Today’s episode is part two of my interview with Sara Monika. And in this episode, we are digging into the details of what exactly to outsource, where to find a VA, how much to pay them, and how much time this is going to save you. I promise after this episode, outsourcing is going to feel a lot more manageable and more like a reality for your photography business.
Sara Monika is a documentary wedding photographer specifically for free-spirited and adventurous couples, as well as an educator. She is really passionate about empowering photographers to build a sustainable foundation in their business through her Outsourcing Made Easy online program so that photographers can trade in their overwhelm and burnout, comes with wearing all the hats, a lot of us know that, for a life of more time and financial freedom. She is also the host of the Shine + Thrive photography podcast, where she shares personal and business growth methods to help photographers create a business on their terms.
If you have not listened to PART ONE of this episode series, go back and listen to the episode right before this one, just so that you have all the information you need before diving in here. Sara shared so much good information in our conversation that I decided that it needed to be broken up into two episodes so that it wasn’t too much to listen to for you guys all at once.
Top 8 Tasks To Get a Virtual Assistant To Do In Your Photography Business
Sara: To literally sharing what I outsource and how much kind of time it frees up. And I can focus just on VA tasks because my VA does everything but editing. So I can share that, and then I can share how much time it actually saves me, and how much money I’m paying as well.
Tavia: Yeah, I think it’ll be super helpful for people to hear other than editing. What else they can outsource and how it’s going to help their business.
Sara: Okay. So I’m only going to speak to this because I love to only teach from experience. I’m going to talk about outsourcing through 25 weddings a year, because these are just the numbers that I have for my actual business. So I know a lot of you are birth photographers. So try to keep this in mind that I’m just talking about weddings, but you can apply it to specifically what you shoot.
So there’s kind of like eight things that I’m going to talk about that I outsource specifically to my VA and I outsource so much more to her with my education pillar of my business, but I’m only going to focus on photography just to keep it like really simple and succinct.
Transferring Information from Client Questionnaires to Templates
Sara: So number one I have is transfer information from client questionnaires into these Google doc templates that I have, which are color-coded strategically for me to be able to take that before a session or a wedding, quickly glance it over, and have all the information I need in my mind. I have a photographic memory. LOL. I’m a photographer and the color-coding helps me a lot.
So I used to find myself copying and pasting all this information from one questionnaire or to another. And it used to take me an hour and a half. And I’m like, “What am I doing with my life? This is stupid.” And so, yeah, so I have her do that and that saves me about an hour and a half per client. And again, I’m going to say all these numbers with the idea of 25 weddings a year. So with an hour and a half per client, that saves me 37.5 hours per year.
Sara: And then the number two thing that she helps me with is culling. And that saves me about three hours per wedding and one hour per session, and that’s about 95 hours per year. And at the end, I’ll give you guys a total of all the numbers. So don’t feel like you have to remember all the numbers I’m giving you because it’s a lot.
Sara: The number three thing I have her do is curating photos for me for short slideshow and blog posts. So pretty much what I have her do is curate the top storytelling photos, it’s about 90 that then will go to this three-minute song that I have picked out already. And then I can deliver that slideshow to my clients and it feels like more of like a movie, where it has those top, key emotion-hitting moments. And that is like a short enough slideshow that they want to share it with their family and friends. And yeah, that used to take me about an hour. So that saves me 25 hours per year.
Sara: She also creates long and short slideshow for me. So I deliver two slideshow for my wedding clients. One long, one with all the images they could just sit down, relax, enjoy, 40 minutes long. And the other one is the short one, which is more of like an emotional-hitting movie. So that saves me another hour per wedding client. That’s another 25 hours per year.
Organizing Wedding Galleries
Sara: Number five is organizing wedding galleries for clients, which is kind of like just adding the different scenes and tabs within Pic-Time for them to be more organized for easier viewing. And that saves me about 25 minutes per client, so that’s 6.25 hours per year.
Sara: And number six, this is a big one for those of you that offer albums. I used to design albums, but I was again doing it over and over. I’m like, “This is a process. This could be trained. This is teachable,” and so that saves me about two hours per client. And I averaged about 10 albums per year then.
And these are numbers from a year that I had 25 weddings, I think that was 2019, so that was about 20 hours per year saved putting together blog posts. So for those of you that just have to pop in your images into the blogging thing, add in the SEO, if you do know SEO. And it’s funny because I didn’t know SEO I just kind of little hack. I bought an SEO course. I paid my virtual assistant to watch it and learn it.
And then I’m paying her to just do the SEO for me. So I don’t even have to go through learning SEO because that’s not what I’m passionate about. I hate that. I don’t want to spend my time in my business on something I’m not passionate about even though it’s essential.
So she puts together blog posts for me that saves me about 12 hours per year, because I would say I blog maybe 12 times per year, 12 weddings.
Creating Instagram Graphics
Sara: And number eight, she was creating Instagram graphics, like story graphics for me to share those blog posts into my Instagram. So that saves me like 30 minutes per like 12 posts a year. So these are just kind of like what she helps me with just my wedding photography and then my podcasting and all of that is a whole another range of hours. But just with this, now you guys can know what I outsource and now you’ll hear about how many hours I save and how much money I spend, which I know you’re all like, “Tell me, tell me now!”
Hours Saved + Expenses in Outsourcing
Sara: So 227 hours are saved in a year with 25 weddings for me with these tasks. And then if we focus on like the “busy” time, I hate the word busy, because I’m like it’s not where any of us want to be. But the busy time for weddings for me is eight months. So that ends up being, if you just divide 227 hours in a year divided by eight months, that gives us 28 hours a month.
Let’s go deeper: 28 hours a month divided by four weeks that gives me seven hours per week. So that means I get a full extra day off. So I don’t have to work that full extra day. That person does it for me. And now this is where people get, I think, really excited because when I first hired my first VA ever, I was like, “In order for me to have good results, I need to hire someone who is really good and probably more expensive because you get what you pay for.” That was my thought process.
And so I hired someone that was charging $50 an hour, and I wanted to start with outsourcing like I wasn’t blogging enough, so I’m like, “Oh, I’m not blogging enough. I need to have help there.” So I started giving her those things and that it ended up taking her one to two hours, every blog post. And I was spending a $100 on a blog post.
And I’m like, “I don’t know if that’s like the smartest business investment,” because you can’t actually track that. You can’t really see does this blog post actually bring me back new clients or revenue. And then, because I felt like it was costing me so much money, I stopped outsourcing to her. And I was continuing to stay on that busy cycle until I discovered through my business mentor that you can actually hire someone from the Philippines for a lower dollar cost amount because of the conversion rate of the dollar.
So for example, if someone gets paid here in Canada $25 an hour, then because of the conversion rate, I don’t know the exact number, so please don’t quote me on this, but maybe in the Philippines, $5 an hour will be that equivalent. And so I realized you can actually find someone from overseas and pay them really well and they can be their own boss as well.
My virtual assistant, she’s a mom. She gets to work from home. She gets to have flexibility. As she helps me for longer and longer, and she learns more and more skills, I continue to give her a pay raise because I really do believe in that as well. And you want to treat them like freaking gold because they’re helping you so much, right?
So I started off with paying her $5 an hour because it was kind of like what the conversion made sense. So with the hours that I told you that I was saving, so I was saving $28 a month, the amount of money I was spending to save myself that much time was $140 per month Canadian.
So I want you all to put that into perspective. So think of all those little tasks that I mentioned, and if you’re like, “Oh yeah, that’s a good idea. I could actually outsource that.” If any of those popped up into your head – It could be two, it could be five, It could be all of them.
Now think about it: would you spend, for example, $100 or $140 to get help with all those tasks and have one extra full day a week to yourself? It’s like a no brainer. And especially if you know for sure that you can get the results that you want in those tasks, that they are up to your quality standard.
And again, I’m that example, right? It’s funny because I deem myself as a perfectionist actually. And what I had to do along my journey is understand that 95% perfect is perfect because perfection actually doesn’t exist. So for all of you that are like perfectionist and you’re like, “Well, it has to be done well that the quality has to be there,” I challenge you to look at that a little closer and kind of look at anything around you in life. Is there anything actually that’s perfect, right? I think it’s really impossible. So if you just realize that 95% perfect is perfect then that’s amazing.
And what I mean by that is that your 95% perfect to me is your clients are beyond happy, for example, with the album design, with the process of your virtual assistant interacting with them with the album design, with how they got their images. They’re happy with every single one of them, how they’re edited, that’s 95% perfect.
The 5% is your little thoughts being like, “Oh, well that could have just been better.” It’s because we see those things, but our clients don’t. So I want you to pay attention to that. And so that’s kind of where I’m at. And of course now I pay my virtual assistant more because she’s been with me for three years now. And she’s grown so much and she’s now my podcast producer. She’s never, ever, even before, touched those kinds of tasks.
Oh, by the way, all these things were trained from scratch. She learned all of this from scratch. You don’t have to find a person that has experience as well in this. And that’s how you also are able to get that lower per hour rate because you get to take some time to train them. And actually it takes much less time than you think. If you’re like, “Oh, it’s going to take so much time,” it actually takes you less time to outsource and train someone than doing the tasks yourself. That’s actually a huge, another big mind shift of mine that I had. And it only will cost you $140 a month, if you’re outsourcing that many hours.
Tavia: Oh my goodness. I feel like I want to clap. But that’s going to be like really annoying for the audio and weird if I was just sitting here clapping at you, just me and you. That is incredible and so mind blowing. I love that you listed the things because as you were talking, even though I’ve outsourced most of those myself, I forgot! Because they’re just of off my plate, somebody just does them, they just magically happen, I forgot. And so it’s amazing that you listed those things because I know people listening to this, do all of those or like 90% of those.
And I also have a girl, who is incredible, from the Philippines on my team. So I 100% vouch for everything that you said about the living wage and some people feel weird about paying them so much less per hour. But it translates well, meaning their wage, the cost of living there is so much lower and our dollar is so much higher that it works out to where they’re making good money being able to do something that is flexible like you said.
Because I struggled with that for sure. Because it felt like it was such a small amount of money and it was like, I don’t want to do that. But it equates to $15 to $20 an hour what we would think, you know.
Sara: And also just remember, you’re fully in control of how much you want to pay this person. Like now I’m at the point where I’m paying her $14 an hour. So it’s so much more for her. And for me, it’s still like a low amount. It’s still just under minimum wage in Canada. If she was in Canada and I want to spoil her, like the way that I see it, I want to have that VA grow with me and I want to treat her like gold and I want to spoil her to the point where she’s just always so happy and excited to work for me. And that’s when people also will care to actually do a good job for you.
And I even give her healthcare, like the amount of times that she had to go to the hospital and she was like, wrote me an email saying, “Sara, you have no idea if it wasn’t for your healthcare, I don’t know what we would’ve done.”
And it’s like, yes, we can actually still have a positive impact on someone’s life that way through hiring overseas and even overtime as your business grows, being like, you know what, just because, I want to give you a dollar raise and for them a dollar raise is a lot, right? And it’s like, I was doing that and it feels really, really good to be able to do that for someone.
How working with a VA helps with accomplishing tasks
Tavia: One thing that popped up for me as you were talking about these tasks is how I would procrastinate. And we talked about this earlier, but like creating an album for example, and that would end up translating to a poor client experience because I would procrastinate getting them their photos for example. I would procrastinate editing, culling, making their album, making their slideshow, getting them their sneak peeks, like all those things. You were talking about the 95%, and I was thinking, “Am I even 95%?” I think that actually by outsourcing, that’s what makes me the 95%, because not only is this person doing it as well or better than me, they are adhering to the timetables, sorry to say, better than I would sometimes.
And so that then translates into a better client experience because they’re getting their album faster than promised. They’re getting their photos faster than promised. Because of this person who works for me doing it. And so I just wanted to add that in there too, is that potentially could make you more money, because if those are things you’re procrastinating now you’re not anymore, and that makes your client even more happy with what they get and their entire experience.
Sara: Oh my gosh. I love that you said that. So actually it’s funny because I remember my integrity, my follow through for me to tell my clients, “You’re going to get your photos in this amount of time,” and actually fulfill on that and even under promise over deliver was so important from the very beginning that from when I started my business. And I used to hear about photographers, the turnaround time for weddings would be like 8 – 12 weeks.
And I was like, you know what? I’m going to help grow my business by having that differentiator and offering the turnaround time as two weeks. And so when I had those 15 weddings back in that year when I first started to outsource my editing and I was burnt out, it’s because I took that so seriously that I was the one that had to consistently stay up late, stay up late, stay up late in order for me to actually follow through on that. And so I actually never went through that kind of process of procrastination because I didn’t allow myself to, but I love that you said that because it reminds me that photographers do procrastinate.
And I do hear about photographers telling couples, emailing them, “Hey, sorry. It’s just, life has been busy. It’ll be another three or four weeks out past the due date.” And I’m sorry if this rubs you the wrong way, I don’t care, I’m telling you this out of love, right? You’re running a business. You cannot just treat that as if it’s like fluff. You have no idea how these are such meaningful memories. And if you’re just kind of like treating it like whatever.
First of all, the referral will probably go out the door. I actually have a story of one of my couples, their videographer said that they’re going to have their wedding video in a year. And then that videographer, about three days before said it’s going to be ready this date on time. Guess what they did: they specifically took time off work. They specifically set up a date night, got food ready, prepared by a chef just to make it so special. And guess what – they didn’t hear from the videographer that day. They didn’t and then the videographer’s like, “Oh, sorry, it’s going to be a couple days.”
You never know what someone else has planned on the other side. And if they’re expecting it at that time, who knows, there might be planning a huge family get together for everybody to see it all at the same time on that specific weekend or whatever, right? So I highly suggest that you really do stick to your word.
And so what I do now actually with, and I love how you said, because you now you’re like you can actually like stay on the timeline and improve your client experience, everyone gets their things on time. What I do is I tell my clients, “Your photos will be already in five weeks.” But then they get a surprise email between the three and four week mark saying, “Guess what? your wedding photos are ready.” And they’re like, “What? Oh my God, already?” So that’s kind of like the nice surprise I like to do in there. And yeah, I’m able to provide that experience. And then, you know, other photographers might take two to three months and I’m like, “No, I want the memory to be fresh in their minds when they see their photos,” it’s not like, “Oh, the wedding day was so long ago or the birth was so long ago,” you want it to be fresh so they feel even more emotionally connected to those. So yeah. Very important stuff.
Tavia: It really is. And even if you’re the kind of photographer like me, who’s like waiting until the day of because that was definitely me where I was like, “Okay, I said 14 days,” and now it’s 11:00 PM on the 14th day and I’m sending them their gallery. It’s like, okay, I was in integrity, but I definitely didn’t over deliver or wow them, I did the bare minimum and that wasn’t every single time, but it would be somewhat frequent before I was outsourcing, because I was just way in, above my head with all my clients. And it was like, okay, this is what I said, but it’s the bare minimum. And this is a way that you can just like blow them away like you said, by delivering it weeks early by having somebody else do it for you. So I love that whole entire conversation.
How to find a VA?
Tavia: We did talk about this, but how did you even find your VA overseas? What was that process like?
Sara: In simple terms, because I have a whole step-by-step training in my Outsourcing Made Easy program where it’s actually like step-by-step-by-step. You don’t have to do all the guesswork. But in short, it’s so important to get really clear on what you want to outsource first and what you want help with so that then you can create a job posting to find your unicorn VA.
I like to call it a unicorn VA because at first, when I’m like putting all these specific things down, everything that I mentioned here is what I put in the job posting, I’m like, “I want you to help me with coloring, with curating photos, creating long slideshow, album design,” and I wrote, “Don’t worry, you will be trained, no experience needed.” It’s so important for you to be clear on that.
What I was going to say is you have those thoughts coming in like it’s impossible to find a person that’s perfect for this, because this is so only I know how to do this in my business and a person overseas, maybe they don’t do it this way or maybe they’ve never done it before. How can they even know how to do it? And that’s why I teach how you train someone.
So it’s so important to get clear on that and if you’re like, “Okay, but I only have two things I don’t want to outsource and maybe it’ll give them two hours a week,” that’s okay. You don’t have to wait until you have 10 or 20 hours to give to someone a week. As long as you communicate that clearly in the job posting, people will know what they’re signing up for. So you just have to write like:
This is what I have to offer. Now, it will be on average two hours a week, but as my business grows and as the amount of tasks I need help with grow, I will be able to offer you more hours.
That’s it. You just have to write that sentence in. And then what you’re looking for is the qualities in the person that you know, that they are detail oriented, for example, or punctual or even excited or passionate about the tasks at hand. You want to make sure you have someone that will actually be into that and maybe has a more creative part to them where they’re like, “Yeah, I can’t wait to look at these photos and design an album.” So you’re more looking for those qualities. And then once you find the right qualities, anything else can be trainable.
But that finding those qualities is so important because that’s what will make that person stay around for longer.
Like my virtual assistant has been with me for three years now. That’s what we want instead of like the turnaround, because then you’ll have to keep retraining, which isn’t even a problem because I teach how to make sure that if someone, for some reason, quits on you, you already have a training vault. You don’t have to go through the whole process again. So that’s fine.
But ideally you want someone that’s there with you for like, you know, a handful of years or more so yeah. Getting a clear job posting is so key to finding your VA.
Connect with Sara!
Tavia: Oh man. I know that people’s heads are spinning because this makes it so exciting. I know if you’re listening to this, chances are you’re just like, “Oh my gosh, I could actually do this. I have two or three hours of tasks that I could outsource for $5 an hour to somebody who’s going to do a really great job.
And I don’t have to stress about editing after my kids fall asleep.” Seriously, so massively huge you guys. So Sara, where can people connect with you learn more about your courses? Just see the things that you have to offer, because I know that they’re absolutely going to want to.
Sara: Yeah, of course. So I have a handful of things. So number one, I am the host of the Shine + Thrive photography podcast. So you can find that wherever you tune into podcasts. Definitely connect with me on Instagram at @saramonikaphoto.
And then I do have a great resource for you that will really help you start planning and getting clear on kind of like what you should outsource next, where you should start. So if you’re an overworked photographer, I have a quiz for you where you’ll be able to discover exactly where to start outsourcing, so that you can work smarter instead of harder. So if you’re like, I just don’t know. Should I do, should I outsource my editing? Should I always worth my calling first? Should I get a VA? This quiz will take you two minutes and then you’ll have your. So do that.
And then on top of that, once you finish the quiz and you get the email with your result and ideas on how to start that process for yourself, you’re going to get my three hour post wedding workflow checklist. So I know that a lot of you are birth photographers and you’re like, “I don’t shoot weddings,” so it doesn’t matter. This is still key because it’s very similar process as photographers to what we have to do. And in that three hour post wedding workflow checklist you’ll see exactly what tasks I do, when, in order, and you’ll see what I outsource, what I do myself. You’ll see exactly a bigger breakdown of how much time it takes me to do what I do, how much time it saves me when I outsource, and you’ll have this beautiful pie chart that shows you like how much time you save when you start outsourcing. It literally shows you how I shave off 70% of my workload. And you can just take that checklist and get inspired by it and start to create your outsourcing workflows in your business. So for you to get that, the quiz, and then that checklist, make sure to go to saramonika.com/quiz.
And then lastly if you are someone that really wants to dive in deep and get literally the step by step process on how you can start outsourcing your business without the guesswork, pretty much the fast track, because it took me four years to figure out these systems that I now hand over to my students in Outsourcing Made Easy, then I do encourage you to get on the wait list since I do open the doors only once a year, every fall. So the next round will be in the fall of 2022. So you can get on the waitlist at saramonika.com/waitlist. And yeah, that’s pretty much it. That’s where you can connect with me.
I forgot to mention, if you’re like busy in the middle of something right now and you can’t go to like saramonika.com/quiz or the wait list, just quickly go on my Instagram, @saramonikaphoto, DM me either quiz or outsourcing, and then I’ll just send you the right link. That way you’ll get to it faster. You’ll make sure you don’t miss it. Because I know it’s so easy to get distracted right away after tuning into a podcast episode.
Tavia: Absolutely. And we’ll link it in the show notes too, so that you guys will have it easily accessible as well. Thank you so much, Sara. I am so thankful you were willing to spend an hour in eight minutes now. I didn’t prep you at all. Let’s make this into a two-parter and you like totally just went with it because it was just so much good information. So I think we’re going to split this and I know people are going to love it. Make sure and connect with Sara. Sara, thank you so much for being here.
Sara: Thank you for having me. This was so much fun. I’m so grateful to be connecting with you and your audience. Thanks, Tavia.
Oh, man! Is anyone else super hyped up to go find a VA right now? I bet you are. Because as you heard in my conversation with Sara, there are so many things in my photography business that I outsourced and forgot about because it’s been outsourced for so long.
There’s so many little things in our photography businesses that we do without even thinking, and we don’t even realize how much time it’s actually taking from our families and from our lives and in the ways that we could be doing other things to actually grow our photography business. So I know that you are going to want to connect with Sara after this episode. We’ve got all of the links that she mentioned in the episode, in the show notes, make sure and go connect with her on Instagram and check out her quiz as well.
My friend. Remember if you have a passion, it’s not an accident, because not everyone loves the thing that you love. So whatever your passion is, it’s there for a reason. So I hope that you will get out there and make it happen. Have a great week.