Expert Advice: Understanding Contact Databases
Tuesday April 5th, 2011
by Craig Oppenheimer
Many people store the contact information for friends and business associates on their cell phone or in their computer using Apple Address Book, Microsoft Entourage or other simple applications. But it doesn’t take long before most professional photographers accumulate enough information on prospects, support services and other resources to test the limits of those basic programs. After all, you will not only want to store that information, but also be able to organize, access and utilize it. That’s when you need to start thinking about getting a professional contact management software.
Imagine getting a last-minute call for a shoot and having to track down and book an assistant, make-up artist and wardrobe stylist. Maybe you have to rent a special piece of equipment or find an unusual prop. If over the years you’ve kept track of those resources when you come across them, a simple search will yield a list that you can choose from, allowing you to quickly call and check availability. A good contact database will not only allow you to search for individual and company names, but also for custom keywords (like “assistant” or “wardrobe stylist”) and locations.
Let’s say you just shot an annual report for a hospital and the client gave you 20 copies of it. If, over time, you’ve tagged appropriate prospects with a “healthcare” keyword, a simple search of that term will narrow down a list of good prospects to send them out to as promotional pieces.
If you find yourself headed to Chicago for an assignment and you decide you’d like to show your portfolio around while you’re there, a search on “Chicago” and “prospect” will generate a list of possibilities. If that list is too long, an additional search for “ad agencies” or “clients” (that you’ve worked for) will whittle it down to a manageable size. If you’re on a tight schedule, you could even search for prospects in a particular zip code or on a particular street. Browsing through your search results, you may even have a record of your previous correspondence, phone calls, meetings and assignments with those people. A quick review of those notes will help you remember who they are and allow you to pick up with them where you left off with your last conversation.
What features should I look for?
For many applications, the contact database is just the starting point of a business management package. Here are some other features to consider:
- Calendar, reminders
- Project management
- Email integration (Can you send an email directly from your database? Will your database automatically save your email correspondence for each of your contacts?)
- Word processing (Does your program allow you to write a letter to a contact and automatically include the recipient’s name/address/phone and print it with your logo?)
- Estimating and invoicing (Does your database talk directly to your accounting program so you don’t have to enter/update contact information more than once?)
- Image management (Does it make it easy search for metadata, generate licensing agreements, track sales?)
- Pricing guides
What brands should I look at?
One popular brand that I’ve used is FileMaker Pro. With more than 30 out-of-the-box starter solutions, this software can help you keep track of just about anything. For example, in my previous role as an art buyer, I dealt with a huge library of stock photography. In addition to managing routine contact information and notes, Filemaker Pro enabled me to keep track of the licensing and usage for thousands of images, and the data search functionality gave me the power to quickly find information about any project that I had worked on. Managing these projects and licensing barely breaks the surface of what Filemaker Pro can do. For a quick introduction to its extensive possibilities, I’d recommend viewing this video. It’s important to note, however, that my company had the luxury of a team of in-house IT wizards who could modify the software to run according to our exact specifications. Filemaker Pro is the most customizable solution out there, but it may not be the best option for an individual photographer with limited knowledge of or interest in writing code. But if you are so inclined, there are countless books and “Dummy” guides to help you customize Filemaker Pro to perfectly fit your needs.
A program that is specifically designed for commercial photographers, that we have some experience with, is InView, which is made by Hindsight. This is one of the few packages that is specifically designed for commercial photographers. It may not offer as much customization as FileMaker, but you will certainly be up and running more quickly. InView includes a contact manager, scheduling, word processing and complete accounting capabilities. It has a mail merge feature that allows you to customize your email promotions, not only personalizing them to the recipient, but also allowing you to automatically include different images for different types of prospects. The contact manager can also be set to automatically sync with your smart phone. In addition to their basic package, Hindsight also offers a Photo Price Guide (which now includes video pricing) and StockView to manage your stock photography including a metadata utility with keyword prompts and licensing templates. They also offer multi-user capability which allows people in different locations to access and make updates to the same database. Jim Cook owns and runs the company, and he has a reputation of being very responsive to his users.
Another is fotoBiz by Cradoc. It’s also geared towards commercial photographers, but it’s perhaps slightly less robust than InView. Cradoc Bagshaw introduced his popular photography pricing software fotoQuote Pro nearly 20 years ago, and launched fotoBiz in 2002. fotoBiz offers many of the same features as InView, with special emphasis on tracking and analyzing stock photography sales.
Here at Wonderful Machine, we recently switched from a program called Now Contact (which recently suspended operations) to Daylite, made by Marketcircle. Everyone in our company uses Daylite to some degree, but it’s a priceless tool for me and our other producers. One of our favorite functions includes the ability to attach keywords to individual contacts, and then implement these keywords into “smart lists.” Every time we add a client prospect to our database, we add keywords (see list below) to their data record that makes them easy to find later. We record their company type, the kind of photography they use, and whether they are an “active” prospect (someone we pay a lot of attention to) or an “inactive” prospect (someone we want to keep track of, but not actively promote to). Separately, we record their metro area (in addition to their actual city) so that we can search by region. Then by using those tags and keywords in a search, we can quickly compile a list of people that match very specific criteria. For example, if I’m working on promoting a food photographer from Minneapolis and she wants me to focus on commercial clients in her area and editorial clients everywhere, I can very quickly create a smart list fitting those criteria and dive right into my phone calls or emails. Most databases allow you to keyword or tag data records to search by. Daylite is just especially flexible in this way.
Daylite also offers a powerful project management feature that can help you manage tasks, project timelines and client communication. This could be particularly useful for managing a studio where multiple staff members need to share databases and see the progress of multiple projects. Daylite can also sync with iCal and Address Book to maximize productivity amongst other programs that you already use. Daylite can connect with your iPhone and iPad. This could be crucial for accessing and adding contacts while traveling. Daylite may be unique in that it can “link” individual contacts with companies, notes and calendars. Most programs require you to create a separate entry for each company that an individual is associated with, and a duplicate note if the same one applies to different people. Daylite allows you to easily link any of these items to any other, which can save time and minimize confusion. This feature wasn’t completely intuitive for me at first, but it has turned out to be very valuable. A separate Billings module can handle estimates, invoices and billable-time tracking. If you decide to go with Daylite, you’ll find a third-party tutorial here: http://www.macangel.com/.
(Since we have such a heavy emphasis is on marketing, we chose Daylite. But the Hindsight and Cradoc products may be more appropriate for individual photographers.)
Is it worth it?
Don’t underestimate the value of a good contact database. As you get busier as a photographer and as your network of connections grows, the more you’ll need to access that information and the more valuable a resource it will become. Skimping on the proper software will save you time and money in the short-run, but cost you time, aggravation and money in the long-run. Good business management software won’t do the work for you, but it will make the time you spend on those tasks less painful and more productive. We’ve also arranged some discounts that might make it easier to get started; check out the discounts page and look for Hindsight and Cradoc.
If you’d like to relive the good-old-days of the Rolodex, there’s an interesting blog post on Gizmodo.
Keywords we use:
C (company type):
G (genre of photography those companies use):
P (prospect type):
- P_active (we are actively pursuing them)
- P_administrative (their company is a prospect, but that individual is not)
- P_inactive (we are not actively pursuing them)
- P_unsubscribe (they have opted out of our mailing list, but they’re still a prospect)
R (resources not directly related to photo shoots):
- R_documentaries (this will appear on the Resources page but not as a keyword)
S (support services for photo shoots):