You hear it all the time: Outsource editing! Get a virtual assistant! Hire an accountant!
As boudoir photographers, we love to create art with our cameras. But we’re also business owners. While we’d like to think we can master and complete every step of our businesses, the fact is that we’ll come to a point of success where doing everything creates burnout. Outsourcing the things you don’t like to do, don’t get around to (even through they’re important) and/or aren’t good at frees you up to do the things you love–and the things that make you money.
Here’s where I get stuck, and where everyone I know gets stuck: Where do I even start? And how in the world can I trust anyone else with an important part of my business? The answer is process mapping. This post will give you an overview and walk you through creating a Macro Map.
Note: I’m still refining this process myself. But I’m finding it so incredibly helpful I want to share it with you now.
Process mapping is a tried-and-true business practice that is what the name implies: a visual map of every process you use in your business. When you have written down everything you have to do in your business, it’s so much easier to pass jobs to someone else. There are three aspects to process mapping:
- Macro Maps: a 30,000-foot view of your business flow from the trigger (usually marketing) to the final step (for me, archiving)
- Micro Maps: a 25-foot view of each element in your Macro Map
- Process descriptions: the “how I do each step” document
I recently learned about process mapping in a mastermind group called 3to5 Club. It’s an in-real-life group that learns the practices in Chuck Blakeman’s Book Making Money is Killing Your Business. The goal is to create a business that allows you to make money when you’re on vacation, to allow your business to “grow up”, and to create a business that moves from sustainability to significance. In order to do that, you have to let go of the business aspects that are below your pay grade, that don’t light you up, and that keep you tied to your business and especially to the tasks you really hate to do.
Overview of process maps
Process maps not only allow you to see how your business works on paper, but also help you discover and fix areas that are not working the way you want them to work. It also helps discover holes in your business. A process map is a visual representation of categories of action or tasks.
I use the free version of lucidchart.com to create mine because it’s built for this work. Traditional process maps use the following shapes (which are built into lucidchart.com):
- Oval for the process trigger
- Square for task or category
- Diamond for a decision point
- Octagon for a point where you have to wait
You connect each of these shapes with an arrow to show the direction the work flows. In lucidchart.com, when I drag a decision diamond onto my page, it will automatically add the words “yes” and “no” to my arrows so I can show what happens next for each answer. I’ll show you this in a bit. You don’t have to create this in software. You can simply draw it out on paper, or you can do a spreadsheet if that’s better for you. Do what works for your brain.
- Title your map page
- Add the shapes and write the steps inside them
- Draw arrows from box to box
Every Macro Map should include at least the following items: Business Development/Marketing (bringing clients in), Operations & Delivery (doing the work) and Customer Satisfaction (creating return clients).
Create process maps from big picture to little details
Start with your Macro Map. This is a 30,000-foot view of the main part of your business. For a boudoir photographer, this is going to be your client flow.
- Gather the key stakeholders in your business. This might include associate photographers, a studio manager or an assistant. Bring them into this process and do it together using a white board or giant Post-it notes. This is important to remember when it comes to the Micro Maps too–you need all of the stakeholders who are doing the work to collaborate on or even create those maps themselves because they are closest to the work.
- Sit down with a blank piece of paper and list all of the steps you take from start to finish with a client. Note decision points. My Macro Map has two–Client Books? and Permission to Show Photos?
- Move this list into the visual chart using the shapes indicated above.
- Look at your map. You’ll notice that some tasks can roll up into a bigger category. For example, when I made my first Macro Map, it included boxes for all the little steps in my culling and editing process: download the card to my computer, import the images to a new Lightroom catalog, add key words … too much for a Macro Map. So, I rolled it all up into one box called Cull/Edit Images.
- Look at the map again and ask, “What’s missing?” On my first few drafts (and yes, there have been about a dozen) I missed Business Development and Client Stewardship (aka Customer Satisfaction).
- Try to get this Macro Map down to 10 or fewer boxes by consolidating.
- Get outside eyes on your map. I’m having a couple of people who are good at building systems look at mine. They will probably see some holes in my process (usually things that are still in my head). You can ask friends, other boudoir photographers, even your mom to help you–just pick people who are good at understanding workflow.
I created a Macro Map for my client flow, and now I’m working on Macro Maps for Financial Management and Business Development. I’m calling them Macro Maps because they have processes I need to break down into Micro Maps, and I need a big-picture grip on what needs to be done. These are big boxes that I want to get out of as much as possible, but before I can step away, I need to know what I do now.
Get out of a box
Now, you should have a visual representation of how your business works from a 30,000-foot view. Anyone who picks it up should be able to follow a client through the major steps in your process. Here comes the fun part: Figuring out what boxes you want to stay in, and which you want to get out of.
Doing this work, I know for sure that I want to keep the boxes that are my relationship-building and creative touch points with my clients:
- Handling the inquiry
- Ordering appointment
- Order pickup
These are also the processes where I make the most money (booking, creative, sales). I want my hands in that … at least for now. On my latest map draft, I note where money comes in and goes out. I also have assigned a relative hourly rate for those tasks based on skill level. If an assistant can do the task, I’ve assigned $12/hour. For shooting, I’ve assigned $40/hour. That also helps me make my decisions.
I’ve already outsourced editing to Jan Simonelli at SoCalRetouch.com (she’s awesome, and an advertiser on The Business of Boudoir). But looking at my Macro Map, that leaves me about 10 other boxes to get out of. Many I could outsource to a virtual assistant or an employee. I think Micro Mapping others (the next step) will show me the holes and hangups that make them not work well. For now, I have the time and energy to do them.
Process Maps are not a one-and-done project. They’re simple, but they’re not easy … until you realize they’re kind of fun! They are evolving. They are a touch point that you should look at frequently. They are documents that you can look at when you’re not sure why your business is tanking, or doing well. They will never be perfect … and that’s OK.
Tune back in next month when I talk about creating Micro Maps.