Good morning from our last day here in St. Louis! Tomorrow morning we jet off to Seattle and we’ve had a wonderful week here exploring a new city and making some great connections with new (and old!) photography industry friends during Shutterfest – and one of the things that has come up a lot during this trip during conversations (both in person and during some Skype mentoring sessions) is how we keep our business on track and organized when we are juggling so many clients and traveling and blogging and our schedule is so full! While we love the traveling, blogging, etc…our absolute biggest priority at any time is ensuring that our clients get best possible customer service that we can provide and that each one of them feels like they are our #1 priority, because they truly are! But the truth is, this has gotten more and more challenging as our business has grown! Every time we start working with a new client, we want them to know that we are available to them, that we are organized, and that we are going to communicate clearly and consistently with them throughout the process. It’s really important to us to let our clients know that we care about them and to provide a really consistent experience for everyone, and today we’re going to share a little bit about how we keep our business on track.
Looking back at the beginning stages of our business, managing our smaller client numbers was pretty easy. Our very first year we only had 2 weddings, so it was really easy to answer emails quickly and to figure out what needed to be done for each client…but as our client load has increased (especially when I was still working my day job and the time we could put towards our business was limited) we admittedly started to miss things. We would get behind on emails and album designs, we would miss important steps in our client experience…and we started feeling overwhelmed. We were using excel spreadsheets, google docs, a google calendar, G Queues, hellosign.com for our contracts, paypal for invoicing, etc etc, and we were spending more time each day trying to figure out what exactly we needed to do than we were spending time being truly productive. We were able to make our complicated management/organization system work, but we also knew there had to be a better way! And we knew that as our business continued to grow we would need a system to help us manage everything, or we were going to start dropping important balls and our business was going to suffer as a result.
Over the past year we’ve spent time speaking with friends in the industry about their workflows, looking into different programs, and doing software trials of the popular systems – but every time we would try out something new we would find ourselves overwhelmed with the amount of work it would take to set everything up, and with how complicated and unintuitive they were to use! We are pretty savvy computer and software users, but we had trouble figuring out how to set them up and eventually got overwhelmed and would go back to our convoluted homemade system.
But WOW, you guys! We started a free trial of 17hats back in early February, and from the very first day we have completely blown away by this program. Every time I open up 17hats and go through our workflow items for the day I literally feel like I’m pushing one of those big red “Easy buttons” that Staples sells, and if you’re one of our buddies (photographer or not!) by now you’re probably tired of me talking about how much we LOVE 17hats. It is, by far, the most user friendly and easiest system we’ve ever found, and with so many weddings and so much travel on the books this year I simply cannot imagine running our business without it. And to get really honest for a second, one thing that we’ve always been very conscious of is that we never ever want to endorse or recommend a product unless it’s something that we religiously use and seriously love, which is why we very very rarely mention specific programs or tools that we use, because we want to be 100% in love with something before we recommend it to our friends and blog readers. Check out the basic dashboard of our 17hats account and how simple and pretty it is:
It is so refreshing to come into the studio each day, and instead of trying to figure out what tasks I need to complete, everything is laid out in a simple and clear way! I can see that I have 5 workflow items to take care of and 6 things to do today, and as soon as I knock them out I know that I’m totally caught up and all of our clients are taken care of…and then I can focus the rest of my day on blogging or networking or other marketing activities and work on growing our business instead of just managing it…
There are so many great features of 17hats, but today I’m just going to share my favorite two with you – these are the things that really sold me on the program and that are saving us so much time!
First, let’s start with the booking process:
Before 17hats, when a client was ready to book we would have to send them a contract for digital signature through one program, a questionnaire through another program, and an invoice though another program. This meant that our booking process was kind of drawn out and complicated – and it took us a lot of extra time to send the different items to the client and ensure that they had completed everything. 17hats has simplified our process, removed all barriers to booking, and rather than having a 3 day booking process it’s now a 5 minute process for our clients – and that means that it’s simple for them and we can collect contracts and deposits super quickly and easily, and they are all stored in one place for easy access at anytime:
Here’s what a client sees when we send them a quote and contract… We love that everything is 100% branded with our logo and information!
As soon as they select their collection and any add-ons that they might want, the screen switches to our contract:
And as soon as they sign their contract, they are prompted to make their deposit payment:
How incredibly easy is that process? We love it, our clients love it, and it helps our business to look professional and to handle new bookings easily and quickly.
Here’s a peek at one of our other favorite features, workflows:
We are still working on refining this feature, but basically it allows us to create workflow templates and then apply them to our clients! The example above shows part of our template for one of our wedding collection options – and as you can see we’ve listed literally every single step or item that needs to be completed for each client throughout the process, from booking through image delivery, etc – and these items are the ones that will show up on my dashboard each day and keep me on track with ensuring we’re completed required tasks to keep our communication and workflow consistent across the board. For our email items (such a the step where we check in 2 months before the wedding with a questionnaire and their final invoice) we’ve created templates – so everything is pre-written and all we need to do is hit “send” and it’s taken care of! This is SUCH a timesaver for us, and it helps the entire process and our detailed/complicated workflow to be completely manageable – whereas before it was completely overwhelming.
And what’s really great is that we can go to our contacts and view all of the information and documents for each specific client:
17hats obviously has SO many other great features, and we’re happy to answer any questions you might have about how we’re using it – but those are two of our favorites! If you’re looking for a studio management system we simply cannot recommend them more highly regardless of how large or small your studio currently is (and now that we’ve had a chance to spend some time with their development team this week we’ve got to admit that we’re even more in love with them because they are truly awesome people). You can give them a try via a 15 day free trial, their rates are insanely affordable – and they are currently offering a discount due to Shutterfest, so now is the time to check them out and get signed up if you’ve been looking for something to help keep your organized and on track!
Questions? Leave them in the comments or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!