Building Your Photography Studio Team

A couple of months ago, it became apparent to me that I really need some help. There were certain tasks I dreaded doing for my business, and I was pretty much procrastinating other important things in order to avoid the stuff I wasn't especially keen on (answering phones, anyone?). Not only was I the bottle neck in my business, but I was even sabotaging my success with thoughts like, if I do that great marketing thing, I'll get calls... and then I'll have to answer the phone.

So I decided to hire an assistant to help me run the business side of my studio. The process of finding somebody; from the initial realization that I needed somebody, to the marketing, interviewing, and finally, hiring; took me less than one month. I am so happy with my new studio manager (as she has ended up becoming), that I wanted to show how I found her.

Jessica, Studio Manager for Emily London Portraits

First I defined the position(s) that I was hiring for,  including a list of the characteristics that were important to me. Some of the characteristics I listed were:

  • Respectful
  • Warm / Kind
  • Intuitive
  • Driven / Self-Motivated
  • Full of Integrity
  • Quick to Learn
  • Great Communicator
  • Dependable

Next, I created a landing page describing the jobs I was hiring for, that would act as a lead collector and first 'test.'  The page explains that, to apply, one must fill out the form on the page. Any applications I received outside of that stipulated process were not considered - as it shows that my instructions wouldn't be followed (or, at the very least, that attention to detail was going to be an issue).

Then I posted an ad on my local classified's website (which set me back about $75). I described the studio, the position, and included a link to the landing page, being sure to mention that applications which weren't sent through my site wouldn't be considered. 

I posted a similar ad to Indeed, and included the same instructions. (I still had several applicants who submitted resumes through their automated system. I didn't even bother to open their application emails).

Then I posted 'ads' on facebook (on my personal page), which included an image of the studio, my office, or my work. I posted 3 separate times, with slightly different wording in the introduction of the post, but all contained similar text to describe the job.

I accepted applications for one week. Throughout, I would read each application as they came in, and would only consider ones which I thought seemed like a good fit. I used my scheduling service, Full Slate, to send each potential interviewee an automated email, inviting them to schedule a Skype interview.

Hi {name},
Thank you for your interest in working here at Emily London Portraits. Your application looked great, and I think you might be a good fit for our studio. I'd love to set up a 20 minute Skype interview to learn a little more about you, and to answer any questions you may have. 
Please use this link to schedule a time for your interview: [Insert Link Here]
Once your appointment is booked, I'll send over a confirmation email with my Skype username.
Thank you,
Emily London Miller

They then were able to schedule themselves automatically during the second week of the process, which is when I did all the interviews. I told my scheduling program to only allow appointments next to other appointments, which meant that I had several appointments back-to-back, and didn't have to split up my day - which was super nice. (There was a gap of about 20 minutes between each appointment, just in case one ran long, or started late.) Full Slate then sent an automatic confirmation email once their appointment was booked:

Hi {first name}-
Your Skype interview is booked for {day} at {time}. I can't wait to speak with you! Expect the call to take around 20 minutes, and be sure to write down any questions you have so we can be sure to answer them during the call.
My Skype username is [enter username here] - please add me to your contact list ASAP, so I can add you to mine. Plan to initiate the Skype call, and use the video call setting if possible. 
Thank you,
Emily London Miller
Emily London Portraits
PS: You can visit {appointment link} to view or change your appointment.

So now the Skype interviews are set up, and act not only as a way to screen the applicants fairly quickly, but also as another sort of test. If the applicant can't set up Skype, they're automatically out of the running. (I work with fairly complicated software in my studio, and I need to know that whomever I hire can use it - or at least has the ability to figure it out.)

Once an interview was scheduled, I would print the application, including the resume and cover letter (if applicable) of each applicant, then write the time of the interview appointment at the top of the front page, and staple all the documents for each person together. I then arranged them in order of when the interview would be taking place, and printed out several copies of the interview form I planned to use.

I was sure to test Skype, the camera, and mic, before I started the interviews; and to set a timer for 20 minutes before each one. I then settled in for three solid days of interviews. I learned that I definitely forgot people and/or their answers, so it was super important to take good notes during each interview, as well as a screenshot of each person during the Skype call.

After the first round of interviews was complete, I sent an email to my top choices (there were three very strong contenders in my case) and asked them to come in for an interview at the studio. These interviews were not as scripted, and acted as an opportunity for me to get to know the applicants on a more personal level. 

Once I knew which one of the three was my top pick, I called her references and asked questions like: "Was she a good employee, would you hire her again?" and "Is there anything I should know about her before hiring her?" That gave me a sense of how trustworthy and reliable she would be, which were the two things I felt couldn't be answered quite as easily during an interview.

After I had made my decision, I offered her the position. When she accepted, I contacted the rest of the applicants to thank them and let them know my decision. I used Full Slate to send a canned email to all but the top two, whom I sent personalized emails to.

She started work a week later, and we've been entrenched in the training process since then (it's been about a month since her first day). I've been outrageously happy with my new Studio Manager and friend, and I highly recommend building your team as soon as it is a possibility.

At this point, I'm thinking about posting a how-to article about the training process; so let me know if that's something you'd like to see. If there's a lot of interest, I'll put together a fairly comprehensive training manual for studio operations. 

Emily London

Emily London is a portrait photographer for women. She's also a wife (of 10 years!), mother of two, graphic designer, ukulele enthusiast, cookie dough connoisseur, and photography mentor.