Thursday, August 27, 2015

Goodbye Pictage - Now What?

Even if you've never been a Pictage member, it's important to note how this closure affects your colleagues, and to be aware that this is always a possibility with any service that you use as a key partner in your business.  For those who haven't been in the loop already, Pictage announced their final closure for Sunday, September 27th, 2015.



Pictage basically helped me launch my business over 10 years ago and I came to rely on them for nearly everything that happened on the back end of my wedding & portrait business.  Billing, hosting, cloud storage, FTP solution to vendors, printing, album designs, customer support, print orders, packaging, drop shipping, credit card transactions, marketing promotions, etc.

Technology has changed a lot since that point.  There were no iPhones 10 years ago.  Twitter didn't exist.  Facebook was just starting as a way for Harvard students to network with each other.  Digital SLRs were just starting to become affordable for the average consumer with a whopping 6.3megapixel files.  Amazon cloud storage didn't exist yet, but Pictage had created an incredibly advanced online solution for film and digital photographers to serve their clients.

The last year has been the worst year for Pictage.  Some people jumped ship early, but I hung on for quite a while, until I finally had a chance to move my archives to a new cloud solution.  The nail in the coffin for me came when Pictage separated off the free album designs and instant wholesale album ordering along with completely removing the one-on-one support for Pro accounts and the raised credit card rates.  Those were the last remaining advantages that Pictage had over many other services, and when they decided to remove those, I decided it was no longer worth keeping.  I upgraded my systems elsewhere and hired an assistant to help take care of the cloud file transfers via FTP from Pictage to Dropbox using MutlCloud.  I'm now finally ready to say goodbye as well and here's how I've changed my business to accommodate not using them anymore... (this is not a recommendation as to what anyone else should use, just my personal choices and examples).

Proofing: PDF of proofs created from the Print module in Lightroom emailed or Dropboxed to clients, which works out better for my commercial clients, since it allows them to keep and store the PDF for future image orders or sharing with suppliers who may also want commercial usage of images.  This allows them to mark any retouching or alteration requests directly on the document to return to me for editing.  If you plan to sell prints online to clients or friends and family of clients, you'll want to consider an online proofing solution mentioned below.

Invoicing, Billing, Contracts, Project Mangement: If you don't plan to have a proofing solution with built-in billing services, check out 17Hats.  It has been super easy to use, very quick to set up, and it facilitates creating as you go so that you don't have to have it all figured out or set up at once.  You can just use what you need first and then add on from there.  It accepts all major credit cards as well as PayPal and adds no additional credit fees.

Printing & Albums: Most of my commercial clients are doing their own printing or sending directly to magazines for publication and require no printed products.  If my former wedding clients were to want prints or albums at this point, I would still be able to source through the highly experienced team and great quality products at Photo Albums Direct, but would also consider many of the other options out there as well.

If you really need a new proofing solution, I think Julia May did a great job of comparing various online proofing and hosting solutions, so if you haven't chosen a next step yet, or are shopping the market for something better than what you have, check out her post here to compare some of the most used services currently available (chart is from the post linked below):
http://petapixel.com/2014/09/07/battle-client-galleries-comparing-10-best-tools-image-proofing-presentation/

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Business Burnout - Ways to Recover

This year I've seen another round of my peers reach a point of serious business burnout.  Working to the point of exhaustion and losing the joy in their creative work.  I totally get it, I was there once too.

At the time, I wanted to give all of it up and find a completely different career.  I searched high and low for something I thought I'd enjoy more.  I picked up some part-time teaching artist gigs to get back into the classroom and public school system in case I wanted a job there again.  I studied and took the MAT's in preparation for applying for a Master's Degree in a completely different field.  I considered the hundreds of other, easier jobs I could do for the same amount of money or more.  Nothing ever felt more awesome, but my business wasn't feeling awesome either, and I felt like I was just getting sicker on a bad carnival ride that never ended.

I learned that by scaling back and doing something else for a while, even just part time on the side, and putting myself in a position of only taking clients I really enjoyed working with, that I was able to regain some of my love back for my own business.  I became reminded of how much freedom I have to create my own schedule and take on as much or as little as I feel like I can handle, I was reminded of all the things that I disliked about working in environments where other people aren't as passionate about their work, and I really started to acknowledge that I didn't actually hate being a photographer or business owner... I just hated how I was running my business.

I had been letting my clients take over and push me around but the clients had very little to do with it.  I hadn't set appropriate boundaries or expectations that provided the space I needed to do the work in a way that didn't stress me out each week.  I had taken more work than I could handle, but didn't outsource or hire to make up for the increased workflow needs.  I had been a terrible boss: giving myself no days off, expecting me to be available to clients 24/7, and not hiring more help when I really needed it.  If I'd been working a traditional job, you can be sure that I would have quit under those working conditions!

Being a small business owner doesn't mean you need to be slave to your business or your clients.  Your clients benefit more when you have the energy and creativity that comes with being well-rested, taking days off each week, making enough time for self-care each day.  You're happier, you're healthier, and little problems bother you less because your bucket isn't overflowing with stress.

When you learn how to take back the control you've had all along, but unintentionally had let slip out of your hands, you start gaining some of your joy back in your career and your life.  A lot of it starts with setting appropriate business expectations and acting accordingly.  That means, if you declare your working hours are 10am - 6pm, you literally turn off your computer and don't accept business calls after 6pm.  Period.  You don't open up your computer by your bedside at 9am.  You get up, take a shower, have some breakfast, and get ready like normal people before you open your computer.

That immediate response time is only expected when you make it a regular habit.  If you begin your client relationship by letting them know how long it generally takes to respond to emails and phone calls, than they can have more appropriate expectations up front.  I tell my clients that email may take 48 hours and I don't usually answer it on the weekends, but phone calls can usually be responded to within the next business day.  Just because they're thinking of some question at 11pm at night, doesn't mean I need to respond to them at 11pm at night.  To help make this easier for myself, I completely removed email from my phone.  If I'm on location, I'm not trying to answer emails on my phone.  I'm far more likely to write something rushed and mistaken when I'm trying to respond between travels and clients than if I put myself in a collected and thoughtful place behind my computer.

When you start taking back your life, you plan vacations and get togethers with friends and family and schedule them into your calendar so that you aren't tempted to schedule every weekend with no recovery.  You decide that there will be no shoots on Monday or Wednesday (or whatever days work for you) because you need a couple office days to catch up on email and post production and you want to get to the gym those nights.  You hire and outsource tasks that you're always procrastinating on, because you recognize that your time and stress level are more important than something someone else can do for $15-$20/hr.

You may have to take a break for a while to be reminded of all the things you love about being in business for yourself.  Of course, if you take a break and find something else far more freeing and awesome in the meantime, than isn't that a better situation than being stuck in a cycle of stress and burnout?

If you can't even fathom taking a break (especially in the middle of the season), start simple by implementing one new boundary or rule at a time.  Like declaring Monday is always a recovery day, or no email in bed, or portrait shoots only on Tuesday and Thursday.  Practice it for several weeks before adding another.  Allow yourself room to mess up and try again.  Be real with yourself when you're putting your mental and physical health on the back burner to serve a client, and then find ways to make up for it in the week ahead by taking a day off, scheduling lunch with a friend, or scheduling more gym time- whatever helps you get your groove back and feel more like a human than a slave again.  As you gradually reclaim the time and space you need to feel rested and recharged each day and each week, you'll gradually get yourself back to a place where you love owning a business again because you're really in full control of your schedule and your life again.

For more related posts see:

How to Stop Running Behind & Feeling Overwhelmed
http://photolovecat.blogspot.com/2012/03/how-to-stop-running-behind-feeling.html

What WON'T You Do?
http://photolovecat.blogspot.com/2012/04/what-wont-you-do.html

Hire a Remote Photo Assistant
http://photolovecat.blogspot.com/2012/03/how-to-hire-remote-photo-assistant.html

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.
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