Organizing for an Emergency: Write Down the Basics
A guest post by Joy Vertz
Note: For these few weeks, I’m talking about ways photographers can prepare for a “bus”: something that will take them out of commission for a while and possibly leave their business in the hands of backup help. I’m answering the following question: “What are some easy things I can do to make sure my business runs smoothly when I’m away?”
Ok, so we’ve already covered why emergency planning in a photography business is so important. And we’ve even covered some of the organizational techniques and ideas that might help you along the way.
One thing you can do that will absolutely improve the quality of any system you have is this: WRITE IT DOWN.
Wait! Don’t run! Come back!
I know, I know. Creative types – photographers in particular – are one of the most fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants groups that ever existed. Adaptable, spontaneous, unstructured – that’s a key to success in the job! However, photographers’ backups may not be as spontaneous. They might need some help navigating in unfamiliar territory – even basic writing can provide that map.
If there’s no easily identifiable system for how things work around your office, you’ll want to take a little time and sketch out that map. Plus, it’s a great chance to make work a little easier for you (and ratchet up your business’s performance) – if you’re thinking about how your business works, you have a great opportunity to think of how to make it better.
And don’t panic that, by starting this project, you’re obligating yourself to weeks of slow death by word processing. You’re not. Promise!
There are lots of levels you could take this process to, and lots of different ways to approach it. Handwritten lists or charts with boxes and arrows can work fine! Here’s a really simple strategy for process planning – you decide how far to go:
- Start by listing the basics.
- Chart out how a session is handled from the time a client calls to the time their session information is archived.
- Sort those steps from most mission-critical in a crisis to least important. Write out or chart one process at a time, starting with the most critical, and go as far as you think you need to.
Step 1 is pretty easy. You can make a one-page (or less) list of notes and put it in a really obvious place. What you could include would depend on your business, but at the very minimum you’d need:
- Where the files for upcoming appointments are stored
- Where and how to find client information (if you’re using the envelope system, this is easy)
- What to do with any notes about what’s happened while you were out
Step 2 is less about giving useful information to a backup and more about setting up for Step 3, but it’s a great exercise for more than just emergency planning reasons. Have you ever really thought about the flight path that a session’s information takes from start to finish? Mapping out the path can help you do lots of things, including:
- Finding ways to set up your physical office space that match the workflow and improve efficiency.
- Seeing places where you’re duplicating effort or creating a backlog.
- Explaining to your clients how your process works so they can have a better idea of what to expect.
Step 3 is really where the emergency-planning rubber meets the road. It’s documenting what to do in specific situations. What is supposed to happen when a client calls to book? How are orders packaged for client pickup? Here are two options you can use to do your write-up – one is pretty easy, while the second is more complex but has other perks:
- Draw a flow chart for the process. Make quick notes about things like file names and locations in the corresponding boxes. This is easily done by hand, or on MS Word or PowerPoint. Make sure printouts are made and put in an obvious location.
- Create something more like a new employee manual. This makes sense because, in the case of a new employee, you are talking to someone who has to step in and get up to speed quickly – even without an emergency.
To give an extreme example of how this second option can work, I saw one shop’s studio handbook. It described the process of how sessions were handled from start (answering the phone) to finish (giving clients their completed orders). Beyond that, the handbook described how they wanted clients to experience their studio from start to finish. It had notes on qualities that made the studio different from others in the area (their studio’s “uniqueness factors”, in marketing geek-speak). It even included vendor lists and what items were commonly ordered from each one, not to mention brief notes on why certain vendors were chosen (better quality paper, timely and dependable delivery, etc.) – just in case a client were to ask at a sales appointment.
The end result of their handbook was a tool that was not only useful for emergency planning, but also made EVERY EMPLOYEE a salesperson from the time they started. Any employee who answered the phone could “tell and sell” to clients. Clearly that last example sets an incredibly high bar. Honestly, I break out into a sweat just thinking about taking on a project like that. But I really did admire the result.
As a more realistic option for a busy life, you might want to consider starting some version of that for your studio. It would not be nearly as hard to build up something piece by piece, starting with one important process and adding on in stages. Again, even charting with boxes and arrows goes a long way toward both emergency planning and basic process improvement.
In the next part, we’re going to get away from the words and move to the actions! It’s time for fire drills and cross training. Get ready!
Connect with Joy here and on Instagram / Twitter @joyvertz.