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Best Business Practices – Part 5

Photo by Will Jacks

Spring is here, so we’re sharing a series of Best Business Practice posts featuring the team of ACEs. Get to know them and learn tips and tricks that will streamline your studio this season! As any ACE will tell you, you can’t do it all. Successful photographers understand this, which is why they partner with advisors and trainers who help them stay organized! This week’s featured ACE is Will Jacks, a guy who grew up wanting  to play centerfield for the St. Louis Cardinals, but wound up preserving wonderful moments as a photographer. As he says, “I deal in happiness, and I couldn’t be more grateful.”

Q. What’s your primary area of photography and when did you start shooting full-time?

Will: I began my career as a photographer in 1997. I didn’t know what type of work I wanted to do. I only knew that I wanted to be creative, be my own boss, and develop a body of work that I could be proud of. Not long after hanging my shingle I landed a job photographing products for a furniture and home accessory manufacturer. I did this for seven years, and learned quite a bit about studio lighting and digital imagery.

Eventually the company and I parted ways and I was left to figure out what my next direction would be. I had grown weary of commercial work and felt that my photography career had grown stagnant. I was doing lots of work that other folks wanted me to do, and very little work that I wanted to do. I knew more about how to make a photograph than ever, but less about what being a photographer meant to me. I knew that I had to find that answer or I’d be out of photography altogether in a very short time.

Out of financial necessity, I began to welcome the idea of photographing weddings. I had avoided it during the first half of my career, mostly out of snobbery and pride. It’s amazing how an empty bank account cures you of such things! What I discovered was that the documentary nature of a wedding was something I enjoyed. I still had free time since my main commercial gig had ended, so I played with different cameras and different photographic and printing techniques. I produced quite a bit of terrible work in that “play time,” but I also began to find a voice that felt right for me. I also learned about “how” to make an image, but more importantly, I learned “why”.

I now photograph between 15-20 weddings a year.  I also do a handful of portrait sessions (20-30), along with a few commercial and editorial assignments.  I still have more free time than I did when I was working for the furniture company, and I spend much of it exploring my own personal projects and running a small photography gallery in my hometown.

Q. What was your biggest challenge when starting your own business?

Will: The biggest challenge I faced when starting was focus. It took me awhile to figure out what type of imagery I wanted to create and what I needed in order to create it. So, I spent much of my time doing what I thought people wanted. There is no sustainability in being shaped by others.  We have to shape ourselves. Certainly we give consideration to what our targeted market demands, but we shouldn’t give absolution to it. It took me awhile to figure that out, and then a bit longer to figure out how to build a structure that enabled the career I wanted to have.

Q. What are your favorite five tips for keeping track of client communication?

  1. My first one you’ll likely hear a lot – because it’s true! Create templates for emails you send repeatedly! There’s no need to create a new email to send to a client who requests pricing. Type it once and save it as a template. Then, customize a small part if any customization is needed for a particular client.
  2. Use the specific correspondence email address for each event you set up in ShootQ. When you book a client, enter them into your email address book. But don’t just enter their personal email address. Also enter the custom address that links to their ShootQ event (It’s located in the correspondence section of the event, at the very top, in yellow). When a client emails you and you respond from your personal email, your phone, iPad, or other device, you’ll have the address handy and can add it as a BCC. Then, your email will show up in your ShootQ correspondence. This saves you from logging into ShootQ each time you need to get this address.
  3. If you have template emails that you send more than once to a client – for example an email that has a subject line “Your order has shipped!” – simply tweak the subject each time you send the email. If you don’t, then the correspondence in the event will list “Your order has shipped!” each time you send the email. That’s not bad if you have a short list of correspondence with a client or don’t send that particular email often, but if the opposite is true, it can get confusing! “Was that email about their album or their canvas order?” When sending the email, just add a bit more information, such as “your order has shipped :::album:::” or “your order has shipped :::canvas:::” and finding specific emails in the correspondence section is much easier!
  4. If your studio has multiple employees, it can get confusing as to who has said what to which client. You can certainly divide responsibilities so that only one person responds to certain requests, but that’s not always practical. You can also copy your studio mates to the emails you send to a client, but that might bog down their inbox with emails they don’t necessarily need to see right away.  So, consider doing this: Add something to the subject of your emails, such as wiljax, Inc:  information on our pricing or wiljax, Inc: info for your upcoming session. Then, set up a rule in your email application to send all emails from (insert studio employee email address here) that include the words wiljax, Inc:  in the subject line to a specific folder in your app.  This will keep your inbox clean of any correspondence to which you are copied, and have a centralized place for you to keep track of the conversations happening in your studio!
  5. If your studio is like mine, phone calls or in-person meetings are frustrating to track. With emails we can forward correspondence and store them in a centralized place like ShootQ. Phone calls and face-to-face meetings are trickier. Ideally we sit down immediately after a chat and make notes of the conversation in ShootQ. Even better, we’ll type an email to the client so that we’ll have a record on file of what we discussed. This also gives us a chance to basically say to our client, “This is what we remember from our discussion.” If there are discrepancies, we catch it right away. But, as we all know, this isnt’ always possible. Sometimes we’re on the road. Sometimes we’re in the middle of a shoot. Sometimes we’re headed out to our child’s baseball game or dance recital.

Q. So what to do if you’re in a rush and don’t have time to log into ShootQ or email your client right away?

Will: Evernote! Use the audio note function to leave a message for yourself! Then, you’ll have a record that you access from any computer with an internet connection. Now, you can finish whatever task you needed to complete before emailing your client, then log into Evernote to get the information needed to accurately recall the conversation. Easy peasy!

Q. What’s the most interesting or funny thing you’ve been doing while ShootQ booked a shoot for you?

Will: This is an interesting question. The easy answer is to say I was on a beach, relaxing with family, or maybe taking a nap…all of which have happened. But that sounds like I only work when I’m shooting a wedding or commercial gig, and I don’t want to give that impression. So, I’d say the most interesting thing is working on a personal project somewhere, Po’ Monkey’s perhaps. And it was nice to know that my business was cared for while I was creating work that enables my growth as a creative craftsman, which enables my business growth as a photographer! Dang.  That doesnt sound as sexy as snorkeling with sharks in Belize. Maybe I need to head to the beach!

About Will Jacks
After a short-lived tenure as a teacher and coach and a flirtation with filmmaking, I finally settled on a career as a photographer. After finishing Journalism grad school at the University of Mississippi, I returned to my hometown in northwest Mississippi and hung a shingle. After seven years working primarily as a product photographer, my interest in the documentary form was rekindled and I began focusing on documenting the world around me. Part of that transition was repaying nearly $400k in loans borrowed to keep the commercial studio going. Through lots of hard work, a huge dose of humility, and tools like ShootQ, I paid off my debts and transformed my business into the model I had originally envisioned. Currently, my work is commissioned for wedding, portrait, and editorial clients throughout the Southeast. My personal work is represented in galleries throughout the region. In addition, the documentary work I’ve created of the Mississippi Delta region is a prominent part of the Viking Range permanent archives. I now live part-time in the same small town in the Mississippi Delta where I was raised, and part-time in the French Quarter of New Orleans, the hometown of my wife Jamie.

The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!
The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!