When a daydream or happy event captivates us, we’re said to have “our head in the clouds”… the reality is, unaware as we may be, clouds are always around us. Businesses send out memorandums via email, students type and save research papers on laptops, and families use internet sites like Facebook and Photobucket to keep up with children and friends in faraway places. Documents, contacts, and images are all things that can now exist solely in the cloud, a technology safehouse. When we can trust that our emails will be sent, our papers saved, and our images are stored, our minds can rest easy that our work and memories are safe.
Everyone has heard of and likely dabbled in the could by now, but many are still curious – how can a business run in the clouds? Where are the workers, the product, the interaction? Why even go there? How does the cloud solve problems?
Having a business in the cloud is not as difficult as it seems. In fact, that is what PWP Studio strives to do to not only save on the green, but to make it easy for employees and clients alike. Here is an overview of what I have done with PWP Studio-and why!
A little background first: in 2010, I was running a ‘typical studio’ (one man show with a couple of part-time helpers – struggling to manage cashflow and processes), I cut my business in half by leaving weddings, and my largest corporate client made internal/leadership changes that eliminated half of my remaining corporate business! By January of 2011, we were in serious trouble!! I was rebuilding and numbers were headed in the right direction, but not quickly enough – I needed waaaay more!
I was half-buried in the ground – my head in the clouds of “what could be” – dreaming of a better life, but not too sure how to get there.
1. I needed an easier way to do business when out of the office traveling + shooting.
2. It had to be as easy as possible for partners and planners to secure my studio’s services – no faxes, scans, or paper to send back and forth.
3. I had to have immediate + significant + sustained growth to replace the wedding business I intentionally left behind and the corporate business I lost.
4. I needed the model to scale – handle the load if/when the business grew as fast as I needed and as big as I wanted!
I needed a totally new way of operating, but we were in a bad place; there are only so many hours in the day and I couldn’t do it all or know it all myself. Oh, and I was broke. I brainstormed ways to streamline processes, make booking and service easy and consistent, enable remote access to documents and images, and in the process – gain labor hours with as little investment as possible. Interns were not the answer; short term help would not work for long term goals and gains. Hiring locally and custom coded software solutions were not an option because there was little to no budget.
I pulled my head out of the sand and looked up, way up. I envisioned how my business would look and operate if it satisfied all my requirements. The answer kept popping up: it was cloud time…
Piece by piece and solution by solution, we began moving to the cloud. It started with using the Google apps suite for email and document management (spreadsheets, user manuals, and tasks) and ShootQ for studio management (online paperless contracts, invoicing, calendar, and CRM) to solve #1 and #2. With the improved internal and client-facing cloud-based solutions in place, it was time to find (cheap) help for #3 and #4. I used Odesk to find remote contractors to help manage these solutions and implement the next cloud-based solutions: Quickbooks Online for the bookkeeping piece, Manymoon for project management, FTP for large data transfer, and Evernote for idea capture.
The studio’s continued use of the cloud not only enables efficiency between offices, but has also enabled speedy delivery and turnaround time for clients. By utilizing FTP, we can transfer images captured in Las Vegas last night to the production in the Atlanta studio today. With solutions like Dropbox and ShootProof, we upload images for clients to have in just minutes. We elminated the wait for that delivery truck that may or may not arrive in 3 to 5 business days (twice), and can revise a contract while someone 1000 miles away is watching!
With efficient processes and great contractors, the ‘move to the clouds’ also positively impacted the our core challenges of growth and scalability. In 2011 we were 90% overseas and 10% stateside – paying an average of $3.00 per hour for our ‘back of the house’ labor for everything from contract-writing to retouching – while I invested every dime we saved to grow the business. These days it looks much different – 75% stateside and 25% overseas with everyone making a fair wage. Our internal team ranges from its base in Atlanta to Philadelphia to the Philippines; more is getting done faster with lower overhead – which means I can afford to do less of the busy work and more development.
I have always endeavored to find better, easier, and faster ways for my business WHILE being more of a planning asset to my partners. We have to make it easy because our target clients are always on the go – with lists of tasks a mile long for each program they are planning. We provide the easiest booking, the easiest delivery, and extremely consistent and reliable service.
The results speak volumes: PWP photographers captured more than 300 events in 2013 versus 70 in 2010 – with a 99.8% “arrive on time” rate and a 98% “deliver images on time” rate, and I can make that happen from a shoot in spain… or a beach chair in Panama City 😉 We’ve become an incredible work force that proudly stands on the promise, “the only thing better than our images is our service.”
I hope this post helps you in some way – understand who we are, how to tackle challenges in your own business, or just gain a glimmer of hope when ‘all seems lost’ because we have been there! There IS a happy ending when you start daydreaming in the clouds!!