Tuesday, April 29, 2014

5 Quick Steps to Clean Up Your Inbox

If your email is overflowing with distracting emails and it's hard to find your client communications, it's time for an inbox intervention.  I used to have that situation until I developed a system that helps me quickly view what's important and keep it separate from the unimportant.

There are generally three types of emails that land in your inbox:

  1. Actionable Email: inquiries for new business, customer support for current business, or certain social media messages or invitations that may need immediate responses
  2. Reference Email: important information that doesn't need a response but may need to be referenced such as newsletters, additional client information, sales and promotions you're interested in, social media updates, product updates, event announcements that don't need RSVPs
  3. Spam: unsolicited and unwanted junk emails

The biggest problem is that you have lots of #2 & #3 sitting in your inbox, which gets in the way of #1.  So here are 5 simple steps to cleaning up your inbox quickly!  If you spend just one hour doing this every once in a while, you'll find that your inbox stays much more clean on a regular basis.  Please note, this was written primarily for people who use an email system that can manage multiple accounts offline, like Microsoft Outlook or Mac Mail.  It is still possible to do this in Gmail or with other online services, but the method of execution may be slightly different- the important part is understanding the concepts of the sorting method and applying it in a way that works for you.

Step 1: Create Your Action, Reference, and Spam Folders
Regardless of what email system you use, you should have the ability to create folders or categories for sorting your inbox.  Set up these three folders in your inbox so that you will be able to quickly sort all inbox email into one of these three categories.
Create New Folder -> Label "Action "
Create New Folder -> Label "Reference"
Create New Folder -> Label "Spam"

Step 2: Quick Sort Your Inbox into Action, Reference, and Spam Folders
There are two ways to make your quick sort even easier!  Instead of looking at emails by date, organize your emails by sender.  This allows you to quickly identify major senders of spam, reference, or actionable items very quickly, and then do a bulk selection of each sender and sort large amounts of email more quickly.  Occasionally you may want to follow this with organizing by subject in case you have a situation where you receive similar emails from different senders, but with the same subject headings.  These different ways of organizing your inbox make for much quicker sorting than just going chronologically.  You can always return your inbox organization to chronological when you're ready.
-> Sort by Email Sender -> Move messages in bulk to correct folder
-> Sort by Email Subject -> Move messages in bulk to correct folder

Step 3: Unsubscribe, Mark as Spam/Junk, or Delete Your Spam Emails
Obviously deleting spam email is the quickest way to get rid of it, however, if you'd like to prevent spam from making it to your inbox in the future and wasting your time again, try marking the email as spam or junk within your inbox AND using any unsubscribe links in the emails themselves, then delete.
Open Spam Folder -> Unsubscribe and Delete Emails

Step 4: Filter Reference Emails
Organize your reference folder by sender or subject and create a filter in your email program that automatically sends future emails from these senders straight to your reference folder.  In Gmail, this would be under the "More -> Filter messages like these", in Mac Mail it would be "Mail -> Preferences -> Rules -> Add Rule".  The goal is to get it out of your Inbox as soon as it comes in so it doesn't crowd important actionable emails.  For example, if you like to get and keep the promotional emails from your favorite stores to see what sales are happening, assign the sender of those emails to your reference folder.  If you'd like to be even more organized, you can create a filter just for all promotional emails from all your favorite stores so that you can quickly find what's on sale when you need a new piece of equipment or pair of shoes (another photographer claimed that by implementing this method, she saved $1,000 a month on not shopping just because there was a sale email in her inbox.)  Other things I like to filter are the subscribe and unsubscribe messages from my blog or newsletter feed- they don't require action, so they don't need to be in my inbox, but it's nice to have them for reference.  Using this filtering method, you can also create stars or flags on important incoming messages from your website contact form or other inquiry sources to quickly identify new inquiries immediately in your inbox.
Open Reference Folder -> Sort by Sender or Subject -> Create New Rule/Filter

Step 5: Take Action on Action Emails
If used effectively, your inbox can now function more like a To Do list than a holding area for random information.  When the only things that land in your inbox are actionable items, because everything that isn't actionable is getting filtered out of your way automatically, you'll spend less time traveling down the rabbit hole of distracting emails and promotions, and more time serving your clients and being responsive to new inquiries.  Sometimes just your ability to respond in a timely manner is a deciding factor in whether a client chooses to work with you or not, so any advantage you can have in providing better service can lead to more clients and less time wasted!
For some video demonstrations on taming your inbox, check out this post: Efficient Email Management
Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & 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 in 2004 as an independent small business.  She loves helping others find creative and smart solutions to business problems.  Stay in touch on Twitter or Facebook.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pricing Help for Photographers & Freelancers

Pricing is often one of the factors in a creative business that seems difficult for many people to work through, but we've spent a lot of time writing about the how and why of pricing over the last few years.  Here's a resource page of our posts on the topic of pricing your services and your work....


Hidden Costs & Pricing Factors

How Much Does Each Click Cost?
Should you buy new equipment or rent new equipment?  Check this out to find out what might work best for your situation.

Photography Overhead Costs (or Why Photography is Expensive)
Learn more about the hidden costs of professional photography services.

How Much Do You Need To Make?
Determining your service rates based on your income goals.

How $60,000 Revenue = $30,000 Income
Understanding how revenue and income are different, and how to plan ahead.

Charging Travel Fees for Destination Clients
What to prepare for in your budget for travel fees.

Formulas for Pricing Products & Services
A detailed explanation of pricing products and services in a creative freelance business.


Presenting Your Pricing Online

Why Hiding Pricing Only Hurts You
The drawbacks of being secretive about your pricing online.

Pricing Critique Webinar - Best Pricing Page Practices
How you present your prices can be just as important as what your prices are.  This post shares best pricing page practices.

On Sharing Pricing Up Front
How to win over clients with up front pricing.

Psychology of Pricing
Does your pricing strategy match the clients you want to work with?  A checklist of things to think through and apply to your pricing methods.

Price Matters, Price Always Matters
Thinking like a client about online purchasing.

How to Announce Price Increases
Moving up the pricing scale without scaring recurring clients.


Quality Vs. Quantity

Quick Thoughts on Buyer Behavior
The difference between price shoppers and quality buyers.

Things We Can Learn From Apple
How having a premium product can be a better position than a bargain product.

When Potential Clients Say You Charge Too Much
Are they trying to get a discount, or is it really not in their budget?  These subtle differences help you know if they're worth working with or passing on, as well as if you need to step up your quality.

How to Respond When A Client Says "Too Much!"
How to respond to clients who experience sticker shock on product prices after you've already shared their images with them.

Standing Behind Our Value
When to hold and when to fold.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What Will Bring In The Most New Clients?

I had a great question while consulting for another photographer recently and it was one that I had never really stopped to consider so concretely.

"If I can only invest my time and money into one part of my business right now to have the biggest impact on bringing in new clients, where should I focus?"

I knew the answer immediately, because it's the single most important thing that has always made the biggest difference for me.  No matter how outdated my website portfolio is, how messy my branding might be at the moment, when my last blog post was, how active I've been on social media, or how many website directories my page is listed on, by far the biggest impact on my business is directly related to how happy my clients and fellow working colleagues are with my quality of work and how easy I am to work with.  It seems so common sense that most people don't even mention it, but it really is the single biggest factor in being successful as a creative.

Service businesses are highly recommended by former clients on one of two factors: how cheap they are or how amazing they are.  Being cheap may be a great way to start and prove you can do the job, or allows you to sustain a side-business as a hobby or part-time venture, but it isn't a model for longevity or sustainability if you're going to work as an individualized creative service.  So, my recommendation is to be highly recommended for being amazing to work with.

How does that play out in a list of actionable items?

  • Make promises with your clients that you can exceed regularly, which means having all of your business and production ducks in a row so that you never need to apologize, only surprise!
  • Prepare your clients expectations by detailing your process and how you work
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate  - return calls, emails, texts as soon as you can
  • Check in with your clients when you've completed a job to find out what they loved and what you can improve
  • Stay in touch with your clients through an email newsletter, loves notes, phone calls, or facebook friendship, because people aren't checking your blog or website on a regular basis after they've worked with you already, but because they've worked with you, they'll be the first to help recommend you to new people who are looking
  • Give your previous clients opportunities and ways to work with you again by running specials on products they may not have purchased, or offering additional services that benefit them
  • Revisit other people you've worked with on a shared project, like wedding vendors, makeup artists, venues, etc. and see if you can collaborate on a future project that would benefit them
  • Thank people for their referrals when you know who the referral came from and let them know how much you appreciate their support of your work and service
  • Create work that your clients will want to share with everyone they know by going above and beyond in ways that you know will make them happy
  • Be easy to work and a joy to be around by not letting your ego get in the way of doing something that would help out a client or another vendor
If you can do this for every client you work with, you will see exponential returns on your investment of time and dedication to client happiness in ways that support rates that exceed industry averages and provide the demand that supports being selective in who you work with.  

Note: If you don't have a list of clients that you've been able to be awesome for yet, than your job is to go out and create awesome work for people you really admire or are inspired to work with, but then treat them with the same level of professionalism that you would with any paying client.  Too often people who do complimentary work to build their portfolio don't do it in a way that would make someone want to work with them again, and therein lies the cycle of destroying working relationships before they've ever been created.


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 in 2004 as an independent small business.  She loves helping others find creative and smart solutions to business problems.  Stay in touch on Twitter or Facebook.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Interns Part I: Finding interns to make your life remarkably better

This guest post is from Phillip, who I recently met at the Art Directors Club in New York City.  While we were meeting, he had several local interns working away in the room near us on a Wednesday afternoon... I thought he'd have a little advice to share with you about how he finds his interns. - Anne

This article could be written and finished in one sentence: "Finding an intern to work for you is as easy as creating a Craigslist ad (http://cl.ly/3n3z3e2M383y) and asking for help."

 As a former educator and mentor and tutor, I love working with high school students. In my hometown of Santa Barbara there were a few arts programs in some of the high schools that required the students to do 40 hours of internship time with a creative professional. Students I knew started contacting me to fulfill their internship hours and before I could say "extra pair of hands" I had multiple students available last Summer to assist on family photo shoots, carry gear, count receipts, etc. I didn't train these interns in highly technical stuff like editing, retouching, second shooting, etc. They were simply an extra pair of hands on every shoot I went on. And they were great!

If you want someone more like an office manager or in-house retoucher/editor and you need to spend a little more time cultivating your intern, you can do something like this on Craigslist (click to view larger):


This was accompanied by ONE lovely sunset photo of a couple on a beach:


And that's it. Within 24 hours on a MONDAY I had over fifteen people email and I shut the advertisement down. I received requests from "Brookies," students at the prestigious Brookes Institute of Photographer, college students, high school students, people with extensive resumes, and people with no photo experience whatsoever (but they really liked photography). All of these people were willing to put in time and gain knowledge from the experience.

In the end, I chose the one guy whose response made me chuckle. He said he had an unhealthy addiction to Pinterest. And someone else in town knew of him and recommended him. We met once over coffee, and I hired him immediately. I feel very lucky to have met Matt Misisco because he has become a great friend, was the best assistant ever, and is really a great human being. I also figured out how to pay him because I highly valued his help (I gave myself a $25/hr raise and paid him $10/hr for five hours each Monday). I would recommend hiring someone based on personality over qualifications, absolutely. All you really need for a good intern/assistant is someone with a YES attitude and who will show up on time. And that's it.

Fluffy resumes don't mean a thing. You want someone who will represent you well on a job, no matter where you are. Technical skills don't matter. If they are trainable, that is preferable, because you aren't working with someone who thinks they know how to do things right (even if it's not how you manage your workflow/editing).

Some issues I've run up against when working with other interns that I would be careful of: Lack of transportation. Know-it-alls. Social ineptness. Dramatic/complicated home life.

I want to make clear how easy it was to find an intern: It took me less than five minutes to build that request on Craigslist, and it was the best decision for my business I ever made.

I wish I had done it sooner.

Curliest Photographer You Know

Phillip Van Nostrand built his business in Santa Barbara, CA, where he has shot over 50 weddings, countless head shots, and events for the past 5 years. He travels abroad at least once a year and is almost up to 30 countries traveled. Published in the New York Times, Huffington Post, New York Times Magazine, featured on Under Armor for Women’s web page, featured in Santa Barbara Dining and Destinations Magazine.
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