Category Archives: Your Business

The Independent Creative : Facebook

I am so excited for this post in my series, The Independent Creative. It’s the very first guest post on the Three Fifteen Design blog, and I couldn’t be more excited that Alison Murray is the guest. Alison (or Ali as she’s known around these parts) is an amazing photographer based in Oregon. She & her husband Matt run Murray Photography together, and she’s just launched her new brand, Portraits By Ali, for her beauty portraits and senior portrait work.

(photo by Jim & Ravyn Photographers)

When I first met Ali, we talked a lot about Facebook. I was blown away that she & Matt didn’t use a blog to share their work, but instead, used Facebook as their main way to communicate with clients and potential clients. In the same conversation, I think Ali was a bit baffled that I only had 31 likes on my Facebook business page. Since then, she has given me so much perspective on using Facebook to build brand power, and I couldn’t be more grateful. I now see Facebook as an essential part of my brand experience. The knowledge she’s shared has been invaluable, and I’ve asked her to share a bit with the readers here!

315: When did you start using Facebook as a main source of online communication with your clients & fans?

AM: We started the Murray Photography business page in early 2009, and quit blogging in 2010. Our decision to quit blogging was easy once we saw the power of Facebook. Around that time, I realized we had the visual content to share, but I was taking so much time to write the posts. Once we started using Facebook, we noticed immediately that our clients responded more to the micro-blogging format. Instead of linking to an outside source, they could see the info & photos right away.

I love interacting with people more than telling a story with words. Facebook allowed us to keep a professional presence all while allowing it to be more personal. I could use a friendlier voice that was more in line with our brand.

315: Why do you love it so much?

AM: Facebook is so quick. It’s a good source of social information. As much as we love sharing, we also love learning about other people in our network. The tagging capability on all sides is really beneficial. Unlike a blog comment, which can be replied to via email, Facebook lets you respond right there, and it send a notification to the commenter. It’s convenient. I’ve been on Facebook since 2003, so I’ve had ten years to become familiar with the system. If there’s a better program, show me. But for us, it’s the best way to reach our ideal clients.

315: How does FB allow you to be deliberate with the message your sending to others? 

AM: There are so many ways we’re ensuring we’re being deliberate, and infusing the page with our brand. Facebook gives you many tools to make your page unique. We always fill the header with an image. It’s a relevant image that we really love at the time. We never leave an image up for more than a month or two, and the image itself is a way to show potential clients our style. We use our logo (or a logo element) as the actual profile photo. This means when we’re using Facebook as Murray Photography or Portraits by Ali, our icon is showing next to our comment. We’re creating brand recognition within our network. Another way we are using Facebook to grow our brand is by keeping conversations going. If someone comments on our wall or on a photo, we’re sure to follow-up with them to say thank you. We also love the tagging capabilities, and the option to promote certain posts.

315: Let’s talk about using Facebook to advertise. You mention loving the option to promote certain posts … I’d love to hear a bit more. 

AM: Because our business is 95% referral based, we don’t feel a strong pull towards paying for traditional advertising. However, we are big fans of the Facebook Promote posts. If there’s a post or session I’m really proud of, I’ll promote it. Generally it’s a $5.00 investment, and we can control who sees the post. It can be shared just our fans, or friends of our fans to reach a wider audience. Big announcements are a great time to use the promotion tools. The small investment means hundreds or even thousands of people will see that post. With all of that said, we use it sparingly. By using Facebook normally for most information, and using the promotion tools for big announcements, we aren’t overwhelming or annoying our audience. At the most, we’ve spent $20 in one month for promoted posts, and since it’s free to use Facebook, we find it an investment worth making.

315: How did you grow your fan base on FB?

AM: It’s grown very organically. Instead of advertising our Facebook page at weddings, we use tagging once we’re back in the studio. If a guest at a wedding wants to connect with us and see more work, we’ll give them our card and let them know we’re active on Facebook. We tag our brides & grooms, and after a really personal experience their wedding party will either like our page, or add us as friends. By tagging our clients, their friends can see our work, and they know immediately how to find us. Like I mentioned before, we are devoted to using Facebook as a conversation, and we love the interaction it allows. We meet people at weddings, but Facebook is how we stay connected & grow our network.

Our ideal clients are on Facebook … they speak the language, and we can use Facebook to keep them excited about their experience. From Facebook, we’ve been able to keep up with all of the exciting pre-wedding news, and it really helps us feel more connected. We love that’s it’s a very mutual platform. It’s a relationship building tool.

315: Is FB your only form of online presence? 

AM: While we love the ease of use, and the ability to communicate with our clients on Facebook, our website is what really sets us apart. Anyone can create a business page for Facebook, and utilize the tools to book clients, but our website is the love letter we’ve written to our clients. By working with Three Fifteen Design, we were able to build the site our brand, and it represents us & our core values. We use Facebook as another tool to introduce people to our brand, and when they reach our site, it speaks volumes about who we are as people and photographers. We’re also active on Instagram & Pinterest. Lastly, we love submitting our work to wedding blogs like Le Magnifique and Borrowed & Bleu. Because Facebook doesn’t allow users to pin directly from the site, we still have a presence on Pinterest from the user’s ability to pin from the individual wedding blogs.

315: Overall, how has FB allowed you to share your brand & the values you believe in?

For me, photography should be a really personal experience. Instead of keeping up with the ‘how to be the world’s best photographer’ books, we let our moral compass direct the way we run our business. When we wrote out our business plan, the directives were centered on giving clients the same experience we would want for ourselves. We are tech savvy enough to order our own prints, or a canvas, and we know our clients are as well. Instead of watermarking our images (the same images we’ll be giving our clients), we load un-watermarked images to Facebook. By offering the high-resolution files in all of our packages, we’re giving our clients access to what they want: their photos. It should be a kind relationship. We prepare our clients for their full experience, and part of that is the interaction we’ll be sharing on Facebook. By the time we’ve worked together their excitement translates into honest feedback and referrals.

Thank you So much Ali! So, now I want to hear from you … How are you reaching your ideal clients … is your blog your main powerhouse? How have you tailored your blog to your brand? Are you more of a Facebook lover like Matt & Ali?

While we’re on the topic of Facebook, you can find Portraits by Ali right here, Murray Photography here, and the Three Fifteen Design page right here.

(photos copyright Murray Photography)

The Independent Creative : Little Things

Hooray for a new post in my series for the independent creative. So far, I’ve dicussed:

I thought it would be fun to talk about something, well, FUN! So much of our journey in being an independent creative revolves around the business side of our business … like accounting, and project management. BUT, what about the part of your business that your client actually sees? … the part they feel? Today, I want to talk a bit about the little things you can do to enhance you brand experience.

We will be getting way more into your brand identity in a later post, but for now, let’s say you have a logo you absolutely love, but now you’re wondering what you could do with your brand identity to show professionalism, consistency, and make your clients say, “WOW!”.

Custom rubber stamps: I have raved and raved about rubber stamps on my site. Almost every client who works with me leaves our project with a little arsenal of stamps. Sure, I like the way stamps look, but really, it’s the versatility that I love so much. With one stamp, you could decorate your stationery, packaging, and goodies for clients. One change of the ink color can give a branding piece a completely different look.

Premium Envelopes & Packaging: Using beautiful envelopes & packaging is another way to present your work in a professional way. With so much of the creative industry switching to digital (whether it’s photography, email, etc.), there’s something to be said about the tangible goods our client’s receive. Paper Source is my favorite place for beautiful envelopes (nearly every size/color you could imagine). When sending items like dvd’s or other products, it’s great to present them in packaging that speaks to your brand. I love referring clients to Bags & Bows Online, Kraft & Jute, and Uline for packaging. Again, by picking a packing system for your brand, you’re creating consistency.

Handwritten Correspondence: This goes hand-in-hand with the personalized packaging … Sending hand-written correspondence to your clients makes them feel special. Pairing a hand-written card with a beautiful envelope, and sealing it with a little stamp is a branded piece that goes a long way.

Buy a Domain: Out of everything, this is probably the least expensive way to add major brand power. When a client gets an email from it looks less professional than … The same can be said with sending your client to your blog with a WordPress address versus your own address. Buying a domain is easy, inexpensive, and gives you the opportunity to own your brand. is my favorite place to buy domains. Their customer service is out of this world.

Business Cards: Aside from networking events, business cards are an amazing way to ask for referrals. Some people have a really hard time asking their clients to refer them to their friends. Sure, once they’ve had an amazing experience, they will be singing your praises, but your business cards might give you a little confidence to ask. After working with a client, and delivering their products (or thank you card), it’s perfectly appropriate to put a few cards in the envelope with a little note telling them how much you loved working with them, and that you love referrals. The cards might sit in a drawer all year, but what’s more likely is that you’ll remind them of their excellent experience, and you’ll be at the front of their brain next time they talk about the kind of services you provide.

Consistency: Above everything, having these pieces to carry the message of your brand will create consistency. Clients love an experience they can count on. When you’ve educated them about how personal working with an independent creative can be, it helps your entire industry.

They Remember You: I always say that it’s not about being better than everyone else, it’s about your clients knowing that you’re the only one who can do what you do. Anything you can do to establish brand power and brand recognition is a huge plus. So many memories are triggered by our senses, and the correspondence with your clients is a great way to create positive memories.

It Shows That You Care: Sure, a $1.25 card & a stamp doesn’t really cost much on your end, but to your client, it’s much more than the small investment. They see that you’ve taken time to invest in your brand … to invest in their experience. They could have chosen anyone, but they chose to work with you … and just as easily, they could choose someone else next time. It’s about reminding them that you are the perfect fit for their needs. When you care, they remember it!

As you can see, I don’t put a beautiful brand identity above a wonderful customer experience. While having a beautiful physical representation of your brand is important, the care you show your clients is what they will remember most. What little things have you done to create a personalized experience for your clients? Is there anything I didn’t cover here that you’ve found super helpful? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.

My next post in The Independent Creative series will be a guest post!! So excited to invite my first contributor to the blog. It’s sure to be a great post!!

The Independent Creative : Accounting

In continuing my “The Independent Creative” series (a series about my journey of becoming my own boss), I knew I’d have to address the not-always-exciting topic of accounting. While it’s not very exciting to talk about, it should be one of the easiest parts of your business to manage once you have a solid plan in place. I will preface this all by saying, I have not been trained as a CPA/accountant/bookkeeper/etc … that’s why I pay one!! This is what I’ve learned & how I implement it into my business.

If you’re providing a service or product to clients in exchange for money, you are a business … you should be registered as one … and you should be filing taxes accordingly.

Becoming a legal business: As soon as we landed in Portland, we were connected with our amazing lawyer. He specializes in working with creatives, and he knew exactly what needed to be done to ensure we were recognized as a legal, legitimate business in Oregon (and in the US). Our paperwork was filed within a day, and within a week, we were officially a tax-paying business. From here, it gave us the opportunity to open a business bank account, and we were protecting our personal assets by keeping work & personal completely separate. Again, if you’re selling or product or service, please please please talk with a lawyer to see if you’re following the laws as far as establishing your service/product as a business.

Keep Your Money Separated: I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep your personal money & business money completely separated. Once you have your business established (ours is an LLC), you can open your business bank accounts (savings & checking are both great to have). Any and all money that comes into you as payment for goods or services must be deposited into your business account. From there, it’s up to you to decide how much money is allocated towards what (more on that in a bit)…

Hire a CPA: When in doubt about numbers or rules, it’s amazing to have a CPA you can call … and at tax time, they are a godsend. Do it!

Remember when I said this should be one of the easiest parts of managing your business? I meant it. By staying organized, you’re really only setting yourself up for success! If you can’t count on yourself, hire a CPA that will manage your documents, expenses, etc. for you.

Accounting Software: If I could give a big, sloppy kiss to FreshBooks, I totally would. We use them for everything related to money & our business: invoicing, time tracking, expenses, and client profiles. I can go into the reports section at any time to see what my profits/loss statements are looking like, how much money my clients owe, and if I’ve been paid that week. I love that it’s all online, and that I can really customize the settings so my clients don’t feel like they’re getting messages from a robot. It costs about $400 per year, but I promise it’s TOTALLY worth it. They have less expensive plans as well. At the end of the year, all of your reports (income, expenses, etc.) can be exported into nice PDF’s for tax purposes. So amazing.

Online Banking:  I think this is a given, but being able to manage your bank accounts online is a blessing. My favorite feature is the transfers module. This means I only have to deposit money into our main business checking account. From there, once I’m home, I can disperse the money how I like.

Save Your Receipts: Every time you buy anything related to your business, you should be keeping track. Everything (well, almost everything) is a deductible expense. I keep all receipts from stores in a separate wallet in my purse. At the end of the month, I enter them into FreshBooks before filing them. With online purchases, I enter the expense into FreshBooks as soon as I receive my receipt via email, then file the email in my ‘2012 Receipts’ folder in my mail program. I don’t print these, but I do keep that copy on my computer (and back it up). That’s it. It’s such a simple way to keep track of expenses.

Establish a Workflow: I follow the exact same steps for every single contract that crosses my desk. I’ll do a full post on this later, but this was one of the best systems I created for my business. It keeps me on task, and ensures I don’t miss payments from clients, and that I’m delivering everything on time.

Keep Your Emails Organized: Every client has a folder in my inbox. After we talk, I file it. I use the same thread for the entire project, and I encourage them to do the same. If there’s ever a question about anything, I know where to look, quickly, for the answer. I use Google Apps/Gmail … and MacMail to organize & access it.

Knowing how much to save can be a little tricky. That’s why hiring a CPA is essential … there won’t be surprises at the end of the year.

The Magic Ratio: I follow the exact same steps for every single check that comes into the studio … it’s easier this way, and I know that at the end of the year (or when quarterly taxes are due), I’ll have my money allocated the right way. My magic ratio is 65/5/25/5. This represents the amount I get to keep, and how much I need to save. If I receive a $2,000 check, the entire check is deposited into our business bank account, then divided like this: $1,300 is transferred to our personal checking (65%), $100 is transferred into personal savings (5%), $500 is transferred to the business savings account for taxes (25%), and the remaining $100 stays in the business checking (5%). If there are expenses related to that client/payment, I subtract the expenses from the total before doing my ratio, and leave that money in the business checking account.

How Much You Really Make: Once you have your ratio in place, you’ll be sad every time you realize you’re not able to keep all of the money you earn. It happens to me almost daily! But, it just meant I had to put those big numbers aside and focus on how much I actually needed to bring in each money to pay our bills. Let’s say I wanted to clear $5,000 a month for personal expenses. This means I would need to be bringing about $7,500 a month into the business. Remember, you just have to forget about that $7,500, as about 30% belongs to the government. BUT, that $7,500 is important for pricing. If you’re a photographer who charges $3,000 per wedding, you know you’ll need to book 2 weddings per month & a few photo sessions. For me, I know I need to book x number of clients per month, and I know my profit from each project must clear my magical number. This is especially useful when I connect with an amazing client who wants to build a custom package with me … I know what I need to profit from the project, so I can be flexible as long as my number is met. Without knowing how much I was making or needing to make in a month, it would be harder to be flexible.

Establish Goals: If you know you have a big purchase coming up, it’s relatively easy to save … I promise it feels better this way. If your new piece of equipment costs $1,000, then reserve an additional $100 from your next 10 checks … keep that money in your business checking. Then, once you have that $1,000, you can go get what you’ve been saving for. I created a simple word document that looks like this (then printed it & kept it on my desk):

SAVE $2,000

  • Date: _______________ :: $200 into business checking!
  • Date: _______________ :: $200 into business checking!
  • Date: _______________ :: $200 into business checking!
  • Date: _______________ :: $200 into business checking!

I repeated that until it was enough to save $2,000 (a number I was working towards for some new equipment). It was super-fun (seriously, it was fun) to keep track of my savings, and by choosing to take $200 extra from each check, it went quickly … and painlessly.  Without establishing this plan, I wouldn’t have held myself accountable, and I’d still be on that first goal.

Always Have Goals: Once we reached that goal for our business, we set a new goal of a larger amount in our personal savings. It’s basically the same plan, the numbers are just a little different. It’s really fun to be like, “Whoa! We saved an extra $x.xx this week!” … We’re still not sure what we’re going to do when we reach the big goal, but I imagine it’ll involve a cold drink, and possibly a little paper umbrella. No matter the goal, it just feels good to have something you’re working towards!

I feel like there’s so much more I could discuss on this topic. Specifically with finding out how to price your goods & services!! What do you find most helpful when it comes to your accounting workflow? Were there things you never expected? Was it easier or harder than you thought it would be? I can’t wait to hear about it! Be sure to leave a note in the comments.

Adobe Creative Cloud : It’s Dreamy!

Hi friends! I was just about to click ‘purchase’ on Adobe’s site today to upgrade my version of Lightroom, when I remembered that I’m part of the Creative Cloud. Holy crap!! I’m so glad I didn’t click the checkout button. At that moment, I realized I hadn’t shared how in love I am with this new option from Adobe!

We bought Creative Suite 4 right before CS5 was released … isn’t that always the case? At the time, I wasn’t too upset about it. CS4 had what I needed. Fast forward a couple of years, and CS6 was knocking on my door. Also, my spankin’ new iMac wasn’t playing nicely with CS4 anymore … new operating system means lots of little bugs with old software.

After talking with Adobe, they told me I could do Creative Cloud for $30/month (as I was an existing CS customer). Do the math, the new creative suite is a ton more to buy, and basically, I can get over 2 years of use before breaking even. By that time, I will have been ready to whatever the newest CS version is. So, it was a no-brainer!

At first, I was concerned about not owning the software … I’m essentially leasing it. But, I now have every program that Adobe offers … like the big ol’ mamma jamma of suites. I love that I can play with new programs (like the video editing software) if I have time. It’s fun!

When you’re ready to use a new program for the first time, it takes a few minutes to install it from the Adobe Application Manager. After that, it’s on your computer … you can put it in your dock, and it opens just like any other CS program you have installed on your computer. No need for internet connection after the initial install. The full features are there … and I’ve been loving it so far. The best part: you don’t ever have to worry if you have the latest version of software … it will automatically qualify you for free upgrades.

I’m not being paid by Adobe to write this post … I just love the Creative Cloud, and today I remembered why! Be sure to check it out. If you’re a creative, photographer, blogger, etc. that uses the Creative Suite, I highly recommend investing in this option!

The Independent Creative :: Your Time

So very excited to start my Independent Creative series. As promised, this series will give a little insight into my journey towards becoming an independent studio owner. Of course, I would love to start off with the super-fun parts of running your own business, but I’m thinking we should start with the more serious topics first.

I’d say one of the hardest parts of learning to work for myself was time management, or lack of time management skills. Beyond that, it was about finding ways to make my time feel like fun rather than just work. Here are a few things I’ve learned:

It’s okay to spoil yourself! You are creating your own destiny … so why would you deny yourself the fun you deserve?

Little Rewards: Want to make your days feel more fun … and maybe a little shorter? Set little goals, then reward yourself. Maybe it’s keeping 5% from each commission in a little savings account, then treating yourself to a spa day once a month. Maybe it’s just deciding if you get a certain number of tasks done by 2:00, you’ll take 30 minutes to get outside & enjoy some well-deserved sunshine.

Music & Entertainment: I’m not sure what I would do without music & podcasts to get me through the week. I’m a die-hard Pandora fan, and I am absolutely obsessed with a few podcasts. My favorite Podcasts are: Uhh Yeah Dude (a comedy podcast hosted by two of the funniest people I’ve ever heard), How Did This Get Made (they review terrible movies … most are on Netflix, so it’s easy to watch and understand why they make fun), then theres Radiolab & This American Life (two podcasts so full of awesome information & stories).

Respect Your Time: Remember, you are in charge! If you setup a proper work schedule that really respects the other parts of your life, you’ll be happier. I know some creatives who work a full-time job AND run their own businesses … Watching them manage their time is amazing. It’s all about setting boundaries. No matter how much or how little time you have to do your work, it’s about not letting it take over the other parts of your life. Want to see how you’re spending your time? Software like FreshBooks or Harvest allows you to track your time and puts it into visual data for you to view. Once you see how you’re spending your time, it’s easier to modify your workflow to be more efficient.

Respect Your Relationships: There are people in your life who are rooting for you … sometimes it’s easy to forget that. I know I took my evenings at home for granted all too often. While my hubby sat on the couch, I’d stretch my work time just a BIT longer until it was hours later, and we were both pretty unhappy. Your friends want to spend time with you, and your partners need your time. Just as you reward yourself, set small goals & rewards for those who are supporting you. When they see your work paying off (in the form of you doing what you love, making a living, then really ENJOYING that success), they’ll root even harder for you.

No matter the tasks you have at hand, be sure you’re keeping track of them!

Lists: I am a list making freak. My husband makes fun of me … I make lists about my lists, and then other lists about those lists. I’m not even kidding. I’ve found the best way to manage my time and my work days is by writing out everything I need to do that day. Plus, I get so much satisfaction every time I cross something off of my list! For me, I use a daily planner (yes, I WRITE everything down) with my daily tasks all mapped out. It gives me perspective for my week & I love it! I’ve used online task management tools before too! I liked Teux Deux & Wunderlist, but REALLY prefer hand-writing everything.

Perfect Your Workflow: It took me awhile to find my groove when it came to project management. Now, when a contract comes in, it follows the exact workflow as my other projects:

  • I add the client to my online account management software & send them an invoice which reflects the paid deposit.
  • After the digital side of things, I fill out my project form (hand-written) which consists of the project tasks, timeline, and client info. I put it with the contract, pop it in a binder, and add the project start date to my calendar. I love being able to flip to the project form throughout the project to be certain I’m staying on task & respecting the timeline. I’m going to share much more on this topic in a future post.

Create Realistic Timelines: There’s so much focus on FAST & NOW! … Well, I think there’s something to giving yourself enough time to really be creative. There’s nothing wrong with allowing a client to wait a few weeks to see their photo session, or maybe a couple weeks before sending them a proof for a printed piece. Whatever your timeline, be certain it gives you plenty of room be breathe … you’ll deliver a better product. AND, as long as you manage their expectations, you won’t have problem!

This is the most important thing I’ve learned over the last year: It’s important to get outside.

Breathing Room: There have been days I just can’t get over a creative block. Jim (my husband) literally has to pull me from my desk & convince me to take a walk. Other days, I wake up, and know I need to take a drive to the coast … no matter the distance, sometimes I just need a little room to LIVE … then the creativity bug comes back. Everyone needs a little space. If you’re swamped, take a 15 minute walk around the block, or a little nap on the couch. Anything that refreshes your brain is totally worth it!

Turn It Off: It’s no surprise that the social media outlets that bring us so much business and networking opportunities can also keep us getting so much done. If you know you’re more productive in the morning, turn off your internet until after noon. Then, take an hour to check on Facebook & Twitter. You’ll work more efficiently when you know you can’t just check it whenever.

What advice do you have to give about time management & making sure you have fun while you’re getting things done? Anything you thought would work that didn’t, or anything you wish you would have done from the beginning? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

The Independent Creative :: An Introduction

Last month, I quietly celebrated one full year of being an independent business owner. While I’ve had my own business for about 3 years now, it took me a bit before I was ready to take the leap to full time self-employment. Over the past year, I made some mistakes, but more importantly, that trial & error resulted in a ton of growth. I learned from my mistakes, and I am now confident I’ve found my groove.

I get emails from potential clients quite frequently asking how I knew it was a good time to take that leap. While everyone’s journey to being an independent creative is different, I think each story is worth sharing. Over the next several weeks, I’ll be sharing some details about the last year, and my favorite resources that have helped me succeed.

Some of the topics I’ll be disussing are:

  • money & accounting
  • time management
  • client relationships & managing expectations
  • organization & automation of your workflow
  • relocating
  • the legal side of running a business
  • social media exposure & blogging

I would LOVE to know what you’d like to know about! If there’s a topic you’d like a little feedback on, let me know!! I don’t think any of these topics are limited to the design field, so I’m hoping to inspire creatives in all realms of this big ol’ industry!

I can’t wait to share my journey. If it helps one person get closer to their goal, I’ll be the happiest person in the world.