Save your sanity with studio management software
Running a photography business with Excel spreadsheet is not always efficient; frequently it’s complicated and confusing. Studio management software provides photographers with business tools and services to manage their clients and operational workflow. But with so many choices, which one is best for your business? Christopher Quyen investigates.
When you are a photographer, the biggest overhead in your business is time. Not only are you shooting all day and spending late nights editing, but you’re also expected to do admin work, manage your clients, and market yourself. Every extra hour you spend working devalues the sum of what you earn, so having the right tools to create an efficient business workflow is important. And this is where studio management software eclipses spreadsheets entirely. Numerous software options, such as Studio Ninja, Táve, and ShootQ, to name a few, provide photographers with business tools, from simplified workflow management to automated invoicing, so they can spend more time shooting and editing, and less
time managing the back-end of their business. While the benefits appear self-evident, the challenging first step is selecting the package that’s right for your needs.
Settling on a system can seem like a big commitment. Essentially you’re remapping the way your business works, rehousing all your leads, clients, and contacts into a new system, and then letting it handle menial admin work. You can expect to spend a solid amount of time setting a system up, and that’s just the beginning. So perhaps the first question photographers should ask themselves is whether their business could benefit from a software management system, and whether it’s a necessity. UK-based wedding photographer, Nick Church uses Light Blue and believes that this question can be answered with a simple motto he shares. “Do what you do best; outsource the rest,” Church says. “I can’t think of any photographers that love spending time on admin over shooting and being creative. It’s why we do this job.”
Or an option?
However, not all photographers may be able to justify the investment, either because they already have an effective system in place or they’d rather spend their money on something else. Mark Condon of Gold Hat Photography relies on Studio Ninja, and while he admits that it makes life a lot easier for him, he doesn’t believe it’s a necessity.
“If you’re an organised person with good attention to detail, I still believe there’s no need for one. You can achieve pretty much the same thing with zero budget with a mixture of free software and tools, but it might take a while to set up and perfect.” Taking the route towards manual systems can be a cost-effective way of running your photography business, but it does come with its downfalls. And two of the main ones include the additional time to set up, along with the associated complexity and inevitable trial and error involved, and if you have staff, it might also prove to be a particularly steep learning curve for them.
The alternative, Church says, is lists in spreadsheets and a calendar that you manually have to cross-reference with new bookings and to-do lists. And regardless of how much of a masochist you are, this does not sound like fun. Plus the time commitment may be significant, and the risk of missing important details equally significant. For this reason, Sydney-based wedding photographer and Táve user, Milton Gan believes that studio management software is definitely a business necessity. “I’d suggest that any photographer who is earning money from clients should be using [some form of] studio management software because they are working in the service industry and therefore efficiently managing and maintaining customer details, jobs, and financials should be a priority,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how many jobs per year you’re shooting, most systems offer a range of pricing plans to suit different budgets.”
Selecting your solution
So, if you’ve decided to implement a studio management solution, the next challenge is selecting one. While you can go through the tedious task of trialling every product on the market, you’re unlikely to have the time or the inclination. While there is no magic formula to figure out what to go with, you should consider how it will integrate with the rest of your business, whether you want it to be feature-rich or simple and streamlined, and whether it’s likely to save you time and hassle and be worth the financial investment. Also, ask your colleagues and other photographers about their experiences, check out Facebook business pages and other forums, and get a sense of what the customer service is like.
Integration is a major aspect of adding a new system to your operation. Unfortunately, if things don’t gel with the rest of your business model, then it may prove more of a hindrance than convenience. New Zealand-based wedding photographer, Danelle Bohane settled on Studio Ninja after going through three different packages. She describes the system and interface as easy to use. “I feel like I haven’t had any moments of confusion in using this app,” says Bohane. “I also love their integration with my accounting software, Xero – a really beneficial feature that stands out from the rest.” However, some systems can be powerful enough to redefine your workflow as Church has found with Light Blue which has become central to managing his workflows and customers, organising his shoots, and his finances.
Power player or straight shooter?
US-based destination wedding photographer, David Medina started using ShootQ in 2008, but moved to Táve in 2010, after deciding that as a solo operator he needed a software solution that worked more like an administrative assistant. “I was drawn initially to ShootQ because the concept was based on an app that would do work for us,” he says. “It automates many of the functions that I found tedious and time-consuming, like invoicing, e-mail reminders, and creating contracts.”
However, over time ShootQ began to become slower when it came to introducing new features and Táve began to pique Medina’s interest. From creating custom e-mail templates, to e-mail tracking, creating job-specific workflows, and automatic invoicing and processing, Táve proved to be a sophisticated solution filed with features. Although some systems have many powerful features that help you manage your business, an abundance of features can also be a bad thing. “I used Táve for a couple of years and found it OK, but way too convoluted for my needs,” says Condon, who opted for Studio Ninja based on its user-friendly interface, straightforward and simple operation, and excellent customer service.
Learning the ropes
Of course with anything new that you add to your workflows, there is always a learning curve. And while some software may appear more intuitive, ultimately it’s a matter of personal preference. “The main issue with any new system is getting it up and running, customising it to your liking, and populating it with all your existing bookings,” says Gan.
From his experience, Medina says that once the system is configured and used properly, it streamlines studio administrative operations, saving time and freeing him to “do the kind of things that keep clients thrilled about their experience working with our studios. We can focus on customer service and relations, and create amazing images for them.” Church has found that Light Blue saves him time through workflow management because each step of a booking is tracked and he can stay on task. “It also reminds me of the couple’s kids names before I’m about to meet them for a consultation meeting, or if I am about to book a wedding that clashes with a meeting I’ve already organised,” says Church.
Sometimes, customer service can make a world of a difference when it comes to getting past that learning curve. And that has certainly been Bohane’s experience with Studio Ninja. “When I first got management software, I just added all new clients onto the platform and just phased out my old way of doing things. When I changed over to Studio Ninja from other software, it was very easy to transfer all my existing bookings with the help of their customer service team,” says Bohane.
But with any investment, there is always a degree of risk involved. Using studio management software, the primary concern most photographers seem to harbour is the fear of having all their data stored on a cloud system. There is always a chance of losing information if the system gets hacked or the company goes out of business. “There’s also the chance that the company will remove or change a feature of the system which you liked the way it was,” says Gan, “but if there are enough users making noise, those in charge will often listen and might even reverse their decisions. I’ve seen that happen with Táve.” Wasting time is also a risk that comes with the abundance of options on the Internet. Church recommends that photographers make a list of all the things they need their software to do before they dive into one.
Try before you buy
While you can read review after review trying to find the right package for you, the truth is that you won’t know until you try it out. It would be foolish not to take advantage of the free trials on offer. “I have tried three software packages, and Studio Ninja is the one I feel most at home with. I like that they are constantly developing and introducing new features and that the interface is really modern and streamlined,” says Bohane. While trying out a package for the first time, Medina suggests initially investigating the level of automation it offers. “You need to look how much work the solution will actually do for you,” he says. “For example, we currently have two studios – one focused on weddings and one focused on children and newborns, run by my wife. Táve is flexible enough that we can add more brands/studios and it will expand, adapt, and grow with our needs.”
Church also says he when he was trialling different options, he was looking for something with extra features that although he did not need at the time, he could use in the future. “Light Blue supports multiple employees, something I hope to utilise in the future as the business develops,” he says. But sometimes, during the testing process, it all comes down to customer support. Gan cites 24/7 customer service and support as one of the most crucial things he was looking for while he was trialling options. “There’s nothing worse than encountering a glitch with an upcoming booking and not having anyone you can turn to for immediate assistance,” Gan says. But like testing new cameras, sometimes trialling studio management software is all a matter of how we are drawn to them, either through their look, their interface, or how we navigate through the system.
Changing the way business is done
There is no denying that studio management software is changing the way we do business in photography. The common thread that runs through each photographer’s experience of using it is that it makes their clients feel like they are in good hands by making you appear incredibly organised and professional. It is “liberation” from administrative tasks, as Medina describes it. “[Since using studio management software] everything is really streamlined for keeping track of each couple,” Bohane says. “To have everything in one place is a huge relief, and knowing I have a whole new level of organisation keeps my stress levels low when it comes to running a business. I can focus more on the things I love the most, like the art of photography,” Bohane says.
If anything, it has increased certainty between clients and photographers through powerful features such as automated contracts, invoices, financial reports, and scheduling. No more manual Excel documents or texting your client the night before the shoot asking them if they are still on track. It’s really a very small price to pay to save you from the manic and unending admin work associated with being a photographer.
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