© Paul Mozell 2011
Photographers and most creative people I know, whether full or part-time professionals, are not good business people. We would prefer to devote as little time as possible to marketing, invoicing, record-keeping, social networking, and tax preparation. Photographers want to be behind the viewfinder and not in front of a screen full of pie charts and prospecting lists. Good software can go a long way towards easing the burden.
Until recently, I thought the selection of software solutions for my photography business was limited to generic small business software like Intuit Quickbooks or Sage Peachtree Accounting. Recently, I was pleased to discover Light Blue, a British product now in its third edition, that is dedicated to running all financial and scheduling aspects of a small to medium sized photography business. As an early Macintosh user I have fallen into the camp of the do-it-your-selfer, using Filemaker Pro, an Apple product, to build contact management files and templates for quoting and invoicing. But as great FM Pro is, I don’t have the accounting or business management training that would support me in making Filemaker into the high functioning tool that my business now requires. I have evaluated Quickbooks and found that it does not meet my needs, in spite of the sophistication and ease of use of this mature product. I need an all encompassing tool that uses the familiar terminology of the photography industry while adhering to universally accepted quoting and billing practices.
Upon launching Light Blue for the first time I was pleased to see that it was developed using Filemaker Pro! How about that! Light Blue is a stand-alone application, so it does not require an installed version of FM Pro. I have experimented with a few other photo-specific software solutions, including those that require a version of Java to be running on your Windows or Mac computer. Others are hosted remotely, requiring you to log in with a web browser to access your data. I have found the Java aps to be slow and balky, and neither the Java aps nor the hosted solutions take full advantage of the refined user interface and familiar keystrokes of Mac or Windows interface.
Right off the top menu, Light Blue lets me schedule a shoot day as if I were talking to a client on the phone and jotting down notes. There are fields for quoted price, payable/receivable amounts, shoot related expenses, gross profit, and free form notes. And, the screens are so much easier to navigate than the screens in my home-brewed version built “by hand.” Light Blue knows that you may be setting up several inter-related shoots so it encourages you to link the details of those jobs together. Good thinking! Your quotes and invoices can be customized with your company logo and contact info. And, they have built in the capability to email the quote directly to the client, right out of the application. The shoot calendar can then be synchronized to an Apple iCal or Google Calendar. Perfect!
Light Blue capitalizes on FM Pro’s image management tools and makes it easy to embed image thumbnails in a given order or invoice. This feature helps reduce the chance for misunderstanding between you and your client. The same image management engine helps you create web slide shows on the fly from a folder of customer images. This is very handy — especially if you don’t want to open Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Bridge, Apple iPhoto or Apple Aperture to make a slide presentation or web site update.
Light Blue comes with a comprehensive 255 page user manual in PDF form. The company website contains numerous tutorials and instructional videos.
It is not my purpose here to walk you through all the features of this well-conceived and designed product. Instead, I want to convey my confidence that Light Blue will go a long way toward improving the efficiency and accuracy of the business side of your photography studio. The work flow is very intuitive, and because it is built on a great relational database engine, all tasks, contacts, services, billable items, purchases, reminders, and events are linked to each other in a logical fashion. Light Blue’s site says that it was built by professional photographers for photographers, and the benefit of this collaboration is clear. I suspect you will learn a some important things about small business management — without feeling as though you had endured a long lecture in a hotel ball room. Light Blue version 3.1.1 is priced at $455.00 and is available directly from Light Blue Software in Mac and Windows versions. They have a fully functional 30 day demo too. Give it a try and let me know what you think. If you spend less time fretting about your accounting system and more time booking clients and making photographs, then Light Blue Software will have been a sound investment for your studio.