Every photographer—indeed, every small business owner—has said it: If only I had more time. You can’t create more time, but you can reallocate more of it to the tasks that matter most.
Business systems strategist Kate Rosenow points out that implementing the right processes in your business can take you from overwhelmed and stressed to productive and in control. As the owner of Work Well with Kate, Rosenow helps business owners streamline their operations so they can focus on what they do best, and her advice has been featured in Forbes, Fortune, Real Simple, and Business Insider, among others. In a few simple steps, she shares how photographers can sweep away mental clutter, freeing up time to work on what matters most.
Dump out that metaphorical camera bag and home in on what you really need to run your business.
When you get a new camera bag, it’s clean and organized. Months later, it’s loaded with extra junk. You stuff in additional gear, cords, adapters, notes, receipts—clutter. The same problem happens in a small business. You start out clean and organized, then eventually get bogged down with extra tasks that distract you from your most important work.
What to do? Dump out that metaphorical camera bag and home in on what you really need to run your business. Then eliminate, delegate, or outsource the rest.
Start by writing out the areas in your business that you know are essential, Rosenow says. For example:
Then look at your calendar and to-do list, and write down all the tasks in the categories you’ve outlined. Also indicate periodic and long-term tasks that may not be on your schedule. Scan the list to see if anything isn’t essential or revenue-generating. “Be realistic and ruthless in this process,” says Rosenow. “If you’ve been doing something that seems essential but isn’t working, scratch it off your list.” For example, if you’re spending hours and hours on social media, but after six months it’s not generating leads, scratch it off.
Look for anything that can be automated. Write an A next to those tasks. Sending contracts and legal agreements, emailing thank you notes, and scheduling meetings are all tasks that can be automated.
If a task can’t be automated, can it be out-sourced or delegated? Write an O next to these items. Image editing, bookkeeping, tax preparation, studio setup and breakdown, appointment setting, and billing are all easily outsourced or delegated. Write these down, and you’ve suddenly created a job description for a studio manager or virtual assistant.
After working through this process, you should have fewer items on your to-do list. This pared-down lineup shows the only things you should be doing for your business.
“If you can take all these steps, your workday will be streamlined and more efficient.”Kate Rosenow
Try to complete your remaining tasks in batches. Batching is one way to increase productivity. You can set aside certain days or certain parts of days for specific tasks. The practice improves your concentration and helps you do more during your allotted time.
“There’s no such thing as multitasking,” explains Rosenow. “There’s only task switching, and it takes 20 minutes on average to switch from one task to another. That’s part of why we’re so stressed out; we’re constantly switching and playing catch up. All that switching and catching up creates mental clutter that takes us away from our priorities.”
Instead of attempting to multitask, Rosenow recommends the Pomodoro Technique, which divides each workday into 25-minute segments separated by five-minute breaks. Focus on one task for a set period of time, take a break, then start the next time segment of work.
To get the most out of batch scheduling, Rosenow also suggests blocking off chunks of time for different categories of tasks. Schedule client meetings on specific days of the week, or answer emails only during specific times of the day.
“If you can take all these steps, your workday will be streamlined and more efficient,” says Rosenow. “You’ll feel better, less stressed. And as a bonus, you will have more time to focus on what you do really well so you can make more money.”
Rosenow advocates doing the bag dump process from beginning to end, not in increments. Approach it in a piecemeal fashion, and you’re likely to end up using a bunch of software applications for specific tasks.
This can create a disjointed project management process that’s even more stressful. Instead, says Rosenow, commit to doing it all at once, then see if there’s a single digital platform that can help you do everything. There are dozens of small business management and studio management platforms to choose from, including 17hats, HoneyBook, Dubsado, Sprout Studio, and others.
Using a single platform is a help to clients as well. If they can do everything through one portal—scheduling, invoices, communications—they’ll be happier and you’ll have less need to create individual communications to address their needs.
We’re constantly bombarded by new technology, new platforms, and the next great thing. Every time you’re tempted to try something, ask yourself why. Why would I add this to my tech stack? Why would I sign up for this new platform? Does it make my life easier or simply add some cool features? If the answer isn’t compelling, skip it.
Doing research, watching demos, and staying up on new trends is a good use of your time. But balance that with an assessment of whether or not these new developments can produce a tangible benefit for your business. “Staying on the cutting edge is important as long as you’re being thoughtful and pragmatic about what you’re doing,” says Rosenow. Always go back to the why.
Track the time and money you spend on different activities and assess the return on those investments. You might believe something is generating revenue, but there’s no way to confirm that without look at the data. Make sure the story you’re telling yourself about your business is actually true. If it’s not, drop that activity and move on.
Delegating is a way to maximize opportunity cost. Investing time in one task means you can’t spend that time doing something else. Consider the best use of your time as a photographer and a business owner. If you’re bogged down doing administrative tasks, think about how much more money you could make during that time if you weren’t doing those things. Then consider the long-term opportunity cost to continue doing everything in your business instead of focusing on the work that generates income and can only be done by you.
Photographers sometimes shy away from automation because they don’t want their business to feel robotic. “However, I encourage people to think about how automation can make their business feel more personal,” says Rosenow. “When you automate certain routine tasks, like scheduling or follow-up emails, then you can spend more time adding personal touches where it really matters, like sending thank you gifts, making a personal call, or writing a note.”
When scheduling, set up your calendar to take meetings or do specific tasks only on certain days. Don’t offer people unlimited access to your calendar, and don’t ask what’s best for others when scheduling a meeting. When you do that, you give up control of your schedule and end up with meetings spread out all week.
That’s rarely productive because meetings require preparation, and action items need to be addressed afterward. “This myth that we tell ourselves that we’re going to get other things done in these pockets in between meetings, it rarely happens to the level we think it will,” says Rosenow. “And that leads to lack of productivity and frustration.”
Jeff Kent is editor-at-large.