For many small business owners, the off-season is quickly approaching. Right after the new year, it’s not uncommon to see business slow down for a bit. People are hibernating because they’re cold, or broke from the holidays (or both) and it can be easy to find yourself in a little bit of a rut.
This used to happen to me EVERY SINGLE YEAR. I would get down on myself because of the lack of business and quite frankly, I’d get bored. Being an on-location photographer means that I don’t have a warm and cozy studio indoors, and because I practically live in the Arctic, people aren’t necessarily banging down my door asking to have photos done when it’s 10 degrees outside.
I used to think that my business was seasonal, and only “happened” during the warmer months. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. As the business has grown, so have the duties and tasks that keep CFP up and running behind the scenes. I used to try and work on these tasks during my “on-season” and they were often done half-assed or not to their fullest potential, because I was busy with actually photographing weddings, and working on the things that the public sees. I was going from a snail’s pace, just moseying along, not being very productive and waiting for the sunshine again, to a freaking cheetah, running around, trying to keep up and do everything at once. This method was not sustainable, not in the least. So, to combat this serious shift in the animal kingdom, I created my off-season MUST-DO list, filled with tasks and duties that have to get done every year, that are not always the most glamorous, but definitely help move the bottom line, and keep me on track and ready for the upcoming busy season.
Update The Website
I can literally hear the cringes and groans from all who are reading this. One of the most daunting tasks, especially if you are not web-savvy. BUT! one of the BIGGEST mistakes that I see small business owners making is that they lack a strong and solid website that is representative of them and their business. They may be rocking it on social media, with beautiful instagram feeds, or achieving high engagement with their audience on Facebook, but here’s the thing: we don’t own our social media, and we actually have very little control. **knock on wood** What would happen if all of the sudden, Facebook or Instagram crashes. All gone, and you had to start over. Where would your customers find you? As much as social media has grown, nothing trumps good ol’ fashioned “www.’s” and you want to make sure that at all times, your website clearly reflects the quality, purpose and services/goods of your business. Your website is YOUR space on the internet to make your own, and to have full control of your audience’s experience. There is no algorithm that will only show certain parts of your website to a viewer. EMBRACE that!! As much of a pain in the ass as it may be, get cracking and get that website up to par. Update photos, info, pricing, contact forms, allllll the things. If you’re totally out of your realm with this web stuff, do some research and hire a web designer! It may be an expense, but it’s completely necessary and will serve you and your business well!
Send Equipment in for Repair/Maintenance
Every year during my off-season, I gather up all of my equipment, empty out my camera bag and go through EVERYTHING. Everything gets a good cleaning (thanks to Greg) and I send lenses or anything else off for repair that may have suffered a beating during wedding season. This is also the time when I replace/purchase new equipment as well. I never want to use a piece of new equipment for the first time at an actual session or wedding. I like having time to work with it and get familiar before I ever bring it to a job. Whether you’re a photographer or not, this is a great time to assess all the pieces of equipment that helps your business run. Computers, electronics, card systems, security cameras, digital locks, go through everything with a fine-tooth comb and make sure it’s all in tip-top shape.
Clean Up Your Computer & Back That Sh*t Up
Okay, THIS is a biggie, and it’s super easy to overlook! For most of us, our computers are a lifeline to our business, and over time, they start to pile up with junk, which slows down the computer and makes it much more likely to die. I use a program called Clean My Mac X (there is a free trial version, and then you can purchase the full version) The program goes through my computer, gathers and sorts through EVERYTHING, and tells me what I can get rid of, and then, with a click of a button, the junk is gone! Now, you don’t necessarily have to use a program, you can manually go through your stuff, but this is extremely time consuming, and there are a lot of unused or unnecessary packages and files that are “hidden” or hard to find without the use of a computer cleaning program. I highly, highly recommend doing this, and the one time cost is TOTALLY worth it! I have linked the program I use HERE.
Secondly, you should never, ever, EVER solely rely on the computer itself to hold all of your info, files, data, images, documents, etc. Coming from someone who has had a computer die on them, BACK EVERYTHING UP, LIKE, 2-3 TIMES IN MULTIPLE LOCATIONS. If you are one of the lucky few who has never had a data-loss scare, lucky you, but sadly, it’s probably only a matter of time, so prepare now so if and when shit does hit the fan, you’re ready. I use 2 external hard drives, and the Apple Airport Time Capsule as my backup systems. The external hard drives house all of my work and images, while the Airport also houses those things, it takes an entire backup of my entire computer every 15 minutes, so if my Mac were to die, I would be able to restore everything just the way it was. These are definitely investments, but just like car or health insurance, use it once and it’s worth it. I have linked what I use here —> Apple Airport, WD External HD, and Seagate External HD
Refine Your Workflow
The time when you’re not super busy is a great time to take a good look at your current workflows and systems in place in your business. When you’re busy, it’s easier to just keep utilizing systems and doing what you’ve always done, regardless if it’s the most efficient way of doing things or not. Now, I realize that this is going to look entirely different for everyone, but for me, I take this time to look at my booking process, culling, editing and delivery system, correspondence workflows, payments and invoice systems, etc. All of these workflows and systems have to happen in before, in between and after the time that I’m actually out taking photos. Take a hard look at the processes you currently have in place and ask yourself what can be done better or more efficiently, what will enhance your customer’s experience, what can be automated/delegated, and what is unnecessary. Asking all of these questions will further increase your productivity, efficiency and effectiveness, which will in turn, move that bottom line.
Taxes & Financials
EW. I know. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably really good at your service, but not so hot at actually crunching those numbers. Opening up Microsoft Excel doesn’t exactly make my hear pitter-patter, but it’s a necessary evil that we must endure. Whether you’re a full-time business owner, a hobbyist or somewhere in between, I think it’s still important to know where you stand when it comes to profit and losses. Numbers don’t lie, and whether or not your decide to divulge this info in it’s entirety to Uncle Sam is your deal, but don’t blindly wander, because your “side-gig” may actually be costing you, and that’s no fun. Because I do file taxes (and encourage you to do so as well) It’s really important to be a little OCD when it comes to keeping track of financials. Tax time should not be a surprise or a scramble. Take a day, or two, or five and dedicate yourself to gathering up ALL of the financial info for the year, and get them ready for taxes. For me personally, I use Dubsado, which is an online client management system, which also allows me to easily track expenses and payments, and then creates these nice big bold numbers and graphs for easy analysis. Believe me when I say that I have not always been as diligent at keeping my numbers in order, but staying on top of things, and inputing financial info as it occurs has drastically helped me stay on track. Here the the client management system I use —> Dubsado
Stay Strong On Social Media
It can be easy to fade away on social media when you’re not at busy. There’s not as many fun things going on, and it can be hard to find post-worthy content to share. DON’T give into the belief that customers only care when you’re busy. Staying relevant is key to conquering the algorithm, so have a plan in place before the lull occurs! Sure, your content might look a little different when there’s not as much business happening, but take this opportunity to share new things. Maybe you’ve wanted to start incorporating more “life stuff” into your blog, now is the perfect chance! Here are some topics/items that I like to share during my off-season:
- Share a “best of 2018” post
- Blog posts like this one!
- Behind the scenes
- Show whatever you’re working on! Even if it’s not glamorous
- Share personal stories and experiences
- Throwback work!
Reflect On The Year
One of my favorites. I think it can be easy to hustle hard, and then immediately focus on the the next season of hustle, without taking time to look at how things went. Or, it can be easy to focus on all of the things you didn’t do, goals you didn’t meet, or numbers your didn’t hit. While I think it’s important to reflect on why certain things didn’t happen, it’s also equally as important to reflect and celebrate things that DID happen. Be proud of yourself! You are among the few that have actually taken the leap and tried to do something of your own. Look at victories and accomplishments, big or small, and analyze why and how you were able to achieve them. We hear all the time, that you need to learn from your failures, but I also believe that you should learn from your accomplishments as well! Make a list, and write down goals met and goals you didn’t meet and take a hard look at them with honest eyes and be truthful with yourself. From there, set goals for the upcoming year/season and create a game plan of how you’re actually going to achieve these goals (*ahem, take a look at how/why you achieved your previous goals*) Take time to reflect, enjoy and learn from both your accomplishments and you’re not-so-hot moments.
Last but not least, REST. Soak it in, and take some time away. Enjoy the slow season and binge-watch The Kardashians (or Ancient Aliens) and know that you’ve earned it! We all need to take some time to refresh, because as quickly as the busy season went by, it will be here again. Enjoy time with your friends and family, and neglect that inbox for a minute. Believe me, the messages don’t just disappear if they’re not answered within 2 minutes. I strongly believe that what makes a great business owner, is knowing when you need a little break from being a business owner.
There you have it! My off season MUST-do list! I hope you love and implement some of these ideas into your off season!