Secrets of a Type A Workflow ~ Wisconsin Wedding Photographer
Anyone who knows me, even casually, knows "Type A" isn't just a funny play on my first initial (in all honesty that wasn't even a thought when I named the business....but anywhooo.....).
I'm the epitome of Type A personality: competitive, rigidly organized, anxious, proactive, and all about time management. I'm also wildly impatient.
Now, before you say to yourself "Gee Amanda, you kind of sound like a massive pain in the ass" let me assure you that when corralled correctly, the Type A personality can work quite well for business purposes (not so great for things like relaxing and vacationing....but...yeah.....)
One thing that I have harnessed, finessed and made my own is my "Type A Workflow". Over the years I've gotten my portrait work and wedding work down to a regular 2 week turnaround, in most cases. This was one of my main goals way back when I started Type A: quick, efficient customer service.
After talking to a friend of mine the other day who suggested I should "workshop this shizz" (she may not have used those exact words).....I decided a blog post would work too. It had been awhile since I talked to you folks anyway.
This is the first step of making anything work and work well. It HAS to be a priority. When I first started Type A in 2008, I knew that I wanted to offer superior service to my clients because I had not exactly experienced that from my own wedding photographers. I waited MONTHS (yes. plural.) for my wedding pictures. When I got them, the presentation was pretty lacking (Staples CD with out names written on it in Sharpie). But the waiting is what really irked me. By the time I DID get the images, I was so irritated from the long wait that I wasn't really that excited anymore....the service aspect had turned me off from the whole experience. Plus, I was already pregnant by then! We were on to the next thing......and I wasn't in that "I just got MARRIED!!!!" glow anymore.
So, it's a priority...which means I had to find a way to tighten my workflow and make sure I could consistently offer that to my clients.
What I find often in creative occupations (high end restaurants, photography, graphic design, etc.) is that "artists" feel that if their product is amazing enough (in their eyes or the eyes of others) than the service part can be lacking a bit.
I whole-heartedly disagree with this take on business and think this will eventually bite you in the keester. We are in a service-based business, it has to be service first.
In order to have an air-tight, "Type A" Workflow, you have to make the way you do things standard. I have been doing things the same way for some time that, by now, the way I process weddings and portrait sessions is second nature.
- Shoot the session
- Come home and back up. I back up in 2 places immediately. I also do not delete the images from my cards until the images are delivered. In case of Zombie Apocalypse.
- Blog immediately. Some folks are completely against this, but it helps me focus on the session at hand and lets the client know I'm excited about what we just created. I want to look at them right away and I figure they do as well (part of that impatient thing I was talking about). So, once I'm done backing up I quickly go through and select my initial favorites, run them through Lightroom, edit them and "sneak peek" them. This takes maybe, at most, an hour from back up to blog post. For weddings, I back up the night of the wedding and blog the following morning. I sneak peek favorites on the blog, Facebook and Instagram.
- I have a running list on a white board that tells me when each client's images are due (2 weeks from shoot day), so I just work in that order. After sneak peeking, the next step is culling. I go through and cull the images down to the "keepers". This typically takes maybe an hour, if I'm not distracted by a crying infant, Molly needing chocolate milk, or Betty insisting that I come kill a spider in the basement. One of the tricks to making the culling process easier is quick decision making. I don't dwell over "keep" or "toss" too much. If it helps the story....it stays. I don't promise a set # of images. That's impossible when story-telling. Each event is it's own entity.
- After culling, the images are thrown through Lightroom. I used to have a love/hate relationship with Lightroom, but I'm finally getting the hang of it. This is so I can adjust exposure, white balance, color temp if necessary. I also have a select few Presets that I may use if the mood strikes.
- I export from LR to end up with an almost completed collection of JPEGs. The images are then gone over with a fine-tooth comb where I may bring some into Photoshop to get rid of blemishes, flyaways, or any distracting elements. I also LOVE LOVE LOVE the Alien Skin plug-in for Portraits so I use that quite a bit.
- I back up the final product and load it into Smugmug for viewing. If it's a wedding, I order their custom USB package and, once that is received, send that out to them with some awesome candy.
3. BE PROACTIVE
Part of that "Type A" thing is pro-active thinking. Where that comes into play here is making sure your images are pretty-close-to-done right out of camera. I use quite a bit of lighting and get it to the point where I love the way it looks right away. One of my FAVORITE shots of all time (and....ahem....an award winner....nobigdealbutyeah) is SOOC (straight outta camera). I took the image.....I squealed....and I said "welp, yeah....it ain't getting better than that!"
Now part of this was location....I mean, the light hitting the trees....the clouds.....yeah. Part of this was luck....and part of this was the magic of an Alien Bee and a 28" softbox and knowing where to stick it. But, I like to say it took me quite a few years to get to the point where I could shoot and BAM.....yep, that's what I'm delivering. Because it's exactly what I saw in my head.
When you don't have to "fix" a bunch of amateur mistakes in post, it tends to tighten up your workflow quite a bit. And a lot of that is pre-planning, learning, growing, and knowing.
I will not deliver unfinished images, but I will deliver images that don't need any tweaking because they are exactly what I wanted right away.
4. KNOW WHEN TO ADJUST
You have to know when something just isn't working for you. For example, I added 2 new camera bodies last year: the D800 and D800E. The files on these things are MASSIVE. It was taking forever to process, to back up, and....frankly...it was unnecessary and ridiculous. I unloaded one of them and I went back to my trusty D700....which is a GREAT camera body.
I knew 6-7 years ago that if I didn't introduce Lightroom into my workflow, I was going to be forever a slave to the one-sie, two-sie action of Photoshop. I fought it tooth and nail, I'll tell you what. I didn't WANT to learn a new software. It took me long enough to get the hang of Photoshop.
But, now I can't imagine my workflow without it.
You have to know when something just isn't working and change/adjust accordingly.
4. KNOW WHAT YOU CAN HANDLE
A big mistake a lot of people new to the industry make is they do not price themselves accordingly and they take on WAY more work than they can possibly handle. This leads them to being over-scheduled and bogged down with so much editing that they cannot possibly crawl out. This will eventually lead to burn out, believe me.
If you are taking on a ridiculous amount of work you may spin that online as you are "so mega popular that you just cannot believe it".....but lets be honest with ourselves. It's likely that you're too inexpensive. Not EVERYONE should be your client. There's no way you can give an amazing customer experience when everyone is your customer. That leads to an assembly line type of experience....where clients become numbers and they all end up feeling a bit cheated.
I decided a while ago that I only take 1 client a day, unless it's a morning then evening situation in busy season or mini-sessions, in most cases. I want that day to be devoted to that client's needs. My job is not to grab at every single client I can get my hands on, but to attract those clients that Type A is perfect for.
In order to maintain any sort of balance and continue to have the turn-around time that is important to me, I have to charge according to my skill-level and product offerings. This is NOT. EASY. This means I have to market outside of my hometown for weddings, this means I travel A LOT, this means I get a lot of "you're outside of our budget".....but that's okay.
You cannot be all things to all people. That's a surefire way to burn out and fade away.
5. FIND YOUR PLACE, SPEAK THE TRUTH
I have this tattooed on my back (not kidding) and it's because it's a motto I live by and consider wildly important. INTEGRITY. If you promise something....deliver it. If you CARE about something....care for it. Don't let the idea of internet "fame" cloud your person-to-person interaction on a day to day basis. Internet "likes" don't pay the bills, cared for clients do.
My wedding contract states a 30 day turn around. It always has. I'm not sure that I've ever taken that long to deliver a wedding. Maybe when I had Molly? But I don't think even then. But think of how thrilled people are when they're expecting 30 days and they get 2 weeks.
That's my place. Under-promise, over-deliver. Exceed expectations. Surprise people.
Some of the best business advice I've ever gotten.
Now, I TOTALLY GET that this way of doing things workflow-wise isn't for everyone. Some folks LIKE a longer turn-around time. Some folks LIKE a high-volume business. And that is TOTALLY OKAY. This is just the way I've done things for some time and the answer to that question I get regularly "How do you DO that?"
This is how I do it. Type A style. :)