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What is Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool and why photographers need it


If you are a commercial photographer, it’s not surprising if you find yourself juggling a good half-dozen tasks. Spreadsheets may keep you organized to a certain degree, but Excel can’t send automated emails to your contacts, invoice clients, or remind you of meetings with vendors. If you are starting to feel overwhelmed, it may be time to consider using a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool.

A CRM is an application that allows you to manage all the interactions you have with leads, customers, and vendors so you can run your photography business more effectively.

Jemma Dilag, a Wonderful Machine photo editor and consultant explains that many photographers don’t feel they have a budget for CRMs or are hesitant to learn a new program.

It comes down to your needs — a small photography business has very different needs than a large commercial studio. First, define your needs, then find a CRM that works for you.

Jemma Dilag using a CRM to add information about a contact

Dallas, TX-based commercial photographer, and director Stewart Cohen has a staff of four as part of his lifestyle photography business and they use a CRM to keep track of all communications. He explains:

We use HubSpot to manage all our contacts, communications, promotions, and histories. It allows you to see the big picture in an easily accessible way.

Benefits of Using a CRM

The most significant benefit of using a CRM is managing customer relationships and tracking communication. Who was the stylist you used in the 2018 fashion shoot? How does today’s estimate today differ from the one you submitted last year? A CRM can replace multiple programs and streamline your photography business by tracking communication history with potential leads, vendors, and longtime customers.

A CRM can have many benefits. Image: Salesforce

You need a CRM. There are many out there at different costs with a variety of features. Whatever you choose, make sure you can export all the information to have access to it if you choose to move to another CRM platform.

— Stewart Cohen

CRM Basics

Every good Customer Relationship Management software will allow you to keep track of people and companies in three main ways: fieldskeywords, and notes. These may be called something differently across different platforms.

Fields are used to record contact information like names, addresses, and phone numbers — making it easy to search for someone specific in your contact database. Keywords allow you to categorize people and companies by type. For example, you can tag clients as publication, agency, or brand.

Finally, notes are valuable for recording your interactions with people over time. When did you last see them work with them? What’s their favorite whiskey? There’s lots of information that may be useful to record. While calendars and billing are valuable functions of any CRM, the client contact database is the core feature.

What Other Features Should You Look For?

You may not need to use every function of a CRM if you use programs like QuickBooks for financial management or if your agent manages your marketing. However, combining your scheduling, projects, and billing into one system can be more beneficial than working from multiple spreadsheets and calendars.

CRM software features infographic

Let’s define the major components of CRMs and how they function specifically for photographers:

  • Tracking history and managing leads — The basic function of a CRM is to centralize contacts and to capture the history of communication with clients and leads. Some CRMs can prospect, manage leads, and send automated emails to prospective clients. A select group of CRMs is sophisticated enough to generate leads through social media accounts.
  • Automated Workflow – Using workflows, you can automate tasks like emailers, and tracking projects. Many programs have templates explicitly made for retail photography specialties like weddings. However, you can modify them to create your own that reflects your business needs.
  • Scheduling and calendar management — A CRM can track meetings and appointments and be especially helpful when syncing with Google calendar and iCal.
  • Billing — Many programs can integrate payment processing platforms like Square, PayPal, and Stripe. They can also generate invoices and accept payments.
  • Financial management — It’s possible to switch from QuickBooks to use a CRM’s financial management tools that track income and expenses and generate reports for filing taxes.
  • Client portals — Client portals can be helpful if you operate a photography business that produces a significant amount of volume that clients need to review and approve.

Many other features and the potential benefits will depend on which CRM you select — we’ll go over different types of CRMs for photography and small business in a subsequent article.

Should You Use A CRM?

Implementing a CRM may be daunting because it requires learning a new platform and getting your information organized to create workflows. However, consider the time you spend on numerous spreadsheets, tracking projects, and scheduling. It may be better to implement a CRM while your business is still manageable and before you hit a growth spurt. Using a CRM can commit you to a long-term plan to grow your business.

Further Reading:

Nutshell: What Does A CRM Do
Business News Daily: How to Set Up Workflows With a CRM
ConvergeHub: 3 Types Of Emails Which You Should Automate with Your CRM

About the Author

Polly Gaillard is a fine art photographer, writer, and educator. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and a Master of Fine Arts in Visual Art from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has taught photography workshops and college courses including summer study abroad programs in Prague, Czech Republic, and Cortona, Italy. She has exhibited her fine art photographs nationally and published a limited edition artist book, Pressure Points, with a foreword by actress Jamie Lee Curtis. Polly’s photographic skills traverse contemporary art, documentary, portrait, and traditional photographic practices. You can find more of Polly’s work on her website and connect with her via LinkedIn. This article was also published on Wonderful Machine and shared with permission.




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