Hey! Today, I have an amazing guest, Colie James. I've known her online for years, and we finally got to meet in person at a conference in January. She's absolutely wonderful, inspiring, and incredibly knowledgeable about systems and all things business. I can’t wait to share her brilliance on the podcast today!
A little bit of background: Colie started as a family photographer, but now she mainly focuses on helping creatives with their systems. In our conversation, we’re diving deep into topics like automating your business systems to save time, strategic content repurposing (she has brilliant ideas on this!), and how to create more freedom in your life by automating your business. I absolutely loved all of it!
And heads up, we'll be diving into Dubsado in this episode, which is the CRM both Colie and I use. If you're not familiar with what a CRM is or what Dubsado is, don't worry! We'll explain it during the episode. Then, if you want to try out Dubsado and save on your subscription, use my code Elizabeth30 to get a 30% discount. If you want to learn more about how it differs from other tools and all the good stuff, you can check that out there.
I'm really excited for you to hear this conversation. So without further ado, here's my conversation with the incredible Colie James. Enjoy!
LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE NOW:
Who is Colie James?
Colie James is a Disney-loving family filmmaker, Workflow & Automations Guru, and the host of the Business-First Creatives podcast. Based in Denver Colorado, her heart pumps in helping photographers & creative service providers automate their processes, reclaim their time and get back to living!
With 10+ years in the creative space, Colie believes every creative deserves to build a business that is sustainable and profitable, and no one should quit their 9 to 5 only to work 24/7 [in their business].
The truth—automated systems can save us all from being overworked and overwhelmed.
When Colie isn’t building killer workflows and automations, you can find her spending some much needed time with her husband, James, daughter Chloe, or [you guessed it] at Disneyland.
You’re a Photographer/Filmmaker and a Systems Strategist. What’s it like running two businesses?
If you had asked me this nine months ago, my answer would have been very different. At the end of 2022, I made the decision to stop accepting new photography clients in my business. While I still have two branches in my business, the majority of my photography clients are people I've worked with for 6, 7, or 8 years. They have been with me for almost the entire time I've had my business. So, I have gradually reduced my focus on marketing for photography and shifted more towards the systems side of my business. Right now, around 70% of my business is dedicated to systems, while the remaining 30% is still focused on family filmmaking and photography.
When you made the decision to transition from photography and filmmaking and enter the systems business, what was that like? What made you decide to pivot?
So, it's ironic. This is a podcast episode and it was a podcast episode—my first guest appearance on my friend's podcast “This Can’t Be That Hard”. It was during the height of the pandemic in the summer of 2020. We recorded two episodes: one where she interviewed me about CRMs and systems, and another where I hosted a roundtable discussion with photographers using different CRMs. After the first episode, we stopped recording, and I had an epiphany—I should offer systems as a standalone service. Although I had been helping my mentoring students with systems for a long time (since 2013 as a photography coach), it never occurred to me to offer it as its own service. It was always integrated into my business and photography coaching.
Were you nervous?
If you know me, you'll know that I don’t lack confidence. When I set my mind on doing something, I humorously set a deadline of next week, but usually end up accomplishing it by the end of the day. I don’t let grass grow under a new idea. I'm also highly analytical, considering various aspects before diving in. If things don't work out, that's alright. Many entrepreneurs get stuck in a cycle of indecision, believing they need complete confidence before taking the next step. However, I believe that successful entrepreneurs understand that they don't have to wait until they're fully ready. They simply go for it, ready to pivot if needed.
Do you feel like you struggle with perfectionism?
I am one of those people who knows that when I launch something, it won't be perfect. I work out any issues as I go along. When it comes to launching new offers and pricing, I always have an end goal in mind. For example, if I want to charge $3000, I don’t start there, I pick a number I'm comfortable with, and gradually increase the price. Sometimes it doesn't take all those incremental steps to reach the final price tag. Eventually, I decide it's ready for the full price. I know it won't be perfect in the beginning, but I need feedback from myself and the people I'm servicing to get it where I want it to be.
Switching to systems - what do you feel like most people miss when starting to put together more formal systems in their business?
I feel like people often overlook what they already know. For example, when clients come to me for my full VIP day setup, they expect me to handle everything. However, the first step is a four-hour call where I ask questions about their business, often uncovering processes they are already implementing without realizing it. My role then is to refine and enhance these processes, offering suggestions to improve emails and forms. Really, confidence seems to be one of the common struggles. The truth is, if people simply took the time to sit down with pen and paper and document everything they are currently doing and want to do, they would have the foundation for their business systems. Too many people get caught up in the technology and automation aspects, but it all begins with the basics of pen and paper. Once thoughts and existing processes are written down, we can then analyze what you've been doing, take an audit of those steps, and figure out ways to make it better.
If someone feels like they need better systems and they set out to hire you, what would you say? Do they start by getting out a piece of paper and just track their steps the whole day? Or how does that work?
If they hire me, we do it together. But when I'm talking on my own podcast or Instagram, this is what I say: First, consider how you want to engage potential clients. You’ve got a website, you’ve got a contact form: Do you want them to provide information so you can decide if you want to work together, or would you rather schedule a call as the first step? Of course, this choice also depends on your website's conversion rate and whether your audience is ready to work with you too, but making this first decision is important for establishing systems in your business. Then, by centralizing all your clients in a platform like Dubsado, you can efficiently manage them.
Do you have a recommendation between letting people tell you information through a contact form versus scheduling a call where you prefer one over the other?
It really depends on the business. On my photography website, I offer both options for my clients. If they have already filled out the contact form and provided key information such as being aware of my price and preference for documentary photography, I can skip the call and send them the proposal directly. The proposal contains all the necessary information about the offer, making it easy for them to book.
That being said, for clients who are not confident in their website's ability to attract the right fit clients, I recommend starting with a call. Some people worry that a call might scare potential clients away, but if the call is important to you and you only want to work with clients who are willing to have a call, it's not a bad thing if it scares away others. It helps you focus on clients who are the right fit for your business before putting in a lot of time and energy into potential leads who aren’t the right fit anyway.
EM: And I would add that if you make a call, especially as a newer business owner, it can put you ahead of someone who fills out a contact form but has no automations. They may not hear back from that competitor until five days later when they check their Dubsado or whatever they use. On your website, you can say, "Jump on a call with me” and they can schedule it right away. This way, you're already talking to them, while the other person hasn't even heard back. I like both methods depending on where you are in your business.
For creative business owners who know they are being a bottleneck in their own business by avoiding systems, but find it overwhelming to think about, where would be a good place to start?
When people reach out to me, whether it's through Instagram or other means, I often guide them based on their specific situation. One of the key questions I ask is whether they already have a steady stream of leads for their business. If they do, then focusing on automating the inquiry processes might be the best starting point. This involves setting up a robust contact form that can segment leads based on different offers and seamlessly push them into the booking process.
On the other hand, if the person has a solid client base but lacks sufficient leads, it would be more beneficial to prioritize improving the onboarding processes. This ensures that existing clients receive all the necessary information, including client questionnaires, service reminders, and delivery emails. By addressing these aspects first, you can streamline your operations and allocate more time and energy towards marketing or handling inquiries.
Interrupting this interview for a second…
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Now, let’s jump back to the interview!
What do we do if something can't be automated?
So I know we both use Dubsado, but this applies to any CRM. People tend to focus on the automation aspect of using a CRM, but they should also consider how it organizes and centralizes client relationships and communications. This centralization and organization frees up time, even if you're not automating emails or booking proposals.
Some people are nervous about automation, so I offer to set up workflows and add approval buttons to every step. While this is extreme and not necessary for everyone (I’m not recommending this), it helps those who want more control. Once you gain confidence that everything is working as expected, you can let go of control and let the system work for you. It doesn’t take long for those approval buttons to come off!
Can you clarify what you mean when you say CRM for those readers who may not know?
A CRM, or Customer Relationship Manager, is a tool that centralizes all client-related activities. Platforms like Dubsado, HoneyBook, and 17 Hats are all examples of CRMs. They consolidate every lead and client into a single location, streamlining the process of organizing, communicating, booking, and onboarding.
I can tell you from personal experience, having used a CRM for a long time, that it greatly simplifies your workflow. Before using a CRM, if I needed to check whether I'd sent an email to a client, I would have to search in Gmail. If I wanted to confirm payment of an invoice, I'd have to search in PayPal. Basically, client data was scattered across multiple apps.
CRMs like Dubsado, HoneyBook, and 17 Hats solve this problem by consolidating all these pieces of information into one place. Everything from invoicing and communication to organization is managed in one platform.
When would you say someone is “ready” to start using a CRM?
If you have more than five clients, you need a CRM. I don't think that a CRM is negotiable. I think that even by booking one single client, depending on what your prices are now, getting a CRM is for you. Dubsado is $40 a month (click here to save money!).
Think of it this way: if you were to hire a virtual assistant, they would be $40 an hour. And a CRM saves you so much time and energy in your business. When someone asks me, “am I ready for a virtual assistant?”, my first question is: do you have A CRM? Have you seen how much time and energy you can save with the CRM first? And of course, doing that helps you organize your business too. You get your processes in order so that when you do hire a virtual assistant, you've actually made their job easier because your business is not chaotic. So yes, everybody needs to spend $40 a month (or whatever the cost is) on a CRM.
Switching topics a little bit, you have a podcast with over 100 episodes! And you are SO good at repurposing. Can you share a little bit about your content repurposing system?
Okay, so first let me say, I used to hire an agency that was taking my guest episodes on a podcast like this and was pulling the really interesting clips that I had to put them on my social media. And so that's how I started. It wasn't even with my own podcast. Every month I would send them 5-12 long form pieces of content, like podcasts, or even Instagram lives that I had done, and they were pulling out the really interesting bits. Then. they were making me graphic cards, social media videos, all of that content that you love.
And then when I started my own podcast, I knew I was going to bump this up some more. Podcasting is now my primary content that then gets repurposed across all my social media platforms. My team, including my wonderful podcast manager and virtual assistant, are instrumental in this process. Here’s what we do:
- Once I record a podcast episode on Riverside, it's transcribed in Descript. My podcast manager, Haley, edits the audio and video together, while also highlighting interesting points made during the episode.
- These highlights are then copied into a separate composition, which is really easy to do in Descript, and then saves around five to six potentially engaging video clips from each episode.
- These clips are then passed onto my virtual assistant, Sarah, who creates the social media videos. Using Canva, she decides on the best headline and places it on a pre-made graphic. The graphic is then added to the video along with captions.
- To distribute the content across various platforms, we use Metricool. Here, Sarah schedules all the videos and graphics. Depending on the strategy, we may choose to post the content on two or three platforms at once, instead of all simultaneously. A major advantage of Metricool is its ability to customize captions for different platforms (so you can drop the hashtags on platforms where it doesn’t make sense).
For solo episodes, I handle the recording, editing, and publishing to Buzz Sprout. If an episode is particularly good, I'll ask Sarah to select some clips for posting on Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube shorts, and other platforms but not always.
I never thought to ask someone for the video content when I appear on their podcast. That’s such a good way to make the promotion of that episode (and content) go further.
I have two suggestions for you, to add to that. First, when talking about yourself and your offers on someone else's podcast, it's different from how you present it on your own. Even if you do solo episodes, there's something about the interaction when someone asks you about your offers - it brings a different level of excitement. So that’s number one: repurposing your GUEST episodes is a great idea.
Now, for number two, I've actually done this myself, and it was my episode 100. I've decided to have a guest host on my podcast every quarter to ask me the questions that I usually ask or get asked on other people's podcasts. It gives it a fresh perspective. Your audience gets to know more about you, and you're not just interviewing guests anymore, you're a guest on your own show. Being on the other side of the microphone on your own podcast is amazing because your audience gets a taste of how you are on other people's podcasts.
EM: I love this! I actually did this for my own episode 100! Such a great reminder and tip! An extra tip I would add is that I will sometimes set up my phone to record me talking in an interview. It’s a great “extra” reel without having to do something on your computer. I also spoke on a round panel recently and everytime it was my turn to answer a question I started recording and sent those clips over to my social media manager to turn into some clips.
Yes - and I'm just going to add one thing. If you end up doing that, there's no audio in a time-lapse, but if you go into that episode or that clip and extract the audio, you can always make it a clip from a podcast episode or your teaching while you type on your computer or do something else in the time-lapse. You can also repurpose it into great reel content by adding bullet points or other elements.
Don't think that every piece of content has to be used in its entirety exactly as you recorded it. There are many ways to mix and match audio from different sources with different videos. I often do this with Disneyland videos. I don't want the background noise of kids screaming on the rides, but if I take a video of me on a ride and overlay it with audio discussing building a business that works for your life or any of those big ideas I randomly talk about on a podcast, combined with a strong call to action, it becomes great content that people love to reshare. I mean, who doesn't enjoy watching me on a Disney ride? It's like a thing.
EM: Another tip for B-roll: I have a whole folder dedicated to B-roll on my phone. I also have a shared folder with my podcast manager, but my social media manager and I have another shared folder where I constantly create clips of myself to use. Sometimes, it includes family-related content and sometimes its footage of me working. It’s nice to have both on hand whenever we need!
Do you have any more advice about repurposing content?
Everyone should be doing it! And one thing we didn't discuss is analyzing your content's performance on different platforms like Instagram, LinkedIn, or TikTok. If a particular post or message gains traction, consider resharing it. You can either repost it as-is after some time or modify the caption slightly. Paying attention to what engages people on your preferred social media platform is so important and will really help you create better content. On Instagram, I like to look at what content is getting the most saves since that isn’t obvious on your feed but it’s content people intended to come back to.
How would you say someone should start repurposing when they don't have a team yet? What would you say they should prioritize?
For a while, I didn't have a team. Let me tell you, during that time, I did my own podcast entirely by myself for four months. The reason? I wanted to improve the way I communicated with people - the way I spoke, phrased things, and edited content. It took me a good four months, but it was worth it. My interviewing skills improved significantly because, without an editor, I had to listen to myself and identify areas for growth. It really helped me find my groove on the podcast.
I also use and love Descript. Descript allows you to download your content from platforms like Instagram or your podcast and automatically generates a transcript. Then, you can simply read through the transcript to find the parts you want to highlight, add them to another composition, and export the video. It takes less than five minutes to create a video using Descript. So, you really don't need a team.
Personally, I have a team because I'm involved in other projects, but I could still manage this on my own. Giving up my podcast had nothing to do with my ability or enjoyment. It was simply a matter of realizing that spending hours editing podcasts wasn't generating income. So, I decided to invest in a podcast manager, allowing me to focus on activities that actually make money. I still edit my own solo episodes though!
EM: I’ll add that for people who, for whatever reason, don't want to listen to their own interviews but still want to improve as interviewers, one way is to get the transcript from the interview and analyze the way you transition between questions. Personally, I found it beneficial to read the transcript of my episodes and make edits accordingly (but I don’t do it every time!). Similar to you (but on a smaller scale), I did edit my first three episodes myself to get a feel for it. I remember editing out every single “um” to the point where it sounded unnatural. Now my podcast editor does that (not every filler word) and over time, I have reduced the use of filler words like "ums" and improved my overall delivery.
As a business owner, how do you force the pause and focus on other fulfilling things in life? I know you talk about the power of automation so that we as business owners can reclaim our lives!
If you don't follow me on Instagram, I was going to Disneyland every month from Colorado. Yes, I flew every month. And the thing is, I wouldn't be able to take these trips without the confidence that my Dubsado systems were handling everything behind the scenes. As a newbie photographer and business owner, I used to check my phone constantly for new inquiries, feeling the need to respond right away. But that's not the case anymore because Dubsado takes care of that for me.
I’m a big advocate for, you refer to it as the fast follow-up and I personally call it the automated lead response, but regardless of your CRM, it's important to have something setup as an autoresponder when someone inquires. That way, there is no gap between when someone expresses interest in your business and when you provide a response. By implementing an automated lead response, you offer a high level of service. It acknowledges their inquiry, provides relevant information, and to take it one step further, I always advise photographers to share blog posts of similar sessions based on their dropdown selection in the contact form. This allows them to engage with more of your content, even if it takes you another 12 hours to respond because they may submit an inquiry in the evening and you won't be at your desk until the next morning.
No one should feel obligated to immediately respond to people when we have automation and robots to handle that for us. Personally, it has significantly reduced my stress and anxiety knowing that inquiries in my business will receive the necessary information. Plus, at this stage of my business, if someone inquires in the evening and books with someone else by the next morning, it's likely they weren't the right fit for me. And that's okay. Reclaiming your life involves having confidence in automated systems that allow you to spend less time in your business and more time outside of it.
Lastly - let’s talk about your experience in Booked Out Designer! You joined Booked Out Designer even though you are not a brand and website designer (which I love!). What made you decide to join? And how has it helped you as a non-designer?
First off, when you launched it, I know there were limited beta spots. I can't recall the exact number, but I was fortunate to be part of the initial group. I set an alarm the next day to secure my spot in her course. What I truly appreciate about Booked Out Designer is its holistic approach to running any 1:1 service-based business. Even though Elizabeth specializes in website design, the program applies to any one-to-one service business.
While I love websites and enjoy talking about (and auditing) them with clients, I lack the knack for design. Booked Out Designer was super amazing from beginning to end. What stood out to me the most is that many course creators focus on only one aspect of their expertise, but Elizabeth covered all bases. For example, in the case of website design, if someone is guiding you on pricing, website setup, onboarding, and booking, that's one thing. But what I truly admire is that Elizabeth also emphasizes the importance of marketing – a hidden gem that often gets overlooked when starting a business. Marketing is one of the most important things for any business, whether you handle it yourself or pay someone else to help you, without customers you don’t have a business.
I had recently switched my business focus to Dubsado setups when I joined, and when listening to the modules in Booked Out Designer, instead of designing websites, I was thinking about it through the lens of designing the client experience within their CRM. As I watched Elizabeth's recommendations, I looked at which ones I already implemented and which ones needed improvement. Until then, I knew how to attract photography clients and coach photographers, but now I had to develop systems for creative entrepreneurs in general. The client experience module of the course was incredibly helpful to me.
What module of Booked Out Designer was most helpful for you?
Module three: Networking to Book Dream Clients. Networking and referral partnering are one of the most overlooked marketing strategies that can greatly benefit your business.
It's as simple as getting yourself into places where your ideal clients hang out. And to be honest, for me, Booked out Designer is just that - a community of website designers who understand the importance of onboarding processes and effective CRMs.
In this module, there are a few different lessons on networking in Facebook groups, leveraging social media platforms like Instagram, guest blogging, speaking engagements, and podcast appearances. You talk about how being a guest on a podcast can significantly boost your visibility and allow you to connect with your ideal client audience. Lesson six, "How to Pitch Yourself," really helped me in that regard! You do such a great job of framing that inside the course.
Rapid Fire Questions with Colie James
What advice would you have for someone who's in a “client and booking drought” right now in their business?
Visibility. Visibility and making sure that you're marketing. This is going to sound really silly, but also making sure that you're asking for the sale. I did an entire series on my podcast in August on marketing and branding, and one of the most important lessons that I wanted everyone to walk away with is that you actually have to ask for the sale. I want everyone to have a calendar and every post where you ask for the sale, mark it down. That way, if you look at the end of the month and you're like, “oh, I only asked for the sale one time”, that's why you ain't got no leads.
What is one habit you think has made the biggest impact or difference in your business?
I struggled with this, but back when Chloe was still in elementary school before the pandemic, I had a rule. I turned off my computer every day at 2:30 when I left to pick her up. During Covid, that wasn't possible because I was homeschooling and she was attending virtual school, and I ended up working longer than I should have. However, if you have the opportunity to set a daily work time limit and genuinely avoid distractions by putting your phone on "do not disturb" mode, you should turn off your computer. That's a habit that I am desperately trying to get back to now.
Connect with Colie James!
I have two different websites, so don't go to the photography one unless you live in Denver and you have a brand new baby that I can hug on. But my main website is here, and that's where I have all of the information about my Dubsado system setups, my course, my template shop, and it also has links to my podcast, which is Business First Creatives.
Is Dubsado the best CRM for you?
I will say this - my business wouldn't be where it is today if I hadn't started using Dubsado about eight years ago. With Dubsado, you can effortlessly manage your leads, send contracts, invoices, accept payments, create and send questionnaires, email clients, organize your leads, and much more - all in one place. Use code Elizabeth30 to save 30% on your Dubsado subscription and start your free trial today.
November 7, 2023