Category: Pancake Sessions  |  View all recent posts

Sun. Jan 19, 2014 by Mary    Pancake Sessions

Pancake Session: Keeping it All Organized

A question that we get pretty often, and that we've gotten a LOT more often since launching The Black Tie Bride & The Well Groomed Groom which- completely unexpectedly to us!! - have both taken off like crazy, is how do we get it all done. In other words, what do we do to keep ourselves organized? Well, the first thing you have to keep in mind is that this is a question about organization being posed to one of the world's most naturally dis-organized people. Honestly. In my natural state you would never see me hugging a label maker or holding hands with my spread sheets. Just one look at the closet in my office or pretty much anydrawer in my house (please tell me I'm not the only one out there with junk drawers for my junk drawers??) would be enough to convince you of that.

Every ounce of organization that we have slowly & painstakingly (ahem, painfully) put into our lives, and there has been a LOT of it over the past few years, has been put there by pure necessity and our realization of one universal truth: the world is kinder to organized, forward-planning people. It just is. Late fees, rush shipping, airfare that triples overnight....the world is set up to reward those who have their 'ish together. Amen? And I don't know about you guys, but I would like to become one of those people!

There are a LOT of systems that we have put in place in our business and LOT of places where we've brought on people to help (like our amazing album design team at Align!!) to try to achieve that. But today, I want to talk to you about just three of them. In my opinion they are the three main ones, and from them we can learn the 3 main lessons that all small-business owners need to know to get it all done!

1. You have to have a way to track it.
I don't know about you guys, but if I don't have a handle on what all still needs to be done then I immediately start imagining the worst. I get really overwhelmed, I don't know where to start, and things get backed up really fast that way. And something that we've come to realize, is that if we don't have a way to track our progress on ongoing projects, then nothing gets done. Over the past couple of years, I've tried a few different approaches to tracking our workflow. I spent three hours one afternoon taping up a workflow board with all the rows & columns, only to never use it again because we're rarely ever home. I've tried online software that's really good at showing you where you are on a project individually, but that just left me worrying about all the other jobs we had out there. So I realized that I needed something that was both online (ie I could take it with me when I travel) and gave me an overall view of where we are in all the jobs we're working on. For both of these purposes, I really like just a basic (and FREE!) Google Doc. We have several of these set up for each year to track things like our editing workflow, album design & deliver, and client booking & experience. It keeps us on track and there is SUCH a sense of accomplishment at the end of the year when we can see a full board marked off. I don't think it matters whether you go with a dry erase board, a free Google Doc, or you sign up for a studio management software...just do whatever works best for you & something you'll actually keep up with. Because keeping it tracked is what's key!

2. Take it one day at a time.
With all that we small business owners have going on, it can become really overwhelming when you wake up each morning realizing that everything you have to get done could NEVER get done in the space of just one day. Something that I had to come to grips with a while ago, is that the to-do list never truly ends. Right?? When do we ever mark EVERYTHING we could possibly be doing to grow & maintain our businesses completely off our lists and find ourselves with nothing to do? If you've ever done that, God bless ya! But my guess is that most of us have never had that problem. So somewhere along the line, I learned that I just had to take it one day at a time, do that day's work as best as I could, and then let it go until the next day. That, as the amazing Emily Ley says, I had to hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection. To do that, I focus on Winning the Day. I write out a list of 5-10 things I need & want to get done that day. Things that if I can just mark them off I can say, "maybe I didn't do everything that needs to be done on the to do list....but I did do these things that mattered most. And in that, I've won this day." And bit by bit, small chunks at a time, you'll be amazed at all you get done! I pair my Win the Day list with a master to do list (The Big List....the genius idea from the amazing Katelyn James & you can read her blog post about it HERE) and between the two, I'm able to keep it all organized & moving forward!

3. But plan ahead
While it's so important to take all the work one day at a time & not be too hard on yourself, it is equally important to use those days preparing to succeed (As the old adage goes: If you fail to prepare, you're really preparing to Fail) What I mean by that is not just thinking about the day you're working in. Take the time to open your calendar and flip forward a couple weeks and then a couple of months. Ask yourself what you have coming up & what you need to work hard getting done now so that you're prepared for it. Are there flights you need to book before they go up? Are you going to be traveling a couple weeks from now & you need to pre-blog some posts to get ready? Do you have a shoot on Tuesday & another one on Wednesday? If you want to have the first one edited before you go into the second one, then you need to block out some time on Wednesday to get that done. And that will become part of Wednesday's Win the Day list. The combination of forward planning (flipping ahead in your calendar to see what's next) and block scheduling (today for 3 hours I will sit down & edit/blog this shoot.) has been one of THE biggest game changers for us in getting it all done & getting it done AHEAD of time!

And boy oh boy, is that a good feeling! You guys, I hope this helped if even just a little! I know there is SO much to get done, but even a few key changes can really help you feel like you're getting your life back. Right now we have more on our plate than we ever have at any point in the history of our business & yet I feel more on top of things this year than I ever have before! Of course, it is just we'll see how it goes! :) But it really does feel different!

If you have any questions, be sure to leave them in the box below! Or you can just say hi/add in your favorite organization game-changer from this past year!

Rock it out!

Tue. Jan 14, 2014 by Mary    Pancake Sessions

Trim the Fat

One of the most powerful business conversations I've ever had, took place on the rooftop of the Pinnacle Building in Nashville in 95 degree sweltering heat with Abby Larson while we were arranging centerpieces for the Style Me Pretty "Inspiration to Reality" real wedding shoot that we photographed for them a few years back.

We were trying not to lose our minds from heat delirium, so we turned the topic of conversation to business to take our minds off the 52 centerpieces that we still had to make. And I asked one of my favorite business questions, "What has been one of the top 3 things you guys have done that has been responsible for your success?" Her answer floored me.

She said, "We're not afraid to trim the fat. We're not afraid to throw something out there, see if it works, and if it doesn't to just take it back down and keep on moving without missing a beat." In other words, she said they're not afraid to make mistakes. They're not afraid to try something and have it fail. Because they understand with utter certainty that that THING they tried might have happened to fail....but that doesn't mean they did. So they just trim the fat and move forward, making the next thing they try even better because of that learning experience. That hit me like a TON of bricks...because here all along, I had been telling myself that every single step had to be perfect before we could move forward. And that if we had even one single misstep, the whole thing was doomed to failure. I realized in that moment, I had been terrified of making a mistake. I had been terrified of looking stupid.

Over the past few years, that advice has stuck with me so much. And when I look around at other successful people like Abby & Tait, I see that they all have that in common too. They're not afraid to put themselves out there, they're not afraid to take a chance on something and have it not work out. Because if it doesn't, so what? There's another thing they can try tomorrow. I hear SO many people in the workshops & mentoring sessions we do say, "But what if I try that and it doesn't work??" And my response is always the same: Ok, so imagine that it doesn't? Then WHAT? You stop doing that thing, you pick yourself up, and you try something else the next day. Because here's the thing you guys: even if you are always taking two steps forward & only to have to take one step back, you'll still always be further ahead than if you just keep standing still. So today, try something you haven't tried before. Throw it out there & see if it sticks.

And if it doesn't, just trim the fat & try again tomorrow. You'll be better off for having tried.

Go DO something about those dreams of yours!

Mon. Jan 13, 2014 by Mary    Pancake Sessions

10 Things to Do Right Now to Book More Weddings

Lately we've been getting a TON of emails from photographers who are starting to panic a little. It's January. It's cold outside. And it's feeling pretty darn cold in their inboxes too. Their inquiries have slowed down & all but stopped, and they're just not sure if they'll ever book another wedding again. EVER. And they want to there anything they can do? If lately you've been finding yourself in the same boat as these guys, here are 10 things that you can do right now to help turn the tides:

1. Be thankful for the clients you already have. Tell them you're thankful. Send them an email, write them a handwritten note, send them a gift. Remind them (and yourself!) that they are the reason you get to chase your dream.
2. Pick one location where you have a) done some of your best work and b) would want to shoot there again and again, and make them a sample album. Not next month or "at some point" (whenever that is). Seriously, just do it already. Take an hour & design it up. Upload the order. Pull the trigger & get it done. Today!
3. While you're at it, send some images to your vendors! If you use PASS or a similar program, we're talking about the difference of sending an email. It takes 30 seconds. And makes a world of difference.
4. Pick that one vendor (planner, location, florist) who has sent you a ton of referrals or helped you get started & send them a gift. A nice one. They deserve it!
5. Go through your website with a machete and slash & burn. Get everything off there that is outdated, underwhelming, or just plain bad. If I were going to look at it with you in person and you would tell me that you've "gotten so much better since then," then WHAT is it still doing welcoming brand new clients to your website?

6. Find some other photographers to hang out with. Go to a meet up, host a lunch, send out that email. Meet up & do headshots for each other. See if anyone is interested in sharing a Google calendar to refer each other (and give REALLY good referrals when you do). There is strength in numbers. Plus, sometimes you just need someone who understands when you say "the client wants to do pictures at high noon on the beach." Oy.
7. Make a "best of" folder on Facebook. Add all of your best (truly best, like 50 or less images) work from last year. Re-tag everyone that is in it.
8. Re-write your about page. You know it needs it, I know it needs it. Write something that will make me fall in love with you.
9. Run a January booking special. Everyone who books by the end of the month gets a complimentary engagement shoot or an extra hour of coverage. Or the first season of Downton Abbey. You choose.
10. Get your stuff together, put on your brave pants, and submit some weddings! :) Take your work to where the brides are. Two Bright Lights is an excellent resource for streamlining this process & taking the guesswork out of it if you need a good place to start!

Above all, stay cool & keep your wits about you if things slow down. Remember, business is a lot like dating. And people can smell desperate a MILE away!

Rock it out friends!

Wed. Jan 8, 2014 by Mary    Pancake Sessions

Pancake Session: Say Thank You!

When it comes to growing your business, "getting your name out there", and getting people to want to talk about you & help build your business alongside you- all of which are questions that we get from other photographers all the time- there are two words that are absolutely irreplaceable.

Thank and You.

Gratitude is a really powerful thing. And feeling it is not enough. You have to put words to it. You have to put effort to it. You have to make sure the other person knows it. There is a great saying that goes "Feeling grateful and not saying it is like having a really great gift and not giving it." True that.

The fact of the matter, is that building a business is not a one woman show. You have the clients who have taken a chance on you, the other vendors who have recommended you, fellow photographers who have believed in you & referred you, and maybe even people you look up to who have taken the time to encourage you.

Let's be clear. None of those people had to do any of that.

And so when they do- when someone hires you, recommends you, encourages you, inspires you- it falls on you to remember to be thankful for that. And to make sure the other person knows how thankful you are too.

There are a TON of ways to do that. You can call them, you can tell them, you can write it on their Facebook wall, you can write them a handwritten letter, and-maybe best of all-you can send them a little gift to show your appreciation.

Last month for the holidays, we did a series of gifts for our clients and the vendors who have supported us so much this year. And we just wanted to share them here in case it sparks some ideas for you guys. Also, take heart. If you missed doing "holiday gifts" this year, there is no time like the "present" (see what I did there!) to make up for it! Send them out a New Year's gift. Start putting something together for Valentine's Day. Or send it next Tuesday, just because.

Because honestly, there is never any better time than right now to say "Thank You."


For our amazing 2013 couples, we did this Bride & Groom cookbook from Williams Sonoma with a note that said "Here's to a lifetime of breakfasts in bed."

For our upcoming incredible 2014 couples, we did this super cozy plush blanket from Restoration Hardware (in the teal blue, of course!) with a note that said "Tis the season to be cozy!" And we got a ton of pictures sent to us like this one! :)

For our vendors who really rocked our world this year & went above and beyond in building our business, we sent (and will continue to send out!) a bottle of Veuve Clicquot and a champagne bucket!

And finally, this is not a gift we sent but one we received! A couple of days ago, Scarlett & Stephen sent us a super nice email thanking us for a referral we sent their way a while back. They explained that not only did they book that couple, but that their wedding had turned into three or four more weddings for them including one they just booked in Italy! It's so cool to see all of the incredible things that can come out of sending just a quick referral, and I would have never known any of that had they not taken the time to send that email (as well as a very generous Starbucks gift card! which you KNOW I loved....Starbucks is my love language!)

So there you go! Taking the time to say thank you to the people who have helped build your business & show them that you're grateful will go miles in making people feel appreciated. So before you ask why you don't have good word of mouth, ask yourself when the last time was that you said thank you!

**And if you want to see the full rundown of ALL the gifts we do for our clients & other vendors throughout the year, we talk all about that (as well as all of our marketing plan!) in The Guide!!

For more Pancake Sessions Click Here!

Tue. Dec 17, 2013 by Mary    Pancake Sessions

Pancake Session: Light Modifying in a Pinch

Happy Pancake Day you guys!!

Today we want to talk a little about what to do when you find yourself in a situation where you need/want to use flash, but you don't have a modifier with you or handy. I CAN'T stress this enough: we recommend using a modifier of some sort when you're using a flash 99.9999% of the time. That's because the larger the light source, the softer & prettier (and less obvious that it was flash!!) your light will be. Just using a flash on stand won't give you that same effect (even if you do move it in pretty close to your subject). It is the use of those modifiers that goes MILES in making flash look like natural light.

We always travel with our Profoto umbrellas & softboxes to modify our flash, and they are absolutely our go to modifiers of choice! But on occasion we will find ourselves in a situation where the modifiers are either still in the car or we need to shoot quickly and don't have time to go grab them from wherever our stuff is at the reception. Take this picture below from Indhu's bridal portraits. We had left the modifiers in the car because we have shot at the Biltmore before and it usually has gorgeous, abundant natural light. But on this day in particular, it was really dark & cloudy outside, and we were in a room that was facing a darker side of the building.

We knew where we wanted to position Indhu as far as background & composition and now we just needed to add in some really great directional light to really make the portrait we were going for. Just the daylight alone coming in through the window to the right of Indhu just wasn't cutting it. So what we decided to do was use that natural daylight that was there, but supplement it with our flash. We did have our SB900 with us in our bag even though our umbrellas were in the car. So what we did was that Justin grabbed that flash and held it behind the sheer curtain in the window, using the sheer as a makeshift modifier. In addition to that, he also held that sheer out from the wall & the flash about two and a half feet (basically however long his arm would reach!) so that the flash had to travel further before it hit the sheer, thus filling up a larger portion of the curtain and making a larger light source. The result is what you see below! The flash behind the curtain becomes our main light and the rest of the daylight pouring in becomes the fill.

So the next time you find yourself wanting/needing to use a flash and you either don't own a modifier yet or don't have one handy, look for some existing modifiers in the room that you can use. A few of our favorites are through a sheer curtain, through your reflector, or bouncing your flash off to the side and up at a 45 degree angle, thus turning the ceiling into your modifier while still bringing the light back in directionally making for that great dimensional light! And if you are in the market for investing in some new light modifiers, we HIGHLY recommend THIS Profoto umbrella and THIS Profoto softbox

As always, we hope this helped!! And if you are someone who finds yourself struggling with your flash, afraid of your flash, not getting consistent results from your flash, or you didn't know it was even possible to get light, airy & very natural light looking images from a flash then our J&M Lighting Intensive might be for you!! We have just a FEW seats left to our upcoming 2014 stops....take a look & see if we're coming anywhere near you!

J&M Lighting Intensive - New Jersey on January 28th

J&M Lighting Intensive - Richmond, VA {SOLD OUT}

J&M Lighting Intensive - Denver, CO on April 5th

Happy Pancake Day y'all!

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