Tag Archives for " Small Business "

last month

Are you making the same mistake 93% of all small businesses make?

The mistake 93% of small businesses make

93% of small business focus on the wrong priority. It’s a pretty big mistake to make if you want to take your business up to the next level, but the vast majority of small businesses are making it today. So was I.

I’ve been making this mistake for the past 25 years. At first, I felt pretty bad about that, but then I wanted to see if other small businesses are making the same mistake. So I created a poll on OwnIt and asked other entrepreneurs to rate their business priorities. The pie chart on the right shows the answer over 200 small businesses. Surprisingly less than 10% got this right.

What’s the focus of your small business?

I’ve been thinking about the UX (User Experience) I create for my clients all year. And I really got challenged by Horst Schulze, when I was fortunate enough to film the former CEO of Ritz-Carlton at a keynote speech a few weeks ago.

(You can read a bit more about that talk on my last blog post: What I learned about service from a wise hotelier).

4 priorities of an excellent company

Mr. Schulze talked about the 4 priorities that every successful company needs to have in the right order to excel. Here they are in no particular order:

  • Be efficient.
  • Keep current clients.
  • Make money.
  • Find new customers.

When I looked at my company’s priorities, I was surprised to learn that I’ve focused on the wrong priority for over 20+ years. Don’t get me wrong all four are vital to a company, but one is more essential than the other three.

Find out if you’re wrong too – take the poll!

You can take the poll “What’s the number One priority of your business” here and see how you stack up against other small businesses. Then let me know – are you in the 94% that get it wrong or in the 7% that are doing it right?

I for one intend to shift my company to focus on the one most important priority and that change will take place over the course of the next few months.

94% of small business make this mistake.

Take the poll to see how your business compares!


[OwnIt is an online small business community run by Quicken. To take my survey, you will have to sign up for this free small business social platform. I have found great advice here, and many owners are beneficial to share their experiences.]

UPDATE: I edited the post three weeks after publishing the initial numbers, to reflect the new responses. The change is less than one percentage point with twice as many surveys answered as in the original post.

a couple of months ago

What I learned about service from a wise hotelier

Horst Schulze speaks about Service

For the past 25 years, I’ve done it wrong. Thankfully I heard an expert talk about service and I’m going to course correct my small business focus starting today.

12 years ago, I started using a CRM (Customer Relationship Management system) to efficiently combine all client data in one place. Their contact info, calendar, tasks, documents and the process lives in the cloud and is easily accessible.

One of the aspects that I love about my job as a cinematographer and photographer is that I’m often in interesting places that are not accessible to everyone. I had the same honor last week, although I did not know that this video shoot would have such a profound impact on my business.

It started out simple enough, I got hired as a Director of Photography to oversee the filming of a leadership conference for a local medical company. It’s always fun to work with a group of skilled operators, and the company itself was fascinating, but it was the keynote that hit me between the eyes.

The speaker was former Ritz-Carlton President Horst Schulze, who is known for creating hotels with impeccable service and customer loyalty.  If you haven’t heard about Mr. Schulze and you run a service company (like I do), you need to check out what he’s accomplished at Ritz-Carlton and now is doing at the Capella Hotel Group.

Schulze says “Great companies do four things: They keep their current customers, they find new ones, hopefully through the recommendation of existing customers, they make as much money as they can, and they are efficient.

OK, granted it’s not rocket science, but this CEO is vehemently fixated on service. And that’s where I had my epiphany. I haphazardly focus on these 4 core principles as well:

  1. Find new clients
  2. Make money
  3. Be efficient
  4. Keep current clients

Did you catch the mistake I’m making? It’s subtle – read the two lists again and see if you can spot it. Don’t feel bad if you can’t – I’ve done it wrong for a quarter century.

Let me walk through the four things every great company does

1. Find new clients

I’m good at that. Number one on page one in the organic search on Google for years. Many of my new customers find me online. Others find me through the local creative community, events and workshops I put on, etc. (Here’s how I get clients).

2. Make money

Last year was my best year that my business ever had. This year is on that track as well. I keep my overhead low and run a tight ship when it comes to the business framework I need to produce visual content.

3. Be efficient

Check. From the integration of my website and my CRM to automation of my business processes, efficiency and productivity are the names of the game. Not wasting resources in the creation of the video and photography productions I work on, goes right back into #2.

For crying out loud, I’m the guy that takes a picture of a Post-It note and have it create a bunch of digital assets as if by magic.

4. Keep current clients

The majority of my client love the final product I create for them. The secret is simple: under promise and over deliver. Charge a fair price. Come in on budget and on time. And give something unexpected. Check out this video testimonial from Armpocket – a local company who found me online:


Here’s what I’m doing wrong with regards to service:

It’s so simple (actually that’s another quote from Horst Schulze) I have all the parts right.

  • New customers – I’m a marketing and branding machine. I spend most of my non-shooting time on this.
  • Money – can’t complain here.
  • Efficiency – people actually ask me to teach them about efficiency.
  • Current customers – they walk away really happy.

But I’ve gotten it backward and that’s where listening to Horst Schulze by accident, made all the difference in my world. Here’s the way he sees these priorities:

Current customers

He puts current costumers first (and probably second, third, fourth and fifth). Schulze is fanatic when it comes to serving his current customers. He says that service begins with the correct greeting, then it’s complying to your customer’s wishes and does not end until you say farewell. Where do I have my current clients? Dead last. Please don’t misunderstand me, I don’t ignore my current clients, and I have many that do repeat business with me, but I can learn a lot from the gentleman who builds the most luxurious hotel brand in the world. I’m just often taking them for granted (If you’re one of my current clients, let me say this: “I’m sorry for not putting you first and I promise you that I will do better. Starting now.)

New customers

Then I’m focused on making money – granted an incredibly important part of any business, since without running a profitable company, you’re gonna be out of business. What Schulze’s second focus? New clients. More accurately making your current customers so fiercely loyal, that his current customers will recommend his hotels to new customers.

Making money

Money is Mr. Schulze’s third point, which makes sense since your clients are the people who are paying you for, your service. Naturally, they should come before the money portion. However, he takes it a (big) step further. The former CEO of Ritz-Carlton said:

Make as much money as you can. People see it as a contradiction between being a caring organization with integrity and making money. That’s ludicrous. Why should that be a contradiction? I wouldn’t be able to be that company that cares and has integrity if I wouldn’t make any profit. The two go together.

So often I see creative professionals and small business owners, who have no idea of what they need to charge to run a profitable shop, because they don’t know the cost of doing business.

Being efficient

Last but not least comes efficiency. That’s the framework you need to run a prosperous business. Efficiency is the ability to create a product or provide a service, without wasting your resources. Being the freelance that talks a lot about how he uses efficiency, I am currently revamping my business system.

The way I was serving my business

I have followed the workflow that my CRM has in place: people find me online (searchers), they find my website, like my work and contact me (leads). We start talking about the potential collaborations (opportunities), I get hired to do the job and deliver my videos and/or photos to my clients (deliverables). If you read my blog post on Post-It notes, you know that pink notes are leads, yellow notes are opportunities, green notes are jobs and blue notes are my deliverables.

Here’s where that system is going to shift to:

The way I will offer service to my customers starting today

Service - Horst Schulze tells us what makes a great companyMy primary focus will swing to serving my current clients, becoming the main focus of my business and pushing the current focus of generating new customers into second place. I love leads, really I get a kick out of the notifications I get on my phone, that let me know someone new has just filled out my contact form, but I need to realign my strategy with making my current clients the heroes of my company. Fortunately, Mr. Schulze spoke about the way to make your current clients fiercely loyal. He says it’s really easy, and if you do this one little thing, you own your industry.

All you have to do is to care a little more than the other guys.

a couple of months ago

ZEIº from Timeular tracks your time, automatically!

ZEIº time tracking device

Time is money

As a freelancer, we trade time for money. Plain and simple: I have the talent to produce the visual content, my clients need for their business, and they have the money to pay me for my time and skill.  Figuring out what to charge for a project then largely depends on your cost of doing business and how much your time is worth. ZEIº can help.

Time is in short supply

Nothing to do with ZEIº, but this LIV watch was a Kickstarter project as well.Time is the great equalizer – everybody gets 24 hours in a day. Doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, male or female, young or old. You get 1,440 minutes in a day – that’s it. So how do you know how much your time is worth? I think you’d first have to figure out where your spending your time, but keeping track of your day seems like a waste of time, because – well it takes too long to log your hours. Freelancers resort to estimating how long they’ve been working on or you guess at whatever task of your small business you’re working on – so most of us don’t bother.

We’ll just go ahead and guess. I’ve dived into productivity and efficiency lately. You can define efficiency as the ability to successfully use resources without wasting them and the most critical and limited resource we have is time. 

Automate with ZEIº – the secret to productive time tracking

Wouldn’t it be great to get an accurate account of how you spend your time, without wasting time to record the time you spend? I mean that would be great not just for yourself to see where your time ends up going, but especially for entrepreneurs who bill by the hour.

Enter ZEIº – a little device that keeps your time in check. It’s an eight-sided cube that links to your phone or computer via Bluetooth. ZEIº by Timeular keeps track of your time effortlessly, once you’ve set it up. Then all you have to do is rotate the ZEIº to the activity, or client, or project you want to track – you get to define as many ZEI activities as you want in the software, and the time tracker can handle 8 activities, which are easily interchangeable.

ZEIº even integrates with Toggl and Jirra at this time, and there are more in the works. Imagine what you could do with a Zapier or IFTTT integration …

Customize your time

ZEIº is a blank slate (literally, it comes in white) and you can write on its surface or use the enclosed stickers to define which each tracked activity. ZEIº looks like two four-sided pyramids stacked on top of each other.

I  got my ZEIº today, but I’m currently tracking the following activities:

  • Leads  – anything that has to do with getting new clients: phone calls, emails, mailers, …
  • Opportunities – anything related to creating visual content for my clients …
  • Deliverables – everything about creating the final pieces and follow-up after jobs …
  • Write – blog post (like this one), social media, …
  • Learn – reading, listening, learning, …
  • Create – workshops, talks, webinars, …
  • Admin – everything related to business processes: billing, web hosting, app purchases, …
  • Personal – well it’s personal

My ZEIº tracking my time writing this very blog post. Screen shot of the Timeular app screen from my iPhone.In my case, the first three activities correlate with my workflow and will have the same color coded sides as the Post-It note system I’m already using. The other ones pertain to all the hats we wear to run out small businesses that make it possible for me create as a visual content creator and for you to sell your freelance skill.

ZEIº tracks all activities and reported in real-time and sync to all your devices. I’m hoping the guys at Timeular integrate tags so that one could keep track of all activities related to a specific job number, but you’ll always be able to extract that out of the reports to get a summary of all the time ZEIº tracks on client X or project Y.

You can play with the app or software, it’s a free download from Timeular.

To stop tracking time, just stand the ZEIº in its cradle. To record, flip it onto the relevant side. Add a note, so you know what this particular activity was about and voilá! You’ve just tracked time.

You’ve just tracked time.


How would you use an automatic time tracking device like ZEIº?

Do you see a need in your small business for Timulars time tracking tool.

Which 8 activities would you pick on your ZEIº?

From Contact Form To Contract: Read The Fine Print

Read the fine print

Read the fine print

I recently was hired to create photographs and video for a client. We agreed on number of images and video I was to create in which time for what amount of money, subject to a joint usage agreement. OK. No problem so far. Then I got the agreement and read the fine print.

Here’s what the proposed contract read:

An example of bad fine print

This job was bid out for a specific number of images and videos. This wording in the fine print says I will turn over every photo I take and every frame of footage I capture at the end of the job for future use and on top of that, I will transfer all rights to the client.

Don’t be afraid to say no (in a very nice way)

If you’re in a situation like this, how do you handle this request? Here’s what I did: I went and rewrote the fine print of the agreement, changing the language to grant the client unlimited and exclusive usage to the images a final videos we’re creating for them, which is exactly what they need. I added a line that I may use the material licensed to them for self promotional purposes and that all other usage would need written authorization from the client.

Then I submitted the reworded agreement. I received an email asking for clarification on some other issues, that had nothing to do with the usage, reworked the agreement’s fine print again and received a signed copy today.

Here’s the point I’m trying to make: Just because you’re dealing with a big client, don’t be afraid to negotiate the terms with them. It never hurts to ask. I know many photographers that would have signed the first contract, saying “Oh, well it’s just the way that CLIENT does business and if I want the job, I’ll need to play by their rules.”

Suggest solutions – don’t point out problems

Sure, I could have pointed out why this doesn’t seem fair, but that usually gets you nowhere. Instead submitting a fair change to the agreement, which now reflects what we had talked about in the first conversations gets you much further. Realize that many big companies have boiler plate language in their agreements that may totally not apply to your project. An agreement is a starting point to negotiate from, not the end. And if it is the end remember you always have the right to walk away from the job, before you sign on the dotted line, but never ever neglect to read (and change) the fine print.

Remember:

Please take the time to read the agreements you’re asked to work under and don’t assume that they were crafted specifically for your project.

Have your own terms and conditions (your part of the fine print) in place and send them to the client with the first document describing scope, time or cost. I don’t send out an estimate without attaching mine, with this job it won’t be my terms and conditions, but the agreement that we’ve crafted together.

Look for a win for both parties and stick to your guns.

No, really it’s ok to turn down work (sometimes you actually have to)

Who isn’t excited about a 5 figure job?

I’ve been working on producing a 5 figure job over the past few weeks, that I was referred to by a friend of mine. Everything looked great, every discussion I had with the client was promising. They liked my work. They were happy with the budget. They were in agreement with the conditions for the job, which we had defined in the fine print of our terms and conditions. They had the money for the 50% deposit. Everything was going smoothly, until

7 months ago

Grandpa got Google search!

You can buy this piece of Search History on ebay.
Kind of a precursor to search (if you wanted to find a result to a simple math problem).

Decades before Google search Granddad had one of these beasts on his desk (Image: Wikipedia)

My Grandpa mastered Search Engine Optimization 75 years ago!

Gotta hand it to my Grandpa. He got Google search, before the invention of the calculator, decades ahead of the internet. My grandfather loved technology, he was an early adopter, before anyone had even coined that phrase.

Granddad – or Vati-Vati as he liked to be called, was an avid inventor and had founded his own company after in Germany after World War II.

He also had a brilliant mind for business and used SEO long before the world-wide web was born. Here’s what he would do:

How SEO worked in the 50s

In the 1950s the preferred “search engine” was a big, fat book with yellow pages in it, where businesses advertised their phone numbers to get new clients.

Every time someone would call his shop, to ask if they offered a specific service, this man’s answer was always yes, even if they didn’t. After he hung up he’d figure out how to solve the customer’s problem and once he’d gotten the solution, he would create a new listing 

Would you believe a Post-It note automates my Productivity?

Productivity with a Post-It note

Productivity is a must as every Small Business Owner wear many hats: sales rep, customer service rep, accountant, ect. Fortunately there is a ton of great software to help us do all those jobs, but we still have to create all the digital assets necessary to use these apps, services and websites productively.

The Problem with Productivity

Setting up a digital workflow is only as good as the information you put into it and -especially when things get hectic- it’s easy to miss setting things up correctly.

In my workflow as a product photographer is use
Evernote to organize and store all digital documents – creative briefs, model releases, estimates, permits, notes, ect.

SalesForce is my Customer Service Management service of choice. It keeps tracks of accounts, contacts, leads, opportunities, expenses, ect. and links automatically to Evernote, Expensify and Trello.

I’ve just started using
Trello to give me a clear picture of all current projects and tasks and Expensify builds expense reports easily and quickly, that I then import into QuickBooks.

Solving the Productivity Puzzle

Productivity via Post-It notesHow do I remember to add a Note and Tag in Evernote, that will help you organize a new job? Then there’s the opportunity that I have to setup in SalesForce if I want a bin, that will collect and correlate all information I need to have at my fingertips; a new list needs to be created on Trello and the expense report need to be created in Expensify.

Don’t laugh, but a little Post-It note does all that for me. Automatically.

I use Evernote to get this process rolling:

  • Pink Post-It’s are leads. That’s potential clients who have reached out to me and are inquiring about having product photography and/or video creates.
  • Yellow Notes are opportunities. These are the projects where I’m meeting with clients, pitching ideas and creating estimates.
  • Green Sticky Notes are jobs. Deposits are, production has started and we’re creating amazing visual content.
  • (There’s a blue note as well, but I don’t use that for my business)

The yellow Post-It kicks it off

As soon as I capture a yellow Post-It note, Evernote saves it in my opportunities notebook automatically (Evernote lets you assign notebooks based on the colors of the notes). All I do is save the note named with the job number associated with this opportunity.

Zapier takes over

As soon as that note gets saved, Zapier takes over and creates a SalesForce opportunity with the job number (which it gets from Evernote), builds a new Trello list with the same job number, captures an expense in Expensify tagged with that identifier (I hope that soon it can create a report), creates an Evernote tag – which will be used to be able to search all documents about that job and finally sends me a SMS to my phone. Done. That was not hard.

At the end of the day one photo of this Post-It Note creates all the digital assets I use in my day-to-day workflow.

How do you solve your productivity puzzle?


[Wanna learn more about how I use apps, web services and applications to run a more productive small business?]

Master your productivity with 11 amazing tools

Master your productivity with 11 amazing tools

With every passing year, it seems clients are expecting more and more from their photographers, which means we may need a lesson in productivity. Kat Dalager (@3etheLTAgency) goes even further and foresees the change of the very word photographer in her “Predictions for 2016“:

“The word ‘photographer’ will change. Maybe it will be ‘image maker’ or ‘content maker’ or ‘capturer.’ Whatever it is, it will reflect the expanded capabilities of the role.”

I agree with her and believe that in order to embrace the ever-increasing roles we find ourselves pushed into, we must become exceedingly efficient in our productivity. 2016 will be the year, where I take that productivity to the next level, integrating the technology, cloud based services, apps and automation software I use in my business.

Here are 11 tools that help me, solve my productivity puzzle:

Salesforce & Evernote

The backbone for this virtual productivity is SalesForce – the CRM that’s been running my business for over 7 years now. Every account, contact and job lives in this cloud based service [learn more about SalesForce here: “I got my head in the cloud (along with all my data)“].

This year is the year where this automation will get flushed out. I’m already using the amazing integration between Evernote and SalesForce, which allows me to attach all job related records automatically. Now any creative brief, handwritten note, job estimate, permit, release, receipt, rental agreement, … is tagged with a job number in Evernote and appears in the digital job folder in SalesForce as if by Magic.

Asana, Zapier & IFTTT

Every job, event and task that get entered in SalesForce automatically creates a counterpart in Asana, via Zappier. Asana is my project management software, where I can split up a job in an actionable To Do list. Every contact that’s added on my phone is automatically entered in SalesForce via IFTTT (IfThisThenThat). Zapier and IFTTT are two amazing automation softwares that enable you to use apps and cloud based services to stay productive.