Winter is a major time for photographers. I still remember the chaotic December in my first year as a photographer. I was taking on plenty of new clients and keeping very busy, but I quickly realized I was working far too late into the holiday season. In December, I was still taking new clients and photographing sessions. These clients were expecting their photos edited and returned to them by the holidays – for those who celebrated Christmas, that’s a quick December 25th turnaround! That certainly wasn’t enough time to complete the photography, editing, and ordering – especially if they wanted holiday cards to mail out. I was in a complete frenzy: editing around the clock, working nonstop, and desperately trying to deliver prints on deadline. Not to mention, all this work kept me from enjoying holiday events with my family.
This was not professional, and it definitely wasn’t fun. I don’t want this to happen to you.
In order to avoid this situation, you need to plan ahead. I know it’s only September, but fall is fast approaching and the earlier you prepare, the more smoothly your season will go. Now is the time to get together your calendar through the end of the year, so you can focus on photographing, editing, and completing orders without panic. If you can do this properly, you can even lock in some time for a holiday vacation for yourself and your family. Holiday memories are just as important as a busy work schedule for your success and well-being. Here are 8 ways to plan ahead for the busy holiday season.
- Decide what you are going to offer. Sit down and make a list of what you’re going to offer for holiday packages: mini-sessions, prints, enlargements, holiday gifts, holiday cards, etc. It’s important to know what you’ll be providing because some projects like mini-sessions and holiday cards might take longer to produce. This is the first step to being able to properly schedule your holiday work time.
- Decide time frames for each project and mark hard deadlines. Use your calendar to mark a cutoff date for each session and delivery. For example, for mini-sessions, there are a number of time frames you’ll need to decide: planning the session, creating the advertisement, gathering props, booking sessions, completing sessions, editing, and making deliveries. Before you schedule sessions, you need to know how long each of these steps will take. This is especially important if you offer multiple mini-session events for the holidays: for example, a pumpkin patch mini-session and a holiday mini-session. Holiday cards require additional scheduling as well: you will need time to design and order the cards for your clients, then deliver them on a date that provides your client time to address and mail them to their recipients so that they arrive within the holiday season. Use the calendar to plan backwards from December and give yourself lots of breathing room in case of weather concerns, reschedules, or other emergencies.
- Check with your own family and social circle for any holiday events and block out those dates. Your availability should depend on your family’s schedule, too. Find out ahead of time about holiday work parties, family events, recitals, band concerts, choir concerts, etc. Block these dates out ahead of time so you don’t miss out on these activities. This will shape your availability for both mini and full sessions. Actually write these down on your calendar, so when a client calls, you don’t put the schedule in their hands – you give them the times and dates you’re available. It’s much better if you have your schedule in place so you can give choices to your clients rather than allowing them to decide your schedule.
- Plan and advertise for mini-sessions. Everyone who expresses interest in your mini-sessions should be offered a full session. During your call or email exchange with someone who wants a mini-session, you should always explain what your full session includes and try to upsell. If they decline, that’s fine – just don’t miss the opportunity for booking a full session with an interested client. After you’ve offered this, schedule a date for the mini-sessions, then create your advertisement, get up front payment, collect props, and complete the sessions. This should all happen as soon as your calendar is organized.
- Organize your systems. You should have a system for everything that is involved in the holiday process. Think of this as long-term planning for future seasons, as well. Examine your pricing, the way you communicate your pricing, your product list, your samples, the way you accept payment and how you deliver products. Develop recurring systems that you can use consistently. For example, if someone requests a price list, you should have a clear process on how they can get it. Maybe a portion of your prices are listed on your website, then they have a phone or in-person consultation with you for further pricing information. This process should repeat itself for all sessions – it shouldn’t be client-specific or variable. There should be standards for each step of your booking, every season. This simplifies your business structure and creates habits within business operation, thus requiring less thought from you in every client interaction, and keeping the quality of your work consistent and professional every step of the way.
- Create recurring systems. After you’ve organized systems for client interactions, simplify your process by making these systems easy to duplicate. For example, the common emails you send out to clients – thank you for contacting me, for example – can be put into a template that can be reused every time you need to contact another client. Templates streamline your communication. You can also create recurring systems for ordering your holiday cards and sample products. As your business grows, these small simplifications will be hugely useful year after year.
- Save all contacts in an email system so you can follow up for return clients next year. Many holiday sessions will become return clients. Think about your relationships with these clients as on-going. Collect all of their email addresses in a list, so you can contact them next year when the season approaches to inquire about their interest in another holiday session.
- Take a vacation over the holidays! This is an important time to recharge and prepare for the coming year. Don’t lose yourself in your business. As business owners, we get very busy and have a tendency to get caught up in our growth. The holidays are a great time to take a vacation, because most people are spending time with their families and won’t be booking sessions. A little time away from the business will allow you to return refreshed and ready for a productive new year.
Winter will be here before you know it. To avoid stress, use these strategies to plan ahead for the busy holiday season.