As photographers, we’re responsible for a lot of things beyond just showing up and photographing. There’s editing, setting up meetings, bookkeeping, scheduling our time…the list is endless. Needless to say, it was long overdue earlier this year when I finally decided to investigate studio management and customer relationship management (CRM) tools.
What is a CRM?
Simply put, a CRM is an application that allows you to keep track of all your clients’ information. You can create contacts, companies, notes and record deals.
For photography, a CRM can help keep track of when we last reached out to a client, any of their annual events that we might be hired for or communication with them. Studio management platforms often have CRM tools built-in, while also offering additional features that may help your business.
Choosing a Studio Management Platform
As I was looking at CRM options, I stumbled across a few platforms that were specifically marketed towards photographers. In addition to CRM tools, these platforms offered things like invoicing, job workflows, etc.
Each option I looked at had some strengths and weaknesses. For me, though, I wanted something that was easy-to-use and that I could use in tandem with the other platforms I utilize.
Sprout Studio is quite possibly the industry leader for photography studio management. It offers everything you’d expect — a CRM platform, accounting tools, job preparation, etc. But it also offers things like album proofing, contacts, questionnaire templates (great for wedding prep) and more.
There’s a lot that’s offered here, but the number of options can be overwhelming at first. Sprout does a great job of providing templates to get you started though, so if you invest here, I strongly suggest looking at those. Sprout seems to be going after the wedding and portraiture market, and really does a great job at that. And if you are in a studio with a group of people…this is perfect for you.
Studio Ninja is my platform of choice. The design is simple and easy to follow, and it almost has everything I need. Its current strength is in its job workflow and creation tools. The CRM tools are pretty basic — for now. I was told that lead and contact management tools are coming soon, however.
What I liked about Studio Ninja the most was its relationship with photographers. The platform introduces new features every two weeks, and those are driven by its customers via a private Facebook group, and other feedback they might receive.
In my opinion, Studio Ninja is perfect for those 1-to-2 person photography studios, especially when it comes down to bookkeeping. Studio Ninja is the only platform I found that offers integration with accounting software, as it’s finalizing integration with Xero (which should be available in May). It’s also working with integrating with QuickBooks and Wave.
While it’s nice to have photography studio management software, it’s not for everyone. Some other options include the free HubSpot CRM, which I used prior to switching to Studio Ninja. It has a really easy-to-understand interface, and it also has several integrations with other platforms.
Lifeline Photo is another up-and-coming studio management software. In my early tests of it, it shows promise for being a competitor to Studio Ninja, offering several of the same features. It’s missing a few pieces of automation between the system, though, which I think would really make that platform succeed.
If you’ve been a photographer for a while, getting started with a new studio management platform can be tedious at first. It involves importing current and past clients into the system, going through old e-mails, finding any “missed opportunities” and any other communication that you may find important.
Regardless of your photography medium, it’s important to note when you’ve last touched base with a client, as well as when your last job was with them. If you haven’t touched base with a past client in a while (six months or longer), make note of that.
For instance, you might be a wedding and portrait photographer. Hopefully, you won’t have more than one wedding to shoot for a client, but that doesn’t mean your work is done with them. They may have kids or want a new couples portrait. Or they may want some photos of them and their new canine friend. And for corporate clients, make note of their annual events so you can be prepared to reach out in advance for photography.
Marketing with Studio Management Platforms
The nice thing about having studio management software is that it allows you to keep track of when you last communicated with a contact. I use this in a number of ways. First, I always try to touch base with a client every quarter if I haven’t heard from them in a while. See what they’re up to, how their business is doing, and of course, if there are any upcoming photography opportunities. Secondly, I also use this to contact them in advance of an annual event that I know they’ll want photography of. Finally, I use it to keep track of any testimonials or feedback I’ve received from them.
When you do communicate with your clients, try to make it sound more personal and customized. While I will send out year-end postcards as a sort of “thank you” to clients, e-mails to them should be specifically catered to them.
Do I Really Need All This?
It’s a good question, and it’s one I answered “no” to for a while. But once you get started, you won’t look back. It’ll make your job easier than ever before, and will help keep you organized, so you have more time to spend on what you love — photography.
For more on Photography Marketing, see our weekly column.
Bryan is also a member of the Out of Chicago team. Learn more about Bryan at bryanesler.com.
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