Efficiency.  That’s the word that comes to mind when trying to describe the mentality of the lean manufacturing industry.  How to deliver a quality product in the shortest amount of time with the least amount of wasted energy and investment, that is the question foremost in the minds of those that work in this industry.  Yet it’s not a question specific to manufacturing, it’s one that is pertinent to a multitude of other fields as well, even the field of photography.

I’ve only been working in the lean manufacturing field for a couple months, but what I’ve discovered from the onset is that there is a massive amount of thought and effort put into finding the quickest and most efficient way to accomplish each task in the manufacturing process.  Unnecessary steps are eliminated and techniques are refined in the unending struggle to reduce front-end costs and maximize invaluable time and resources.

If you work in the image production industry, you realize that there’s quite a process involved in getting the photos from the camera to the client (and this is true for any other form of image production). That process can be quite long and tedious, especially if there hasn’t been much thought given to making it efficient.  Many people (myself included) are stuck in the rut of what they’ve always done and are too afraid or hesitant to change their workflow, even if it could save them a bunch of time in the long run.  What I’m here to suggest to you is that you have probably not yet found the most efficient system to run your business.  I believe improvements can always be made to one’s workflow, and what I’m here to present to you are a few suggestions for ways to approach maximizing your efficiency.

When getting started with this, you must realize a very important fact: Time is Money.  Your clients may not realize it, but most of what they are paying for is the process, not the images themselves.  Are you charging enough to make it worth your time?  If not, what needs to change in order to make your time investment worth what you’re charging? 

And remember that it’s not just the monetary aspect that is important, good stewardship of our allotted time is a Biblical principle (“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5:15-17).  So take some time to consider how you’re managing your time when it comes to running your business, and as you do, here are a few steps I’ve found to be helpful.  This is by no means a comprehensive list, but hopefully you can glean some ideas from it.

1. Do An Initial Evaluation
The first step in the process of improving your efficiency is to ask yourself questions regarding your current processes and business practices.  Sit down and think about what your current workflow looks like and what are some of the pros and cons associated with it.  Ask yourself questions like:

  • What processes in your workflow take the longest and why?
  • What parts of your workflow do you dread doing the most and why?  What could you do to make them less painful?  (e.g. Backing up your hardrive because you have go through all your folders to see what’s been copied and what hasn’t.  Purchase some basic backup software that keeps track of what’s been modified and copies only new or revised files)
  • What parts of your workflow do you know aren’t the most efficient but you haven’t bothered to change?  (e.g. Manually placing your watermark on all the images you post online or flipping through all the images from your last wedding shoot 15 times trying to find the images you haven’t edited yet)
  • On what processes do you find yourself constantly re-inventing the wheel?  (e.g. Rewriting your wedding shot-list over and over because you haven’t bothered to save it or trying to re-figure out how to create a frame around your images because you didn’t create a preset the first time)
  • What parts of your workflow could easily be automated?  (e.g. Image resizing actions, editing presets, email autoresponders, online print selling solutions, etc.)
  • What would you like to see most of your energy focused on?  (e.g. Taking pictures, editing images, or answering emails?)

Once you’ve established a few areas in your workflow that need improvement, move onto step 2.

    2. Create Lists
    This is an essential part of improving your workflow process.  Now that you’ve found some areas in your process than need some work, it’s time to focus on what exactly needs to be improved.  First, walk through your entire workflow and take note of all the steps involved in each process (e.g. Day of Shoot Prep – Print model releases, pack gear, review shot list, confirm shoot location, format memory cards, etc.)  Don’t be afraid to get specific.  Then, review your list and try to identify and eliminate any unnecessary steps.  Finally, write a new list implementing all your changes and modifications.  Here are some lists you should consider compiling:

    • Client Interaction List (e.g. Initial inquiry email, mail brochure/info packet, call client to schedule shoot, mail thank-you after shoot, etc.)
    • Prioritized Shot Lists (e.g. Wedding shot list – rings – B, bouquet – C, groomsmen walking up road – B, bride with parents – A, etc.)
    • Editing Workflow List (e.g. Import images, rename images, prioritize editing, export images from lightroom, edit images in photoshop, sharpen images, resize images for web, etc.)
    • Online Process List (e.g. Upload images to online gallery, post 5 images to FB, write blog post about shoot, etc.)

    3. Get Organized
    Don’t waste time trying to find your gear, model releases, image files, or anything else for that matter.  Setup an organized system that has designated spots for the various aspects of your business.  Filing cabinets for contracts, lists, and releases.  Closet and shelves for camera and studio equipment.  And when it comes to organizing image files/.psd’s/resized image files, find a system that makes sense to you, and is easy to navigate.  I’ve found that keeping files organized within individual folders under one date/event from a specific year works pretty well for me (see image below).  Obviously it may take some experimentation to find what system works best for you, but once it’s established, you’ll spend much less time looking for stuff and more time actually getting things done.

    4. Be Consistent
    Once you’ve discovered a more efficient way to do something, make it a permanent part of your workflow.  Repeat the new process over and over until it becomes a habit.  You’ll discover that once you’ve established a step-by-step process that incorporates your modified processes, your workflow time will dramatically decrease.  Not only that, but you’ll also find that your workflow becomes so much easier as you become familiar with each step in the process.

    5. Re-Evaluate
    This is an ongoing process.  Always be on the lookout for ways to improve and make your process more efficient.  Once you’ve tackled your weak spots, go back again and find other areas to strengthen.

    Hopefully as you walk through each of these steps you’ll see a dramatic increase in your workflow speed and you’ll find yourself spending more time building your business and less time trying to maintain it.

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