My studio management journey

This post is for my photographer friends out there.  I don’t claim to be an expert in this field by any stretch of the imagination, but I have invested countless hours in searching for the perfect CRM/Studio Management tool, that I figured it may be helpful to someone who stumbles across it one day.

I’d like to start out by saying that the right tool is driven by the needs of the user.  What fits for one studio or photograper, may be totally useless for another.  Added to which, some programs I just didn’t really explore fully as I quickly realised they weren’t going to fit my needs.  If I get anything wrong, I apologise and feel free to add comments to correct me!

My journey began in 2009 when I realised that my written diary, filed model releases/client info forms, email store and mac address book were just not going to cut it for long.  So, my search began, and was very driven by the need to monitor income and outgoing expenses.   I looked at Successware for a shot period of time, along with Studio Plus and Photo One, and found them complicated, expensive and not ideal for my needs.  Tave did not handle expenses other than those cogs attached to a job, and either way seemed stuck in an endless ‘the new version is coming cycle’.   So many programs only handle the income side of things, and don’t deal with expenses, requiring you to instead output to Quickbooks.   I very quickly discovered that being based in Australia and using a Mac I was very limited.  Quickbooks for Mac was not available in Australia, and none of the programs could work with MYOB.  Problem number one.

My second requirement was that my chosen program was online.  As a mother with a small child my time was divided between home and the studio and I needed to be able access information from both locations.

Enter Studio Cloud (the old version, not it’s current format).  This was a low cost way to keep everything in one place, and to manage both incoming and outgoing expenses.  For a while it seemed the answer, were it not so painfully slow to update even minor changes, and the fact that it simply couldn’t handle the GST for reporting.

Exit Studio Cloud.  Back to the same old frustrations.

Eventually I stumbled across Light Blue Photo (now Light Blue software).  Not pretty like the others, it was much faster to use, and after watching the tutorial videos I had a pretty good handle on things.  I imported my contacts and started using it within hours.  The customer service was seriously second to none, and it has a fab workflow function that keeps you on track and is totally customiseable.  You can set up email templates and all details can be changed easily.  Orders are imported from Proselct and transfer seamlessly, and you have the option to manually alter any prices that are entered if you’ve offered discount or thrown in complimentary items.  Light Blue can also work with online galleries, although I never utilised this function.

The downside?  It wasn’t online , which I decided to live with given it was by far the best option I’d found.   But it didn’t work for me.  I needed access to client records at all times, both at home and at studio, too many things were slipping through.   Added to which was the fact that I had now hired a bookkeeper who entered my expenses into myob, so I no longer needed the accounting features.   I had also employed staff, and the most frustrating thing was that I couldn’t give them things to do when they couldn’t access the system.  I really needed to be online. Still.

So, I started searching again.  Nothing much had changed.  Photo One and Studio Plus had merged and were releasing cloud based versions, but not fast enough.  Tave3 had finally been launched, but still didn’t have an import function so my data couldn’t be entered.  Studio Cloud had changed a little and seemed viable with it’s cloud boost add on, but still had no facility for dealing with the tax in the reports, and the pipelines and workflow aspects just did my head in trying to understand them.

At a conference, someone mentioned ShootQ.  I’d tried it and discarded it years earlier.  But decided to give it another look.  Let me just say do NOT set up ShootQ unless you have an entire week free to get it up and running.  It was way less intuitive than some of the others, and I came across many many frustrations.  But right from the outset I could see the potential, so I persevered.

ShootQ offers some features I’m not sure I really need, but that are nice to have.  Clients are taken to an online proposal which contains their contract, invoice, and shoot info.  In a perfect world they’d select add ons to their package, accept and digitally sign their contract, and pay their invoice through an online merchant.  In reality, this is flawed for me.  Living in Australia there are no online merchants ShootQ integrates with, so the ease of online payments is not an option.  I’m a portrait photographer, clients don’t select their products up front, so that aspect is also useless to me, and the only ‘package’ they are accepting in their ‘proposal’ (this wording is not optional!) is their session fee, which I’ve had to create as a package.

The pricing is not flexible.  Every product must be entered and you can only add that product, not change it’s price as you go, which is frustrating.   Proselect orders can be imported (albeit with the extra step of having to export from Proselect then attach the xml to an invoice and send to ShootQ) and your emails to and from clients can be stored in their client record area (as long as you remember to bcc this account on each email you send) .  Still, with some workarounds, quite handy tools.

It’s frustrating that I first have to send a questionnaire to clients to gather their personal info (name/address/kids names/dob) before I can finalise the session.   Yes, I could get this information over the phone, but who wants to be spelling out kids names to a photographer with a baby crying in the background?  It’s also frustrating that I have to then enter this information manually.  It seems logical that they should be able to enter this information from their client area and have it populate the client record automatically.  Likewise with the default to US locations that need to be manually altered each time you need to add a record, and the need to fill out shooting locations over and over again without the options for selecting your main locations from a drop down menu.

Still, I’m new to it and perhaps these things will resolve or come to seem unnecessary with a better workflow system.  Or changes will be made as more portrait photographers come to use it and it becomes less wedding-centric.

On the plus side, I like it being on the web.  I can access it anywhere (although have found some issues with reading docs on the ipad) and I can allocate jobs for staff to do from their own homes.  I like that clients can log in and view the progress of their orders (set up through the workflow function) and that all correspondence is visible in their records.  Digital signatures is totally easy and when there is a merchant facility available to Australian users, so will online payments be.

Hope that helps someone else navigate this often frustrasting road!




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