggling to get a response from clients and as a result you are backed up on album orders for years, instead of getting increasingly frustrated with them, evaluate what the obstacle to their response might be. Is it possible you are asking too much of them and that could be causing their paralysis? Could you simplify the task or even remove it altogether? Is there a deadline or incentive you could add to your workflow to encourage them to reply? (Incidentally, I have had to plug A LOT of leaks in my album workflow. I haven't talked much about albums in this series so far, but I will be starting a series on album sales and workflow on Align's blog here -- so stay tuned for that!)

If you take this constructive approach to problems in your business, and commit yourself to continually improving your system, you will greatly improve your client's experience over time, become super-efficient, and create a business that can scale and grow.

I hope you have found this tip helpful!

Up to this point in the workflow series, I have been sharing workflow strategies and resources that I consider vital to a basic wedding workflow. I've shared them roughly in priority order and with the conclusion of Part 20 today, the basics are covered. I'm going to continue it the coming months to share what I like to call, "The Bells & Whistles". These are additional components I have added to my workflow over time as I've increased my prices, in order to improve my clients' experience. They aren't vital to a wedding workflow, but they are fun extras that can set you apart from other photographers. So stay tuned for more goodness soon!

Thanks again for reading! Let me know if you have any questions by leaving a comment below. And to find out about more resources I offer photographers, click here!

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Tips for Clients

Picking a stellar wedding vendor team

I recently photographed a local wedding for a couple who planned the entirety of their wedding from another country. They found me on weddingwire.com, which isn't a source that I typically get a lot of referrals from, but I was thrilled when they booked me because the bride seemed so great over email. She didn't ask for referrals for other vendors, so I was pleasantly surprised when I ended up working with some of the top vendors in each category in the Phoenix area for her wedding -- most all of them my friends who I have worked with many times before. I was so impressed that she was able to plan her wedding from afar and amass such a stellar team of vendors, that I decided to pick her brain, as well as the brains of other past brides to find out how they found the vendors they ended up loving to work with.

I've never planned a wedding myself, but it's got to be incredibly challenging on a multitude of levels. I can imagine being completely unfamiliar with the wedding industry and knowing that there are thirty options for florists, twenty options for wedding planners, fifty options for DJs, and hundreds of options in 10 other categories that I need to fill, and being completely overwhelmed. Top that off with my desire to pick the PERFECT choice in every category, and I would be a soon-to-be bride that you would find in a puddle on the floor, unable to function. When you are doing research to hire a service provider you have never hired before for something as important as your wedding, how do you know who you can trust?

Here are some tips from some of my past brides who have been there:

-Obviously make sure you are drawn to their website and portfolio online. But don't just stop there. If you have the opportunity to meet with vendors, do so. It is so important to find out if you "click." If you can't meet in person, chat over Skype or at the very least on the phone. You can learn so much more from a conversation with a vendor than you can online.

-Ask everyone you know for good referrals. If you know someone whose word you can trust who has worked with them before, that goes a long way in building your confidence in them. But don't assume that just because your friend worked with a certain vendor that they had a good experience. Make sure to talk with them to find out what their experience was like.

-If you are planning from afar, it's great if you can have someone on the ground locally to screen your top choices from your online research through in-person meetings. If you don't have a relative or friend available to do this, hire a planner to help. It is especially important to do this in the case of picking a wedding location. Photos can be deceiving. On a venue's website, you won't see what's next door, what the parking situation is, if there is a cow farm down the road that smells, etc.

-If you hire one vendor who is well-established in the area and you trust them, ask for their recommendations. A good wedding planner is especially well-suited to help you find a stellar vendor team because they will spend time getting to know you, your budget and your wishes and can match you with vendors who have a proven track record working with her. Plus if you use recommendations from planners or a vendor, it's more likely that your team will work well together and everything will go much smoother.

-If you keep hearing the same name over and over from various vendors, your venue's preferred vendor list, on wedding blogs, in magazines and online, that is also a great sign.

-Shy away from vendors who are uneasy talking about money. Every single one of them has to charge for their professional services and skills. It's a business. If they are uncomfortable talking about money and contracts, it's likely they are not very experienced or are hiding something.

-Look at websites like weddingwire.com and yelp.com to find online reviews. Look at the vendors who not only have the highest reviews, but the ones who have the most reviews. Although you don't know the people who are leaving the reviews, it's easy to trust the work of someone who has received 70+ 5-star reviews. That's a proven track-record.

Wow -- this is great insight! I want to thank my amazing clients who helped me out with this! You girls are the best!

If you are planning your wedding in Arizona and are looking for some amazing vendors, check out my preferred vendor list here. I've worked with all of these vendors many times and can vouch for their professionalism, team-approach and quality work!

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Weddings by MJ

Happy Anniversary Jay & Kiera!

Jay & Kiera were married two years ago today on 4.14.12 at the Royal Palms in Phoenix. You can click here to see their original wedding blog post.

Today, in honor of these two, I asked them if they would be willing to share their favorite wedding photo and why it's so meaningful to them. I always find this so interesting to see which images mean the most to each couple. This was Kiera's response:

"It is so hard to pick just one favorite photograph because we love so many of them. Going back through the photos makes us feel like we are re-living each and every moment of our special day. You did such an amazing job at capturing everything and telling our story. We are forever grateful to have had you as our photographer. Thank you again!

We ended up choosing a few favorites. Sorry! I couldn't help it!

The picture below left was shortly after our first look and it shows how incredibly happy and excited we were to be married to one another that day. We were also very much anticipating what was to come and how much fun we were going to have celebrating with all of our friends and family.

Next to it, below right, is another favorite. We love this picture because it shows our true love for one another. It captures the day well. We were about to start our journey together as husband and wife. Our wedding was large, but in the end it was all about us and celebrating the love we will always have for one another. We felt as though no one else was around, despite all the photographers and videographers surrounding us.

These next two images are my favorites because they show the beauty of the Royal Palms Resort. The setting is so romantic and intimate. A perfect place for a wedding (which is why we chose it :-))!

Thanks again for everything! Everyone is always amazed by our wedding album!"

Thank you so much for sharing Kiera! These are some of my favorite portraits of you both too! What a gorgeous couple you make, and what a great day that was! Happy Anniversary!

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Frivolous Friday vol. 108

Frivolous: playful, lighthearted, trivial; the little things in life that should be savored.

Highlight of the week: It felt so good after shooting 22 hours worth of weddings and events in 5 days to spend some quality time with my family this past weekend. My cousins were in town from Minnesota and we played darts, ate out, ate in, and took lots of walks -- basically a whole lot of nothing. And it was wonderful.

Yes, I did this:
1 -- Finished my taxes -- hurray!
2 -- Wallpapered my bathroom mirror with TRUTH.
3 -- Turned on the AC for the first time this year. Yep, even though it's still snowing elsewhere in the US… it's 98 degrees here.

There's a Target literally across the street from my house. It's so dangerous -- it always sucks me in and hours later I finally emerge with more than I went in for. So I try not to go very often. But I had to bite the bullet this week, so I went in prepared with a specific list, and with heels on my feet (so I wouldn't be too comfy). I still ended up spending over $100. EVERY TIME.

Celebrating: Sara found a lost dog in my neighborhood who temporarily lived in my backyard while we searched for his owner. Thanks to Craig's List he was reunited with his family less than 9 hours later! What a relief. I break into cold sweats just thinking about losing Dixie! SO scary!!!

I got to go to lunch with my sweet friend Emily this week. Emily is a wedding planner here in Phoenix who recently came on as Align's newest designer! So she's a colleague, a friend, and now a team member. I'm so blessed because whenever I walk away from time spent with her, I am encouraged in my faith. I am so thankful for her and only hope I can do the same for others!

Feeling Blessed: I got THE SWEETEST email from a bride whose wedding I recently photographed. Not only did it make me so thankful that I've had such amazing clients lately, but it reminded me of how blessed I am to be able to be a part of capturing people's memories and helping them relive some of the happiest events of their lives.

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MJ's Camera Bag


Sean & Tiffany's Album Design

Sean and Tiffany had their destination wedding on a Wednesday at Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix. It was such a fun wedding to be a part of and I love looking back through the album design to relive the day -- and I'm not even the bride!

Click below to see the design in full! Keep in mind that the finished album will be much larger -- 14x10 inches in size -- so the images will be printed about three times bigger than what you see on your screen.

Note to photographers: If you need help getting YOUR album designs done fast, click here to find out about my custom, fast and affordable album design service -- Align Album Design! (Which I used for this design.) Or, if you'd like to keep your designs in-house, click here to see my album template website where you can purchase templates to give you a jump-start!

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