Over the years I’ve run several of my own businesses, and one thing I’ve learned is that a one-person business must work smarter, not harder. There are only so many hours in a day, and I only have so much energy. I can’t do all the things that need to be done in my business, unless I simplify and automate.
One of the ways I’ve learned to keep a business running lean is to do an annual business evaluation. You may think you don’t have the time to do this, but you need to make the time. Especially if you find yourself saying:
- I don’t have enough time
- I don’t have enough energy
- I have tasks I do regularly that are so boring, but need to be done
- I have trouble keeping track of all the projects that come up
If you continue to run into the same problems you need to find a solution. Otherwise, these recurring problems will beat you down over time. You will find yourself exhausted, your creativity will stop flowing and your business will close.
Many small businesses fail, not from a lack of clients, but from burnout. It’s happened to me several times. And the surest way to burn out is to push yourself to the limit on a daily basis. Take my photography business as an example. I have to:
- Come up with locations to photograph
- Do all the logistics of preparing and executing a shoot
- Take and process photographs
- Market my business
- Design and create marketing material
- Find clients and develop a relationship with them
- Do social networking
- Write ebooks, articles and blog posts
- Maintain three websites and a blog
- Fulfill orders for prints and ebooks
- Put on one-man shows
- Find new galleries for my photographs
- Maintain my gallery stock
And these are just the big projects. Doing all of these chores manually would be impossible, so it’s essential to find a way to do everything as easily as possible.
The only way to stay ahead of all this work is to regularly evaluate my business. It’s best to do this two to three times a year at first, then once I have a handle on the work, to evaluate it once a year. I ask myself these questions:
- Where am I, and where do I want to go?
- Is the work I’m putting into each revenue stream returning enough profit?
- Do I need to remove a revenue stream that’s under-performing?
- Is there a new revenue stream that I need to add?
- Is there new software that will make one or more of my tasks easier?
- Can some tasks be completely automated?
- Is there a new vendor who supplies quality work, but charges less than the vendor I use now?
As much as it hurts, there are times I have to remove a revenue stream that’s under-performing. I may love doing it, but the success of my business comes first. I can always make these revenue streams into self-assignments, and do them in my spare time.
After my last evaluation I realized that two parts of my business were taking the bulk of my time and energy. The first was processing my photographs in Photoshop, and the other was updating my online photography galleries.
I set out to find the best, and least expensive, ways to automate these processes. Inexpensive and free is always good. You don’t want to spend money that you don’t have to. Remember, you don’t get rich by making money; you get rich by keeping it.
Reducing the time it takes to processing my photographs was the first project. I regularly go out and shoot 100-300 photographs at a time. Out of these, I process between 50-100 photographs for use as stock, Fine Art and on social networks. Most photographs would take 5-15 minutes to process, with some taking 1-2 hours. All told, I would spend several days processing the photographs I had taken in one day.
I checked online and talked with other photographers, and they suggested that I try Lightroom 4. I took their advice and was amazed at how quickly Lightroom could process photographs. I was able to process almost all of my photographs in less than 20 seconds. Some did take longer to process, but I could easily process 100 photographs in a few hours. This alone freed up at least 5 days a month for me. If this was all I did for my business I would be ecstatic, but I wanted to streamline all the tasks I could.
The next project was simplifying the process of putting new photographs on my Fine Art and stock photography sites.
There were many options open to me, but I needed to keep some realities of the photography business in mind. First, the stock photography market has cratered, with most photographers making less than $1 per sale, if they sell any at all. The other is that most people will not buy prints from a website unless they have seen prints by the photographer in a gallery or art show. While it’s important to have your photographs on a website for everyone to see, you will make almost no money from them. So I needed an option that was inexpensive or free, and made the job of adding photographs fast and easy.
I looked into Photoshelter and Zenfolio that let you easily maintain and create a website. And adding new photographs is simple. But there’s a price for this ease of use. These sites charge about $300 a year, and also take between 9% and 12% of every sale you make on your website. That was too high a price for offering a revenue stream that wouldn’t generate much revenue.
Next, I looked at shopping carts for photographers that I could purchase. I found that Picturespro and Redcart had some very nice features, and while they didn’t charge a fee on sales, the carts still cost between $330 and $600 for a one-time purchase.
My research then led me to WordPress sites designed for photographers. These offered some of the best features the previous products had, and they would only cost between $90 and $250. I went this route, and now use Photocrati
I thought that WordPress would be the solution I was looking for, but I had a gut feeling that I was missing something. I did some more research on WordPress and found a nice little plugin called NextGEN Gallery. This free plugin adds a gallery to almost any WordPress theme. Upload a photograph to NextGen, and it automatically creates a large and thumbnail image and attaches a copyright notice. Adding keywords and descriptions is easy too. There are similar plugins available, but NextGEN received excellent ratings from many photographers and offered all the features I wanted.
Now I could use a free WordPress theme, add the free plugin and have the website I wanted and easily add new photographs.
There are a few other pieces of software I use to save time and frustration. The Photographer’s Ephemeris helps with the logistics of planning an outdoor shoot. It tells me when and where the Sun and Moon will rise and set, anywhere in the world. It’s free to download onto your computer, and a few dollars for the smartphone app.
To handle my e-mail subscribers I use MailChimp. It lets me quickly create sign-up forms for my websites and blog, automatically add subscribers to my database and make creating newsletters a snap. It also has excellent analytical tools so you can track the success of your e-mail programs. For the number of subscribers I have, MailChimp doesn’t charge me anything to use their service.
One of my revenue streams is writing ebooks. I use E-junkie to handle this. I upload my ebooks to their site, and they automatically take care of delivering my ebooks to customers. I also receive an e-mail when a sale is made and a copy of the e-mail that my customer received. Then my money is put into my PayPal account. I get all of this for $5 a month with the number of ebooks I have on their site.
E-junkie also has an affiliate module that lets me set up an affiliate program for my ebooks. While not as automated as their ebook fulfillment, it’s pretty easy to use.
All of these free, or inexpensive, software and services have freed up about 25% of my time. This lets me do more photography and marketing while reducing my stress level and bringing a lot more pleasure to my business.
Do you need to simplify some parts of your business? Take some time to honestly evaluate your business, and with some research and talking to others in your industry, you will find out what’s working, and what isn’t. Armed with this information you can fine-tune your business to make it both financially successful and a pleasure to run.
If you’re interested in Fine Art Prints or stock images of Arizona, visit JeffColburn.com