I’m not a super organized person. Anyone that’s seen my office or lived with me will tell you that. My father’s the same way. His desk is cluttered with all types of papers, sticky notes, and random other things. Now, I don’t ever lose things, but it does often take me some time and digging to find what I need.
I’m also a bit scatterbrained. I’ll be working on something and then I’ll realize that I just spent the last 20 minutes looking up something random on Google. If I had born in the past 10 years, I wouldn’t be surprised if my teachers had diagnosed me with ADD.
Both of these personality quirks can really interfere with running a photography business. I’ll often forget where something is or I’ll forget to get something done because I got distracted. It hasn’t caused any major issues, but I have missed a few meetings and forgotten to reply to tons of emails. Awhile back I wrote an article on how to stay focused and get things done, but another strategy is to have a photography studio management system.
How to Manage Your Photography Business: 17hats In-depth Review
For the last two years I’ve been using 17hats to stay organized and run my photography business. Recently my subscription was ending, so I started looking at other possible options. I won’t go into all the details of the options out there because Deb Mitzel already did a great job in her article comparing 5 different systems. I ended up staying with 17hats, so I thought I’d share what I love about it, and the small annoyances in an in depth review.
When you first enter 17hats each time, you’ll be taken to the Overview section, which some might call the dashboard. This is a great place to get a general summary of all the things going on.
There are several sections that describe the different things going on. The first thing is a 3 day summary with all the events and to do items, plus a general forecast. To the side, there is another section with the daily forecast with more details like the temperature and sunset time.
Below that you have a section that list all the things that need to be taken care of and another area with all recent client activity and pending items.
The next section is the Contacts section, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s a place where you can view all the different contacts you have. I don’t personally use this section that often, but there are some nice features.
At the top of the Contact page, you have several different options for sorting. The first thing is the search bar for tags. As Contacts come in, you can label them with certain tags like wedding, newborn, family, or something else. You can do this manually or set it up automatically with your lead form that we’ll talk about later. Simply type a tag into the search bar and you’ll be able to find people connected to that tag. Next, you have several buttons that will sort them. You can sort by Client, Lead, Other, or Archived. Again, this is just a nice way to find who you are looking for.
When you look at an individual client, you can see all the information you need. There are tons of details you can fill in from the basics of phone number and email to their Twitter Id and who referred them to you. You can also see all Projects, Workflows, and Documents associated with them. It’s a very nice way to have all of your information about a client in one place.
17hats has been very helpful in capturing new leads, organizing them, and helping me follow through and hopefully turn them into customers.
The first great thing is that 17hats allows you to create lead capture forms. These are like the contact forms that leads will fill out when they want more information. You can create these forms and embed them on your website, put them on Facebook, make them into a popup, or just send just use as a link.
These lead capture forms are editable, so you change them to fit your preferences. You can put as many different input areas and questions as you want. You can also change the colors of everything so it matches your brand. Another really cool feature is you control what happens after they fill out the form. You can send them to a certain webpage or just have a popup telling them thank you. Besides that you can also automatically start a new lead Workflow as soon as they fill it out.
My favorite part of the lead capture forms is that you can control your notifications. I get an email and text message every time someone fills out the form, so I can respond very quickly. You can also create multiple lead capture forms, so you can use them for different situations and places. I have a different one for each of my websites.
Once the lead form is filled out, the person becomes a lead and can be found in the lead section. A really nice feature is that all that info they filled out goes into their Contact profile in the appropriate spots (name, email, phone number) and the whole lead form is attached as well. I get a decent amount of leads, and I will sometimes get them confused. Having all of this info together in one spot makes things much easier.
Projects are basically a job you are doing, so you might have three different Projects going at once for one client. The Project section is where you can find all the things you are currently working on.
On the Project section, you will see the Contact name and the name of the Project in a square. From there, you can sort and search similarly to the Contacts section. The real information comes when you click on a project. Once you click, you’re taken back to that Contact summary page that we already talked about.
The Projects section might be a good way to visually see all the different things you have going on at once, but I really don’t use it much. I really just use the Overview and Workflow section instead.
My calendar is how I keep track of the things I’m supposing to be doing hour to hour, day to day, and month to month. For me, it’s easier to look at the calendar and see all the things I have to do versus a list somewhere else. With a quick glance, I know what’s going on and I can keep track of things.
17hats does have a calendar feature, but it can be a bit of a pain to get working perfectly. If you’re a Google calendar person, then you should be good to go. It easily connects and works with Google calendar. The problem comes with iCal, which is what I use.
The 17hats calendar can’t connect directly with iCal. That means if you try adding something on your iCal, it won’t show up on your 17hats calendar. I could get by with using Google calendars, but my wife has an iPhone as well, so iCal is the easiest way to sync calendars. It’s kind of annoying that it doesn’t work easily, but there is a way around it, though. I’ve got it set up now where it all connects, but I still can’t add things directly through iCal. I have to go to 17hats or use the 17hats app. Annoying, but it does work.
To Do Lists
I’ve always worked best when I have a list of things to do. For the longest time I’d use a bunch of sticky notes, and I’d simply mark off each thing as I completed it. I still like having a list of things to do, but now it’s easier.
The To Do Lists section is filled with a checklist of all the things you need to get done. Each item has a check box, and also a description with the Contact associated with the task, when the item is due, and who is in charge of completing it.
There are different lists of things to do. The first one is the Due and Upcoming, and this is all the tasks associated with Workflows, which we will get to soon. From there, you can create other lists, but you have to manually add in items.
If you’re a To Do list person like myself, you’ll find yourself working in this section often because it makes it easy to see what you need to do and when you need to do it.
The Document section is where you can easily find information such as questionnaires, quotes, invoices, and contracts. Each one of these items has a tab and it gives you a very nice overview of what’s happening with each like if it has been completed or not.
Quotes, Invoices, and Contracts
When you get a new lead, you’ll often be asked for a list of prices. Now, I wouldn’t suggest you start off by just sending them all of your details or it just becomes a price comparison. Get to know them and show your value first, but when you are ready, you can send them a quote through 17hats.
The Quotes allows you to send a proposed cost to the client. You can put together a set package or let them choose from several options. You can put a discount on it, and also decided when the Quote expires.
Once the client accepts the Quote, you can automatically send them a contract and invoice. The invoice might be a one time thing or it might be repeated several times during a project.
17hats has made this very easy. First off, you can create multiple templates for these invoices. That means you don’t have to create a new one for every client. It’s pretty easy to do. You write a description, put in a price, and then the tax rate. While you’re doing that you can categorize each item, so it gets updated in Bookkeeping. This way you can track all of your different types of sales. Second, you can have this built into your workflow. This way, the invoices will be sent automatically at the appropriate time.
The last step in this process is getting the contract signed. A contract is a legal document, so I suggest you get one from a reliable source or let your lawyer look over it. Once you’ve done that you can send the contract virtually. It will still have all the details and words of a written contract, but it’s a lot easier to access and can be completed faster.
An important part of running a photography business is getting information. You need to know things before the shoot and after. Before, you might need to find out preferences on locations or poses or clothing. Afterward, you might want to know how you did and how you can improve. 17hats makes this really easy with Questionnaires.
Building the Questionnaires are really simple. You choose different types of input boxes depending on the question and then write your question. They have shorter input boxes, paragraph boxes, and even clickable dates.
From there, you can add them to part of your Workflow or just send them from the Project panel. It will show up in their email, and you will get notified when they finish it. Then you have all of their answers right there connected to that Project for later access.
I mainly photograph weddings, so the time that I’m working with my couple is really spread out. I might be interacting with them for over a year. The problem with that is there are lots of steps that have to be done from the beginning to the end. To make things even harder, the timing of everything changes depending on how long the engagement is. I have a lot more time to get things done with a year long engagement versus a six month engagement. The Workflows in 17hats has helped me stay on task with all the things I need to do for every client, and it helps me know when to do each item.
With the Workflows, you create a list of actions that you need to take from the beginning to the end of each session. It might start with sending a proposal and then end with the delivery of goods.
The great thing is that you can put whatever you want on there, and also control the timing. With each action, you decide the trigger. Do you want it to trigger a certain amount of days before the session or do you want it to happen as soon as you finish the previous task?
Another great feature is that you can create multiple Workflows. What you do for a newborn session will be very different from a wedding or senior session, so you need a different set of instructions. You simply make a new Workflow, and to make things easier, you can duplicate a previous workflow and then tweak it for the different type of session.
To activate a Workflow, you simply go to a Project and then click the “+” button beside workflows. Now all the tasks will be connected to that Project and they will start to show up in your To Do List.
The only issue I’ve had at all with the Workflows is when creating Phases. Phases are the different sections of a Workflow. You might create a preshoot phase and a postshoot phase. I did this, but I added the preshoot later, so they are visually out of order and I can’t rearrange the Phases. It’s not a big deal because everything still flows in the right way, but it’s weird that they can’t be moved.
I am not a number guy, and I think most photographers tend to be more on the artsy side, so keeping up with bookkeeping can be difficult. 17hats has a bookkeeping system built in that makes things easy, even for a guy that hates numbers.
The first step is to add any bank accounts associated with your photography business. I connected a bank account and a Paypal Mastercard I use for most of my business purchases. Connecting them is relatively easy, but I have had some issues with the bank staying connected. I believe it has to do with the multistep authorization the bank uses.
Once you are connected, 17hats downloads all over your transactions automatically for you. From there, you just have to categorize each item. It will try to guess on the category for you, but most of the time it’s wrong.
There are many ways to filter and view the data. You can search by month, bank account, categories, or keywords. This makes it easy to find different types of transactions or to compare one purchase to the next.
Besides that, there are a few other neat tricks. One, you can edit each transaction. Often transactions come in with vague names. I like to edit them and say exactly what it is and where I bought it. This makes is easier when I look back at it five months later. There are also reports, so you can see important information like how much you are spending on certain areas or if you are being profitable.
Other things to Consider
When I was doing my research on new options, the first big thing that stuck out was the costs. 17hats costs around $150 a year while the other companies were charing $200 to $300. The real question became are these other companies worth the extra money? Do they offer something that much better? As you’ve seen in all the features, 17hats has a lot to offer. After looking at the competition, I really didn’t see anything that justified the extra cost.
In the end, 17hats was doing a WPPI promotion and I ended up getting 2 years for $250! That was such a great deal I had to jump on it. I was almost getting two years for the price of one year with the competition. Still, 2 years for $300 is a great deal, so I think 17hats really kills it with their cost.
Maybe 6 months ago, 17hats added Client Portals. These are ways for clients to access information about the projects. They can view all the documents associated with their profile and can fill in some parts if you want.
I think the whole purpose is to make the client more involved, but I don’t see myself using this feature. Most of my brides wouldn’t use it, so it would be a waste of time. For other photographers though, this might be a very important feature.
There are Templates for lots of different things in 17hats. You can create Templates for emails, workflows, questionnaires, and lots of other things. This makes things easier and faster.
17hats does come with a few templates already available, but for the most part, you’ll need something more. I ended up creating my own, but there is the option to purchase Templates at the marketplace. There aren’t that many available, and for me, they seem overpriced.
Just recently, I saw that they now have an option to share your Templates with other people. I love this idea, but the only issue is you have to send people a code or an email to get it to them. I wish it was more of a public space where people could just post them and everyone could access. I think that would be more useful than me trying to find people on my own that use 17hats and are willing to share.
Some jobs get billed by the hour, so the built in timer can help keep track of that for you. Simply click on the clock icon at the top of the page. Then choose the the project to connect it to, the hourly fee, and the task. After that, it keeps track and adds it the project where you can quickly make an invoice.
The timer also might be of use just to see how long it takes to do certain things like sorting or editing a shoot. We often underestimate the time it takes to do things, so timing it would let you know how long you really are taking and possibly adjust your prices to match. Either way, the timer is helpful.
We don’t always have a computer with us, so it would be nice to have a way to access our accounts quickly and easily. We now can with the 17hats app!
The app isn’t as easy as the website, but it does allow you to access important information and do small tasks. On the front page you can see a summary of new leads, tasks, and different documents. You also have access to your calendar and can create new events and look at all of your contacts and projects. The only thing really missing is the Bookkeeping, but my guess is they don’t want that information available on a phone because it could get hacked.
I like the app and plan on using it more in the future. They’ve made some big improvements on it over the past two years. It’s a nice way to quickly have access to all of your information and to do some basic tasks when away from your computer.
After going through and writing this article, I realized something: I have not been using 17hats to its full potential! 17hats really is the complete photography management system! I’ve really only been using it for the lead and workflow management, and then doing my bookkeeping and other work elsewhere. Now, I plan on switching things up, using 17hats in as many ways as possible, and I bet I will see an improvement in my business.