Business

What does the year ahead have in store for you? by Neil Alexander

As it turns out, photographically 2015 was not a particularly productive year for me. Too many distractions and demands on my time from elsewhere (read more about that here) but my extended self-imposed break over the Christmas holidays has given me the time to do some soul searching and think about what I want the future to hold and where I aim to be this time next year.

I’m firmly of the opinion that without targets, goals and aims, that we just tend to coast along, like a piece of driftwood bobbing aimlessly around the ocean. Eventually it’ll end up on a beach somewhere, but it could be absolutely anywhere. Personally, I’d rather it be somewhere nice and toasty like the Maldives rather than with all the other excrement washed upon Blackpool shores but without any guidance it could even be somewhere near Pyongyang.
My other issue is time. Being the parent that does the school run, prepares the packed lunches, cooks dinner every night, and supervises homework for two lively primary school aged kids, my working hours are limited to around 4 or 5 hours a day. And when I try to fit too much in, I get overly stressed at my inability to accomplish the tasks that I set myself for that shortened working period. I’m the worst for trying to spread myself too thin and as a result, I never really get to focus on anything properly and feel like I only ever do a half-arsed job on most things.

I’ve spent some time over the last few weeks listening to Susannah Conway and decided to pursue her exercise to pick a word for 2016 to act as my guiding light and keep me focused. 
Whilst resolutions work for me for the first few weeks of a new year in general, more often than not by the time February rolls around, they're a dim and distant memory and my good intentions have often fallen by the wayside. A single word that I can fall back on, I feel will stand me in much better stead and will remind me of all my good intentions at the stroke of a hat.
So after an inexorable period of deliberation, I’ve chosen the word Revitalise for my word for 2016, which according to my dictionary means "to give new life to. to give new vitality or vigor to.”. I’ve created a folder full of desktop wallpapers for my Mac to rotate through, I’m in the process of creating a poster to go on my office wall with it on, and I’ve even had a mug made with the word on. This way, there’s far more chance of my abiding by my New Year’s plans.

Whilst I’m not a great believer in self-help books, I’ve recently stumbled upon Lewis Howes “School of Greatness” podcast and book and it’s really helped me with focusing on how I need to revitalise my life and business. As I write this, I’m on day 13 of “Dry January” - I’ve not had an alcoholic drink or a smoke since New Year and I’m forcing myself to find the time for daily exercise and even learning how to meditate using Andy Puddicombe’s Headspace app.  And I don’t think I’ve ever felt better or more optimistic about the year ahead.

However, in the interests of focus and not spreading myself too thin (which I excel at doing - the old expression “Jack of all trades, master of none” springs to mind), some things are going to have to give. If there’s one thing that takes up vast swathes of my time, it’s this blog. I estimate that on an average week, it probably takes me 3 or 4 hours to get a post out - writing, re-writing, re-writing again, adding images, releasing and then promoting. That’s about a fifth of my working week and for the next 2 to 3 months at least, I’m going to devote that time to revitalising myself. I shan’t be disappearing completely. I am going to aim for a post a month rather than one a week and already I feel relieved and less stressed about it. Quality rather than quantity right?

But in the meantime, you can always catch me on Twitter, Google+ or Instagram.

So what does the year ahead have lined up for you then? There’s a big comments box below for you to pen your thoughts - please make use of it 😃

Until next time.
Neil

How I streamlined my business processes by Neil Alexander

Some time back I felt I had to overhaul the way I was managing my business. Paperwork was getting on top of me, I wasn’t invoicing properly and bills seemed to be coming at me left, right and centre. So I began to invest time working out the best way to take back control of my desk and my thoughts. The first step was to create a two notebooks in Evernote; one for invoices and one for expenses. All the email notifications that I received alerting me that a payment had been taken for something or other, I started sending into the respective Evernote notebook and add a tag for that month.


The next step, which was partly brought on by moving house and being unwilling to transport boxes and boxes of old paperwork, was to splash out on a Fujitsu ScanSnap duplex document scanner. I spent weeks scanning and shredding years’ and years’ worth of documents that I’d love to have just tossed but needing to keep 7 years’ worth of for the taxman. The ScanSnap was a dream come true. Even substantial documents could be scanned, saved and indexed within a matter of seconds. In fact it probably takes longer to dispose of documents in my ageing shredder than it does to electronically save them these days but I no longer have drawers and drawers of redundant documents, certificates, statements and letters lying around. And providing I tag and add to the appropriate notebooks upon import, I can access any of this paperwork almost instantly. Compared with trying to locate the correct box file and then having to leaf through hundreds and hundreds of pages to find the right one, only to find that whatever I was looking for was completely mis-filed, it’s a no brainer.
In fact, it’s been such a success that we are now a completely paperless household too. All warranties, receipts, school reports, pension statements etc etc are all scanned and saved into a shared notebook that the rest of the family can access.

Once I had a handle on the raw paperwork, I needed to get on top of my accounts. For many years, to keep costs down and simplify matters, I used an Excel spreadsheet for my accounts, much to my accountant’s annoyance. Though it worked for me on a day to day basis, I did end up incurring higher accountancy fees because of the amount effort he had to expend deciphering my handiwork. That was until I came across FreeAgent.  This is a piece of online accounting software designed specifically for UK based freelancers and small business owners. I can easily track my expenses and time, send invoices, check my recent bank transactions, generate reports for my accountant and send HMRC the necessary RTI for PAYE when I pay myself amongst all the other usual accounting features, and all from one website. There’s even an iOS app which is brilliant for recording ad-hoc expenses.

Using these three simple tools has completely revolutionised my workflow and business practices. The simple fact that paperwork and accounts are no longer a chore makes coping with the day to day running of my business so much more agreeable.

FreeAgent for a sole trader runs at £19+VAT / month and for limited companies, it comes out at £29/month. Use this link for a 10% discount - http://fre.ag/44pstrah
Evernote is a multi-platform application that can be downloaded from evernote.com for free. Premium subscriptions are £35 annually.
The Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500 can be purchased for around £350 - Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 A4, Duplex Wi-Fi Scanner

And there you have it. Do you think there is anything I could better? What tools do you use? Feel free to comment below and share.

Changes ahoy! by Neil Alexander

The more observant amongst you will have noticed that I've started to move my prints over to Fine Art America. It's a rather protracted process but it gives me a great opportunity to clear out some older, less inspired photographs and make way for some great new work. 

The driving force behind this change has been two-fold. The first is cost. I'm currently paying nearly £500 a year to host my Photoshelter galleries and my Squarespace website, which frankly is just too much. And the second is a need for a rebrand. 

When I first opened a Photoshelter account many years ago, my plan was to sell both stock and prints from there and sit back and watch the cash roll in. Unsurprisingly though, it hasn't panned out like that. I've found that trying to sell stock myself is very very difficult. It is possible and I have done so, but the market is so competitive and there are so many specialist sites that do this a whole lot better than I could ever do. And the same applies to prints too. Whilst I have managed to generate sales, the turnover just hasn't been sufficient to warrant the overhead.

So with a new outlet for my prints, a far bigger marketplace in which to plonk myself, lower overheads and better social networking integration, I now have to sell far fewer prints to break even. Check out the prints here. They start at only £28 and to celebrate the launch, I'm offering a 25% discount to blog subscribers! Simply use the code DHXCHT when checking out. But don't hang around, the code expires at the end of this month. I'm posting new images up there every day. If you want to keep abreast of uploads, you could always subscribe to the RSS feed here

100% Satisfaction guaranteed on all my prints

100% Satisfaction guaranteed on all my prints

Oh, and just in case you were a tad hesitant, the returns policy couldn't be simpler!

If you're not happy with a purchase that you made on Fine Art America, for any reason, you can return it to them within 30 days of the order date. As soon as it arrives, they'll issue a full refund for the entire purchase price, including the outgoing shipping charge. Please note - Fine Art America does not reimburse the return shipping charge unless the return is due to a defect in quality.
 
Fine Art America sells thousands of pieces of artwork each month - all with a 100% money-back guarantee.
 
If you've hesitated to purchase artwork online in the past, why not give them a try?   You have nothing to lose!

I am also now contributing in earnest to Arcangel (at least I will be once all the new changes have been rolled out). Arcangel are a stock agency who primarily focus on book covers but also now sell to record labels, magazine publishers and advertising agencies amongst others. They have a great community for contributors and it's taught me a whole new way of seeing and composing.

And this website.... I love Squarespace and this website is my pride and joy but I'm paying too much to host it and there's been more than one occasion when I've found it just not configurable enough. Being a nerd at heart, a web developer in a previous life, and a bit of a fussy git, I'm finding that Squarespace no longer really cuts the mustard. So it's back to Wordpress in the not too distant future. The branding work has been done and the construction of the new site is underway. It's going to be stunning and I can't wait to share it with you.  

 

Until next week, my friends....

Neil