For Photographers

Gearing up for busy season!

As we are gearing up for our busy season in Arizona, I wanted to do a blog post for photographers to share our secret sauce for getting through the craziness and keeping up with our turn-around times.

During 6 weeks in October and the beginning of November this year, we have 17 weddings as a studio. On October 18th – the most popular wedding date in Arizona this fall – we have four weddings and all six of us will be shooting. Most weekends during this period we have at least 2-3 weddings. And to top it off, I am also teaching a workshop during that time. It’s going to be insane.

Our turn-around time goals are pretty ambitious. For my weddings, we shoot to get all the proofs online within one week, and for our associate weddings, we promise three weeks but shoot for two weeks. Suffice it to say, we’re having to employ some serious strateg-ery (made up word) to have any hope of keeping up with our deadlines. We printed off our iCal for October/November and took a pencil to it to plan out exactly what needs to get done each and every day in order to meet our goals. Since our associate photographers don’t do any color correction or editing (they only cull & FTP to us), the studio has to process each wedding, deliver products, and send images to vendors. It’s A LOT.

Our secret sauce for this craziness is ShootDotEdit. We outsource the bulk of our associate weddings during busy season to our post-processing partners at SDE. Here is a review of some of the things I love about ShootDotEdit:

1 - They make our images look consistent every time based on our chosen color profile. They are all about skin tones, which I love. Their goal is to get those dialed in. They don’t match our editing style exactly, but they get our images 90% of the way there, and my office-manager, Alaine, can dial them in the additional 10%.

2 - They have SUPER-fast turn-around times. Typically our jobs are done and back to us within 48 hours.

3 - Their DotPreview service gives us a sampling of 10 images from throughout each wedding, provided in one business day. That way we can check them and tweak our chosen color profile, if necessary, before the whole job is done. Again – SUPER fast.

4 - Their Lightroom 5 Workflow utilizes the Smart Preview feature in Lightroom 5 so we can send smaller preview files rather than full-size files. This makes our file-sending time significantly faster both ways.

5 - Their UNLIMITED Plan is great for busy studios shooting more than 8 weddings per year. You get unlimited editing for a fixed monthly price. For what it will cost you to have one wedding edited elsewhere, you can get a majority of your color correction done by ShootDotEdit throughout the entire month. No more worrying about paying per job, you get the ease of just one monthly payment. They also have a Rollover Plan, which allows for you to submit 1 wedding or 2 portrait sessions each month for only $99/month.

What I’ve learned over the years is that sometimes, as a business owner, I need to let go and outsource in order for my business to survive. And I need to do so even MORE if I want it to grow. I need to get these types of tasks off of my plate and over to some experts I can trust, so that I can work on tasks like networking and marketing that will help open up new opportunities and bring in additional revenue. So often photographers who have young businesses feel they can’t afford to outsource. But more than likely, they can’t afford not to. Outsourcing is definitely one of our tried and true keys to success.

So if I’m being honest, I’m still a bit unnerved every time I look at our fall calendar. But I guess we’re as ready as we’ll ever be! BRING IT ON!

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News!, For Photographers

Change. Adapt. Repeat.

I haven't blogged in three weeks. And only two people have asked me about it -- my mom and a long-distance friend who was concerned for my well-being. Haha! I'm thinking this might support my hypothesis that people aren't reading wedding photography blogs as much as they used to?

Prior to these past three weeks, I've blogged 3-4 times per week for EIGHT YEARS. And there's nothing to say except I hit a wall. It was like God said, "Take a break." And then left me with a total peace about doing so. And it HAS to be God, because let me tell you, I normally would be anxiety-ridden at the thought of leaving my blog unattended for 3 weeks!

My blog has long been the engine that has driven my business. It sells me to potential clients, connects me with vendors and other photographers, and helps me share my heart and my brand with others. But I feel like times are changing. Brides are spending their time on Pinterest, photographers are on Instagram, and all of our attention spans are too short to want to click through to find out more. We just browse and tap rather than interacting. Brides still look at wedding blogs like Style Me Pretty for inspiration, but I don't see them spending as much time on photographers' blogs other than if they are wanting to see more of their portfolios when they are looking to hire one of us.

Of course, this is all just my impression. I don't have any hard evidence to corroborate these findings. But in talking with other photographers and industry colleagues, many are sensing the same shift.

I'm not sure what to do with all this, but I just know that what used to work for me isn't working anymore. 2014 has been a hard year for my business. It seems like doors that used to open fairly easily for me aren't doing so anymore. Instead I find myself hitting a wall. Again and again. And not just as it relates to blogging, but in numerous other areas.

I'm still in the midst of this journey, but I feel like I've gained enough perspective to know that God is allowing this to happen to get me uncomfortable enough to abandon the route I was bound and determined to take, in favor of a different path that will hopefully serve me and my business well for the long-run. I wish I could spell this all out for you, but I'm still reflecting on it and praying through it all.

I think I'll look back on 2014 and see a year of huge changes for my business. This is my 11th year in business. The younger me would have thought I would have had it all figured out by now. The side of me that loves systems, would like to think that I could invent a system for everything and then just let the systems run. But unfortunately, neither of these ideals is rooted in reality. At least when it comes to the wedding photography industry, I don't think there will ever be a permanent state of "figuring everything out." Even though there may be victories and good years, and times when things are going smoothly -- at the risk of sounding like a complete downer -- they are at best temporary. Why? Two reasons:

1. This industry is extremely competitive and extremely innovative.
2. Change is happening and technology is advancing at break-neck speeds.

If you insist on doing the same things year after year only because they've worked for you in the past, you will quickly find yourself left in the dust and going out of business.

I share all of this just to be real and honest and vulnerable for those who might think having your own small business is all glamor and flexibility and success. It's not. It's really tough. And it doesn't get easier with time and experience. It only changes. So you don't ever get the luxury of getting off the hamster wheel. You just occasionally need to jump onto another one. So that's what I'm doing. Adapting. Embracing change.

The great thing is, I'm super-excited about what the future holds. Even though it might look different than what I expected at the beginning of this year, it promises to be inspiring, challenging and life-giving. Mostly because God is the one guiding my every step. I would be a mess without Christ. A fetal-position-on-the-floor-blubbering-mess.

"My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly trust in Jesus' name."

So what does this mean going forward? There are some fun things I've been working on that I'm excited to share with you soon. Stay tuned. But for now, I will be scaling back a bit on blogging. Not abandoning my blog all-together, but blogging a bit less. Maybe 1-2 times per week. I'll be posting on Instagram more frequently if you want to connect with me there -- @melissajill.

And photographers -- I will be on ShowIt Live tomorrow morning at 10am PST talking about Selling Albums Profitably and Efficiently. You can join me here and post any questions you'd like answered regarding album sales and workflow. I hope you'll tune in!

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For Photographers

Email Newsletters -- Workflow Series pt. 23

This is the top of my monthly e-newsletter that I sent out in June. We send these out at the end of each month to re-cap what has happened in the past month at Melissa Jill Photography.

Today I'm continuing my series on Workflow for Photographers and sharing another one of my "bells & whistles" -- one of the added extras that can really help take your business to the next level. If you want to browse the rest of the workflow series to get caught up, click here!

For the past 8 years I have blogged an average of 3-4 times per week. I put a TON of work into my blog. And it's well worth it -- blogging has done wonders for my business. I've taught entire workshops on how valuable it is. But only about 50% of Americans read blogs. How do we as photographers reach out to those who aren't in the habit of following blogs and keep them connected and engaged with our brands?

The monthly e-newsletter is a great solution. It's my way of delivering the goodness of my blog in a pretty little package straight into their inbox. I've been sending out monthly newsletters for 7 years now and I still get people commenting on a monthly basis that they receive them and love them. This simple tool is SO valuable for keeping you and your business at the forefront of people's minds.

If you're a photographer, it may seem like just one more thing to add to your list of things to do. But here's the secret: There is no unique content in my newsletters. It's all basically copied and pasted from my blog posts that month. So people who read my blog on a regular basis will be bored. But, it's not intended for them. It's intended for the people who DON'T read my blog.

Throughout the newsletter, I give small teasers along with beautiful images, all intended to entice the reader to click on the links that direct them to the full posts on my blog. My hope is that they catch up on my blog once a month and then find themselves checking in on the blog on their own -- without the nudge of the newsletter. It's all about creating blog readers and customer evangelists out of those who have shown interest in me and my business.

So, who do we send the newsletter to? Initially, I added my family and friends to the list. We add any clients, vendors and wedding planners we work with along with wedding guests who sign up on the little half sheets of paper that we put out at receptions indicating they want to see the photos online. Individuals also have the ability to sign up to receive my newsletter on my website. So we get a good number of photographers signing up there as well. Over the years, our newsletter database has grown to 5000+.

There are a number of great e-newsletter services out there. We have used Constant Contact and Emma in the past, but currently use Infusionsoft -- and really love it. The great thing about Infusionsoft is that it does SO MUCH more than just email newsletters -- it's a super powerful tool that I'll try to share more about in the future. Infusionsoft allows you to easily format your email newsletters to fit your branding. All of these services help you organize your database and also make it easy for people to opt-out of receiving your emails if they'd like.

If you don't already do so, I'd highly recommend sending out a monthly newsletter. It's a great thing to do to maximize the reach of your blog, build your brand and increase and solidify your network. If you'd like to sign up to receive my monthly newsletter, you can do so here!

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For Photographers

Referral Gifts -- Workflow Series pt. 22

It just doesn't get said enough.

My mom always taught me that it's nice to say "Thank You." But man, sometimes life is so full, and I'm so quick to move on to the next thing that it's hard to remember to stop, celebrate, and show appreciation. For years I simply thanked people who referred clients who booked me to shoot their weddings with a quick note over email. Looking back on that, I'm a bit embarrassed. After all, I only shoot around 10-15 weddings a year, so each wedding is a huge chunk of my business and a tremendous blessing to me.

A few years ago I sought out to remedy this situation by adding referral gifts to my regular workflow. These gifts are specifically for vendors who work in the wedding industry who are an ongoing source of referrals for me, or who have the potential to become such. Typically I already have a relationship with them and have worked hard to invest in it over the years, so this is just one more step in an ongoing relationship building process.

When I was thinking through what type of gift I wanted to give, I naturally thought about what I would want to receive. Duh!! Cupcakes and chocolates. Haha! I found two amazing companies that could customize and brand products for me and they also deliver!

Our most recent referral gift addition is a box of Anna Shea chocolates. I found out about these when a box showed up on my door as a thank you from a friend and I about DIED! These are not your standard box of assorted chocolates. They are miniature works of art that melt into sweet heaven in your mouth. I spent the week eating them and trying to decide which flavor was my favorite. It was a painstaking process that I gave my full efforts to. There wasn't one I didn't like in the bunch. So just like with anything I love, I immediately took up the mission of sharing the amazingness with everyone else! After having Anna Shea create a custom chocolate with our logo on it, I had to order another box for quality control purposes. Of course.

The box of chocolates is a great gift for individuals, but when a team refers us, we bring in the big guns with Sprinkles cupcakes.

Their branding is amazing, and I love that they have the perfect box of a dozen cupcakes ideal for spelling out "Thank You." My logo looks awfully scrumptious on sugar, don't you think?

We always deliver our referral gifts with a hand-written note, and in person whenever possible.

Because it is so easy to forget, I made sure to add "send referral gift" to my Wedding Workflow Checklist. That way completing this important task never falls through the cracks.

Writing this post has left me with a gigantic sweet tooth. I'm salivating and suddenly in desperate need of a chocolate. And a cupcake. Maybe a chocolate ON a cupcake? Is saying "Thank You" to yourself a thing?

Click here to find a complete list of the posts in The Workflow Series and get caught up! And let me know if you have any questions or added thoughts by leaving a comment below.

To find out about more resources I offer photographers, click here!

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For Photographers

Rancho Cucamonga MJ2Day | Day 2

Finally I get to share about this amazing group of people! These are the fine folks who attended the MJ2Day last week in Rancho Cucamonga, California. Most of the attendees came from various places in California but two crossed the country from North Carolina, and one traveled in from South Dakota. Starting at the top row L to R: Susanne Ashby, Jodi Lynn, Alex Mo, Promise Tangeman (our amazing host!!), Summer Shea, Hannah Nowill, Sara Nevels (my awesome office manager & workshop assistant), Jeremy Chou (workshop alumni & behind the scenes photographer), Becca Rillo, and Randall Nowill.

It was a great group and we packed the two days full to the brink. If you missed the recap of Day 1 of the workshop or the mock engagement shoot click on the links to get caught up! On Day 2 we covered business topics like the state of the market, workflow, album design & sales, vendor relations & networking, blogging & social media, initial client meetings, pricing, websites and branding. Phew! In essence, I poured the full contents of my brain on them. In the midst of all this learning, connections were made and relationships were formed. I think that's one of the best things about going to workshops! You come away with a whole new set of friends who share your passion!

On Day 2, we of course started with coffee.

Parker was worn out from all the excitement of Day 1 but Promise passed out some mimosas to keep the rest of our spirits high.

I LOVE talking about albums! Every couple should start their life together with one of these as their first family heirloom. We talked about how to sell them profitably and efficiently.

And we had a fabulous guest speaker!! Promise is an amazing graphic designer and she joined me to talk about websites and branding. We even critiqued a few of the attendees' websites -- two brave souls who volunteered!

In the early evening light we went outside and photographed one another. I did quick 5 minute sessions with each of the attendees. I usually only share the black and white head shots at the top of this post, but I couldn't resist sharing a few more of each attendee this time. They are a good looking bunch!

We had our very first husband and wife photography duo attend the MJ2Day this time! Could these two be any cuter? I'm so excited for them -- they are expecting their first baby girl in the coming months!

I found the perfect spot, apparently with a great mix of backlighting and a flattering hair breeze :).

And one more shout out to our generous host and my friend Promise Tangeman! This girl is beyond gorgeous, and the amazing thing is her beauty runs all the way to her core. She is such a generous, lovable person and I'm so thankful that she opened her home to us for the week! Thanks Prom!

Photographers - if you're interested in attending an upcoming workshop, the next one takes place in November in Phoenix. It's at my home and there are a few spots left! Click here to go to the workshop website for all the details!

One more HUGE thank you to our 12 sponsors who gave away over $13,000 worth of prizes to our attendees. THIRTEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS worth of stuff to only 7 people!!! CRAZY! I wanted to give a shout-out to our fabulous sponsors who added so much value to the attendees' workshop experience: Destination I Do Magazine, Pictage, Jared Platt Workshops, ShowIt, Two Bright Lights, Electric Dreams Design, B&H, Epiphanie Bags, ShootDotEdit, ShootQ, PASS, and Sitehouse. Thank you so much for your support!

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