Recorded: Welcome to The Rework with Allison Tyler Jones, a podcast dedicated to inspiring portrait photographers to uniquely brand, profitably price, and confidently sell their best work. Allison has been doing just that for the last 15 years and she’s proven that it’s possible to create unforgettable art and run a portrait business that supports your family and your dreams. All it takes is a little rework.

Episodes will include interviews with experts from in and outside of the photo industry, mini workshops, and behind the scenes secrets that Allison uses in her portrait studio every single day. She will challenge your thinking and inspire your confidence to create a profitable, sustainable portrait business you love through continually refining and reworking your business. Let’s do The Rework.

Allison Tyler Jones: Well, hello there, friends, and welcome back to The Rework. We’ve had a much-needed rest and we’re ready to start season two of The Rework in 2023. And today’s guest is my friend and favorite guest, Kathryn Langsford from Photos By Kathryn. And we are talking today about navigating the slow seasons or slow seasons in your business, times when things might seem not so busy, those times that put us into a tailspin, that make us tell ourselves untrue stories about how we’ll never work again and might be living in a van down by the river with our children. You all know what I’m talking about. So, jump in, listen to the things that we’ve learned along the way, the things that we do during the slow season and I know that you’re going to find some good tidbits and I’m just so happy to be back. Let’s do it.

Allison Tyler Jones: PBK, it’s 2023.

Kathryn Langsford: ATJ, it sure is.

Allison Tyler Jones: I’m so happy that you’re here. I’m happy to see your face.

Kathryn Langsford: Me too. I love seeing you and talking to you.

Allison Tyler Jones: I know. Okay. So what I want you and I to talk about today is navigating the slow season. Because you are in Canada and even while I’m in sunny Arizona, it’s still the post-Christmas trough. So talk to me about this time of year. I mean, you’ve got it all figured out, you don’t worry about booking when it gets slow or you don’t have any of those problems, right?

Kathryn Langsford: No, not so much. As we were saying earlier, I mean, so I’m going into my 24th year, I’m almost at 24 years and it never gets easier. This time of year never gets easier. I mean, I have things in place so that I book the first quarter of the year, I know that it will be slow first quarter of the year, I put off certain tasks until then. But still coming in and having the phone ring less and less activity and less client action still brings up those old fears. I still have to work on that.

Allison Tyler Jones: Okay, and so that makes us have stories in our head.

Kathryn Langsford: Yeah, absolutely.

Allison Tyler Jones: What are your stories?

Kathryn Langsford: My stories are, “Okay, it’s all over. The recession has finally caught up. This is a luxury item that people just can’t afford anymore and I’m done.” Those are my worst stories.

Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah, mine are that everybody just looked at the heartbreaking imagery on the wall of their beautiful children and woke up and went, “Wait, why would I ever pay her to do that for me? Have I been under a spell? And I’m never going back.”

Kathryn Langsford: Oh, so they all have buyer’s remorse? Okay.

Allison Tyler Jones: Right. Or something, I don’t know. I mean, just why is everybody not beating down my door the first week of January or second or February, whatever?

Kathryn Langsford: Yeah. That all my fears through the years, they were all true and I just got lucky up until now and it’s just done.

Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah. It’s been a fluke. It’s a fluke.

Kathryn Langsford: Yeah. The bottom was going to fall out.

Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah. 24 years in business, fluke.

Kathryn Langsford: I’m going to have to sell the house. Oh my gosh, I just moved in here, how am I going to pack up and move out? I mean, honestly, it just all gets out of control.

Allison Tyler Jones: Living in a van down by the river together. Well, maybe we could have a van together.

Kathryn Langsford: That would maybe be great, actually.

Allison Tyler Jones: Just park my van next your van. I love it.

Kathryn Langsford: Maybe it’s worth closing up shop.

Allison Tyler Jones: No, we’re not doing that because that wouldn’t be no fun and we love what we do usually. Almost always. Okay, so at this time of year or any time of year where business seems to be slower, the phone is ringing less than normal, external forces loom larger than maybe they do at other times. And we have a lot of external forces going on in this world right now. One of the slides I had in my talk that I just gave at Imaging was about doing business in an uncertain world. And then even just as I made that slide, I’m like, “Has there ever been a certain world?”

Kathryn Langsford: Yeah, not so much. I mean, prior to 2008, 2009, my business was still growing, I was still trying to get where I wanted to be. So it wasn’t certain times then either, even though maybe the economics or the financial outlook for the world was a bit better, but I wasn’t solid as a business. So then when that big crash and recession hit, that was just survival. It was a bit of a rock bottom and in some ways, just in terms of needing to start from, okay, how are we going to get people to phone and come on in at a time when no one’s doing anything?

Allison Tyler Jones: You’ve got to get scrappy. Right. Well, and I think looking back at that time, because I was in business at that same time, we tried a lot of different things, we varied what we were offering to our clients and doing different things. But the thing that’s great about that now is when we’re looking ahead at maybe there’s a recession looming, maybe it’s not, we don’t know, everybody has a different opinion. But you and I have had the conversation, “Hey, we survived 2008, so we know how to get through that.”

Kathryn Langsford: And we were less strong then than we are now.

Allison Tyler Jones: Right, exactly. For sure.

Kathryn Langsford: For sure.

Allison Tyler Jones: Okay, so I want to just challenge our listeners and each other, as we want to do in our many conversations, to when you feel yourself getting this panicky, “My phone isn’t ringing. I don’t have as much on the calendar as I would like to have.” To just start quantifying some of those thoughts instead of spinning it into a full story of doom and gloom. And the other bad thing is when we get really scared and we tell ourselves stupid stories, we do stupid things.

Kathryn Langsford: We have knee jerk reactions.

Allison Tyler Jones: Right. So what have been some of the stupid things that you’ve done?

Kathryn Langsford: Oh, mini sessions. Top of the list. “Let me just make it really cheap to just get people in there. Let’s just lower that barrier for entry so that I can get people in here and then hope to sell to them.” Yeah, for sure. So any kind of discounting, not to mention breaking my own rules, things that I’m usually firm on, because I want to make sure I’m working with clients that are perfect for me and that my service is perfect for them. All that goes out the window, if they’re calling me, I’ll do it.

Allison Tyler Jones: “I have a mirror, can you fog it up? We’re doing business here.”

Kathryn Langsford: Yeah. “You want a baby in a basket? You’ve come to the right place.”

Allison Tyler Jones: “Nevermind that I don’t have any baskets, you’ve got a basket, bring your own basket. I’m going to shoot that kid in the basket.” Yeah.

Kathryn Langsford: Yeah, exactly.

Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah. Cake smash, bring it.

Kathryn Langsford: Breaking my own rules that were made for very good reason.

Allison Tyler Jones: It’s true and I hear that a lot with our listeners to the podcast, I just spent a week in Nashville with many photographers, and there’s just something about that fear and that we can have the best intentions, we’ve gone to a class, we’ve figured out what our pricing needs to be, we’ve made new rules, figuring out what is going to build a sustainable, profitable business, and literally the first sign of pushback or the first sign of slow down and we are ready to just check it with both hands.

Kathryn Langsford: Yeah, absolutely.

Allison Tyler Jones: So it does take a little bit of an intestinal fortitude to look past that and go, “Okay. No, I actually don’t want to do business another way, I’m okay where I’m at.” And one of my favorite quotes is from a guy named Steve Chandler and he said that, “It’s not the how-to, it’s not how to do whatever it is that we need to do.” So if you’re a brand-new photographer and you’re trying to figure out your camera, it’s not the how-to because there’s a million YouTube videos. It’s, do you want to sit and do a bunch of different sessions and screw up a whole 10 and get better? Because it’s not the how-to, the how-to is out there, it’s, do you want to do that? And some people don’t. And so the same as with business, do you want to look for ways to get scrappy and figure out how to get business in that doesn’t involve cratering your profitability? And we’re going to talk about what some of those things might be. Or do you just want to complain and say, “Well, I don’t know how.”

Allison Tyler Jones: And so he says, “Having a weak want-to inside of us will create an exaggerated fear of the forces outside of us.” And those forces are, “Oh, there’s so much competition. The economy’s in the toilet. Maybe we’re in a bad location.” Or people say, “Oh, not in my town,” or whatever. All the things that we’ve had, employee problems or a lack of cash to plow into the business, all of those outside forces appear exceptionally strong, only when our inside want-to is weak. But you know how when you finally catch that real bug of photography, when you finally realize, “I don’t care how many kids I have to shoot, I am going to figure this out because I love it and this is what I want to do.” And my want-to has always been, “I don’t want to get a real job.” And so I have to figure out how to make this business support my family because I’ve now been ruined and I can’t work for anybody else. So that’s my want-to. Are you with me?

Kathryn Langsford: Yeah. I mean, even though it’s not always so desperate feeling, I’m always coming from a place of survival. That’s not to say that I’m always feeling like I’m on the verge of starving.

Allison Tyler Jones: No, but that’s always a possibility.

Kathryn Langsford: Sorry?

Allison Tyler Jones: You know that’s always a possibility.

Kathryn Langsford: Oh yeah, for sure. I’m the only breadwinner in the home and it is all on me and two children and mortgage. So yeah, I think for me, I mean, I am driven by creativity in some senses, but in most senses, I want the business to remain profitable and I want to continue to be able to support my family.

Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah. And I think that is, at the core, at least the most entrepreneurs that I know, we all are like, “Okay, we could be one bad month away from…” Even though we’ve saved and we’ve done lots of really smart things or whatever, we’re always just pretty sure that it could disappear at any time. And I think there’s smarts in that, that I don’t want to call it a scarcity mindset, but it does keep you hungry and it does keep you moving and trying to continually level up and make things better. Probably isn’t super adaptive as far as mental health goes.

Kathryn Langsford: No. And you know what? I think it is a scarcity mindset. It’s like that feeling of, “I’m going to lose all this. This is all going to be taken away from me. There’s not going to be any more in the future.” And I’ve got news for you, for the last two years, for the first time in the history of my business, I have savings in my business, a lot of savings. I didn’t have that before, I was always just trying to stay in the black, dipping in the red several times a year. I just couldn’t figure it out. And now I’m really happy that I have savings in my business and I’m still having the same thoughts of, “Oh no, I’m going to lose everything. Oh no, the phone’s never going to ring again.” I mean, I don’t live in those thoughts, but those thoughts still come.

Allison Tyler Jones: Okay.

Kathryn Langsford: And it’s like I need to adjust my course in my mental state, especially this time of year, I need to remind myself, downtime is good, downtime is useful. And just look at the track record of, it has not fallen apart in the last 23 years, there’s nothing about this year that’s going to make it happen now. I need to just have little pep talks.

Allison Tyler Jones: Sure. Well, and I think we do play that role for each other and I think that’s helpful for photographers to have friends in the business that aren’t in the same market, that can call each other. And I can say for you all the time, I can sit outside of your business and look at the brand that you’ve built and the business that you have and be like, “Dude, this is not going anywhere. You are amazing, you’re great, your reputation, your brand, everybody wants a piece of PBK.” And I truly believe that, this is not just blowing hot air, it really is that, and you can do the same for me, but sometimes we can’t do it for ourselves.

Kathryn Langsford: Right. Because there’s so many other limiting beliefs that come from our upbringing, that might even come from our parents. My grandparents were in the depression, my mother raised me with depression era scarcity. There’s not enough food to have seconds. Why would you ever get new clothes when this neighbor is handing away perfectly… I’m not throwing my mom under the bus, she was a great mom and did the best she could, but it was ingrained in me that there might not be enough. And so I’m generations away from that, there is enough for my family, but I still have these recurring, what if there’s not enough? What if I can’t make enough money? An example is when we’re buying a house and we’re buying a car, I don’t know if this happens to anybody else, but when I’m buying a big ticket item and there’s a monthly payment, I guaranteed have the fear that I won’t be able to make that payment and that’s too much for me and then I’m going to have to give this house back because I’m not going to have enough.

Kathryn Langsford: It never goes that way, there is always enough, there is always enough money and more than enough money because on top of the house, we also take a vacation that year and do this and do that. But there’s something in me that’s like, “Oh no, I’m not going to be able to keep this great thing that I just bought.” So learning to switch that to, I deserve everything I have. I mean, I’m not overextending myself, that would be a whole different situation.

Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah, you’re grateful.

Kathryn Langsford: There’s still a window into what goes on.

Allison Tyler Jones: No. Or being grateful and knowing. For me, see, I have the guilt. Mine’s not thinking that I’m going to lose it, although there’s a part there, but mine is if I get a new car or something new, I’m like, “There are people that don’t have this, and so I don’t deserve it.” I should be sending all my money to… I mean, all my money, but you know what I’m talking about. And so there’s a huge feeling of like, “Oh, I don’t deserve it.” I have a huge issues with that. So I don’t know how we got here, but we’re now opening up our brains.

Kathryn Langsford: That’s what gets woven into those messages of, “Oh no, if the phone isn’t ringing, that means it’s all over.” It comes from a history of thinking a certain way, it doesn’t just come from being a business owner in a year where money’s tight. It comes from a whole bunch of things that you’ve been-

Allison Tyler Jones: There’s a whole lot of stories. Okay. So I would say one of the first ways that I started breaking some of these thought processes, again, the feelings still come up, the fears still come up, the thoughts still come up, but I think that you and I have both gotten better at dealing with them and not doing stupid knee jerk reactions and we’ve channeled it into more positive, proactive behavior. But I think one of the first things I had to realize was that a slower time in your business does not necessarily mean that the business is broken or that you’re doing it wrong.

Allison Tyler Jones: And that’s where I think sometimes when we make changes that we know we have to make, pricing would be a big one, or changing your rules, they can’t just get a bunch of little prints, they need to put something on the wall because that’s how you really see it, and that’s the kind of service that you want to offer. And you do get some kickback or maybe your phone rings a little bit less, whatever that is. Well, first of all, nobody knew that you changed that rule. I mean, unless you have a plane flying over your town saying, “PBK is no longer selling eight by tens unless you buy wall art.” It’s not happening. So people don’t even know, it’s just that there are times in the year that are slower than others.

Kathryn Langsford: So you’re saying you would be okay with doing that if you needed to during a slow time? Is that what you’re saying?

Allison Tyler Jones: No, I’m just saying sometimes we make a change. I’ve had students that have said, “Okay, I changed my prices and now my phone’s not ringing.” I’m like, “Well, nobody knew that you changed.”

Kathryn Langsford: Oh, I see. Yeah, the phone-

Allison Tyler Jones: Nobody knows that you changed your prices.

Kathryn Langsford: Got it.

Allison Tyler Jones: You’re not Walmart, you don’t have that kind of an ad budget. Nobody knows that you changed anything. Now, you might have converted a few less phone calls. So let’s just say that maybe you had some phone calls and you just converted less of them, then that’s interesting, that’s a piece of data that you do want to look at. And if maybe everybody’s saying, “Okay, this is too expensive.” Maybe you need new ways to talk about it, which is usually always the case. It’s like you need a new way to talk about it because you’ve been selling on price maybe for a really long time. So maybe how do we sell on value versus price? Also, when we’re thinking about that our business is, “Slow,” what are we comparing that to? Are we comparing it to the competition? So how would we know? Maybe your photographer in your town is posting all these portraits that she’s doing and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, she’s so busy.” Well, she might be super busy, she might be priced differently than you, she might have a different business model than you-

Kathryn Langsford: But she might be doing free artist sessions that she’s just having friends and neighbors come in to create content.

Allison Tyler Jones: Or she might be busier than you, who knows? But I find that that’s unhelpful because you don’t really know what’s going on with somebody else. So I find if you’re going to compare yourself to anybody else, the best person to compare yourself to is yourself this time last year.

Kathryn Langsford: Yep. Or better yet, the last three years.

Allison Tyler Jones: Yes. Okay. So just say more about that.

Kathryn Langsford: Well, just because there could have been something weird about last year. In my client management software, TavĂ©, I have on my dashboard, and one of the things I can see is monthly sales for the last however many years I want. I usually look at three. And it just shows a graph where you can see where you’ve been each year. And it’s usually quite similar, the peaks are around certain times of year, the dips are around certain times of year. Which is comforting, but then you can also see, “Okay, I feel really slow, but you know what? I’m the same as last year.”

Allison Tyler Jones: Right.

Kathryn Langsford: And part of it is the sales, I am slower, but my three sales might equal the nine sales I had two years ago.

Allison Tyler Jones: Exactly.

Kathryn Langsford: So I am slower, it is quieter, but I’m making the same amount. And just looking at that data helps me, I do that kind of thing when I’m really wondering, is this weird? Is this extra slow? And usually the answer is no.

Allison Tyler Jones: But I think there are a lot of us out there, and I can think of one student in particular, and she wouldn’t care if I called her out, Alison Gallagher, who is a workhorse and she’s just always been work, work, work, work, work, work all the time, kill yourself, work all the time. And so when she’s not work, work, she feels like… And you and I have had that conversation because you and I tend to be very similar to that. So we get into this uncomfortable place of, it almost becomes not about the money, it’s just that I’m not running around a chicken with my head cut off.

Kathryn Langsford: Okay. So for me to transition out of that, because that was totally me also, totally. And I was forced out of it because I burned out and became unwell, it wasn’t sustainable. And I sustained it for 21 years, but after that, it wasn’t sustainable.

Allison Tyler Jones: After that 21 year fluke, it became less sustainable.

Kathryn Langsford: Just that mentality of, if I am not completely, fully double booked and hugely scheduled every day and the phone is ringing off the hook and I always have a stack of things left to do when I leave the office and a big inbox full of emails, then that means I’m a failure. Just getting out of that. And what helped me to get out of that was a few things, but looking at how much money I made when I was behaving that way versus having transitioned my business to bigger, fewer jobs and seeing that the money’s the same and I’m more sane. It was not easy, I needed to do a lot of comparisons like that, comparisons with myself to look at, okay, this is what it was like then, this is what it’s like now. These are the reasons it’s better now. But yeah, it wasn’t an easy transition to just embrace not being busy like that.

Allison Tyler Jones: Well, and I think that’s where the data comes in, is that you have to have something outside of the inside of your skull to check yourself against because you can just spin endlessly and then you’re making really stupid decisions when things might be going way better than you realize, but you’re just not running around crazy. So it’s that idea of, how do I become less busy? That less but better idea that essentialist, Greg McKeown, that we love so much. Yeah.

Kathryn Langsford: That wisdom. And that needs to be demonstrated. I think once I saw a few examples of, okay, when I’m less busy, I can be more creative. When I’m less busy, I can give my clients a better experience because I’m thinking about them more. When I’m less busy, less things fall through the cracks because I’m not just constantly cramming everything in my head, I’ve got some more open space. When I’m less busy, I’m better for my family. Sure, I was working really hard and doing what I thought I should do to support a family, but I was so tired and distracted and now I’m more present and much better for my family in my home life.

Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah, for sure. But there is a, I’m going to say the wrong word, but a self-righteousness about being super busy. There is a more-

Kathryn Langsford: A glorification of being busy.

Allison Tyler Jones: Yes. I can remember sitting at my desk at 07:00 or 08:00 PM and my bookkeeper would come in and she’s like, “You look horrible. You look so tired.” And I would just burst into tears because I’m like, “I have all this stuff here, I haven’t even billed these clients. I don’t know what I’m… I just had no help. But at the same time when anybody would say, “Oh, are you so busy?” I’d be like, “Oh yeah, we’re so busy.” So I would feel pride in that.

Kathryn Langsford: Absolutely. And I think that comes from messages we tell ourselves too. If you’re not crazy busy, then that means your business isn’t successful and you’re basically on the way to failure.

Allison Tyler Jones: We’re clearly not French. And you are clearly an abnormal Canadian, this is a very American situation.

Kathryn Langsford: Oh, right. Okay.

Allison Tyler Jones: I think a very US. The glorification of busy. Okay, so we won’t go down that road. So what are some other things, navigating the slow season? Let’s say that you’ve looked at your numbers and you realize you’re about the same as last year, this is just going to be a slower time. Maybe you’re in the frozen tundra of Calgary, Canada or Michigan or someplace where you just aren’t going to do a lot of stuff in the snow, and you are a location photographer or whatever. So what are some things that you have done in slower times that you’ve found helpful?

Kathryn Langsford: Yeah, I’ve done a few things. I might spend some time doing things that get lost when I’m busy, like blocking my calendar ahead for the rest of the year, maybe looking at my website, seeing if it needs to be cleaned up, if it needs to be updated. I just met with someone I do some marketing with yesterday and she gave me a few little tricks to improve my SEO performance. When I’m busy, I would’ve had that talk and I would’ve forgotten about all those things and they would’ve stayed written on a list that I’d never look at. But tomorrow I have time, so I’m going to do all those things. Just cleaning up stuff that becomes messy when you’re busy, for lack of a better word, just putting things back where they belong in terms of our hard drives.

Kathryn Langsford: So we’ve actually been spending days cleaning up our hard drives, I won’t go into the details of it, but just making sure everything’s cataloged perfectly and we’re not saving things in duplicate or triplicate and that everything is all set up for the coming year in the current drive. That’s something that is really valuable because then it allows you to work more efficiently as you have this really clean, neat system. But when we get busy, we just get sloppy and save multiples of files or whatever, those kind of things. I might have time to go drop in on my framer or my printer, which I don’t do in the busy season, and just make that personal connection, bring them like a box of donuts or something and just, “Hey, how are you guys doing?” Spend half hour there, within some face time.

Kathryn Langsford: I attend my installations in person when I’m not busy, so that’s really nice. I mean, there’s a lot of value in that. I should probably be doing that all the time, but when I’m busy, I don’t always get on things like Latergram, set up Latergram for the Instagram. That’s something I never really had time to drill down and figure out and I’d really like to do that. Even figuring out how to properly use reels, I’m just starting to do that and I’m just winging it, but I’m sure I can dial that in more.

Allison Tyler Jones: It’s looking good.

Kathryn Langsford: Watch a couple of videos.

Allison Tyler Jones: It’s looking good. What’s your Instagram handle again? Just so we can-

Kathryn Langsford: PBK_Studio.

Allison Tyler Jones: PBK_Studio. Yeah. I love the stuff that you’ve been posting lately, I think it looks so good.

Kathryn Langsford: Thanks.

Allison Tyler Jones: So yeah-

Kathryn Langsford: It’s not hard, but I’m sure I can get better at it. And then also picking up orders that fell through the cracks, going through second proposals, people who through the years, maybe they wanted this big bunch of stuff and in the salesroom they were getting hung up on these three little pieces and you’re just like, “Let’s scrap those three for now and put them on a second proposal for later. Let’s go with the stuff that’s a lock.” And you can close your sale with that and then you’ve got this floating proposal that never got followed up on. Go back through and see who those people are and see if they want to pick up on… But I don’t do a lot of drumming up business during this time because the reason it’s slow is there’s a reason, people are not really in action spending mode this time of year is what I’ve learned, they’re burnt out from Christmas.

Kathryn Langsford: So I don’t do a ton of that, chasing after new work, I do more housekeeping and getting things. There may be things in the studio that I want to dial in more, client experience things, like the prizes I give to kids or the bathroom. We just did a whole bunch of upgrades in the bathroom to make it more of a change room and make it really high-end and researched some really high-end bathroom products like the hand wash and the lotion and stuff, and just made sure we had all that all dialed. So things like that.

Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah. And it is things that you can lose sight of when you’re busy. And I know for me, what I’ve found really helpful at the beginning of every year is to almost come in and walk in my front door of my studio and video as I’m walking through and then watch the video. Because somehow you can see all the crap that’s sitting on the table that has become invisible to you because you just see it all day every day. And you see where the cleaner’s mop has made the dirty corners or something that needs to be repainted or the wall that I always back up against when I’m shooting, my jeans have been rubbing it, so there’s a weird blue spot that needs to be painted over where my rear end was or whatever. There’s always these little things and so to come at it with a fresh… Aren’t there so many businesses that you wish would do that when you go into their restaurant?

Kathryn Langsford: Don’t even get me started on how I wish other businesses would treat their clients, namely me.

Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah, totally.

Kathryn Langsford: The good thing about it is it reaffirms that we’re doing it right, but honestly, don’t even get me started.

Allison Tyler Jones: I know. Ivan and I had lunch today at this Thai restaurant and I’m sitting there looking around and I’m like, “Can I please come in here and redecorate this place for you? It wouldn’t cost you anything. Just tear down those curtains that have nine inches of dust on them and repaint that wall and get rid of the weird mirrors that look like they were in Vegas or whatever.” I mean just clean it up and you don’t see it. And the cook’s back there on his phone loud talking on the other side of the wall and I mean, there’s just things that are… But we have infractions that we do that need to be fixed. Yep.

Allison Tyler Jones: Do you sometimes feel like it’s difficult to get on the same page with your client? You email them a price list, you email them a contract, you send them information, and it seems like nobody’s reading anything anymore. Well, I found that even doing an in-person consultation with my clients, that there are sometimes things still falling through the cracks. So I’ve developed what I call my consultation game plan booklet. It allows me to get on the same page with my clients so that nothing is left a chance. After 13 years of revising our internal ATJ consultation form, which by the way is available for free at Dotherework.com, I realized that I needed something more for my consultations. I wanted my clients to leave the consultation with more than just a pretty brochure, more than just a price list that had no context.

Allison Tyler Jones: What I needed was a single-printed piece that would leave nothing to chance and achieve the following goals. I wanted to educate my clients about the price ranges of my products. I wanted to help my clients understand what I would and wouldn’t be shooting for them during their portrait session. And also ensure that they felt confident about selecting clothing for their session. So this consultation game plan booklet is part brochure, part getting ready guide, part running out the door last minute checklist and part consultation form that the client gets to take home with them and most importantly, share with their family, in-laws and their spouse or partner. It’s all in one, a single booklet that the client takes with them at the end of their consultation.

Allison Tyler Jones: So, I’ve been using this booklet in my business for the last five years and we’ve revised it many times and this is the first time that we are offering it to our Rework community to use in their own portrait studios. And so this booklet is available online, in layered PSD files so that you can lay your own images, logo, everything branded into this booklet to use in your studio. It also gives you access to our online mini course, which includes a video lesson with me on how I use the game plan booklet in my consultations and an actual video recording of me with an actual client in an actual client consultation using the game plan booklet and how it’s used during that time. So go to Dotherework.com/gameplan and get this mini course and this consultation game plan booklet to use in your studio. It will change your consultations forever.

Allison Tyler Jones: Okay. So clean up, making plans, I think that one thing that you said that I want to call out is the idea of really looking ahead at the year, looking at how many sessions you did last year, how did that feel? Do you want to do the same amount of sessions this coming year? Do you want to do less sessions? Were you happy with what your average sale was? Do you want it to be more? And then if you want your average sale to be more, do you want to do the same amount of sessions? Do you want to do less? Is there something big coming up this year, like a big vacation that you’re going to take? Or we just moved the studio, we’re getting ready to move our house probably in the next couple months, so there’s going to be some big gaps of time that are going to take me off the grid to go make those big projects happen. How am I working that around?

Allison Tyler Jones: And that’s shifting. Many of us have worked for other people and now we own our own businesses, but some of us still have that vestiges of that employee mindset, which is, “I just need a paycheck every single week or month or whatever.” And when you own your own business, that’s not usually the case. It’s usually, you’ll have a busier time and then there’s a slower time. And if you’re a huge corporation, you know that and so you manage your cash flow accordingly. But when you’re a creative or a solo printer, we tend to, “Oh, great, there’s tons of money coming in and I’m sure it’ll be like this forever, even though I’ve been in business for, you 24, me 17 years, and I just had the most amazing Christmas for my kids and now I’m broke.” Which we’ve all done that too.

Allison Tyler Jones: Or you forgot that you actually needed to plan for taxes, and you spent all the money on new gear and then you have no money for taxes or whatever. So there’s just certain things that you’ve got to plan for and how much better to say… I know one thing you’ve always done, that you really liked because you knew you were going to be dead by the end of the holiday season, so you would plan a trip to Hawaii and would go for a week.

Kathryn Langsford: Three weeks.

Allison Tyler Jones: Oh, three weeks? Even better. So you have to plan for that and you have to know that your mortgage is still going to get paid during that time. Yeah.

Kathryn Langsford: Oh yeah, planning out ahead is not something I did in the past, I’d just deal with what was in front of me. So now, first of all, I like to block my time in a certain way, shoot on this week, production on this week, view and orders on that week. So setting that up and then, again, not losing track of, I’ve got shoots coming up in February and there’s a couple of them that I don’t have their walls yet, and that won’t sneak up on me.

Kathryn Langsford: I won’t lose track of that because I have my Google Calendar and then I put tasks down the side and I have different categories of tasks that I look at every day with my calendar, and one of them is walls, and then all the clients who haven’t sent me walls and then view and orders, all the clients who I haven’t booked view and orders with. So I’m looking at that every day and not letting it sneak up on me because that’s going to eat into my bottom line if I don’t really handle that in the optimum way according to the process that I like to-

Allison Tyler Jones: The process of your business and the-

Kathryn Langsford: The way I work.

Allison Tyler Jones: Yes, I know. Hello, are there words? No, but it makes me think about restaurants. Just going back to that for a second. I find that there’s a perfect amount of busy when you go to a restaurant. You want them to be like, “Hop in.” Not to where there’s an hour-long line at the door and you can’t get in. But it’s going and they’re in their groove and the food is coming out and it’s hot and it’s great and there’s just an optimum level of clients or customers coming in and out of that. And so you find that, wow, even though this is busy, man, my food came out and it was hot and it was great and everything was good. And then you go in another time and maybe it’s two in the afternoon or it’s slow or whatever and it takes forever to get your food, they forgot half your stuff. It’s like they’re just not on their game.

Kathryn Langsford: Yeah, that’s exactly it.

Allison Tyler Jones: So we can do that too in our off time. Sometimes, I know for me, I’ve had years where January would come and go and by February I’d be like, “Maybe I should probably head back to the studio.”

Kathryn Langsford: Yeah.

Allison Tyler Jones: I can’t face it because I killed myself during October, November, December. So I think there is something in that managing your capacity. And one of the things I’d love for you to talk about is how you looked at your calendar and said, “Look, I don’t want to work Mondays and Fridays anymore, I’m going to work Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday.” And how something would come up and you would feel like you needed to schedule it right away because a client would ask for it, and then how you mentally push that off. So talk to me about that a little bit.

Kathryn Langsford: Yeah. Well, that was still along the lines of what we were talking about earlier, feeling like if I wasn’t busy, I was a failure. And just that built in thought of, if a client needs something, I need to give it to them as soon as possible. But I had committed to a three-day week and I needed it for my family and for my mental health and I just really wanted to make it work. And so I spent time training myself that no matter who calls or what they want, they will be scheduled on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. And not only a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, but one that makes sense with regard to what they’re asking for. So for example, if they want a photo session, I’m putting them on the day that I have slotted for photo sessions.

Allison Tyler Jones: Yes.

Kathryn Langsford: Even if that’s two and a half weeks away and I have time now. Or even if it’s three months away and I have time, whatever. What I’m saying is, I had set up my schedule in a way that was optimum for me and then I’ve trained myself into actually following through with that when people called. Because yes, definitely the temptation was to just say, “Oh, you want that? Okay, I can book you in on Thursday.” Or whatever and that was going to make my plan crumble. So I had to really pushed that through, but the benefits have been incredible, me blocking my time in terms of doing certain types of work on certain weeks and taking every Monday and Friday off, blocking that, I feel more in control of my life, I’m not at the mercy of who calls and what they want. I’ve designed how I’m going to spend my time and it really fits with my life. It feels really good.

Allison Tyler Jones: And I’ve also seen from outside looking in, watching you do this, and then I know if I’m a big fan of the calendar blocking as well is I find that you and I both, when we do roll in to shoot something or we go in, we’re prepared and creatively we’re refreshed, we’re excited to be there. It’s not like, “Okay, I’ve got to shoot this and then I got to go get my other cute outfit on to sell.”

Kathryn Langsford: Oh, absolutely.

Allison Tyler Jones: Whatever. We’re not being just jerked around. Again, we’re not being jerked around by clients, we did it, we scheduled it, but you think, “Oh, it’s got to be this.” Well, people are just asking what they need now. If one of my best clients called and said, “Look, my kid is flying in, they’re only going to be here on this day.” Of course, we can make that happen.

Kathryn Langsford: Yeah, same.

Allison Tyler Jones: But I think that-

Kathryn Langsford: Yeah, but those are very rare situations.

Allison Tyler Jones: Very rare. Yeah.

Kathryn Langsford: I have a client who’s a doctor and she only has Mondays off, so I switched a week for her session and I’ll switch a week for her view and order. But that’s very rare and it’s only if it’s worth it. If there’s times where there’s someone who can only do certain days, but honestly, they only need a 10-minute conversation or whatever, do you know what I’ll do? I’ll just stay late on a Thursday and say, “Why don’t I zoom with you at 7:00 PM?” If I need to make my three days longer days in order to stick to those three days, that’s worth it to me because then I still get those solid four days off in a row.

Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah. And I mean, look at nurses usually work three twelves. This idea, this nine to five or whatever, I think sometimes we can just get in this industrial mindset that is no longer serving us or our clients for that matter. Another thing that I was thinking of too is how we can get into this over-committed thing. I know we’re renovating a house right now and I’m not going to say what I want to do, but I want to hurt every subcontractor that’s working at my house. And I’m like, “Why are you guys taking on more business than you could possibly do? You’re basically cratering your reputation, everybody hates your guts.” But you talk to these guys and they’re like, “Well, you’ve got to strike while the iron’s hot. You’ve got to make hay while the sun’s shining.” Figure out your metaphor here.

Allison Tyler Jones: But I’m like, “No, but I hate you and I will never use you again and I will talk bad about you to everybody that I know because you have promised me that you’ll be here again and again, and then you disappoint me again and again because you’ve promised 20 other people and you’re one guy.” And so I think that that has been very instructive for me to realize, there’s one guy, literally of all the trades on this house, one guy, and he’s the guy that built my block wall around my house, and I talked to him and he said, “I would love to tell you that I could start this week, but I can’t. I am going to start on the 10th.” Whatever the date was. “I think it will take this many days, but I will let you know.” So the 10th was coming, on the eighth, he said, “The block has not arrived for the wall, it’s going to be the 11th. I’m so sorry.” But he let me know, that never happens.

Kathryn Langsford: Yes. The whole notion of under promise, over-deliver is woven into the fabric of PBK’s mission. Everything we do is under promised and over-delivered. We used to have a production timeline of six weeks and then it became eight weeks and now it’s 12 weeks. Very often we’re ready at eight weeks, but I tell every client it’s going to be 12, every time. And the same thing I drill into my staff’s head, if anything looks like it even might be late, you reach out and give a progress email to the client. “We’re hoping it’ll be on time, we’re tracking it, we’ll keep you posted.” Just keep them informed, I don’t ever want anyone emailing me, texting me or calling me saying, “Where’s my stuff?”

Allison Tyler Jones: No.

Kathryn Langsford: That is absolutely unacceptable.

Allison Tyler Jones: There’s been a huge error.

Kathryn Langsford: They should know exactly what’s happening and it should be very clear that we’ve got it. But yeah, I won’t even go into these empty windows here that were supposed to have blinds in August. I mean, that guy over-promised like his life depended on it, he told me those blinds were going to be up in two weeks in August.

Allison Tyler Jones: Oh, well, everything’s two weeks, right?

Kathryn Langsford: Yeah.

Allison Tyler Jones: That’s everything.

Kathryn Langsford: They just don’t understand. Sure, maybe it’ll buy you some customer satisfaction in the second that you’re promising it, but every moment forward is just going to be them hating you more and more and swearing off ever using your service again.

Allison Tyler Jones: It’s true.

Kathryn Langsford: Yeah, for sure. No, that is so valuable, that’s customer service 101. I mean, just always take the date you think they’re going to have it and add at least two weeks. And you know what? I don’t get one single… Now that I’m saying 12 weeks, I used to think six weeks was a long time.

Allison Tyler Jones: I know.

Kathryn Langsford: Now I tell people it’ll be 12, I don’t ever get anyone giving me a problem about that, no one ever. Because everything takes forever.

Allison Tyler Jones: Well, I know. And especially now with just all the things that have happened in the after times, after the pandemic, it’s just been crazy. And there’s some things that are getting better, but I think that we’ve learned, for us, how we managed expectations was because 2021 was such a poop show, and we had so many orders and so many holiday card orders and I just felt like we were in a pinball machine, just hit, hit. I was the ball getting hit by all the things. All of our staff just had to go home because of COVID or whatever. Or it would come in and it was wrong or it was damaged or whatever. And we had so many orders, I thought, “I can never schedule people this close to the holiday ever again. We have to be way ahead.”

Allison Tyler Jones: And so we got out and scheduled everybody August, September, I had Caitlin calling people and she’s like, “Look, if you’re not shot by October 15th, we can’t guarantee that we’re going to have what you need.” But this is one of the great things about the pandemic is that the whole world experienced it and so everybody got on board with that. So it wasn’t just one area. In Alabama, it was hard and so only the Alabamans understand. Everyone in the world knows, there’s labor problems, there’s shortages, we have to-

Kathryn Langsford: Nothing happens fast.

Allison Tyler Jones: I also know there’s plenty of businesses that are using that as an excuse. All of my subcontractors for one, all of those guys. But don’t overpromise.

Kathryn Langsford: No. Bad idea.

Allison Tyler Jones: Very bad idea.

Kathryn Langsford: And we’re tempted to, we’re not knowing we’re over promising, we’re tempted to just say, “Yeah, I can do that. Of course, I can do something that’ll be great for you.” But it’ll just backfire.

Allison Tyler Jones: And the biggest danger of that is when you’re a solo printer. Because now I have people that are listening to me talk to clients and the second the client walks out the door and I promise something, they’ll have the big eyes and they’ll walk in and they’ll be like, “Did you just realize that you promised that she could have a proof of her holiday card in 48 hours? And there’s 17 others ahead of her.” And I’m like, “Oh, sorry.” So even sometimes I’ll still think, “Well, how long does that take?” But I’m not the one doing it, so shut your mouth and say, “Let me check and find out when we can have that for you.”

Kathryn Langsford: Yeah. And the client is fine with that too, that’s the thing.

Allison Tyler Jones: Right. Yes.

Kathryn Langsford: They’re fine with us being realistic in the timeline.

Allison Tyler Jones: I would fall over dead if a subcontractor said to me, “Let me check and find out the timeline and get back to you.” I would fall over dead. Okay. So data is our friend, collect it, compare it, use it to calendar. I think that’s a good way to look ahead. And everybody just take a reality check and know that there are slower times, it doesn’t mean that the jig is up and that you’re never going to work again. It just means that it’s a slower time and so if you’re getting these.

Kathryn Langsford: Use it to your advantage.

Allison Tyler Jones: Use it to your advantage to plan to rest, sometimes you just need to rest and just chill. And know going forward, I think this is another whole podcast episode, but that’s where Mike Michalowicz’ book, Profit First, has been instrumental in helping us with our businesses, saving that money and being more circumspect with your expenses so that you can have a cushion in slower time so that you’re not having to make crazy decisions that are going to crater your business.

Kathryn Langsford: I agree.

Allison Tyler Jones: But that’s another podcast. Any other pearls from PBK?

Kathryn Langsford: About the slow time? I want to echo what you said about rest if you need to rest. Next week, for example, just the way my schedule is working, I may only be able to come in for two days and my first thought is just panic, “Oh, no, I have to work more than that.” But I don’t really have stuff I have to do, the bottom line is not going to suffer from me taking another day. I would never be able to do that in a busier season, so I’m just going to take an extra day and not feel like a failure because of it. In the past, sure, sometimes I didn’t have a ton to do and I wasn’t working as many days as I wanted to, but I felt horrible about it, I did not enjoy those days.

Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah. And I think that’s the saddest thing is that I think we’ll look back at the end of our life probably and think, “I should have enjoyed.” We hear it a million times, “Be present, enjoy the journey.” And all that stuff, which I hate all that because I like destinations and not so much the journeys, but I do see the value in it and realizing that if you are just worrying all the time or feeling bad that it’s slower rather than just, okay, what can I do during this time to make things better?

Allison Tyler Jones: So this is a business podcast, so obviously we want to figure out how to make things better in our business, but some of the ways of making things better in your business is to make you mentally better so that you can be more present and creative and amazing for your clients. And sometimes that means that you just need to rest. Because we’ve just been through the holiday season, we just moved our studio, I didn’t even really have a break during the holiday. You just moved your studio earlier in September and then we had a huge marketing thing and then I just got back from Imaging and I’m tired.

Kathryn Langsford: Yeah.

Allison Tyler Jones: I need a nap.

Kathryn Langsford: Yeah, for sure.

Allison Tyler Jones: Okay, so take a nap first and then wake up and look at your schedule and plan ahead and really look at your data to give yourself a reality check to see, is it really suffering? And what’s a way that you can plan going forward.

Kathryn Langsford: Yep. Agree.

Allison Tyler Jones: Okay. I appreciate you so much, more than you know.

Kathryn Langsford: You too, sister.

Recorded: You can find more great resources from Allison at Dotherework.com and on Instagram at Do.The.Rework.

 

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