AHHH it’s D E C E M B E R!! How is that even possible?! I have been talking so much about getting ready for the new year, that somehow the actual new year has completely crept up on me!
An exercise I adopted from Justin & Mary and Lara Casey is to end my year by writing out a big, honest, vulnerable list of what worked and what didn’t work for the past year. The first time I did this, I was slightly overwhelmed at how lopsided my list was, and NOT in a good way! But every year it gets better, and it’s encouraging to know that everyone has a list under both sides every year. If there’s nothing under your “What Didn’t Work” side, then most likely you didn’t step out of your comfort zone, try anything new, or punch a single fear in the face all year long…. BOOM.
So even though December’s portrait sessions are far from over, I am getting ready to announce all the new exciting things in store for the new year. Here’s an (earlier than usual) look at 2013. The good, the bad, and what will never happen again….I hope.
Let’s start with the positive.
Here’s what DID work in 2013:
1. Starting my year by working with Ashley Barnett Mitchell for brand styling. In 2012, the Tiffany Farley brand was created and the major focus of the year was getting my visual brand identity online, including working with a graphic designer, launching a new logo and website, etc. So a big goal of mine for this year was working on tangible aspects of my brand to go with it! This past January I posted in an online facebook community of photographers that I was looking for a brand stylist (which didn’t exactly exist!!) to help me style my brand for the new year. I wanted an outside opinion to help me choose client gifts, suggest how my welcome packets could be put together, and everything right down to what color my ribbon should be. Personally I think it is so much easier to pick out those things for everyone but yourself, am I right?? Ashley said she was interested in helping and I knew that with her eye for fashion and all things pretty that she would perfect for the task at hand! She took a thorough look at my brand and really did an amazing job coming up with the perfect ideas for my brand and client experience! It was the perfect way to kickstart my year!!
2. Attending the “What’s Next Tour” with Justin & Mary in NYC in January. Speaking of perfect ways to start the new year! This tour was SO incredibly well done. I admit that I am biased since they are a few of my favorite people on the planet, but it was such a powerful day of punching fear in the face and saying big dreams out loud. Last I hear, there were still a few spots available for the January “What’s Next One Day Getaway” at their home in Connecticut. Get your year kick started in the best way possible!
3. Switching to digital contracts. I have been so back and forth about this! I started with paper, then went to digital, then went to paper, and now I am back to digital! After some brainstorming, I realized that the real reason I wanted my client to have a paper contract was for the tangible presentation as part of my brand experience. I didn’t like the look of the digital contract that I had been using. My solution was to use digital contracts for the convenience, and present a tangible copy in their welcome packet! I also revamped the look of my contracts with a new system that I just started using this month and I LOVE them! I also hired a lawyer to draft up my portrait contracts this year. It was an important step in taking my business and agreements seriously.
4. Creating +sites for pre-session client education. Client education is a MAJOR priority in my business. If your sessions are frustrating or stressful for you or your client, it is most likely an area of miscommunication somewhere along the process, and as the photographer it is YOUR job to educate your clients on their entire experience- from pricing to wardrobe to your style of photography. I found myself typing out the same long emails over and over again for each client who wanted information either before booking me, or about their session after booking me. I decided to take the client experience up a notch by creating plus sites. ( Available for Showit website users) I made one specifically for potential clients who are interested in learning more about booking me, and one to send them after they have booked me. They are visually appealing, completely branded, and clients love the detailed information they are given! Not only does it help me book the right clients for me by educating inquiries on my exact style and approach, but by sending them visual what to wear boards and resources of the like, my clients show up prepared, confident, and ready. It also saves me a TON of time in email communication, and allows me to respond to booking inquiries efficiently.
5. Work nights with Hannah Brencher. Something I have grown to love over this past year is getting together with a good friend at a local Starbucks after dinner where we both can get some work done for a few hours. When the todo list gets overwhelmingly long, sometimes the best text I can get is “Work night tonight?” from Hannah B. and I can pack up my laptop and be super productive over lattes and laughter with someone who also has a ton on her plate. Mix it up every now and then. Don’t feel alone in it.
6. Not blogging 5 days a week. This was a big change for me. I love blogging, but found that it was taking up way too much of the limited time that I did have to work on my business each day. I decided that in order to make big things happen and have the time to do things like make those client education plus sites,etc than I had to create time for it. I began blogging consistently on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Next year, I will be adding a third day. Although the change was good, I felt like third day would have been better.
7. Using Shootproof for digital downloads. I started the year using PASS, and unfortunately they made some business decisions as a company that no longer fit my brand. Because my sessions were all inclusive with digital file collections this year, I needed a convenient way for my clients to have fast access to their images as soon as they were ready. I decided to use Shootproof which had a plan that worked great for me. Clients could immediately download their images, order prints, and share with friends and family. This also gave me some flexibility when it came to sending their USB in the mail. I still wanted a tangible presentation of their images, while still giving clients their images with little wait time. Of course I’m changing things up in this area for the new year, but it definitely worked for the structure of 2013.
8. Consistency in my post-processing. While it is an area I never want to stop improving in, I feel as though this year in particularly I created and owned a consistent editing style. Working hard to get my exposure right in camera has proved to be invaluable in my editing time. I used to hear other photographers say that, but I never understood it until this year. If I want my images to have a consistent look and feel, than that skill starts IN camera, and not with the latest trendy photoshop actions.
9. Attending the second Pursuit 31 Conference. I don’t attend a lot of big conferences, as I have always seen more valuable places to invest in my business. Would it be nice to attend WPPI and Showit United every year? Maybe. But when you’re in your first couple years of business with REALLY big dreams, you have to prioritize where you spend those chunks of income. I attended the first Pursuit 31 conference, and I was not disappointed with the second. My favorite part of this past conference was definitely the Making Things Happen mini workshop taught by Lara Casey, Emily Ley, and Gina Zeidler. It was so powerful and reminded me “Why I have Why’s”. Definitely check out attending next year’s. (I’ll be teaching at this one!!! More on that to come!)
10. The Motherhood Collective. This session package was my far most popular booking of 2013. It allowed mothers to not have to choose between maternity and newborn portraits because of a tight budget. I have made a few changes to make this popular package even better for the coming year.
11. The Connected Brand. This fall, I stepped out of my comfort zone and bravely told the world that I was going to offer one-on-one coaching sessions that were all about connecting your brand message with your client experience. I honestly didn’t know if anyone would even sign up. But I put myself out there. Wrote an entire workbook on brand experience from start to finish for everyone I would work with. It has been super successful! The workbook has been a huge hit, this year became completely booked and I am already booking mentoring sessions into February! Sometimes punching that fear in the face is totally worth it!!
12. Collecting session payments in advance. This past year I have implemented a system of requiring all session payments in advance. I require 50% of the session fee at booking, and the remaining balance 7 days prior. (using reminders through iCal has been life changing!) This means that everyone on the session day, myself included, is entirely focused on creating beautiful portraits and less worried about making sure I leave with a check. Next year, my session pricing is set up much differently, so the entire session will be due up front and then it’s taken care of until the images are ordered.
13. Duty Day. I got this idea from wedding photographer and workflow organizing guru Katelyn James. Once a month, I sit down and have a checklist of all the tasks that get overlooked in the day to day running of my business. It is mostly a list of things I hate doing, therefore I procrastinate on them. But they are vital to my business and NEED to get done. I was finding that small tasks like tracking my mileage and or filing my receipts were falling through the cracks when I got busy. This creates a system so that nothing gets overlooked, even when my schedule gets CRAZY. The list includes logging my business expenses on a spreadsheet, updating my website portfolio, checking to make sure the contact form on my website is working (I had a glitch for a whole month earlier this year and wouldn’t have caught it otherwise!), decide if there’s a session I want to submit for publication, file emails away and bring my inbox to zero, map out monthly bills, etc. It is basically one day that is filled with not so fun stuff, but in turns sets me up for success.
14. Evernote. I love, love, love Evernote!! This definitely falls under both columns though. I started strong, using it for everything- and then when I got busy I kind of stopped. The fact of the matter is that any system can work if just have the discipline to follow through and be consistent in using it.
15. Working with professional makeup artists on a regular basis for Connection Portrait Sessions. I have had the honor of working with the most talented makeup artists in the state of Connecticut this past year. The difference it makes in my sessions is night and day. Not because my clients NEED tons of makeup or can’t do it themselves. It’s about the experience it creates. It makes the portrait session feel more special, and clients show up feeling incredibly confident and excited for their pictures. Often for newborn sessions the makeup artist is able to meet my client in her home or at the location of the shoot which is huge part of taking the stress out of getting ready, and again just really makes my clients feel pampered.
16. Showing my recent work on Instagram. I know it goes against the idea of “insta”, but sharing my recent connection portrait sessions on Instagram has been a great way for potential clients to view my work. Thanks to newsfeed changes in Facebook, not everyone is guaranteed to see what I post, even if they are online at the same time. I have booked multiple clients who saw my work on Instagram, so it has definitely been something that is working!
17. Delivering proof prints with the USB after the session. This was on my “someday I want to start doing” list for quite some time. Around late summer I started adding this to my client experience. I love the white bordered proof prints from WHCC. I have not been disappointed with their quality, and clients LOVE receiving a tangible copy of each of their images.
18. Hiring Justin & Mary to photograph my new head shots. It was my dream to be photographed by them, and well, since there’s no ring on my finger I guess it wouldn’t have happened this year otherwise!I consider myself the most awkward person to photograph on the planet and every insecurity rises to the surface, causing this annoying nervous laugh. It’s not pretty. I’ve also been told I tend to use a “duck face” as my default pose. Sigh. But my session with them was amazing and I was so over the moon happy with them and finally felt confident in the images of myself I had on my website and sent to publications. Of course my hair is about a foot shorter now, but such is the life of a girl I suppose!
19. Not giving up. Cliche sounding? Maybe. But there were times even this year where I questioned my decision to specialize in Connection Portraits. When I became frustrated that magazine publications didn’t want square sized images. When everyone around me seemed to be raking in the success of a mini-session weekend and my inbox was empty. I believed in it still. Even if it was hard. I wrote about it in detail in this post, which was my most widely read post this year. Actually ever. Thousands of people read this and strangers emailed me with encouraging words. Authenticity always wins.
Here’s what DIDN’T work in 2013 & what I need to work on for the new year:
1. Having Work Hours. Yes, as a current full time nanny on top of running my business I have learned to get the hours in when I can. However for the new year I really want to be intentional in this area for more of a balance. There are so many benefits of working from home, but it also makes creating boundaries between work and personal life really difficult! My email should not be opened before my Bible, no matter how busy the day is looking.
2. Having a “Shoot and Share” Business model. This really falls under both what did AND what didn’t work. For 2013 I believe that this was the best decision for my brand. The idea of “Connection Portraits” was still coming together and I was still discovering a lot about what these unique portrait sessions should and shouldn’t include. Now that I have been “in the brand” for over a year, I feel as though I know my brand SO much better than I did at the beginning. My vision has become bigger and greater, and in turn I needed a business model that supported that direction. Sessions will no longer end with “ok here’s your digital files, enjoy, bye.” (ok so I never said it quite like that but you know what I mean.) It practically broke my heart to hear that clients had yet to print their images after months of having them in their hands. I believe my portraits deserve to be printed, and that families deserve to have them on their walls and tangibly cherished for generations. I will be providing the way to do that with personal in-home ordering sessions and offering my clients only the most exquisite products to display their favorite portraits. I am SO excited for this change!
3. Sticking to the systems I create. As I mentioned above, systems like “Duty Day ” have been amazing! But more often than not, I will have a hard time sticking to what day I get it done, often meaning two duty days for one month to catch up, which is totally defeating the whole point! And I start strong being super organized with Evernote, and then I stop using it when I get busy and feel too overwhelmed to catch up. Systems are only good if you use them with consistency. Definitely something I need to work on!
4. Planning my week. I want to be intentional about carving time to plan for my month, and planning for each week. I do use a running todo list, but my productivity could skyrocket if I were more focused on what could get done when. So much time becomes wasted surfing Facebook or checking Instagram for the thousandth time if I haven’t planned my day. And this includes carving time for personal life outside of work! Which brings me to…
5. Spending more time unplugged. I feel as though this is a different area for me since I am single and me spending time on social media at night or the weekend doesn’t directly effect my relationships like it would if I were married or had children. But I do admit that I feel completely lost without my phone and prefer it to not even be in the other room. So I need to work on that for sure.
6. Not offering Christmas Cards. Although I can still firmly state that I am NOT a Christmas card photographer, I recognize the need for them especially since I will not be including digital files next year. I have come up with a perfect solution for next year thanks to working with the incredibly talented designer Jane Johnson. Amazingness is in store!
7. Planning my Marketing and Promotions in advance. I have definitely gotten better at this since the year before, but I still found myself throwing together last minute promotions and marketing ideas. One of my big to-do’s for January is to fill out an entire calendar of what will be offered when, and then stick to it! This way I know what images I need to have ready, what photoshop ads I need to have designed, and I will have a more well thought out approach rather than last minute.
8. Having a clean workspace. Here’s what’s great about Instgramming your coffee mug on your desk with your sparkle notebook and glitter pens and a witty comment about how productive you are- it only takes up a very tiny square portion and doesn’t have to show the whole thing! 99% of everyday, my desk is so cluttered that I end up taking my laptop to the kitchen table. I invested in a new Ikea desk with pretty basket organizers and a file cabinet so that everything would have its own place. So I have no excuse not to clean my desk for a fresh restart every morning! I know this works well for me so why don’t I just do it??
“BHAGS” for 2014 (“Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals” coined by Justin & Mary)
1. Host my very first workshop ( March 8th in Portland, Maine- AHHH! There are still seats. You can learn more and register HERE.)
2. Speak at someone else’s workshop/conference (Justin & Mary’s What’s Next One Day Getaway in January and the Pursuit 31 Conference in October! )
3. Go full time (my goal date is set and I am working my “you- know-what” off to get there! )
4. Move to Maine (Details to come!)
5. Open a studio space (My dream nook where I can meet with clients and photograph maternity and newborn when client’s home space is not well lit)
6. Hire a designer for a fresh 2015 web presence. Working with a designer is a huge investment and I want to plan to budget accordingly so that I can keep my website and brand updated visually.
7. Shoot more film. Ok so this is the second year in a row this has fallen under BHAGs. I started playing around with an old 35 mm. I got my first roll developed and they came out AWFUL and I found myself super discouraged. I finished another roll this summer on an island vacation with some good friends, and is STILL sitting on my desk because I am afraid to be disappointed in how they came out. I know, seriously silly. But it’s something I desperately want to learn for the future of my business so I am putting on this list again!!
2013 was an AMAZING year. And I feel even MORE amazing about 2014!
So what’s the number one thing that you are changing in YOUR business/life next year??