Taking Control Of Your Business

studio-management-for-photographers

We are working on an update to this post since it’s about 2 years old. The criteria below will still be helpful when selecting a studio management program, however a couple of the services have been updated.

Tave is still my top recommendation however both Pixifi and Sprout Studio are great choices as well. Sprout Studio was released after this was published. 

17 Hats is one that has been mentioned quite a bit. It’s a good service, however it’s missing some key features that the three services mentioned above all offer which are better suited for professional photographers.

If you aren’t using some type of studio management system, you are leaving time and money on the table.

Lost bookings from poor follow up, unhappy clients from disorganization, not knowing key marketing and financial data can cost you business.

Right before I opened my photography business in 1997, one of the first things I did was set up financial software and a studio management database to help me organize & manage my business.

It helped me track clients, sales, orders, finances and all the things that go with running a photography studio. I would not have had a successful business without it.

Back then there were few options available. I setup Quickbooks to track finances, but Quickbooks wasn’t great at tracking clients, prospects, workflow and marketing. There weren’t any options for Studio Management software (at least for Mac), so I created my own custom solution using Filemaker Pro.

I called it Photo Mogul.

I used this to manage clients, leads and marketing. It allowed me to import names and leads, track clients, track orders, where clients heard about, print mailing labels, and other client details. It basically managed everything for my studio except the financials.

While I was pretty impressed by what I had done with the software, I was excited to learn about Successware in 1999. It was essentially the same thing I was already using and it added some pretty cool features. Like financial management that was integrated with sales and client data.

That meant I could ditch Quickbooks and Filemaker both. And it worked on Mac.

I was sold.

Creating and managing my own software is not something I wanted to spend time doing.

I used Successware until about 2008/2009, when I switched to Tave. I settled on Tave after trying Studio Cloud and ShootQ.

I went back and tested some these solutions again to see what’s been updated or changed. With the exception of Tave,  I am surprised that almost 6 years later very little has been improved. Especially given the technology available.

I not only use this type of software everyday in my own business, my web development background gives me a good understanding and experience with what the capabilities are.

Which is why I wrote this article. Choosing this type of solution can be overwhelming, especially when you aren’t sure what you need to be looking for.

For this article I will cover the features that are absolutely essential for good studio management and marketing, with a focus on a comparison between Tave and Successware. I’ve also included a list of other services as well.

You may have different requirements based on your needs. No matter what you end up using, you’ll find the list below helpful in choosing any solution.

Everything is broken down into different areas of business, with a checklist of each feature.

 

LEAD-GEN + MARKETING – BOOK MORE CLIENTS

Managing and tracking new leads are vital features for any business. Without the right systems in place it’s easy to drop the ball and miss opportunities. This is one of the biggest areas that photographers miss that costs them new clients.

Key lead-gen and marketing capabilities to look for:

Branded form creator for contact forms, questionnaires, and landing pages.
The best systems should have a brand-able contact form creator to capture leads, and that form should integrate seamlessly with your website.

Contact form database syncing and lead tracking
Having to manually enter new website contacts and leads is tedious, and prone to error. When your contact form automatically adds those leads to your database, followup is easy to manage and track.

Email Marketing
Being able to nurture leads until they are ready to buy is one of the keys to booking more clients. Email marketing is a key for that. It’s also important to be able to segment your leads based on interests and behavior.

Most studio management programs don’t do this, which is why it’s important for a management system to integrate with a great Email Service Provider, like MailChimp.

Automated Marketing & Follow up
Being able to setup an automated workflow that sends out emails or even text messages based on a schedule or criteria you set, means your marketing is consistent and targeted. The best systems can also send automated marketing campaigns and emails based on website activity and past purchases.

Social Lead-Gen or Tracking
A good contact management system should be able to pull available social media profile information on leads automatically.

Importing Leads
Being able to add leads from other services or sources.

Exporting Leads
The ability to add your leads to other services, like MailChimp or an online shopping cart.

Monitor Web Activity & Marketing Automation
More sophisticated systems can track website behavior and trigger marketing based on the actions people take on your website. It also provides you with invaluable research and data. This is powerful stuff.

Imagine you have a blog post about a featured a senior, and being able to gather marketing insight from that senior’s friends who are seeing that post – and then being able to trigger a targeted marketing campaign.

Automatically.
lead-gen
How Tave stacks up
The contact form is very flexible. You can use the brand-able form creator that comes with Tave that is easy to integrate with your website. You can go even further with contact forms if you are using WordPress for your website. With Gravity Forms or Contact Form 7, you can create a contact form and sync it directly with Tave. I like this option best because the form matches your site look without you having to do any coding.

This was a key thing for me because I use Gravity Forms which allows me to send leads to both MailChimp and Tave automatically.

How Successware stacks up
What I did not like about Successware is having to manually enter all leads and the contact form was not usable without additional coding.  Lead follow-up isn’t as seamless because the email feature is clunky. Importing leads is easy but still a manual process. The contact form and web inquiries feature is flat out useless and very dated.

This was one of the biggest reasons I moved from Successware to Tave.

CLIENT + CONTACT MANAGEMENT – GET ORGANIZED AND DELIVER GREAT CUSTOMER SERVICE

Being able to have a complete picture of your clients and leads is crucial. From scheduling and signing contracts, to tracking emails, orders and collecting payments.

A compete history of your studio’s interaction with a lead or client is a must for a good customer experience and helping you keep on top of things.

Key client management capabilities to look for:

Contact Management
You should be able to see everything about your clients and prospects including:

  • Contact information, including social media
  • Sales, order & payment history
  • Marketing information like lead source
  • Track phone or email conversations
  • Appointments
  • Email or text clients directly

Manual Booking
Schedule and track sessions and appointments for clients

Online Booking (Clients can book and pay online)
Can clients or prospects book a consult with you, a session or even pay for a session online? This makes the process of follow-up easy as well.

Customer portal
It’s convenient for both you and clients to be able to view their order history online, make payments on orders and even get information on their appointment times.

Electronic Contracts with signature feature
This is a nice feature to have if you book weddings, and need to provide a quote along with a contract. It’s also great if you require a model release for your sessions.

Add custom fields to track your own data
This is a great for tracking things like yearbook deadlines, high school, class year, social media profiles and other extra data you want added to each client record.

Email with saved responses & automated replies
Saved responses for new inquiries, follow-ups for sessions, orders and more can save a lot of time. Being able to automate some of that will save even more time.

Import Contacts from other services or sources

Export Contacts to other services

SMS/text message reminders
client-management
How Tave stacks up
Tave has all of the features above except SMS & text messaging. The customer portal was one of the nicest features because clients could pay any outstanding balances online at their convenience.

The saved responses and automated email feature was nice as well for automating appointment and order reminders.

Not sure if a client received an email you sent? Tave keeps track of when and if your client opened the email, and also what links they clicked on.

How Successware stacks up
Successware does an excellent job of organizing customer information. While there is an email feature to contact clients and leads it’s not quite as robust as Tave. There are automated reminders for sessions, including an SMS feature, however the SMS feature isn’t a true text messaging feature since they are sent via email.

The appointment booking feature is also excellent. It’s very flexible and thorough.

Successware does not have an online booking or client portal feature, nor is there a way to collect online payments from clients.

PRICING + PLANNING – MAKE MORE

Setting profitable prices for your products and services is key to a healthy a business. A good plan helps you take control of your business.

Key product pricing and planning capabilities to look for:

Product Pricing & Price Lists

  • Setting up products and pricing
  • Price list, and price lists for multiple product lines

Cost of sales
Tracking the cost of producing each product or service takes the guesswork out of how much to charge, and how profitable your products and services are.

Cost of sales calculations
While not an essential feature this is really nice to have, and Successware’s cost of sales calculations are awesome.

Budgeting & Projections
Being able to set sales targets and track them automatically is

Import Price Lists
The ability to import price lists from an Excel Spreasheet/CSV

Export Prices Lists
The ability to export a price list from to an Excel Spreasheet/CSV file is nice to sync with other services and software like online carts or sales software

product-pricing
How Tave stacks up
Tave has great pricing and price list setup that allows you to set pricing based cost of sales. While it shows that % of profit, it’s lacking Successware’s cost of sales calculations that make it super easy to set pricing. Still a solid setup however.

How Successware stacks up
Successware has the edge here with industry standard pricing and business planning. You can create an entire business plan right from the software. Successware has made this process very easy, and they also have great workshops to help with this.

With Successware you can set your cost of sales target as a percentage, and it will automatically show you the price based on that target for all products, which takes the guesswork out and makes it easy.

The budgeting and sales projections are also some of the best features. The planning module of Successware let’s you create an actual business plan. And because it’s tied to the tracking module it shows you past years performance as well.

It’s extremely disappointing that neither Tave or Successware allow for importing and exporting of price lists which means a lot of time sucking manual entry.

SALES + ORDER MANAGEMENT – GROW YOUR SALES

Being able to create and track orders is essential as well. One key feature would be integration with other services and software.

Many studios use multiple sales tools, like online carts, or sales programs like Proselect or Preveal. The ability to track all those things in one place is important in order to give you a complete look at where you are.

In that way direct integration, or at the very least the ability to import orders in from other services is a time saving one.

Key sales & order management capabilities to look for:

Create Orders

Online Invoices & Payments
Being able to send invoices and collect payments online is convenient for both you and your clients.

Imports from orders from Proselect
Proselect is an excellent sales tool and is considered the standard in our industry. The ability to import orders directly is an essential feature

Integrates with online shopping carts
Like Proselect, are another source of orders and the ability to import orders directly is an essential feature

Payment Processing
A payment processing service that works with multiple sales channels, for both offline sales and online orders. It can be a bookkeeping hassle and expensive to have to use multiple merchant processors for accepting credit cards.

That’s why I like Stripe since it works with so many services.

Payment Plans
Being able to offer a payment plan is nice for both sales and clients, but can sometimes be tedious to track and collect payments. A system that automates and handles this is a time saver.

Import Orders
The ability to import orders from an Excel Spreadsheet/CSV from other services like online carts or sales program is an essential feature.

Export Orders
The ability to export orders from an Excel Spreadsheet/CSV for other services like online carts or sales program is an essential feature.

sales-and-order-management
How Tave stacks up
Tave’s payment processing is incredibly flexible. Not only can you send invoices and accept payments from clients online, you can also set multiple payment options.

Stripe integration is a great feature as well. Tave let’s you do payment plans, but it doesn’t automatically charge a client’s credit card.

How Successware stacks up
Successware doesn’t integrate with multiple payment processors, only Pay Junction. However, you can enter payments manually and since you cannot do online payments it doesn’t really make a big difference.

You can email invoices to clients, however payments cannot be made online.

You can do payment plans through Pay Junction, and once a plan is setup, your client’s credit card is automatically charged at a set interval.

While both integrate with ProSelect, and Tave with Shoot Proof, it’s disappointing that neither have an import order or export feature. Not only for integration, but if you decide to move to a new studio management system, you will not be able to import past orders.

BOOKKEEPING + FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT

Bookkeeping is tedious. It’s repetitive and time consuming, so being able to automatically import bank transactions is a huge time saver.

Having everything all under one roof is convenient, however I have yet to find a system that handles bookkeeping well.

So I prefer to use Xero or Quickbooks for this reason

Key bookkeeping and financial capabilities to look for:

Expense Tracking

Import Bank Transactions
Automatically importing and categorizing expenses

Import Expenses
The ability to import bank transactions from an Excel Spreasheet/CSV

Export Expenses
The ability to export expenses to an Excel Spreasheet/CSV file is a key feature should you decide to switch services

Reporting – which is covered in the next section

bookkeeping

How Tave stacks up
Tave does not have financial management or bookkeeping features, other than the ability to add and track expenses. Using Tave as your only financial management would be a challenge.

How Successware stacks up
Successware is great at financial management, but the manual entry is a colossal time suck. Yes you could hire a bookkeeper, but it’s an unnecessary waste of money when the import/export capabilities available in today’s world are there.

It’s disappointing that neither Tave or Successware allow for importing and exporting of expenses or bank transactions which means a lot of manual entry.

It’s even more disappointing that Successware is a complete financial management program, and doesn’t allow for exporting of data. They are basically hijacking your data and that is a big deal breaker for me.

REPORTS + ANALYTICS

A good system will track your sales and marketing related activity. It should go beyond just simply sales totals, and have both sales and financial analytics that really show you how your business is performing.

Key reports & analytics capabilities to look for:

  • Sales Reports
  • Lead or Referral Sources
  • Percentages of booked leads by marketing, product line, etc
  • Best selling products
  • Highest grossing products
  • Highest sales by marketing strategy
  • Sales Averages
  • Profit & Loss
  • Cash Flow
  • Sales Projections vs Actual Sales
  • Expense Projections vs Actual Expenses

report-analyitcs

Both Tave & Successware give you a wealth of data for both sales and marketing, however Successware has the edge with more thorough  reporting. The Sales & Expenses Projections vs Actuals are invaluable.

Tave will have improved reporting and analytics with it’s next release.

WORKFLOW + AUTOMATION – SAVE TIME

Streamlined workflow, business processes and automating repetitive tasks helps you keep on top of things and saves you time and headaches.

Key workflow capabilities to look for:

Calendar
For scheduling appointments, tasks, availability, tracking important events, and keeping it all organized

Calendar integration with iCal or Google Calendar

Task reminders
Automated task reminders that are sent or shown in the dashboard when key workflow tasks are due. Always being able to see where orders or leads are in the process

Set Statuses
Being able to set order, lead, client and session statuses makes it easy for you and your team to see where everything is at a glance

Automate Email auto-responders based on workflow rules
Trigger email reminders and messages for workflow milestones, lead and contact follow-ups, payment reminders and more.

workflow
How Tave stacks up
Tave handles all of the features above very nicely, and has the edge over Successware in terms of automation. It’s workflow rules and setup are very flexible.

How Successware stacks up
Successware isn’t quite as automated, however it does allow you track everything start to finish.

One Successware feature I really like is the printed label option. I could create templates for labels and envelopes which I used to print client envelopes that we used in our production workflow at the studio.

OTHER KEY FEATURES

Backups
Keeping your data safe is incredibility important which makes this feature a no-brainer. If it’s automated even better.

Cloud based
Being able to access your studio management anywhere is another essential – and one of the reasons I left Successware.

Mobile app or access
For brick and mortar studios this might not be as big deal. However if you do in home or location sales,  or location sessions and need info on the fly, you need mobile/celluar access that a laptop can’t provide.

Integrates with email service providers like MailChimp or Mad Mimi
I mentioned above, email integration with a solid provider is essential since email is key marketing tool.

Track Sales Commissions

Employee Features

Multiple Users

Integrates with Zapier
Zapier is a service that connects web apps and services which allows you to automate tasks between those services. For example, if your studio management software was integrated with Zapier you could send invoices to Quickbooks, add subscribers to an email list, and more.

API
API stands for application-programming interface. It’s a set of programming standards for accessing a Web-based software applications. Software companies make their API’s available to the public so that other developers and services can integrate their products with those services.

It’s pretty geeky stuff that makes a software service more flexible. It’s also an indication of how current the development is, and how open the system is. I’m not a fan of closed systems since it usually means my business assets will be at the mercy of those services.

other

 

OTHER STUDIO MANAGEMENT OPTIONS

Here are some other studio management options that are available. These services are included in the comparison charts.

Studio Cloud
Studio Cloud is often mentioned as an alternative for studio and business management, however after trying it twice it fell short in many areas. I tried this in 2008, and decided to give it another try again because some others recommended it.

Ugh.

The software is really out of date. It’s mobile app was last updated in 2013, and it gets a two star rating in the app store. Because the software and user interface are so dated it signals to me that the software is not being kept up to the latest and best available standards.

And it still runs on Flash. Oy.

There’s an online proofing option, a booking option and client portal but I would never want my clients logging into dated software that because it looks unsafe, hurts credibility and reflects poorly on your business.

There were a number of other things that I do not feel that it’s a good a solution for studios. On the surface it has a lot of features that I was looking for. However I found it lacking when it came to actually using it.

ShootQ
I tried ShootQ right before I settled on Tave. It’s very similar to Tave, but I found Tave more flexible with a few more features. ShootQ does integrate with Quickbooks Online which is nice for financial tracking. That’s a great feature and kudos to them for integrating that.

Pixifi – Recommended
Pixifi has a lot of great features, but the branding and interface design are a little dated and kind of ugly. That aside, it’s worth a look. It integrates with email service providers like MailChimp, MadMimi and Constant Contact which is a big plus. Big props to them for adding this integration.

In fact they integrate with a lot of other services which is great. I would put this on my list to try.

Since publishing this, a reader reached out to let me know that Pixifi has updated their design and software. While I haven’t had a chance to look at it, Pixifi was a solid choice already, and others who are using it have mentioned they are happy with it as well.

Simply Studio
I don’t have any experience with Simply Studio. It seems to have some of features mentioned here, however it’s lacking some key client tracking, reporting and other features.

Foto Client
Foto Client new on the scene, and hands down has the nicest interface and website of all the ones I’ve mentioned here. It’s in beta and invite only right now, and I was able to get a invite to try it out.

It’s very simple and works well, however it lacks a lot of key sales, marketing and financial features mentioned here. It is however still in beta and not completed.

There are other services too, and many other features I didn’t cover. The idea behind this list is to provide you with the information you need to help you make the best decision. Many have a free trial so you can try them out.

WHAT I’M USING

I started with Successware in 1999/2000, and moved to Tave in 2009. The ability to automate and integrate with my website, as well the customer portal was key for me. As was being cloud based.

I was also frustrated with the financial management abilities of Successware. While it does an exceptional job of reporting and tracking, the manual and tedious bookkeeping pushed me over to Quickbooks around 2007, where I could import transactions automatically saving me hours of time consuming entering which was prone to a lot human error.

The fact that everything required manual entry on the computer in my studio, also made outsourcing this task to a bookkeeper hard as well, since it was not cloud based.

When I moved to Tave I missed Successware’s exceptional reporting features, so I created the same reports in Excel, and manually created reports each month from exported data. Creating the reports takes about 15 minutes.

I was using Tave up until this year and I still have an account open. It’s the one I recommend to most people.

Right now I’m back to my own solution, my current version of a cloud-based Photo Mogul which I have to say is the best one I’ve used yet.

We are working on an update to this post since it’s about 2 years old. The criteria below will still be helpful when selecting a studio management program, however a couple of the services have been updated.

Tave is still my top recommendation however both Pixifi and Sprout Studio are great choices as well. Sprout Studio was released after this was published. 

17 Hats is one that has been mentioned quite a bit. It’s a good service, however it’s missing some key features that the three services mentioned above all offer which are better suited for professional photographers.

9 thoughts on “Taking Control Of Your Business”

  1. Very interesting article and I found your comparison points helpful. I didn’t see Studio Plus listed and I was wondering, since it’s received numerous “hot awards” from PPA why you left it out of your survey? I currently use a proprietary SMS but am looking to make a change after the first of the year. I’ve looked a bit at Studio Plus and would love to have seen in compared to the others. Thanks, Tamara

  2. Hey Tamara,

    Thanks reading – I’m glad you found it helpful 🙂 There are a lot of options that I left off the list.

    I did briefly look at Studio Plus. The software looked dated, and the website, products and pricing are complicated.

    It does seem to have a lot of features and it’s been around awhile.

    The desktop version is windows only, so I looked at a demo of the online ordering software, and I didn’t like it all so I didn’t bother with the cloud based version.

    BUT – You should give Studio Plus a trial run if it seems to fit what you are looking for. You may end up loving it.

    That’s part of why I listed the features, so that people could decide what features would work best them.

    My experience has been “hot” awards are meaningless – at least in terms of how useful it will be in real world use.

    I have seen many well known names endorse Studio Cloud, and there are a lot of people that swear by it.

    I found it un-usable for my studio and didn’t like at all.

  3. Nanci~ Thanks for your research and opinions, you are saving me time! I’m wondering if you have heard of or messed with 17 hats? They only use stripe and paypal for payments, and I mainly use square and merchant services for payments so I’ve put them off but keep hearing great stuff about them.

  4. Wendy,

    I haven’t had a chance to use 17hats but I have heard good things about it as well. There are a couple of features that 17hats doesn’t have – but depending on you’re setup or needs it may not matter.

    Importing orders from Proselect – 17 hats does not do this

    Tave syncs with the Gravity Forms contact form plugin for WordPress which means web inquiries can be automatically added to both Tave and MailChimp, (or Constant Contact and Mad Mimi.)

    17 hats does not have this feature

    17 hats does not allow for multiple user accounts – this is a nice feature if you have an accountant or bookkeeper.

    One thing I do like is that 17hats does import Bank Feeds, and also lets you manually import expenses from your bank. And while it doesn’t integrate with Financial software like Xero or QB – you may not need it if 17 hats tracks all your expenses.

    17 hats is a pretty new service – Im sure it will only get better and it looks like a pretty viable option.

  5. Nancy,

    I know this is a fairly old post, but it’s still greatly helpful. In addition to the packages you’ve review in this article and maybe those since, have you run across Light Blue Software? It’s photography-specific, and it tracks many of the lanes you mention here. I’m just wondering what your thoughts on it my be.

    Thanks!

  6. Hi Nanci,
    I am just starting my photography business. I am mostly done with the website and have done several portfolio building sessions and have more lined up. Before going live with a website I want to get a management system in place. This review is so helpful. I am going to start my evaluation of Tave with the intention of having it already integrated (email, contact forms, contracts) with the website from the beginning. Thanks!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *