How to Create an Operations Manual for your Photography Business

For the small business owning creative, the rigour and structure of the traditional business world are often a big part of why you struck out on your own – if you never have to hear about leveraging positions, analyze another spreadsheet or familiarize yourself with a policy handbook again, it will be too soon.

And on many levels, small business ownership does have the freedom to be a little bit more laid back when it comes to the structure that commonly comes with larger corporations. Some aspects, though, can be invaluable to you, and provide you with even more freedom in the long term, to focus more on the part of your photography business that you love (shooting) and less on the business tasks that you were trying to get away from.

An Operations Manual can be the first tool you’ll employ when it comes time to outsource parts of your workflow or grow your team. It can also be a huge help in the case of emergencies, because it will help your friends, family or colleagues step in for you should you be unable to work. It is not a business plan, but rather a step by step guide to the tasks you perform in your business, day in and day out. Building one can seem daunting, but remember that it will be a living document, one that you can adjust and build on over time.

Couple kissing while wearing their wedding outfits

Photo by Krista A. Jones Photography

So why start during the busy season? Well, you’re most likely performing your daily work tasks over and over again, which means that as you document your steps, you’ll have frequent opportunities to double check the order, refine the process, and increase your efficiency.

Create a dedicated notebook to jot down your existing systems

To begin your Operations Manual, grab a fresh notebook that you can easily move around with you from your desk to your gear storage, and into your car. You may find it helpful to divide the notebook into sections, based on the type of task (for example, a section for post wedding workflow, a section for gear preparation, maintenance and storage, a section for invoicing, and so on).

Keep notes

Next, start keeping notes. When you get home after a wedding, write down each step as you make it. Do you first collect all your cards and make sure you have them all, then start backing them up? What numbering system do you use? Remember that as you record steps, your Operations Manual may one day be used by someone who isn’t familiar with your business, so be specific. If you know that cards 1-4 always have getting ready, and first look photos on them, write that down.


Once you’ve completed a task, check your documentation a few times each time you repeat it, then transfer it into the format you most enjoy working with – a binder with checklists, or a task list in your studio management system. Then sit back and enjoy the rest of your season, with the piece of mind of knowing that you can easily and quickly bring on a new team member, a virtual assistant, or even get your best friend to help you get through the bustle of the busy season.



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