Friday, July 24, 2015

Handling Late or Missed Payments



If you've never had a client miss a payment deadline or bounce a payment, either you've been incredibly lucky, or you simply haven't been in business long enough.  Into every business owner's life a little late or missed payment will fall.

It's always best to approach this situation with the mindset that your client really does want to you pay you, but for whatever reason, life has gotten in the way and something slipped through the cracks.  Do not assume the worst before you've given your client plenty of time to resolve the situation.  Start the conversation with openness and understanding, having total faith in your client- this will take you much further than starting off with defensiveness and a combative attitude.

Hopefully you've set up your payments in such a way that final product is only delivered upon full receipt of payment being cleared so that you aren't giving your work away before it's been fully paid for.  If you've already provided your final work before receiving final payment, you may feel a little more antsy and defensive about the collection process, but you still need to approach it with the same level of professionalism and due process.  Chalk this one up to a learning experience in changing your policies so that you aren't in a situation of giving away your work before it's been paid for.

Step 1:  Email a payment reminder (ASAP)

As soon as possible after the missed payment, email a payment reminder with the scheduled due date that was missed.  If you haven't specified a late payment agreement with a fee, provide a grace period.  Offer the client multiple payment options and a direct link if possible to making the missed payment online with a credit/debit card, and offer a deadline by which you expect the payment to be resolved.

In this email, it's also good to state that a $$ late fee will need to be billed for any payments that need to be paid more than ## days after the payment deadline.  This both helps to incentivize quicker payment, as well as providing proof of notice that a late fee was announced for delayed payment processing and continued follow-up on collecting payment.

It's good to allow a full 14 days from payment due date in the event that the client is on a bi-weekly salary schedule, and to give them enough time to resolve any issues with their bank, or time to borrow money from family and friends if necessary.

Here's a sample email:
"Hi Jennifer,

We're looking forward to working with you and wanted to make sure that you had an opportunity to make the payment that was due on January 10, 2015 for the amount of $5,000.  We totally understand that sometimes life gets in the way and sometimes things slip through the cracks.  As a courtesy to you, no additional late fee will be charged if payment can be made before January 24, 2014.  

You're welcome to pay by check, mailed to: 123 Street Ave, City, State, Zip, or by Debit/Credit/PayPal using the link below:  http://linktoinvoice.com

We'll send confirmation as soon as payment has been received and cleared our accounts.  Please note that any payments received after January 24, 2014 may have additional late fees added to the invoice to cover our time and additional service to continue following up on payments not yet received.  

Please email or call us if you feel you need additional time, or have questions about this missed payment: 800-888-88888

All the best,
Service Provider"

Step 2:  Send A Second Email Reminder & Phone Call (7 Days)

If you don't receive payment or response within a few days of your first notice, prepare to send a second notice and make a phone call a few days before the grace period ends.  It's important to make a phone call in order to confirm that all of your emails have been received by the client.  They could be in another country, or their email may not be working, and all payment requests you've sent may not have gone through.  It's important to continue giving the client the benefit of the doubt, until you've confirmed the client has definitely received any of the information that you've sent so far.  In your follow-up email, note that the deadline to pay without additional fees is coming up and you'd like to help your client take care of this as soon as possible.

In your phone call, ask for confirmation about the receipt of the email, and offer to take any payment options over the phone so that it can be taken care of right away.  If you have to leave a message, state that a paper bill will be sent with an additional late fee if payment isn't received by the grace period deadline provided over email.  Thank them for their business and let them know that you really enjoy working with them and totally understand that sometimes things happen, and you want to help them resolve the situation easily.

Step 3: Mail a Paper Invoice After Grace Period (14 Days)

If two weeks have passed and payment has still not been received, it may be time to send a written invoice for the payment.  Again, it's best to give the client the benefit of the doubt.  Perhaps someone ended up in the hospital, or they were on an extended vacation, or who knows what else could have happened.  You'll feel really terrible if you start attacking your client when their spouse or parent just died and they're having a hard time coping with life in general.  Be human.  It goes a lot further toward gaining repeat business and new clients than being a jerk.

In paper, send a copy of the contract, a copy of the emails sent, and notice of when you called.  Just document it all and share the documentation.  Write a letter showing that you're concerned you haven't heard from them and you're willing to set up a payment plan if that is needed.  Offer multiple ways to help your client honor their commitment.  Call within a few days of mailing your letter, once again, to talk on the phone and help create a solution.

Step 4: Determine Your Next Steps (30 Days)

If a client has gone completely missing after 30 days with zero response to any of your attempts to get in touch and resolve the bill, you will need to consider if you can ride out another 30-60 days of sending notices by email, phone, and mail every couple weeks before taking any legal steps.

It's in your best interest professionally and legally, to attempt to resolve any bill collection on your own before attempting to engage the courts or a lawyer.  A lawyer may make the case that they should be involved immediately, but you'll have a much stronger case for any additional fees above and beyond your original contract if you demonstrate how much time you put into attempting to resolve the issue on your own expense first.  I think 90 days is a good amount of time to help a client directly resolve any financial issues, especially if those issues have come about because of death, unemployment, or other sudden life changes.

If your client has remained unresponsive, than you will need to determine your next step of action.  Is this a small claims court issue, something a collection agency can help with, or is this substantial enough to engage legal representation for?  Will the amount for the service you pursue exceed the amount owed?  Consider all of your options before deciding which one may be best.

Anne Ruthmann is a professional photographer in New York City. With over 10 years of success as a full-time photographer in weddings, portraits, editorial, and now architecture and interiors, she spends any extra time she has helping others find smart solutions to business problems. Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

How to Schedule Appointments Faster

How annoying is it when you need 20 emails to nail down 1 appointment?
OMG.. please stop killing me with email tag just to set up an appointment!
Make a decision so we can all move on with our lives!
BIG peeve of mine.  I really despise wasted time.

Here are a few strategies to STOP wasting your time and get clients and appointments quickly scheduled into your calendar.  These are most effective when you do them right away with a client to help move the client from indecision to decision.  By providing options to meet and discuss details in your initial email, you quickly create action toward closing a sale as soon as possible.


Option A: Provide 3 Specific Date & Time Options

Example:
"I'm so excited to photograph XYZ for you!!  I'd love to meet you over Skype or in person to chat more about XYZ.  Here are the next 3 chances I have to set up a 60min meeting, what works best for you?
3pm Wednesday June 2,
6pm Thursday June 3,
or Tuesday 10am June 8
Thanks,
Anne"

Benefit: 
You control your schedule, you determine when the best times to meet are, you set the expectation of how long the meeting will be, and you provide very specific dates and times that can immediately be checked against the other person's calendar.  It moves the process forward quickly and efficiently to the end goal.  If clients can't make any of those times, they will usually just tell you.  If they go radio silent, it's easy to follow up with, "I'm still looking forward to meeting you!  Here are a few more dates and times that work- and if you need an alternative time, just let me know what works better for you?"  People like to know they've responded appropriately to email, so giving a very specific action item to respond to makes it easier than creating an open-ended situation with no specific response needed.

Option B: Use a Scheduling Software

Example:
"I'm really looking forward to photographing XYZ!  In order to make sure we're on the same page about everything involved, I'd like to set up a time to chat.  Click on the link below to find a time in my calendar that works best for you to schedule 60 minutes to meet in person or over Skype:
http:linktoaschedulingsoftware.com"

Benefit:
If you can't be bothered to look at your calendar and prefer that an online system manage your life and your schedule for you, this is a great option and can even be an automated email that you send along with a price-list.

Appointment Scheduling Softwares:
There are many scheduling softwares out there, some are free, some are paid- but before choosing one- make sure it has all the options you really need.  Ask yourself these questions before deciding:
1. Does it sync with the calendar system you use most often?
2. Does it allow you to block off times when you can't schedule appointments?
3. What information does it allow you to collect when setting the appointment?
4. Does it provide reminders or alerts to you AND the client?
5. Are the appointments and info available offline if needed?
6. Does it need to collect payment for appointments, or integrate with any other payment systems you prefer to use?

Option C: I've tried everything else and nothing is as effective as A or B

Every other method I've tried has always resulted in far more emails and indecision than when I've just said here's what I've got for you- what can fit your schedule?  Clients deeply appreciate that I am not wasting their time with additional back and forth emails.  Clients also appreciate my time more when they see how limited it is by only providing very specific days and times to meet.

I prefer Option A because it's always based on what my schedule looks like right now at this point in time.  I've had mixed success with online calendar systems.  The worst thing is when you set up a recurring calendar with the hope that this will help you streamline everything so you can send an automated response, but because your schedule changes frequently and sometimes you forget to update the software's calendar, haven't had a chance to put something important in your calendar, or it doesn't sync properly with your calendar, someone may end up scheduling a time that you're actually not available and then you have to go through a rescheduling process.

Another alternative that I did not mention, but seems to work well for a friend of mine is to hire a Virtual Assistant to make scheduling on your behalf with access to your calendar.  This is only effective if your clients tend to answer the phone.  Not all do, which is why I continue to prefer Option A or B.


Anne Ruthmann is an editorial & event photographer in New York City. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography full-time in 2004 as an independent small business.  She loves helping others find creative and smart solutions to business problems.  Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Offering Photography Internships : Dos & Don'ts


There are people in your immediate area who are hungry to learn the craft of photography, design, freelancing, or being a creative entrepreneur without making the financial investment in a school program.  They're willing to commit 6 months of their time, once or twice a week for several hours, to learn the craft, art, and business of photography.  I've been amazed by how many applications I receive for internships, and that they far exceed the number of applications I receive for PAID positions!  It baffles my mind, really, but it also demonstrates that there are many people who are very hungry to learn from you and want to do it in a low-risk exchange for their time.

If you've never done an internship yourself or hired an intern, I suggest brushing up on what the US Department of Labor considers an internship and how it's different from a paid position:
http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.htm

Essentially, an internship is always of greater benefit to the intern than it is to the company.  In my experience, and in the ways that I've designed my internships, this is definitely true.  I don't gain any additional time from taking on an intern, I simply trade the time I give them for the time they give me in return and it ends up being a net zero on my time.  In many ways, I'm mentoring my potential competition.  I get a few extra hands, but those hands may also come with a lot of time explaining things and quite a bit of hand-holding.    Ultimately it is a mentoring relationship, and you have to honor that relationship by really treating it as a learning experience.

What I have gained from having interns in my business is a better understanding of who I am as a photographer and a business owner.  If you're a reflective business owner always striving for improvement, you can't help but learn a lot about yourself in the process.  You'll learn what tasks you can give to someone else, and what tasks are critical for you to retain control over.  You'll learn what you can train someone to do and what is so innate and difficult to train that you have to pre-select someone for (like their visual aesthetic).  You'll learn how much you can or can't rely on others and when it's best for you to handle a situation versus anyone else.  It's a great way to figure out exactly what you need to hire skilled people for and what you can share with someone who's still learning.  If that's something you're interested in, read on about what to do and not to do regarding interns:

DO:

  • Have an application process and deadline for applications.
  • Post your internship opening on your blog, Facebook page, and in your newsletter.  Start with the people who already know you and follow your work, as they are your best referral source for finding talented people near you.
  • Set a regular time and date for the internship to take place, either decided and advertised in advance, or negotiated with your intern after they've been selected.  I've found that a 3-6month commitment is a good period of time for an internship and that 4-8 hours per week is ideal.
  • Consider how much travel cost will be involved for your intern and make the arrangements easier on them when possible.
  • Be flexible with interns, but also have defined cancellation notice periods for both you and the intern in case changes need to be made last minute.
  • Create an agreement that defines the days, times, cancellation policy, non-disclosure agreement, and basic expectations of the internship so that there is something in writing that outlines the expectations.
  • Offer to cooperate with schools and universities that need documentation for the internship.  It's often just a series of surveys about the student and a few paragraphs about their work with you.
  • Have regular check-in points during the internship to make sure the student is learning what they came to learn, and that you are providing that for them in the experiences and tasks you share.
  • Offer internship perks like borrowing equipment, going on important assignments, and reviewing proposals or client emails that deal with tricky situations.
  • Feed interns.  Don't hold them hostage for more than a few hours without feeding them.  Hangry interns make very cranky office mates.
  • Create additional space for an intern to share your desk or your office. Whether you work from home or from a studio space, just create a little extra space.  Creating a space helps interns know that they are special and important to you.  Warm fuzzies make happy office mates.
  • Allow interns to understand the financial aspects of running a business.  When this information is hidden from them, they may walk away with a glamorous view of what it's like to be a freelancer without understanding the real costs and expenses.  If you're at all concerned about your intern becoming your competition, sharing the financial realities makes it more clear as to whether they'll pursue photography as a hobby, business, or work for someone else.

DON'T:

  • Give an intern essential tasks in your business.  Not only are you setting them up for failure if they don't have the experience or training, but you're also putting your own business at risk.
  • Hide information from interns.  Trust is essential in this type of working relationship.  A non-disclosure agreement should be all you need to establish a code of trust between the two of you.  The more they learn about the business, the better informed they'll be in all of their future photography decisions, which creates a healthier photography community in general. 
  • Expect an intern to pick-up understanding just by watching you.  You need to explain a lot of what you're doing, how you're doing it, and why you're doing it along the way before an intern can really understand how to do something for you.
  • Lose patience.  Your professionalism toward your intern is just as important as your professionalism with your clients, and your intern will share the emotional experience of with you well beyond the time you spend together even if they disclose nothing about your business.
  • Take an intern for granted by expecting an intern to do something you'd normally pay someone else to do.  If you'd normally pay for it, you should be paying your intern for that task as well.
  • Forget that an internship is a mentorship not an apprenticeship.
  • Assume that every intern is going to turn around and create a full time business with what they've learned.  Many don't become your competition because they see how steep the learning curve really is once they've had a chance to experience it at the fullest.  Sometimes knowing more actually means that people decide being a photographer isn't the right thing for them, and your internship is a way for them to experience that without making a huge investment in gear, mistakes in their own business, or in an education that doesn't result in a job opportunity.
  • Get upset if they do become your competition.  If you can, try to hire them if you feel like they're a great fit, and hopefully you've educated them about why it's easier for them to work in your business than to go out on their own.

Anne Ruthmann is an architecture & lifestyle photographer in New York City. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography full-time in 2004 as an independent small business.  She loves helping freelancers find creative and smart solutions to business problems.  Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

How to Automate Online Marketing & Social Media w/ Mike Allebach

automate marketing social media mike allebach brandsmash


Since emerging on the wedding & portrait photography scene, Mike Allebach has created strong online brand recognition around himself as the Tattooed Bride Photographer.  His Allebach Photography Facebook Business Page has over 21,000 likes and his TattooedBridePhotoGuy Instagram Feed has nearly 5,000 followers.

When I personally met Mike in March of 2014, he had just given his first WPPI Platform Talk with Jaleel King and they were so popular that they were invited back a second time to talk about going viral and getting press.  Getting press is awesome, but I wanted to know how he MANAGES that constant marketing cycle that's needed to expand marketing reach?  Is he working with a social media manager?  A publicist?  How does he have time for it all while still serving clients?

On Thursday May 7th at 4pm EST, Mike shares one of his most powerful automated workflow solutions for managing his brand and growing his following.  This will be hosted as a LIVE webinar demonstration of how he actually does it as well as a Q&A session for attendees.  No recording will be available for review, so I do hope that you can carve time out of your schedule to attend!

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER FOR THE WEBINAR

An email reminder will be sent to your registration email one day before the meeting and one hour before the meeting.


Anne Ruthmann is an editorial & event photographer in New York City. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography full-time in 2004 as an independent small business. She loves helping others find creative and smart solutions to business problems. Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Pictage: Should I Stay or Leave?


Pictage's CEO, Mike Grant, finally released a full explanation of what's been going on with the company over the last 12 months and what the changes mean for the months and years ahead.  Personally, I'm relieved that I'm finally hearing from the CEO, because it's been far too long since he has made any public statements about these changes, why they are occurring, and what it means for the future.  To have this knowledge and know what I need to plan for is better than not having any knowledge.  If you haven't seen the announcement, I've posted a link at the bottom.  Here's my take on what this means:

If you are NOT a Pictage member, here's what it means for you:

  • As a professional photographer with a resale number, you now have direct access to high quality professional prints, canvases, and albums through Photo Albums Direct, a new spin-off company that separates the Pictage printed services that used to only be offered to its members,  by using the ROES ordering system.  If you already have these services in place, you probably have no desire to switch. If you don't have these services in place, read on to see why you might want this one.
  • Non-members also have free access to the FREE Album Templates and FREE Album Design Service that used to only be available to Pictage members.  Having a free album designer can save you up to $400 on each album.
  • Non-members have always had the ability to use ShootQ, which was once combined with Pictage service, and has now separated again
  • Pictage has changed their service offerings and tiered packages, which may work better for you if you need a more hands-off retail gallery or if you're frustrated that you're paying more than you thought you'd be monthly under your current system: https://discover.pictage.com/pricing/


If you ARE a Pictage member, here's what it means for you:

  • SERVICES: Pictage is separating into several different companies: ShootQ already separated, Photo Albums Direct will be the future source for all wholesale orders placed by photographers, and Pictage will remain as an online gallery that offers P3 payment billing plans, unlimited galleries, and unlimited image storage* (still need confirmation on how long this unlimited image storage will last now that they're starting to take down archives), and online galleries with regular sales tax management for client orders, direct shipping to clients, the excellent email campaign marketing that has made their photographers additional funds during holidays and anniversaries, and the private community where only members get to vent and help each other solve problems.
  • DISCONTINUED SERVICES (updated 6/18/15): Pictage recently announced their full chart of continued and discontinued products and services direct through Pictage galleries.  Some of the services that I found to be the most convenient and unique to Pictage versus every other service out there, are now being completely eliminated.  I'm pretty sure this is one of the things that will put the nail in the coffin for Pictage's existing membership, and perhaps the future of the company entirely: http://www.pictage.com/p-hub/uncategorized/pictageproductlist/
  • RETAIL GALLERIES: If you're like me and have 10 years worth of images stored with Pictage, and have always relied on them to keep those images online, you NEED TO ACT IMMEDIATELY regardless of staying or leaving Pictage on the request to Return Images Galleries to you by April 29, 2015, or you may lose your archived galleries completely from the server.  Personally, I will be requesting that ALL of my galleries become available for the Image Return so that I can have more than 30 days to make a decision about ANY of them, as well as having MORE than 30 days to download them to another cloud storage option if needed.  This part of the changes is likely to cause the most panic among members, but your galleries should be safe if you take the time to act as they have requested.
  • P3 BILLING: One of my favorite time-saving features with Pictage was being able to use the P3 payment system rather than having yet another site to jockey orders and payment processing through.  Being able to take credit cards is a huge advantage, and being able to spread payments out over time with pre-approved payment plans and automatic reminders and billing makes it easier on everyone, especially long-term wedding clients.  Good news, if you keep your Pictage membership, you still get this service as well.  The change is that Pro Members are no longer afforded the awesomely low 1.5% that was well under every other billing service available.  They are still providing a small discount at 2.5% for credit card processing, which keeps the option to do billing in a Pro Account lower than finding another third party solution at the typical 2.9% with transaction fees or 3% available in almost any billing service. 
    • If you accept LESS than $2,000 a month in payments using P3, use the Starter Plan as you need it because it's still cheaper than many of the other gallery options out there.
    • If you accept LESS than $10,000 a month but MORE than $2,000 per month in payments using P3, the Premium Plan is for you unless you have multiple photographers.
    • If you accept MORE than $10,000 a month in payments with P3, and/or you have multiple photographers with their own gallery sites and access, than the Pro Plan is going to be the best option to save on monthly fees and credit card fees.
  • ALBUMS: Having the separated wholesale from retail services is kind of a pain in the butt when we've been so used to being able to do everything in one place from the retail gallery.  I'm also going to really miss having the Online Album Design service available to me, rather than having to volley back and forth with an Album Designer for small changes, even if that design service is still free, and the new albums are actually less expensive.  However, this is no more challenging or difficult than every other Album company or online gallery service out there, unfortunately.  This was one of the biggest advantages that Pictage had over its lab competition, and they just pulled one of their hidden ace cards out from under their own winning hand.  In the end, you're still probably better off with the free design service included with this newly separated company rather than having to do the design on your time or hiring out for the design services on top of the payment for the albums.  As of this posting, the album pricing is publicly available, which I'm not a fan of for any wholesale-based professional-only product since it does not reflect the time and creative investment of the professional imagery that fills the pages of those albums.  Good news- more profitability with these new album prices.  If you plan to continue using Pictage and the high quality albums they offer, I would suggest finding a Pictage buddy or PUG Group nearby and making a date to figure out the new wholesale ordering system together.  The reality is that even if you decided to leave Pictage, you'll need to spend time learning a whole new system anyway that may have it's own set of unknown limitations and problems, so decide what is going to be the most efficient use of your time both short term and long term.
This covers the biggest changes to the service as I understand it from the long extended description that was provided in today's open letter about the changes, please visit the site and email Pictage directly for any further clarification.  If you think I've gotten some info wrong, please let me know so I can correct it immediately.

Your Photo Lovecat,
Anne Ruthmann

PS. If you want my personal take on how I'll be handling this situation for my own account, or want to share how you use Pictage and see what my assessment would be for you, click on the comments link below to read more.


Anne Ruthmann is an editorial & event photographer in New York City. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography full-time in 2004 as an independent small business.  She loves helping others find creative and smart solutions to business problems.  Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.
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