Photographers are creative entrepreneurs. As creative entrepreneurs, most of us aspire to monetize our craft and make a living as artists. In order to run our businesses efficiently, it’s important to have tools and systems in place. If you’re a single person operation, it can be overwhelming at times to think about all the things that go into running your business that aren’t “photography,” including but not limited to marketing, bidding, invoicing, making phone calls, sending emails, networking, upgrading equipment, and higher education to name just a few. Without systems, it’s easy to get off track.
Photographers and artists alike often get a bad wrap for being scatter-brained and unorganized individuals. While sometimes true, it really comes down to discipline and work ethic. You either have it or you don’t. One thing’s for sure, if you’re going to be a full-time artist and simultaneously run your own company, it’s essential to stay organized. You need the right tools to help you do just that. Though some software companies try, there is no single tool out there that does it all.
I’ve created a short list of extremely helpful, freemium-based software. This software is great for bootstrap startups as well as businesses that have been at it for a while. When used on a consistent basis, you will be amazed with how efficient your business can become. All of these tools are completely free with the exception of Quickbooks Online. However, Quickbooks Online has a free trial and very affordable pricing tiers.
Disclaimer: I have no relationship or affiliation with these companies. They are simply companies that I admire, and find helpful.
Toggl - For Time Tracking
Simply put, Toggl is a free tool that allows you to track time, which is perfect for small business owners. You could track personal time, time you spend on a particular project, or even the time you spend on marketing your business. It’s completely up to you on how you use the tool. In addition to logging in online, they also have desktop and mobile apps. Toggl allows you to create projects, clients, and even add tags. These become important features when you generate a time report as it allows you to filter your reports by project, client, and tags. You can also filter by year, month, or specific days. Toggl is kind of like Google Analytics for how you spend your time.
Time tracking is essential for any business. Even if you’re not billing by time, the ability to look back and see how you actually spend your time is an invaluable learning tool and essential for the growth of any company. For example, let’s say you bill by the project and not by the hour. Take the amount you billed for the project and divide it by the number of hours you tracked using Toggl. This will give you an idea of how much you billed per hour for that particular project. Depending on where you want your business to be in terms of billing, to your surprise, you may learn that you spent way too much time on a project and didn’t charge enough.
Here’s another example. Let’s say you didn’t get as many jobs coming in as you had hoped for this year. Why is that? If you have the discipline and you’re accurately tracking your time, you may find that you didn’t spend enough time marketing your photography business. Alternatively, maybe your business is killing it in sales this year. Why do you think that is? Perhaps you got lucky? Or perhaps there’s a direct correlation between the amount of time you spent marketing your photography business.
When you are your own boss, nobody makes you track time. Tracking time is a discipline. Just like anything, you have to do it because you believe in it and you understand the value of what you can learn about your business by doing so.
Asana - For Project Management
Asana is a free project management tool perfect for creative entrepreneurs and photographers alike. Back in the day when working for another company, Basecamp was the tool of choice. It was great for collaboration, but it wasn’t perfect and it was kind of expensive. When I started my own business I had to bootstrap a bit. After hours of project management software research, I found this killer piece of software called Asana. It’s similar to Basecamp, but in a lot of ways better, in my opinion. This project management software is a great way to keep your projects on track. You can attach reference files, create to-dos and even assign due dates to each to-do.
For example, let’s say you have a project or assignment from a client. Chances are, in order to complete that project, there are several steps you must take to complete it. This is where Asana comes in. Simply make a project, and start creating to-dos. In order to stay on track, assign yourself a due date. For example, maybe there are some pre-production items that must be done before the production can begin. Maybe you need to find a location scout or hire talent. Make a to-do for yourself and assign a due date. Or in terms of post production, maybe your client has selected images to be retouched. Make a to-do for each image and check them off your list as you complete them.
Do you have things that you need from a client? Invite them to the project and assign them to-dos with due dates. This is a great platform to manage projects either for internal use for your business, or to collaborate with a client. It’s very intuitive and easy to use. And don’t worry, inviting your client to a project won’t allow them to see all of your other projects for your other clients, just the ones you’ve invited them to.
Quickbooks Online - For Accounting
If you’re in business, transactions are taking place. Whether you’re billing a client, or purchasing a new camera, you need a way to keep track of all of this craziness. Quickbooks Online is a great tool for keeping track of all of your expenses and keeping track of your moolah (money). Got a client out of state? No problem, you can email an invoice to a client, attach the estimate they signed, and even give them the option to pay online with a credit card, or ACH Bank Transfer.
This tool allows you to easily keep track of your money. It also makes generating profit and loss statements and balance sheets a breeze when you need to send one to your CPA or Accountant. Quickbooks Online is an industry standard piece of accounting software and is really affordable. They offer plenty of pricing tiers and the basic plan is a great place to start. If you’re not already using some sort of accounting software, I highly recommend Quickbooks Online.
Hubspot - For Account Management
Chances are, if you’re a one person operation, you’re not only the creative vision of the company. You’re not only the accounting and customer service department. You’re also the marketing department. Do you have dream clients? Do you have clients you would love to do work for? Well, in order to do that, you have to make connections. You have to put yourself out there and meet people. You have to do things that aren’t photography. When you’re doing a lot of marketing, and connecting with a lot of people, it can be easy to forget names and job titles. So how do you keep track of all of these leads? You need a CRM (Customer Relationship Management). I like a piece of software called Hubspot.
Hubspot is a tool that allows you to keep track of all your interactions with business leads and clients alike. It’s a freemium model software tool with options to upgrade to premium features as well. It allows you to create company profiles and add contacts to each company. By doing this over and over you end up building your own client database. You can then do searches to find companies and contacts that you’ve met, and assign yourself tasks, like reminders to follow up with certain companies or people. You can also keep track of deals that you land, as well as deals that you lost.
The key here is to discipline yourself to log information you gather in your interactions with leads and clients. You said you wanted to work for X, Y, and Z companies, right? Well, when was the last time you spoke with them on the phone, emailed them, or had a meeting with them? If you’re using Hubspot and logging your interactions, then you would know that you last spoke with John Smith, the Creative Director at X Agency was on April 27 at the local Chamber of Commerce luncheon. You would also know and that you talked about an upcoming project for a cool ad campaign and that he said to keep in touch. Maybe it’s time to follow up so they haven’t forgotten about you?
Evernote - For Inspiration, Ideas, and Notes
I’ve been an Evernote premium user for years. Software aside, I love their brand. Evernote is a great way to keep track of your ideas, keep inspiration folders, educational resources, make quick to-do lists, keep copies of emails, receipts, and so on. It allows you to sync your data across all platforms and keep your ideas with you at all times. It was truly the first of it’s kind. I highly recommend it.
Google Calendar - For Events and Schedule
Chances are you have a Google account. If you’re not already doing so, it’s a good idea to start using a digital calendar that syncs to all of your devices. Have a lunch meeting with a new business prospect? Simply create a calendar event and invite your prospect to that event using their email address. You do have their email address right? Google Calendar is a great way to go.
Need to manage your schedule? Do you have multiple photo shoots in the same week? See where I’m going with this? Bottom line, you should be using some sort of calendar to keep track of all the things you have going on. You should be tracking networking events, meetings, photoshoots, and don’t forget to take the spouse out for a nice evening every now and then.
So there you have it. These are some of my favorite pieces of software to keep me on track. I hope these recommendations help other photographers and creative entrepreneurs alike. Again, these software platforms are all free with the exception of Quickbooks Online. What are your thoughts? Do you use any of these software applications? If not, what are you using for efficiency in your daily business?