Happy New Year y’all! I love this time of year because it gives me time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t work last year, as well as, determine what techniques I’ll maintain and/or change to improve my business in the New Year.
For 2014, I’m trying to re-focus and scrutinize the business side of things even though I feel like I have a good handle on things — it can always be better. I want to make sure 2014 is even more organized and more goal-oriented than before.
Instead of making resolutions that are tossed aside by February 1st… I’d like to showcase some goals for Allison Shumate Photography in 2014. Not just any goals… SMART goals (specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time specific). So here they are (in no particular order)…
- Continue to improve my skills shooting in Manual mode. This was one of my big “aha” moments when I started my photography business. To have full control of my images has taken my business to a whole new level.
- Continue to update and enhance my portfolio. After each session I take 2-3 images (max!) that are my “money-shots”. These are images for whatever reason (the lighting, the pose, the bokeh, etc.) that inspires me. I’m working on finalizing my portfolio to showcase on my website as opposed to putting everything out there. My followers and prospective clients can utilize my blog to see tons of images that I post from my sessions to getting a better idea on my style but my portfolio should be more condensed to showcase my best-of-the-best images.
- Step outside of my comfort zone. With each portrait session, it’s easy to fall into what poses I’m comfortable with. Every photographer has some go-to poses… however, my approach for the New Year is to start with a clean slate for each session. By forcing myself to step outside of the “norm” and be different, unique, and spontaneous — By being relaxed and having a go-with-the-flow approach will build a stronger connection with my clients and the images will be more creative, inspirational, and moving.
- Bring in more scenery to my portraits. After browsing my work in 2013 I’ve noticed that I need to get better at this. I’m one to get my subjects up close in my frame and stay there throughout the session. This certainly isn’t a bad thing to do… but I think that I’m limiting myself (and my viewers) from getting the “big picture” of the moment. Whether it’s a huge oak tree, a flowing river, fall leaves, a foggy lake, a field of grass… bringing this scenery into my portraits will help set the tone for my images. This will also help my clients re-live the experience when they look at their images years from now… they will still feel the chill of a winter morning, the smell of rain, or the light breeze on a fall day. I will have better opportunities to do this with my 35mm f/1.8 lens (new to the family!).
- Be an expert with white balance via my ExpoDisc. My brother-in-law, Eric, got this for me for Christmas and I’m SO very excited!! I learned about this gadget a few months ago. Controlling exposure and white balance during portrait sessions has certainly been a challenge for me — especially indoors during newborn portraits. This little buddy will help me capture perfect white balance in my images every time!
- Turnaround images from portrait sessions in less than 72 hours. This is a huge part of the Allison Shumate Photography experience. I want to WOW my clients with red carpet / VIP treatment. This service will then turn into more referrals. Of course, this goal will fluctuate given how busy I am during any given week… but a quick turnaround is always the goal! I want to focus more on getting my settings right in camera so when I upload my SOOC (straight out of the camera) images onto my laptop my post-processing work is very minimal.
- Break the cycle and create boundaries. This was the best advice that I got from reading Lara Casey’s blog post recently. In the beginning stages of starting a business it’s easy to get tied down with hours upon hours of work (making contracts, building a web presence, developing templates, answering emails, etc., etc., etc.!!). In 2013, I spent countless hours on my laptop (my husband developed a nickname for me, Clickity Clacker). Which although the name was funny for a while… I don’t want my business to be stuck behind a computer screen, I don’t want my relationship suffering, I don’t want days wasted when I could’ve been doing something else productive. This is something that I really need to work on in 2014 and beyond… setting boundaries for my business to give me more balance. Lara said it perfectly here… “As a small business owner, your life, personal rest, family and friends and your clients are WORTH fighting hard for. Let me just tell you this is particularly HARD for me because I want to give my time and my heart to everyone. But, in order to give my heart at all, I have to set limits.” I plan to set boundaries for office hours, emailing, social media, scheduling, etc. while respecting other people’s boundaries.
- Get smarter with SEO. Search Engine Optimization is something that wasn’t a true focus for my business in 2013 as I was so busy “getting busy” with launching my website and social media sites, shooting, and blogging away. We now live in a digital world so this oversight can hurt my business at the end of the day because my prospective clients can’t easily find me and/or my work online. In 2014, I need to have a plan for getting smarter about blog title tags, keyword tags, description tags, etc. Having a right strategy in place will help me attract more clients, earn more business and achieve the right clients, and develop a client base that leads to more referrals.
- Be a social media queen. As I mentioned earlier, we live in a digital world. There are so many tools out there that will help drive traffic to any business. I plan to focus more on Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter to attract more clients. These are four very powerful tools. I’m currently setup on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and just recently joined Twitter… but I haven’t utilized them to their full potential.
- Stay organized. This is going to be a big year for my business I can feel it! It’s very important for me to stay organized with my clientele workflow, expenses, taxes, contracts, etc. Otherwise it gets overwhelming and becomes a cluttered mess. I want everything to be squared away so when April rolls around (my birthday month, woo hoo!!) I’ll be ready to tackle taxes quickly and efficiently.
- Continue to utilize the calendar feature on my website. This worked well for me in 2013. When I would get inquiries about a portrait session… instead of emailing back and forth on a date I just send them a link to my calendar which gave them a snapshot of my availability. My clients would then pick a few dates that worked well for them and we went from there.
- Educate my clients. This also worked well in 2013 but I’m working on putting together a Client Guide for my portrait sessions to make it more of a seamless process. This guide will include helpful information on what to expect, what to wear, how to prepare, post-processing, unique products, utilizing PASS, Referral Rewards, and more! I used to post this information in my Client Lounge on my website (password protected) but I wanted to have a tangible product that my clients received since it’s all about the experience. I plan to give this guide to each of my clients well in advance of their session date so they have plenty of time to prepare and ask any additional questions before the session. This way, when it comes time to their session date, they are good-to-go and ready to rock n’ roll when I send them their images.
- Blog consistency. I’m very pleased with the amount of blog posts that I did since the summer of 2013. Despite the craziness of my schedule, I was able to blog 54 posts. When I started my business, I knew my blog was something that I wanted to focus on because it’s a great way for my friends, family, clients, and followers to connect with me and my work. I’ve gotten better about posting more personal blog posts and this is certainly going to be more of a focus in 2014. I’ll admit that there were times where my blogging got put on the back burner and I would feel so guilty about it when it would happen. In my defense, it’s because I didn’t have a good strategy in place. I now have a blog calendar so I can stay organized and have a snapshot view of what I plan to blog about. I would love to blog every day… but my schedule doesn’t allow me to accommodate that to blog meaningful topics. So, I’m making a goal for myself to have more of a consistent blog effort and plan to blog every Tuesday and Thursday. If I blog more than that, great! But twice a week at a minimum is the goal.
- Be a flash expert. I know what you’re thinking… “but Allison, you’re a natural light photographer so why do you need to learn flash?” You’re right — I am and I almost never use flash for my outdoor portraits. However, it’s been on my wish list for a while now and my hubby recently got me a SB-700 Speedlight flash for Christmas. There are times when using flash is necessary — especially shooting at events and/or indoors. I’m excited to whip out the manual on this little guy to learn the ins and outs of how to properly use it.
- Start shooting in RAW. For whatever reason, shooting in RAW has always been intimidating for me. I’ve always shot in JPEG mainly because it was easier to handle the files (fairly smaller in size) and it gave me more room on my memory card. For instance, I have a 64 GB memory card that has space for roughly 8,000 JPEG images (Switching to RAW only allows room for 1,000 images). For a while now I’ve been researching the pros and cons to both options. Despite there being a few extra steps in post-processing the pros certainly outweigh the “cons”. Shooting in RAW will give me full control over my images.
- Continue to get more involved within the Shoot & Share community. I’m so very fortunate to be a part of an amazing network of fellow Shoot & Share photographers. This community is so very helpful and encouraging. I belong to a Facebook group of 7,900 members (right now!) of other Shoot & Share users from all over the country who bounce ideas off each other, answer questions, and get help from one another on a daily basis. Our Facebook group is so supportive and positive. We are a community of photographers who openly share our business models, pricing structures, shoot locations, techniques, and genuinely care about helping each other grow. We have even formed lots of sub-Shoot & Share Facebook groups — I’m part of the Shoot & Share – Richmond group which has close to 170 members (right now) of local photographers. We even meet up every now and then to socialize and it’s a blast! Since I got into this industry I’ve been a Shoot & Share photographer and it’s been the #1 best thing I have done for my business so far.
- Continue to educate fellow photogs. This goal goes hand-in-hand with #16. I’ve really enjoyed this part of my business — sharing what I learn along the way with my fellow photographer friends. Every day I’m learning something new to better my business and I love educating and sharing my ideas to better others in the industry too.
- Read more books. I could spend hours upon hours on my laptop sifting through hundreds (thousands!) of articles out there. The availability of resources is incredible. I can’t remember the last time I actually read a book cover to cover. I recently joined a photography group book club where we’ll pick a different photography business related book each month and collaborate about it with other photographers. This will be very beneficial for me and my business.
- Get settled. I’m SO very excited that my hubby and I are creating an office in our home! Right now I’ve been doing most of my work on our couch in our den while using a vanity in one of our guest rooms for files and my gear. As you may know, we moved into our house July 2012. We have multiple guest rooms and one in particular is a perfect size for an office but it was once a nursery before we moved in. How can I tell? There are paper airplanes on the walls, clouds painted on the ceiling with an airplane fan installed. It’s actually pretty cute but not practical for us right now. It will be SO very nice to have a home for Allison Shumate Photography. Stay tuned for updates!
- Invest in a studio management program. I’ve searched around for many months regarding the best program to use for managing my contracts, invoices, payments, track leads, taxes, etc. It can be overwhelming if the right process isn’t in place. After researching all the various tools available so when the time is right I’ll move forward with Pixifi to help run my business, stay organized, and free up my time.
- Enhance the experience. I want to start having in-person consultations before and after sessions. In 2013, the bulk of my before and after conversations were done via email. Which is a fast and easy way to communicate, however, I want to better the experience overall. As you know, I’m a shoot & share photographer which means that I hand over all the digital files after a session (after they’ve been digitally enhanced via Lightroom). In 2014, I plan to take my clientele experience to another level by offering in-home design consultations after a client’s session. My service-based experience with my clients should be more than a gallery link, leaving clients to figure out next steps on their own. At the end of the day, this leaves my clients with feeling overwhelmed, which then leads to procrastination, which results in my client’s images staying in a digital format on their computer. I’m really looking forward to creating a custom experience for each client that solves this problem, by making personal attention a priority. I need to differentiate myself and be unique. I recently got an app on my iPad so my clients can visually see THEIR images on THEIR walls in the exact size frame(s) that they are envisioning (hmm… I sense a blog post topic!).
What are some of your goals? It always helps to write them down and tell someone so you stay accountable. Post a comment below so we can cheer each other on 🙂
I plan to print this blog post and tape it to my wall so I can always see it and stay on track. I’m SO excited to see all that 2014 has in store for Allison Shumate Photography. I cannot wait to meet new clients that I’ll have the privilege of working with. It is such an honor as a photographer to be a story teller… creating images that become treasured heirlooms for today, tomorrow, and for years to come. Thank you for continuing to make my dream a reality.