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When it comes to creating a business that is sustainable over the years, there is one thing that’s true for everyone: unless you take steps to control the business, it may evolve to control you.
It could eat your whole life, like it did mine, before I took drastic steps to change it and ended up with total time mastery. One of the things I’ve done on this journey is a real powerhouse when it comes to creating a system for your business and getting it under control, and it’s not even that hard to do.
Getting to see the whole picture in your business has a lot in common with the way you capture life through the lens. If you’re a true professional photographer, chances are you are taking photos close up, and at a normal range of vision – our eyes see about the 35mm-50mm range naturally – and wide open to fully capture the whole scene.
For example, maybe you are with a couple surrounded by a mist-filled glen, your first stellar shot shows them far in the distance, then a photo of them looking completely at peace with each other where you can see their faces, and finally, a photo of their gentle, loving hands. That tells the story much more than just one of those photos could, right?
Making sure you understand your business in the big picture, the medium frame, and the closeup is a fantastic way to put you ahead of your competition in all kinds of ways.
This concept applies to all sorts of things, from marketing for exposure to business plans to shooting and editing, but my favorite application is to the substance of your day to day work – the stuff that gets me really excited as a serial entrepreneur and time management master: your workflow.
Workflow is Way More than Editing
I’m about to make your whole life sound incredibly lame. I’m sorry, but it honestly comes down to this: the majority of our lives are just a series of repetitive tasks.
Just as everything in nature cycles from one season to the next, the moon goes through its phases, and the sun rises and sets, our day-to-day lives both at work and at home consist primarily of the same sets of repeated tasks.
In case you’re not familiar with the buzzword that is workflow, it basically refers to the process and streamlining of the process of sequential, circular work.
A lot of photographers have been using this to talk about editing, but that’s extremely narrow! I also find the word workflow scares a lot of photographers. It seems to represent all of the problems with all of the work that you do, and that’s not necessarily wrong, but it’s a poor way to look at it. It’s actually your golden opportunity for positive change and taking full control.
An extremely basic photographer’s client workflow looks something like this: A client inquires > they book a date and time > fill out a legal contract from the LawTog (affiliate) > make a payment through ShootProof > we shoot a session with them > which we then edit with Contrastly Photoshop actions (affiliate) > and deliver or sell to them in some fashion.
Items that must be done by the client and the photographer make up an actual fleshed-out client workflow, which is just one of the many different workflows required in a business. For example, most of us have a conscious or unconscious workflow when it comes to email, or ordering client products.
The Value of Understanding Your Workflow
Here’s a few keys to understanding workflow.
The first and most important thing to understand about workflow is that the name is very purposeful: it’s all about the flow. Anything other than a planned break that stops you from maintaining a smooth and efficient glide forward whenever you are working is an opportunity to correct and perfect your workflow.
These flow-stoppers can become show-stoppers, and not in a good way. When you aren’t changing them, they are a waste of time, and a source of expenses and worst of all, the root of most of our work-related stress.
Every change that you make to your workflow, whether consciously or unconsciously, has the potential to win you back hours of time and dollars of profit, or cost you time and money, and should be evaluated on both fronts.
That’s not to say that one or the other is wrong, but only that they tend to be on a fulcrum – you either spend more money or more time on something, and things that drain both your time and your pocketbook may not be worthwhile, especially in the long term.
When considering making changes to your workflow, it’s absolutely vital that you start by knowing exactly what your current workflow is. Blind changes can cost an incredible amount of time and money, and they are very simple to avoid.
A Simple Process of Workflow Illumination
Here is the super-simple process I recommend to get started on taming your wild workflow.
If you have a partner or staff in the company, sit down with everyone to go over this – the more people, the more complicated this might be. Set aside an uninterrupted hour at least.
If you prefer the digital world, create a new document in the cloud like in Evernote or Google Docs, but if you like physical better, grab a big block of sticky notes, a pen, and a big wall.
What’s important is that you’re going to think of all the little tasks and subtasks that go in between the big workflow items you regularly complete, so a normal piece of paper isn’t very practical here.
You’ll want a new sticky note (or a line break if you’re using a digital document) for every easily-dividable part of your workflow – and you’ll want to have at least three levels of detail for many of the more complicated steps.
For example. Don’t just use one sticky note for “Editing” – make that the header and break it down all the way: from getting the photos from your camera to your computer to exporting them as finished files.
There are a few workflows that almost every photographer has. First, a client workflow like the example I gave earlier: involving booking, shooting, and initial delivery.
Second, a product workflow to upsell clients, and third, a marketing workflow for all the things you do to advance your business. Depending on how much of your own financials you deal with in the company, you may also require a Financial workflow.
The more detailed you can be about every step required in every process, the better. Make careful note of any and all of the following:
- Programs you use or any place a computer or smartphone could make the process easier (and whether you like what you have or want to change)
- Any steps in the process that depend on someone else
- Anything you hate doing that tends to get procrastinated
- Anything you should be doing (like budgeting),
- Anything that you know is a weakness and needs improvement.
Be brutally honest – what always falls through the cracks? What deadlines can you never meet? What is in your power to change about those things?
Evaluate Only: Don’t Make Any Changes Yet
It’s incredibly important to understand that when it comes to this process of change, it’s more important to evaluate what you’re doing right now than it is to explore solutions.
Don’t start this process and then go off on a tangent about using a new program for your invoicing and bookkeeping – discipline yourself to focus on the big picture first, and then diagnose what changes have the best balance of being easier or simpler to make versus how much time and money will have to be spent on making the change.
Whatever is simple and cost effective are the things you should consider changing first, unless your business is clearly broken and there’s an obvious gaping hole somewhere. Very small changes in your workflow can have ever-increasing long-term effects, so you don’t necessarily have to fix the biggest thing first.
Once you have your sticky note or document on workflow, you can keep making changes and improving it, add things you’ve forgotten or cut out parts of the workflow that aren’t serving you by making or saving money or time.
Unrealistic Expectations Are Pitfalls That Can Derail Workflow
There are two major pitfalls that make workflows stop flowing – and both of them hinge on unrealistic expectations of the only two parties involved in any workflow: you, and other people.
You must remember to account for the many items of your workflow that are not actually your responsibility and are therefore subject to delays.
Whenever any item in your workflow depends on another person or a company to be completed, if your expectations of how much time that will take are unrealistic, your workflow is bound to stop flowing while you wait on that outside item – a well-planned workflow takes that into account.
The other workflow pitfall that can zero out your productivity is actually false optimism, or unrealistic expectations of how much time something will take you to do.
If you set aside an hour for a workflow that normally takes 3 hours to do, and then surprise: you don’t finish it in an hour, it has the potential to throw off your entire week.
How do you know how long your workflows take? The simplest way is to start timing particular workflows. This can help you make fantastic decisions about how much work you can take on, how much you need to charge, and more.
So when taking a look at your workflow, look for and take note of these various pitfalls so that when you’re done laying everything out you can address them and create a better and more streamlined workflow. Which will, in turn, lead you to a more profitable business.
If everything is a cycle, the more you know about it going forward the better it is for your business.
Keep Doing It, And Perform Checkups
Workflow is something that must be addressed on a consistent basis. It morphs and changes all the time, and that’s a good thing. There are always ways to improve the flow or change or eliminate different steps, it’s got the most bang for your buck when it comes to looking at changing anything in your business.
Set a calendar reminder every 3-6 months to revisit your workflow and see if anything new can be done.
Managing my workflow has enabled me to know things about my company that helped me avoid disasters, plan ahead, and make sure that I have free time even during times when I have a lot of work.
It’s one of the simplest and most effective methods to start ensuring that your business doesn’t eat your life, and one of the best ways to move towards time mastery – because time is all you have.
I challenge you to book a time in your calendar right now to go through this simple workflow process. What if you knew that doing this was going to be a turning point in your business that allowed you to make more money, spend more time with family and friends, and keep clients happy by exceeding their expectations every time?
That’s the power of evaluating your workflow and implementing the changes.
Using a planner can force you to schedule your workflow tasks. It’s your new best business tool. From developing your business model and creating goals to organizing your days and developing CEO-worthy business practices, it’ll take you from so-so to so impressive.
This is efficiency encompassed. Organization laid open on your desk. And your profitable future all focused in on one powerhouse planner
One example of a digital planner that you can use: The Big Picture: An Essential Planner for Studio and Personal Success from Design Aglow.