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Confession: When You Realize Something Needs to Change…

Free Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets by MCP™

Confession: When You Realize Something Needs to Change…

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One recent morning I woke up and it hit me. I barely have time to do the things I love. I have not been exercising like I use to.  I have not talked to friends on the phone.  I barely spend time with my husband.  My kids ask why I always am on the computer – they say “why can’t you just do that while we are at school?” – and I answer my twins and say “I am on the computer working when you are at school too.”

I run a business. And with business comes responsibility.  I have a responsibility to provide excellent customer service to my fans, followers, and customers.  I have had Multiple Choices Photography DBA “MCP Actions” since 2006 (training photographers and selling photoshop actions). Prior to that I did Product Photography and photo editing. In the past two year my marketing, social networking, and branding has paid off.  My business is doing really well, even in the poor economy.  I have 2,000-4,000+ visitors to my blog daily, I have over 4,200 facebook friends, 4,500 facebook fans and 3,000 something twitter followers.  This sounds great – right?  It is. I love what I have built and I am proud of my accomplishments.  BUT…

There is always a “BUT.”  And this but is a big one…  I love what I do.  And I am very happy that I can “make a living at it.”  I work very hard.  So the “but” is that something needs to change. I need to make time for myself and for my family.  I need to have more time away from the computer (even if just a little bit – it would make a difference).  I need to take care of my health by exercising more, finding a new doctor (for my PCOS, Thyroid and Asthma issues – yes a triple whammy), and just take time to breath and enjoy life.  I do love my work.  I am passionate about it, but I love other stuff too.  And lately work consumes me.

And the biggest part of that – EMAIL.  Email literally overtakes my every day.  I know many of you are nodding your heads saying “me too.”  I wake up in the morning to usually a few hundred emails, some junk and spam, others customer questions, and yet others just fans who want to know everything from what camera do I use to how can they get better color or focus, etc… I get emails from those wanting MCP to sponsor a workshop or donate prizes, do a guest blog, host a contest, etc… Most emails start like this “I know you are really busy, but I just have this one question…”

You get the idea.  I love helping people and I love answering questions.  I hate saying “no.”  So next thing I know, it is 10am, 11am, noon, or sometimes even 1pm before I whittle away at the email and answer questions and get back to everyone. I may pause in between for an hour to do a one on one private workshop or group workshop, and then back to emails again.  Finally when I clear out my box, and grab a quick bite to eat, often at 1 or even 2pm, the emails already pile up again. My kids get home at 4pm and I try hard to focus on them – taking them to activities, helping them with homework, and spending time with them.  By the time bed time hits, the rest of the night is often spent checking email and responding again.

Are you getting tired just reading this?  I am.  So as the title of this post says, “Something needs to change…”

Here are some of my thoughts and a few ideas from some amazing Facebook friends. I need to decide which to implement and which not to.

  • Do monthly FAQ posts – take a list of questions I get asked (pick a handful or more) and answer them in a blog post. Really liking this idea.  But still not sure if people will feel upset getting an email from me saying check my monthly FAQ post as I will try to answer questions there.  Is this acceptable customer service?
  • Refer people to my facebook fan page.  I am doing this some already.  I hope someday this will be a place where my fans and readers can come together and help each other.
  • Auto Responders… I am not a fan.  I do have lots of template emails set up for frequently asked questions.  But I am talking about the emails that say “we are busy and will get back to you in 48 hours…”  I do not like these. I don’t mean to offend anyone but to me these are impersonal.  And waiting 48 hours just delays the emails and lets them accumulate more.
  • Charge a consulting fee for answering email questions – this was suggested by someone on Facebook. I do not want to do this just to answer questions.  But I do offer one on one training, so if someone has a lot of questions I do point them to that.
  • Have a list of recommended sites, books, and references that they can read.  This is a good idea except that the questions in these emails are such a huge range.
  • Hire an assistant – not sure if I am “ready” for this.  I always said if my business got to that point it got too big.  But at the same time, maybe finding people to do certain things could help.  Just not sure.
  • NEW WEBSITE – yep – I just hired another person to redo my web site.  The last company had good intentions, but it never got completed.  Cross your fingers for me on this one.  Instant Downloads will help a ton.  This would mean less emails saying “I lost my actions, can you resend” or “I never got the actions you sent” (due to spam filters, etc).  Plus customers will love to get things right away and be able to revisit to re-download if needed.
  • NEW BLOG – same as “new website” – new blog designer has been hired.  Waiting on new site to get underway.  But my goal is to make things so intuitive and easy to use that you can locate old posts easily, and see related posts, etc.  This would mean less emails saying “I cannot find this video or post I remember…” or “how do I…”  I will be able to say “search.”  You can search now – but it is not obvious and the blog as a whole is not mapped out well for its content.
  • Start a forum – running a forum likely would take more time than email.  The advantage is that people can answer each others questions, but the disadvantage is everything else.  This is why Facebook may be the way to go if I can get people use to going there and checking there.  It is ready made, easy, and already set up.
  • Referral to forums – I do list some on my blog.  But maybe I should do this in emails too.  Got a question, try these forums…  Hmm – liking this idea.

I would love your help with some more ideas of how I can get my life back and at the same time retain a high level of customer service.  Hopefully this post and the comments will help others who feel their life is no longer their own too.  Thanks for your ideas!

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38 Comments

  1. October 19, 2009 at 1:25 pm —

    I love this site. But I have to say that in terms of what is truly important in life, family and personal health should come first. Perhaps you should consider developing a work schedule. Set a time for specific duties, when time is up, follow the schedule…. attempting to better organize your work may help but…if it shows that you are falling behind, it is clearly time to get some help or scale back. I know you don’t want to do this but it should be considered amongst your other options. Please take care.

  2. October 19, 2009 at 1:46 pm —

    Let people know that your business hours are only from 8am-2pm so emails will be returned within 1-2 days…would that work? The hardest part of working from home is sticking to a time schedule. I think monthly FAQ are a great idea!! People need to keep in mind when you have a general camera questions or photoshop questions you can just write your question into google and you will get tons of tutorials, even you tube has videos that can answers many questions…
    You should only be returning emails that are about your products/classes right away, everything else can wait… 🙂 keep up the good work…a forum is also a fantastic idea, or maybe people can post questions on your facebook page and then everyone else can answer them by replying to the post…

  3. October 19, 2009 at 1:50 pm —

    Dear Jodi,
    I just bought your bag of tricks and I love it. I bought them but waited to hear from you first before emailing and asking where they were:) Your post is very poignant. I can tell you are really concerned about your customers. My suggestion is answer monthly emails. I think most people will understand. Do forums…I would go on one for sure. Don’t feel that you need to reach out and touch all of us…we understand. You are going to wear yourself out and it’s not fair to you or your family. The immediacy of emails now a-days really impose in our family life.
    Good luck to you! I used your actions to edit this week’s iheartfaces entry by the way. Love them!
    Puna

  4. October 19, 2009 at 1:55 pm —

    Brendan – flickr has a strange TOU – I got in trouble once for having a link to my site up – you are suppose to only be allowed one in your profile. Of course everyone does this, and links, but someone reported me and it was take all links down or get suspended. Crazy. So I am a little nervous to try and use flickr for that purpose.

    Andrea – user forum is a small possibility – just not sure if that would lead to less work – could lead to more knowing my personality – and could make it so the blog gets neglected… I have a list of pros and cons for that – we will see.

    Kathy – Q&A/FAQ – yes – I plan to do this for sure in some variation.

    Ally – I am considering this – hiring someone a few hours a day. Just not sure how to set it up and what would make sense, what tasks I feel comfortable giving up, etc…

    Stephanie – I wish 8-2 – LOL. The problem is that I am a do it now person. I cringe at the idea of letting stuff build up. And then you just have the same problems days later. I love the facebook idea – the question is would people go there… I need to figure out how to get people to that page to both ask and answer questions (like a forum but easier)…

  5. October 19, 2009 at 2:06 pm —

    I think if you make a blog post explaining that the facebook page is now for posting questions as well…people would for sure start responding and helping each other. Maybe try that for a while before setting up a forum…I know your a do it now person, but its also not your responsibility to answer EVERYONES random questions that DON’T have to do with your products…all those other questions can be put into the monthly faq questions. many other bloggers do this. For example Jasmine Star answers 10 or so questions on her blog every once in a while, its a great idea becuase I bet you get answered the same questions over and over!! No one if going to hate you for needing to spend time with your family!! Stick to 8-2 and then when you have a free minute in your day (or ur dying to check emails) then do it for a while.

  6. Lori Crouch
    October 19, 2009 at 5:14 pm —

    I think that, if things are clear up front, people adjust. In your case, I would write up something nice that explains your policy and how will respond to questions. Here you can also provide the option w/link to your Facebook page where they may find more immediate help, followed by the list of help forums and other referral sources, etc.

    Auto Responders? Big turn-off.

    Consulting fee? Unless someone wants to hire you, that is a bigger turn-off.

    Hire An Assistant? Only you know if you have the time to train someone and the income to keep them.

    New Website/New Blog/New Forum? Gosh, that seems like MORE work; not less. I created a blog for a workgroup and have never even had the time to set it up properly!

    Good luck. And, just remember, your family is your number one priority. That is the only mistake I made when I had my own business. I got the same, “You’re always working on the computer” but didn’t change anything. All is well, but I regret it. I’m glad you are taking it seriously.

    Best of luck,
    Lori Crouch
    LorenaDigital.Designs@gmail.com

  7. October 19, 2009 at 6:00 pm —

    my 2 cents:

    -like the idea of a FAQ section/list of tutorials: if you get that many repeat questions about the same thing, this would be great & people would STILL get their questions answered! that’s the point in the end!
    -like the hire an assistant idea. i would think you are at the point when that makes sense. even if they work for you remotely, from their own home office, this makes sense if it frees up your time!
    -not a fan of the forum idea/s because that sends people elsewhere & you offer a great service, you’re a reputable professional & forums can be a guessing game ie: who’s advice do you take?

  8. October 20, 2009 at 5:06 pm —

    I didn’t read every response other people left, so forgive me if I repeat anything…

    FAQ posts are a fantastic idea!! I think your loyal blog readers will appreciate this info & understand that you’re a busy girl! Don’t worry about upsetting people – not everyone is in your target audience 😉 Maybe you could even have your new web person create a FAQ page that updates with the info from each FAQ post, so all this info is in one easy-to-find place? (Blog tags do the same thing I guess).

    You should definitely hire an assistant… It sounds like email correspondence is your primary concern, so you could always delegate emails (using your discretion) to your assistant.

    Lists of recommended books, etc. also sounds like a fantastic idea. You can even start an Amazon book store for yourself & link to it from your website. I’ve seen other photographers also do this with their camera gear (for people that email wondering what gear you use). You can even create separate “store” sections for these different categories. You can link to other helpful websites from your new website. Something like this might reduce some of the emails you’re getting.

    Anyway, hopefully I’m not repeating other people too much 😉 You’ll figure it out & you’ll succeed no matter what you decide!!!!!

    Erin

  9. October 21, 2009 at 11:25 am —
  10. October 21, 2009 at 11:28 am —

    Why not charge a monthly or subscription fee?? You are providing a service and helping other photogs improve their business. Perhaps you could keep a “free” section of your site for general tips, etc. and to help promote the subscription side of your site, but then you could have a monthly “membership” fee to a more inclusive area of the site where people can ask questions, etc. This might weed out some of the people who just looking for free advice and don’t particularly value your knowledge and the time and energy you’ve spent learning everything you know. Even if you did $10 a month with a minimum subscription of 6 months or a year… that could even pay for an assistant I would think, b/c I’m pretty sure I would pay $10 to pick your brain! And if this idea works, you can hire me as your assistant because I have great ideas and I work well from home! 🙂

  11. October 21, 2009 at 11:47 am —

    Shared on Facebook as well!

  12. October 21, 2009 at 1:27 pm —

    I tweeted!! http://twitter.com/camillabinks

    Thanks for the contest! This is an awesome prize!

  13. Tina Harden
    October 21, 2009 at 1:40 pm —

    OH man this is AWESOME! I couldn’t be more perfection timing. My confidence in my photography is an 8 but my business savvy and start up plans etc. would be about a 2. I’m so bad to de-value my product thinking thats what gets the sale so bad that I’m essentially paying the customer to us my product. I lack confidence in web and blogging that intimidates me too. My marketing skills suck to put it mildly. I’m overwhelmed by what I need to learn and where to go to learn it to improve all these skills. This looks like an awesome starting block. Thanks for the Opportunity!

  14. October 21, 2009 at 1:49 pm —

    Posted on FB at Missy Ramaker

  15. October 22, 2009 at 1:54 am —

    This may sound like a crazy idea, but you could do what most business owners do when their workload increases to the point they can’t handle it on their own anymore: Hire an employee! 🙂

    I know it would present its own challenges, especially at tax time, but if you brought someone up to speed with your business and hired them on a part-time basis, they could knock out a huge chunk of your e-mail volume and leave you open to do the things you love.

    If you can’t afford to hire an employee, then you can’t afford to answer all those e-mails, and you might have to stop responding. You have to take care of your family first. It’s not fair for people to expect you to provide answers to a million little questions at the cost of your free time and family life.

  16. October 28, 2009 at 1:22 pm —

    Jodie!! this was an AMAZING post!! I’ve been living in what you have basically described and my soul has been craving solace away from the business to go back to what is most important (family and friends, and just life). I have thought of ALL the possible things to cut down the work/emails and most are listed above. I have found most helpful to have:
    (1) FAQ posts (not it is not impersonal at all. People need to know you run a business and have your own things to do too)
    (2) Template replies for frequently asked questions
    (3) hiring a PA – this has been the most wonderful – i found someone who has a perfect personality for the job, happy, bubbly, and a love for photography. She has been trained to answer all types of emails, including questions from other photographers, clients, etc. She will then pass on the client to me when it comes to fostering the relationship for the shoot (ie. after they become my clients). I get CC’d into all emails, and only reply when she doesnt know the answer or the person has officially become my client and I need to get to know them better 🙂

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Confession: When You Realize Something Needs to Change…