December 31, 2010

What Worked

First of all, Happy New Year’s Eve! I hope you all have something really fun planned for tonight. For me, that involves pajamas and wine and a fire and movie marathons. I can’t help it, I am *such* a home body. And that just sounds like the PERFECT end to a crazy year to me. Who’s with me?? :)

Second of all, I decided to actually force myself to sit down and go through the exercise of doing what I’ve heard a lot of other people talk about doing before (but have never really & fully done myself): to sit down and write out what worked about this last year, what didn’t, and what we want to do differently or more of for next year. At first, I was going to do this all in one post….but we very quickly realized that we had so much of all three (especially the what didn’t work stuff) that they should each have their own posts. So I’m going to post all three here today (so keep checking back!), but this way I can just get it all out there without any one post being too much to read (although this one is close!). Also, as we were writing these we tried to think about putting them out there in a way so that someone who was just getting started could benefit from them. So hopefully you guys can get something out of this too!

I pretty much just wrote things out stream of consciousness with very little editing because I feel like that’s when I’m the most honest. So forgive me if I ramble or it’s not always super clear. But at least you’ll know it’s the truth. Here goes!

What Worked

*Spread the Love. Taking the very huge risk to hit the road for two and a half months with four people, one dog and one very large overstuffed trailer…and just hope that somehow we would leap and the net would appear. To not necessarily have it all figured out or know exactly what we were doing, but to have a dream and just go for it anyway. To face the very real fear that we might fail, to have no idea how it would work out in the end, but to try anyway. Because at least that’s better than never knowing. It is by far, one of the things I am most proud of in my life to date.
*In the same way, I’m so proud of The Walk Through a Wedding Workshops. We’ve worked really hard on them and it’s been so incredible to see each different theme come together and what each new group of attendees has taken from it. I love all of you who have been a part of them!
*Julia, Julia, Julia! She is by far one of the best decisions we have ever made and I can’t imagine our business without her now. And trust me, this past year she has “worked”…..worked her butt off for us!! We love & appreciate her more than she could ever possibly know.
* Letting go of things! From editing to album design to hiring house cleaners, this has been the year of admitting I can’t do it all. And for a type-A, over-achiever that was really hard to do. But every time I’ve let go of something, I’ve seen our business and my overall happiness grow by leaps and bounds. So yea, that’s definitely worked.
*Moving into the new studio space in the new house. We now have a meeting room, Justin & have our own offices, and there is plenty of room for storage so everything has it’s place. That has been huge!
*Having this kind of unspoken game plane when we shoot weddings. Without even saying a word, Justin, Julia & I just know what the other two are going to cover and what angle we should be working. I am super grateful for that kind of synergy. And words like synergy. Because they are just fun to say.
* Not over-thinking the family portraits: Recognizing them as just a documentation who was there, having consistent lighting & background, and making the “family photo football” list so we can bang them out quickly & efficiently.
* Handing over all the magazine & blog submissions to Julia. Having one person dedicated to this means she becomes an expert in all the different submission requirements and can do them quickly. She has been ROCKING them out and we have been published more this year by far than we ever have.
* Continuing to have all of our client meetings at home. We have long been a big proponent of doing the client meetings on our own turf. We are much more comfortable in our own chairs, playing host, serving our wine, burning our candles, playing our music, etc and getting to know our clients on a personal level. So we kept this up, even when the house was in construction and there was dry wall dust on the floor and exposed wires coming out of the ceiling. I think it’s a great example of working with what you’ve got.
* Having mostly closed systems. For the most part, I have my jobs, Julia has hers and Justin has his. And we can all just do our own thing and hold ourselves accountable. But there is a point in all of those jobs when we need something from someone else (Julia needs to go over the final album design with one of us for approval, I need RAW files from Justin, Justin needs order requests from me, etc) and those are the places in the workflow where things tend to bottleneck. So this one will also be listed under “what didn’t.”
* Having Julia manage all the album design. Not just the fact that she’s doing the design themselves, but all the communication and back & forth she has with our clients. There was no need for me to be in that loop, so taking me out has freed up a lot of my time and our clients know that they can always go to Julia for whatever they need and still be really taken care of.
* Hiring a cleaning crew for the house. This one is only very recent, but it has already made a HUGE difference. This house is old and dusty and we have a golden retriever who sheds enough each day to make three more of him. And by the time I would get the third floor cleaned, the first floor was dirty again. And I spent a lot of time feeling bad about about the state of our lives based on the state of our house. The first time they came in, I can’t tell you what a relief that was. I literally felt like a better wife. Sad, but true! :)
* Scheduling out blog posts in advance. Most of the time I was spending on blogging was just trying to figure out what to write about. Now all I have to do is look at the calendar and get right to the work of it: the actual writing.
*The Pancake Sessions. The ones we’ve done seem to have been very well-received. But we also know that we just haven’t committed ourselves to doing enough of them. So that’s also going in the “what didn’t” list as well as the what we want to do more of in 2011 list.
* Our info sheet we send to clients. That has made such a difference in keeping us organized, giving us a game plan and vision for the day, and feeling out what really matters to our couples.
* Getting our custom boxes from DNL packaging. We did the chocolate brown ones with our logo embossed on them, We got the 5×7, 8×10 and 11×14 thin ones that we can use for prints and discs. But then we also got the 2in thick 5×7 ones that we can use to ship things like our vendor cards (the pearl paper post cards from WHCC we have made for all of our vendors from each wedding) and we plan on doing that in the 11×14 so we can start using those for our “info boxes” when we meet with couples. It’s a very affordable way to get into custom packaging!
* Doing the cards for our vendors. With the pearl paper from WHCC they actually turn out really nice, and the vendors seem to really appreciate them.
* Saying “no” more. Whether it’s to someone wanting a deal, to someone making unreasonable demands on our time or to jobs that just don’t feel like a good fit, saying no has been really good for our sanity.
* Our one-light set up for weddings. It’s just an SB 900 on a light stand that we fire through a 45in” white shoot-through umbrella, and it has changed so much about the way we shoot. We use it all throughout the day, especially in the ceremony and for the reception details to create directional, dimensional light. It’s not a very expensive set up (the umbrella at $20 is hands down one of the best purchases we’ve ever made) and it packs a ton of bang for the buck!
* Photoshop Shortcuts. Justin took the time to sit down and make Photoshop shortcuts for the few actions that we use in our post-processing. And he had them automatically set to the opacity we most commonly use. For example, we use a midtones boost on nearly every blog image, but we only use it at about 30%. So now when we push the button for the action, it not only runs the action but it also automatically sets it at 30%. We also have actions that will resize, sharpen for the web and stamp our watermark with the push of one button, as well as ones that make our grids of paired verticals. It’s saved a TON of time.
* Blogging two parts to the weddings. I know this is not the prevailing opinion which says blog less and less, but at the end of the day those aren’t the people we’re blogging for. We’re blogging them for our couples and their friends & family who love seeing that many pictures and can’t wait to come back for Part II. Also, by doing that many images up front we automatically have our “faves” folder for Pictage and the folder that Julia can use for the first mock up of the albums, so all of that work is done too and we don’t end up having to go back and add more faves (i.e re-do the work) to be able to tell the full story of the day.
* Facebook. It’s been rockin our world. Period.
* Storing up all post office shipments until the end of the day, one or two days a week. I can’t believe this now, but we used to run out every time we needed to ship something and it wasted SO much time. Now not only do we have dedicated shipment days, but we don’t even do them. Julia will take them and either do the run on her way home or her way back in to work the next morning. Justin & I were in the post office a week and a half ago to ship our Christmas Cards, and we realized it was the first time we’d been in one in months. That was an awesome feeling!
* Along the same lines, buying & shipping out our client gifts in two month blocks. So we’ll do a “date night” gift shipment for all of our May & June clients in April. Then Julia only has to make a run to buy everything every two months. But that’s still close enough to their weddings to fit with the date night idea.
* Realizing how we work best. My mind is a constant flutter of all the things we need to get done. So as I’m going through that mental list, I will just shout out the things that fall under Justin’s umbrella. On the way to Starbucks “don’t forget to burn that drive” At the grocery store, “did you order those prints yet. make sure you do that!” As we’re falling asleep, “can you put so and so on a drive for me in the morning?” And then I would get MAD when he somehow didn’t remember them all. The nerve, right?? :) And the more things I would throw at Justin, the more stressed out he would get. So I have *finally* come to understand that I need to take the time to stop, sit down, think through what I need him to do and actually write out a list. Then he can just take that and power through everything and it all gets done (and much faster than me just shouting stuff out).
* Our Think Tank bag. It is AMAZING! We can just zip through any airport and it is regulation carry on size for all planes, so we never have to worry about checking our gear on destination weddings.
* Google Checkout. Super easy way to take credit card payments. 95% of our payments are done this way now and the fact that we hardly ever have to make bank runs anymore is totally worth the minimal fee.
* Google Docs. Julia set us up on this for all of our workflow spreadsheets and now we can all access & update them from anywhere in the world.
* Blogging twice a day. This has been amazing for traffic and keeping people checking in, and our readership has definitely gone way up. On the other hand, I think it can be overwhelming and we get less comments per post now which is not good for the conversation because I think it makes people even more shy than they already are. :) So this one will also go under “wasn’t working” because I’m just not quite sure yet.
* Charity shoots. We’ve gotten to do a number of charity shoots and those are just good for the soul.
* WPPI. Holy crap, we spoke at WPPI. ‘Nuff said.
* Even though we got pretty backed up there at the end, we are super close to having everything shipped out and can start with a clean slate in 2011. This makes me very happy.
* Our promo video. It was real and it was honest and it was us. And even if it’s been accused of just being “clever marketing” or “self-indulgent” I know what it really stands for, and I am so thankful that we have something like that to always look back on in this stage of our lives together.
* Not being afraid to ask. Or maybe being really afraid but asking anyway. It is directly because of asking that we got in both Rangefinder and Professional Photographer Magazine this year. The answer hasn’t always been yes, but it’s been yes WAY more than no.
* Wedding Blogs! The wedding blogs have been rockin our SOCKS this year and have brought us some really great clients along with it. So a huge thank you to all of them for everything they do!
* As always, our clients. I could really care less who thinks it’s cliche: we have the most amazing clients on the PLANET. And they allow us to dream every dream. From the bottom of our hearts, we can’t thank them enough for that.
* Our 3 card pack system. We bought enough CF cards to have three packs full. One pack is enough to get us through an entire wedding. So even if we have a triple header (which may the good Lord help us, we do next year! :) we don’t have to write over any cards until they are backed up in multiple places, including offsite.
* Our email auto-responder. Yea, it’s a little cheeky and says something to the effect of “we just want you to know we received your email and will get back to it as soon as possible. So there’s no need to send a follow up email as that won’t bump you any higher (and may even bump you down the list! :)” Yea….like I said…CHEEKY! But we had to do something because we were in all seriousness getting people who would: email multiple times, post on facebook, direct message on facebook, at reply on twitter, direct message on twitter and leave blog comments if we didn’t get back to them right away. Clearly, something had to give! And since we’ve put up that responder, cheeky as it is, that has all but stopped and people have been MUCH more respectful of our time.
* Along the same lines, insisting that people be more respectful of our time. Which of course goes back to setting boundaries and saying “no”.
* Also along the same lines, not answering messages on Facebook or Twitter anymore. We also have a voicemail that asks people to email instead. Keeping it all in one place has made it SO much more manageable.
* And ALSO along the same lines, Spam Arrest has been amazing for filtering out all the junk before it even makes it in our inboxes. I highly recommend it.
*And finally, my husband. My husband has worked his tail off this year building this life together and reminding me why we’re doing all this in the first place. I would be nothing without him. Having him as my partner both in business and in life…just works.

Up next, What Didn’t. You’re not going to want to miss this one!

  1. Jennie Fresa

    Thanks for sharing! I agree, it’s so important to take this kind of time to reflect- on what’s working and what isn’t. How else would we improve and grow, right!?. I appreciate your honesty and for sharing your experiences with us! Thank you again for sending the CD’s and the postcards! I can’t wait to hear more from this series!
    Happy New Year to you, Justin and Copper! xxoo

  2. Lara Kimmerer

    Thank you for posting all of this. I’m definitely inspired to create a list for myself now. Happy New Year to all of you!

  3. Dominique

    I really enjoyed reading this; there are so many helpful tips. I’m thinking of using your off camera lighting idea. May I aks what you have your off camera flash set to? TTL? Manual? Do you also fire an on camera flash at the same time as the off camera or is the off camera the only light source? Thanks so much!

  4. Stacy Cross

    This is awesome! It’s so nice that you’ve posted this here, where we can learn from your good decisions! :) YAY!

  5. Alicia Kleppinger

    Mary – sounds like you have a perfect evening planned! Girl after my own heart ;-) We’re going to pop some bubbly and have a movie night too! Sending love from Minnesota!

  6. Jackie Lamas

    you three are so amazing! thanks so much for sharing this. i’m definitely going to look into google checkout and I love DNL packaging :) Happy New Year and can’t wait for the what didn’t post :)

  7. Kare

    Wow, awesome list!

  8. Betsy Jo

    Oh, goodness, I just want to say thank you. For everything. You had a sweet little part of our memories this year, and our crew thanks you. Deeply. -Paul, Betsy, Joel, Connor & Nora

  9. cristina

    thank you for putting this out there! i just read all 3 posts and learned so much. thank you again!

  10. Monica Lakes Ouziel

    Mary and Justin,
    What I love most about you two is your unstoppable attitude! You sure do lots do take time to rest and schedule down time for the two of you. I remember years ago my husband and I had a bottle of wine and met weekly to go over all the business stuff. We had a fun time after that bottle of wine and it lightened our issues and helped us along the way. Hugs

  11. Nancy Mitchell

    You two are AMAZING! Thanks for sharing your lives with the community!

  12. Christine Donovan

    Such honesty, Love these posts, I’ve done similar, but kept it to myself, this is awesome, and helps to keep us accountable. Some really wonderful ideas. Congrats on a successful year, and for the vision to make 2011 even better!! :D

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