Tips To Make Your Home Office Productive and Efficient

Do you work out of your home? I’ve done it for years.

And while working from home sounds like a dream position to many people, it does have its challenges. Its easy to make work your number one priority, working all day and night long. And its just as easy to run of doing a million other things – everything except your work.

Here are a few tips to create a work environment that helps you get more done.

1. Separate your office from your main living space

Whether it’s a plush office, an extra bedroom, a room in the basement, or even a small desk in the corner of your kitchen, its important to set up an environment that you consider your office.

A few months ago we downsized into a condo. Which meant we no longer have our big office with the window overlooking our gardens. In our condo, we have a main area with a living room, dining room, kitchen condo, and two master suites. So we’ve both carved out our little niches within the dining/living areas, and you’ll find us in the same place most days. We also put up a large wall unit and filled it with boxes (yep, I love Ikea). Now we each have several boxes we can keep client files, office supplies and even “to-do” boxes filled with things we work on every day. At the end of the day, everything goes into a box, keeping our home looking like a home. (If you need some office ideas, head over to Pinterest. You’ll find amazing ideas to help organize everything within your office and home.)

However you choose to do it, make sure you separate the two and keep that in mind every day as you “check in” to your office. [Read more...]

Google Voice – an Amazing Tool For Virtual Photographers

We’re in the middle of a big transition here at Virtual. This past weekend we moved from a very large home, into a smaller condo one third of the size. Downsizing is our new “buzzword” and we’re doing everything we can to simplify our lives.

Part of it is a new direction we are heading – we want to take our “virtual” business even more “virtual”, allowing us to travel anywhere in the world at any time – and still be in the office.

Up until Friday, we still had a landline phone for our business. But that’s all changed. Now we rely on VoIP and mobile, and on Google Voice.

Google Voice was introduced in 2009, and we signed up for our first account as soon as it was available. We played with it, but for the most part ignored it. A few weeks ago, we took another look at as a solution to our new needs, and what we found can be of benefit to any small business, no matter where you are in the world. So here are a few things you can do with Google Voice.

When you first sign up for Google Voice, you can choose a virtual phone number in any area code. You can use that number to make calls over the Internet, send and receive text messages, and record voicemails. And because you are using a phone number in your area code, your prospects and clients will call a local phone number to reach you – yet you can be anywhere in the world. You can even transfer to a mobile or to a landline phone, making it easy on you, and “masking” where you really are to those calling in.

In addition to the normal features of any voice system, Google Voice offers a variety of other services perfect for the small business owner. It can [Read more...]

Developing a Strong Presentation Piece or Marketing Kit

This post is Day 6 of 30 Ways In 30 Days To Redesign Your Life With Photography. This series seeks to provide you with practical steps to get you from wherever you are today, to exactly where you want to be – this year! If your goal has always been to take your photography to a whole new level, hang on and start enjoying a new lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of.

A person forms an opinion of you and/or your company in a matter of seconds. Once that opinion is formed, it is very difficult to sway the opinion one way or the other. Which means those first few seconds are crucial in turning a first opinion into a customer.

First opinions come in a variety of ways.

If you meet someone in person, it may be formed by your appearance, the clothes you wear, how you look, your neatness (or lack thereof), your timeliness, or even your attitude.

If someone recommends you, it could be the way a person talks about you, what they use to make the referral (a business card, brochure, etc), or the body language they use while giving the referral.

If someone finds you online, it’s the presence you have built online. Have you taken the time to develop a professional presence? Do you stay active on social sites? Do you control what is being said about you?

And it also is impacted by your studio, your marketing materials, and the way you connect with a person again and again throughout the process.

“I’m starting on a shoestring budget, and am not sure what I should do next. I’ve printed up a few business cards on my own. I’ve created a simple site on Blogger and have a Facebook page. I want to be able to tell and show people what I do, but without a lot of money, what should be my next step.” Josie

When you are just starting out, the last thing you want to do is print up a thousand cards before you have your true identity built. Yet at the same time what you do now will forever impact your business in the future. So where do you spend your time?

For me, it’s always been the Internet.

Start By Building Online

I love technology. In fact I have dozens of websites doing all kinds of things in all kinds of industries. I couldn’t run my business without them. They are my business.

And now more than ever, you don’t need to spend thousands on a beautiful web presence. If you have some technical knowledge and a desire to learn, you can build a beautiful web presence for very little money. However I don’t recommend Blogger or other free sites for a variety of reasons.

1. They are free. You get what you pay for. You will have their branding, advertising on your site, and will be at their mercy if they decide to shut you down.

2. You have little control. With you own site, you can control the RSS, link it to your social sites, and gain traction in Google and other search sites. You have your own domain name, and can brand it in any way you choose.

With WordPress being at the top of the pile of design tools, and with the ease of plugins and share capabilities, WordPress really is the way to go. (Not the free site – always control it yourself.) You’ll be able to design anything, and have full control over what you do.

Make sure you brand yourself, and devote time to growing online. You should have:

  • A website and/or blog
  • Social sites like Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and Twitter
  • Specialty sites or landing pages for individual promotions

Also concentrate on putting together a dynamic presentation. Try expanding beyond the normal – if you see something on other photographer’s sites, how can you make it better? Try creating a high impact video and sharing it on YouTube and other video sharing sites. Or design with SlideShare and add a variety of content. Animoto is another way to create a great message.

While I do recommend having something online that says “WOW”, I also recommend keeping your overall site simple, and avoid Flash sites. Within the next couple of years, most people will be accessing sites from their mobile devices, and Smart technology does not recognize Flash. Which means your site will not show to anyone accessing it through mobile devices. Keep it simple, and give people choices as to what and how they access.

Stay Simple and Say Wow

While you can do pretty much everything and anything online any more, sometimes it’s nice to be able to showcase what you do in a personal way. Because photography is all about image, don’t forget to showcase what you do with an actual image.

I personally love Moo. They offer mini cards, business cards and postcards that come on a heavy cardstock, and give you just a bit more sophistication for the money. Their colors are brilliant, and the overall impact says wow. You don’t have to design one card and print it in quantity – you can change the image on every card if you choose. And if you are just starting out, you don’t have to print in the thousands – start with just a few. I have their ShowCase – a business card holder that holds 15 cards, and have a variety of images within the ShowCase. When you fan it out and the different photographs show, it definitely says more than a standard business card.

Yes, you can argue that the price is a bit higher than you can get elsewhere – you can even find free business cards online or print them yourself. But I’ve found I don’t hand out a ton of cards, and even 50 can last quite awhile. And the overall impression is definitely worth it.

I also love the postcards. You don’t have to use them as postcards and mail them out. Instead, have a variety on hand to show what you do. If you photograph weddings, baby portraits and seniors, have a few from each series. You can combine the postcards in a marketing kit with your price lists and other content, and turn it into something special without a lot of extra money.

Creating Your Marketing Kit

Creating your marketing kit can be a simple process. If you haven’t been to a paper store – not an office supply store – find one in your area. Or check out Paper Direct. They have a lot of ideas for presentation folders, and make it easy for you to create just about anything. I’ve used vellum envelopes, plastic folders and a wide variety of other materials over the past. When you order matching papers and envelopes or folders, it automatically gives you a superior quality. Then print your information yourself, and include postcards to supplement the look, and give you a totally professional appearance.

Some of the things we’ve put into our marketing kits over the years include:

  • Price lists
  • Company overview
  • Resume
  • Awards
  • Testimonials
  • Press releases
  • Article – in the news features
  • Personal articles we’ve written
  • Clothing consultation information
  • Gift possibilities
  • And of course, a variety of postcard images

In many cases, we like to go for the overwhelm. Some people will glance through the packet, others will study it. Sure it’s nice to have it online too. But there’s nothing better than walking out with a professional presentation.

Sometimes Material Is Better

Think back to your birthday, your anniversary, or the holidays. When you head out to the mailbox and receive a card, how does it make you feel? In today’s online world, a physical card can definitely make you feel extra special. It takes time and thought to go that extra step and put something into the mail instead of writing a couple of lines in a text message or email.

The same holds true from a business standpoint. People are so used to being directed to a website, anything else is somewhat of a shock. Which means it can be very beneficial in helping you book a client to step away from the norm, and create marketing materials as well.

The reason we don’t print in bulk anymore is because you can book a variety of clients simply through your online resources. They are excited about you, connect with you online, and are happy with what they see online.

But some will take a little longer, and need a gentle push. That’s what your hardcopy presentation materials are for.

  • You may hand them a presentation folder when you meet in your studio or in a coffee shop.
  • You may mail them a postcard reminding them about their appointment.
  • You may mail them a greeting card thanking them for meeting with you.
  • You may send them a reminder postcard and note about booking with you.
  • And finally a thank you card when they book with you.

If you photograph weddings, you may only need a handful of items per month. So why print things by the thousands when you may change your marketing methods, or add a new image to your portfolio that you love?

The key behind a great marketing kit is to have it sell you without you having to sell yourself. If a person can go to your site, and discover you are the photographer for them, it’s worth the effort you put into your site. If a person loves your presentation when you meet one on one, it’s worth the time you put into your presentation. And if they love your extra touches, and love your postcards to just say thanks, that’s going the extra mile.

3 Tips To Having Your Family And Your Photography Business Survive At Home

If you’ve worked in the corporate environment for years, you know one of the prime reasons people decide to start their own business is for more freedom, and more time with family.

Yet if you’ve actually made the transition, and work from home, you know balancing your work life and family life can raise its own set of unique challenges. How do you teach your family separation between your personal and work time? And how do you avoid becoming a workaholic, literally thinking and acting on your ideas 24 hours every day?

In a previous post, I wrote about working together as a husband and wife team. Working together has its own set of unique challenges. But when you throw kids in to the mix, you have an entirely different set of issues. How do you manage it all? And stay sane in the process?

Look At Your Day As A Block Of Time

Every single one of us gets a full 24 hours in the day. What you choose to do with that time is up to you. You can subdivide it any way you choose, and use your time wisely – or foolishly. Bill Gates gets the same amount of time as Jane Doe. Yet they each use their blocks of time in entirely different ways.

[Read more...]

How To Dress The Part Of A Photographer

Ever heard the saying “Image is everything”?

In the case of a small business owner, your entire business rides on your image. Not just the image you portray with your photography or with your marketing materials; literally the way you look, dress and act.

I once visited a photographer who wanted help with his business. As I walked through the front door of his home, I had to set over a few boxes that were waiting to go to the post office. The photographer had to move a few stacks of paper from a chair so I could sit down. And as he showed me some things on his computer monitor, I couldn’t help but notice bills and accounting documents all over the desk in front of me.

I visited another photographer who had a great studio, props everywhere, a clean background area for posing. The sales room was well decorated, was laid out to watch a presentation of the final images, and had a full array of framing and mounting options to select from. But when he met me at the studio door, he had on a t-shirt and an old ratty pair of jeans – he looked like he had just finished painting and cleaning out a back room.

In both cases, image wasn’t maintained from beginning to end.

1. Dress to impress your clients.

Who is your target audience? How can you dress the part to impress from the moment you meet? Living here in Denver, I’m a jeans fanatic, and rarely have anything else on. But I always have my designer jeans, a great looking sweater, and shoes and accessories to match when I show up for client meetings. If you are meeting a corporate client, you may need to switch to a dressier outfit or even a suit. While clothes generally aren’t a deal killer, they do make a very big first impression. You never want your first impression to be negative or a let down. When in doubt, overdress.
[Read more...]

Tips To Become A Coffee Shop Entrepreneur

Tips for selling your photography in a coffee shopYesterday I spent the day out of the office, hopping around from meeting to meeting. Ever had a day like that? You end up with more coffee and tea cups then you know what to do with (not to mention the amount of caffeine you take in).

It was a great day for business. But as I sat in each of those coffee shops waiting for clients, I started looking around. How much business really takes place in coffee shops? I wonder if you could put a number to it how much it would be. I’m betting in the millions.

If you have a photography business, and are sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring, next week head out to the coffee shops instead. And try this:

1. Leave your business cards.
Some coffee shops (especially the smaller, local shops) have bulletin or networking boards. People will leave their business cards, and you can take a few with you too. Head in and leave several of yours so they are visible. If you haven’t created a card with your photography on it yet, now is the time. Your photographs will help your cards stand out above the crowd. Also consider having a special promotion on it – $100 off a sitting fee, or a $79 avatar promotional image special.

2. Hang your own photographs.
Many local coffee shops love working with local business owners. Get to know them and talk about hanging your work on the walls, and maybe having special business portrait days. With a ton of business owners hanging out there, you’re sure to find business.


3. Create your own laptop advertising.
The last time you sat around in a coffee shop, how many cell phones and laptops did you see? I’m betting at least one at every table. Imagine sitting at a table for a couple of hours working, and your advertisement and web address is featured prominently on your laptop. Check out GelaSkins.

4. Get sophisticated.

Ever been to a Starbucks and decided to by music while you’re in line? Why not make up gift certificates that you can sell right from the counter. Work with your local print shop – they’ll have a ton of ideas on good looking marketing pieces. Talk with the owner, and you might even be able to do a package deal – 5 coffees and an avatar shoot for $89. Use your imagination.

Photography Studio – Going Out Of Business

How long can a photography studio stay in business if it isn’t making any money?

I came across a photography site today in which the photographer had listed prices. I won’t use names – but I guarantee you can find prices like this on many, many different sites.

Event fee $300, includes photographer and assistant for 3 hours of time, plus a DVD with images. Additional hours available as needed.

So let’s do a few calculations.

$300 for 3 hours of work – that’s $100 an hour

Let’s assume an hour each before and after the event getting organized – down to $60 an hour

Let’s assume 3 hours of meeting time to book the client and to deliver the DVD and final products – down to $37.50 per hour

Let’s assume 2 hours of production time, transferring raw images to computer, editing and burning DVD – down to $30 per hour

Normal business expenses:

  • Vehicle
  • Gas at $4 per gallon – depends on the distance of the event
  • Camera equipment costs
  • Costs of brochures, business cards, paper, envelopes, advertising – everything to bring in the clients
  • Rent
  • Office supplies
  • Phone expenses
  • Utilities

Okay, with all of those expenses to add up, I’ll be conservative and say it costs about $30 per hour – which means we’re now down to $0

Oh, and did I mention that there are two people at the event – which means you have to pay that second person per hour – I guess we’re now into the negative.

And does this person really have a chance of making a huge additional sale? They are giving away the DVD, so I think chances are pretty low.

Becoming a professional photographer means you have to make money. You have to give yourself a profit, and pay yourself for your expertise.

If you don’t, you’ll be hanging that Out Of Business sign very soon.

What can you do? Charge what you’re worth, and charge to run a profitable business. One of the reasons our studio became a Six Figure success in under two years is because we charged what we were worth for our services. We made sure our expenses were completely covered – including our own salaries – and made a healthy profit on top of it all.

It doesn’t take luck to become a Six Figure Photographer. It takes business planning. What are you doing to guarantee your success?