Do you find yourself answering client emails after the kids have already gone to bed instead of relaxing after a hard day’s work? Ideally, we would be able to work as photographers during normal business hours and then shut things down and not pick them back up again until the next day. However, the easy access to email and social media has clients interrupting our family and personal time on a daily basis and drawing us back to work long into the night. Clearly defined business hours are necessary to preserve both your sanity and productivity as a boutique business owner.
The local beauty shoppe is not open 24/7 and you shouldn’t be either! Instead, set reasonable business hours that fit with your clients’ lifestyles and will be easy for you to manage and implement. If you are an early bird, start your hours at 7 or 8am. If you need a later start in the morning, don’t “open” until 9am. Be honest with yourself; if you won’t answer the phone until after 8am then don’t put down six in the morning because an eager client WILL call you that early. Trust me.
When choosing a closing time make sure you set it for a little later than normal business close. If you end at 4:30 and a client doesn’t get off until 5:00 then you are both out of luck. Meanwhile, if you hold evening consultations or ordering appointments then you should extend your closing time to the latest potential start time so clients aren’t left wondering if they should call you if running late.
Now remember, being “open” doesn’t mean that you have to respond to every email or phone call as soon as it comes in.
Part of providing superior customer service is using proper discretion when responding to clients. If you are distracted or there is a lot of background noise or you only have 2 1/2 minutes free then WAIT! Always give your clients the best experience possible, and that includes making sure you have the time and ability to focus and show them the attention they deserve.
Once you have set your business hours make sure your clients know about them! Include your business hours as part of your voicemail message and email auto-reply. List them on your website right next to your email address and phone number. You can even take things a step further and state your normal response time so clients know when they can expect to hear back from you. While your goal might be to respond to every message within two hours, you want to make sure and have that buffer for when you are four hours into an eight hour road trip with no cell phone service. If a client is expecting a two hour response time and you don’t get back to them until the next morning then you may well have lost that booking.
Rule #21 of Being Boutique: Under Promise and Over Deliver
Now keep in mind that it does absolutely no good to have business hours if you don’t respond to clients in a timely manner. Prioritize your morning routine so that you check: 1) Email 2) Voicemail 3) Social Media 4) Snail Mail. Set aside a certain portion of your day when things are the calmest and quietest and use that for your client response time. I actually recommend that you set multiple times throughout the day for client response so that you are able to return the most important calls or messages first and then get to the less time-sensitive ones as the day goes on. That being said, be careful about putting things off for later as it is easy to lose track of time and the next thing you know it is 10 o’clock at night and you haven’t scheduled that newborn session.
One of the details that you will have to determine for yourself is whether or not you want to be available on the weekends. For me personally, weekends are very hectic and Sundays are reserved exclusively for family time, so I list my business hours as M-F. The only time I will return emails or phone calls over the weekend is if there is something taking place first thing Monday morning and we are working out the last-minute details. If a client calls over the weekend then they are given my business hours and response time as part of the voicemail message and know to expect a call from me within 48 hours of the beginning of the week. Same thing with my email auto-reply. Granted, that means I can have dozens of inquiries, emails, and messages waiting for me Monday morning, but I’ll gladly wade through a crammed inbox in order to have a stress-free weekend with my family.
And that is what it all comes down to: taking back YOUR time! Every session booked, every email written, every picture edited is time spent away from the people and activities you love and that is why you command compensation for that sacrifice. By setting good, manageable business hours you are giving yourself permission to enjoy life and take time for yourself, without hurting the business that you have poured your heart and soul into.