This post is Day 25 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.
One of the most magical points of running a business is when you realize you can’t do it all yourself; the only way to move forward is to take on an employee.
“My challenge is how to grow from a one-woman show to the next step. Do I just hire an office/production manager? I have found that networking and shooting and selling are my favorite things and could let the rest go. Am just having trouble with making it happen.”
Document Your Month
As a solo business owner, the first step is realizing you need help and are willing to let some things go. The second step is determining what is practical to let go.
Instead of guessing at things, the best way to make this determination is to track what you do in a typical month.
Grab a binder, and enough paper to last you for 30 days. Keep the binder open and on your desk or work station, and record everything you do for a month. Include everything. If you spend 10 minutes talking to a client on the phone, record it. If you spend 30 minutes with customer support over phone charges, record it. If you spend 45 minutes doing data entry for your accounting, record it.
After a one month period, you can gain a pretty good idea of where your time is going every month. With your 30 day binder in hand, list out different tasks, and then add up the number of minutes or hours you put in. Don’t lump things together – be detailed at this point.
If you’ve never done this exercise, you’ll be amazed at what you can find. It will show you where you are spending a ton of time each month, and give you insight as to where you let go.
For instance, if you find your surfing the Internet 20 hours per month, set a timer each time you sit down and eliminate some of that time. It can be a huge production waster, and it’s easy to eliminate once you know what you are doing.
If you find you are creating customer files, writing letters, and working on production 20 hours per month, how can you create a system that eliminates some of that time? Can you create a checklist with things to do for each client? Open the file and the checklist is on the inside, giving you immediate information on status. Can you create standard letters that you can customize with names and details – yet use the same form letter for everyone?
Little things can make a huge difference. And it’s easier to see when you look at your workload as a whole.
Make A List And Let It Go
Other things also start popping out at you.
For example, maybe you frame all of your portraits before you deliver them to your clients. You have framing equipment, and have been doing much of the work yourself. But after your month of tracking, you realize its taking 15 hours per month. You don’t enjoy doing it; you only enjoy the results, and how much it improves the presentation of your photography.
This would be an ideal candidate for letting go. Why not find a framer that offers the same quality, and can get the job done for you on your time schedule?
It may cost a bit more, but what could you do with that extra 15 hours per month? Bring in 5 additional clients? Take a day off to spend with your family? Attend 2 networking functions?
The great thing about today’s world is you have many options when it comes to gaining help. Instead of thinking “employee”, look at all the options.
- You can hire other business owners that provide specific services. For example, if you do a lot of retouching, hire a company to handle all of your retouching. Or hire an accountant to do all of your data entry and tax work. They offer specific services, and you hire them one at a time to do specific jobs.
- You can hire a virtual assistant. I love this method, and go this route all the time. You can hire them for a few hours a month, or by the week. As much or as little as you need. And if you look around for one to match your needs, they can end up doing a lot of the backend work for you. A virtual assistant can have many skills, and can offer you many of the things an office assistant would do. They can help you maintain your customer files, and mail out letters. They can book your travel arrangements, and spend the 30 minutes correcting your phone bill. And so much more – they are there to act as your assistant. The difference is they run their own company, and because they are also business owners, you get 110 percent service all the time.
- You can hire an employee, but that means payroll, taxes, benefits, etc. I would suggest leaving this option for last, until you are stable enough to guarantee salary on a year round basis.
With your binder in hand, you will discover the exact amount of help you need.
By hiring an office manager without performing this exercise, you may have no idea what you need them to do. You just start giving them task after task, with very little rhyme or reason to the objectives.
Yet with your task list, you suddenly can add up where you spend the most amount of time, and where you would benefit most. Then hire accordingly.
While I’m not against hiring employees, I do find it easier to take on other services first. You can hire very specific tasks to be outsourced, and take on only the help you need. And its easier to cut back hours or let a company go if you don’t meet your sales goals then it is to move an employee from full to part time, or worse let them go. So much more is at stake with an employee.
In any case, it’s important to use the resources around you, and to give yourself the gift of time. With only 24 hours in a day, what you do with them will ultimately determine how successful you will be.