HOW CAN PHOTOGRAPHERS BUILD SYSTEMS?
"Organize around business functions, not people. Build systems within each business function. Let systems run the business and people run the systems. People come and go but the systems remain constant.” – Michael E. Gerber
Business systems are one of the most important and powerful tools photographic business owners can use to increase their productivity and income, but most will never take the time to build them. Whether they’ve never heard of systematization or they just don’t think it applies to them, they’re missing out on the incredible benefits systems offer.
That means the photographers who do institute systems will be head and shoulders above their competitors, not only in the short term where efficiency and customer satisfaction are concerned but in the long term when it’s time to grow or exit your business.
"Customers don't measure you on how hard you tried. They measure you on what you deliver"
— STEVE JOBS
WHAT ARE PHOTOGRAPHY BUSINESS SYSTEMS?
A business system is a way to organize, schedule, and perform tasks related to an aspect of your business. A system is a tool for managing the various aspects of your business so you can reach goals and create consistent, reliable results. Very simply, it’s a procedure; a guide that tells you how to get things done. Systems can be applied to every aspect of your business, from customer service to shipping products.
An effective business system should have clear criteria and procedures, minimize time investment, and maximize output and efficiency. People often build SOPs, or Standard Operating Procedures, that explain the system and each step in the process from beginning to end.
THE BENEFITS OF A SUCCESSFUL PHOTO SYSTEM
I know it can sound like systems are the kind of thing that only applies to big businesses that employ lots of people, but it’s equally important to sole proprietors and small businesses. When you’re the one completing all the tasks a business requires, efficiency and consistency are the keys to keeping money in your pocket.
SAVE TIME WITH REPEATABLE PHOTOGRAPHY PROCESSES
When you streamline your operations via systems, you cut down how much time needs to be spent on each task and project, freeing up more time to focus on other areas.
CONSISTENT RESULTS FOR CREATIVES
Doing a task the same way every time creates consistent results that you can rely on and your customers appreciate.
LESS DECISION MAKING FOR ARTISTS
Decision fatigue is a real thing. Making decisions is a calorie-intensive process for our brains, and since we only have so much “computing power,” to use in a day, our brains often default to turning repetitive tasks into habits.
When you build systems, you have fewer decisions to make in a day, which frees your mind up for other tasks that can’t be systematized.
BETTER CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
When customers know what to expect, they feel more comfortable spending money. Systematizing customer experience and managing expectations means an easier process for you and a more enjoyable experience for your customers.
MORE MONEY AND PROFIT IN YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY
Being more efficient lets you maximize your time investment, allowing you to earn more. Greater consistency allows you to create a better customer experience, which also results in higher sales and more referrals.
Photograph by Brooke Cagle
HOW TO BUILD A SYSTEM FOR YOUR PHOTO BUSINESS
To build a system that is functional, efficient, and consistent, start recording the tasks you do and what steps are required to complete the task.
Make sure you explain each task, step by step, in as much detail as possible, specifying tools, platforms, procedures, and approaches. Imagine you’re writing it for someone who has no idea what your business does or why...because, in a way, you are.
Task: Blog Post
- Research what keywords are trending using the keyword research using (insert tool of your choice)
- Select keywords that align with your business goals
- Write the blog in Google Docs using a standard font, size, and layout
- Run the blog through Grammarly to check for spelling, grammar and usage, intent, tone, etc. (You should have a general tone and audience in mind that suit your company. At PRO EDU we aim to make our blogs professional but conversational and educational for audiences that are familiar with the industry. Choosing your tone is up to you and who you want your business to be in your space.)
- Find photos assets that enhance your blog using your image library
- Name the photos for search engine optimization
- Use Photoshop to size the photos for fast loading time
- Format the blog on your website with image assets included
- Do the last editing past for clarity
- Get feedback on the post and make required changes
- Schedule the blog to be published
- Choose a quote for social media
- Create a social media post for each platform using Canva and a quote from the blog
- Promote the blog by publishing posts on each social media account.
Extrapolate this general format to any task you need to complete, from responding to customer service emails to scheduling and post-production.
TEST YOUR PROCESS
Once you’ve written down the steps required to complete the task, begin testing and fine-tuning the process. Are there any steps included that can be removed? Are you missing any key steps? Can you condense things or schedule certain aspects of the process to speed things up? Are there better tools you can use?
Keep track of the things you try and the changes you make to the process and find out which changes improve the process either by making it more efficient or successful or both.
Once you have a solid process that is efficient, successful, and repeatable, make sure you record it in your standard operating procedures (SOP) so it can be referred to any time.
WHY HAVING A SYSTEM IS IMPORTANT TO GROWING YOUR BUSINESS
Having a solid system for every aspect of your business is more important than you might think when it comes to business growth.
Trying to grow your business without systems in place is like throwing the car keys to someone who’s never seen a car and trusting them to get to the destination. Having a system with standard operating procedures means you can bring employees or contractors into your business and give them an instruction manual and a road map to follow that allows your business to function at a high level even when you're not the one doing everything.
First, you might think, “I don’t intend to hire employees or grow my business so this doesn’t apply to me,” but I would challenge you to ask yourself what happens if you get sick, or an emergency pulls you away from your business and the clients who are counting on you.
If you have no systems in place, you simply have to cancel your plans and accept the loss of income.
But if you’ve taken the time to build systems, you can hire someone to step in on your behalf and give your clients the same service you would have given them. It might cost you a bit, but you won’t lose your income entirely and your customers won't have to leave you for another photographer.
Just as important, though, is knowing that few businesses last beyond their founder leaving. That means you cannot profit from your business when the doors close...unless you’ve built strong systems that allow you to build and sell a successful business when you’re ready to walk away. Remember: people who buy businesses aren’t just buying access to a customer base, they’re buying the systems that made the business successful.
Business systems are often underutilized by small businesses because the owner/operator is so used to doing everything themselves, they don’t realize how much a system can improve their process.
But creating business systems is the key to being able to improve your business AND potentially hire someone to step in for you when you can’t perform certain tasks. In addition, if you want an exit strategy in place for the day you do need to walk away from your business, those systems will allow you to sell your business and profit off all your years of hard work.
Building systems takes time, but it benefits your business in so many ways that it’s a worthwhile task to add to your