There are several business management platforms on the market, but few are geared only to photographers. Light blue is a fabulous option, and its unique characteristics give it a leg up on the competition.
Generic software, such as Microsoft Office and Google, forces users to switch between applications. Changing programs in this way is extremely slow. How many times have you searched through all the icons at the bottom of your screen and then, even after selecting the correct one, had to scroll through countless tabs? Additionally, few business owners have the time, inclination, or skills to create meaningful reports in Excel or a reservation system using an Access database.
Business management systems can save you a lot of time by integrating the functions of separate applications, making them accessible through a single interface. However, most of them are generic and poorly suited for photography businesses.
Therefore, busy photography businesses need a streamlined, bespoke tool that can go beyond these apps, ideally delivering features that will make life easier. Light blue does just that.
This photography-specific management platform can help you streamline your business, keeping control of customer contacts, accounts (including expenses and invoicing), questionnaires, emails, SMS, message templates, task management, contracts, forms and, of course, your journal.
It’s not the only product aimed at running a photography business, but it is way ahead of its competition in its features.
In 2003, Tom Catchesides was successfully running his own wedding photography business. His then girlfriend, now wife, Helen Bartlett, was a family and portrait photographer. He developed Light Blue to keep control of the administration and management of their businesses. Then, in 2008, he decided to turn his software into a business after a friend in the industry began to take an interest in it.
The Light Blue platform was built around the management of filming data. However, it has become more sophisticated over time and is now an accessible package that provides busy photographers with important information about their business and saves administrative time while performing daily tasks.
I used the software for a few weeks and here are the main features that stood out to me.
There is a big difference between Light blue and its main competitors: Light Blue is application-based. Hence, it does not require internet connection to work which means you can access the program and your data offline. The application then synchronizes with other machines the next time it connects to the Internet.
The software can be installed on many computers, and the Subscription fees start to increase if you go past five machines. Multiple users can be added to the software, so staff members can have their usernames and passwords separate. Different access privileges can then be granted; you may not want a studio assistant to have the same access to data as the manager, and choosing a “restricted” privilege allows you to limit the areas of Light Blue that certain accounts can access.
When you log into the software, which is password protected, you enter the dashboard from the home screen.
The dashboard is both well designed and intuitive to use and provides an overview of your business information. It is customizable to meet your needs, with the information contained in the widgets that can be added or removed. Widgets can also be customized. For example, bar charts can be replaced with line charts, or the task list can be rearranged based on date, type, etc.
The skin color of the app can be changed, just like the individual widgets. This means that your setup can be tailored to match your company’s brand color scheme. Nevertheless, the default blue is well chosen and pleasing to the eyes.
On the left side of the screen is a ribbon with buttons that allow you to quickly switch between functions. Besides the home screen, this includes the calendar, shots, contacts, quotes, sales, purchases, payments, graphics, as well as the inbox and outbox.
The system allows you to set up types of shots, categorizing the different types of work you do. You can also break down these types of shots further. For example, portraits can be divided into portraits, families, pets, and newborns. Entering the shot type is quick and easy. The shoot information is related to the schedule, emails and various financial functions. The management of the shoots is the basis of the program, this is where its real power lies, as most of the other functions are linked to it.
Quick Queries gives you quick access to a wide variety of different search results, such as shoots scheduled for tomorrow, those not yet completed, outdated requests, bookings for this fiscal year, and more.
One great feature that sets Light Blue apart from its competition is the power of its ratios. Anyone who runs a business knows the importance of knowing where to put your energy. It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing your time on one aspect of the business when another could give you a much better return. Light Blue can provide you with reports containing this type of information, so you can indicate where to focus your efforts.
Billing is handled by the program, and an online bill payment service allows customers to pay you by card or PayPal. Reporting tools make it easy to find out which payments are overdue. Light Blue can also handle sales tax.
You can make various adjustments to the financial settings. The app can be configured to work with different currencies including dollars, euros, and pounds sterling. A default mileage rate can also be set and different inbound and outbound payment methods can also be assigned.
In addition to managing your emails, Light Blue has an API that allows data to be sent directly from a website to your Light Blue account, so that messages sent from your site’s contact forms Web appear in the app. There are also plugins available for WordPress Gravity Forms and Machform.
Printed templates are created as PDF files and you can customize them with your headers and footers.
The app can also be synchronized with Google Calendar.
Light Blue runs fast and smooth on my computer. It requires macOS 10.12 (Sierra) or higher, Windows 7 or higher, and on an iPhone or iPad, iOS 11 or higher, so any machine that is running any of these operating systems must be compatible with the software.
On my machine, it took up less memory than my web browser, and when switching between functions, it never exceeded 10% of CPU usage, falling to 0% at rest. It is therefore much less resource intensive than using a web service.
Light blue is available starting at $ 25 per month; all the details of their prices are here.
What I do and don’t like about light blue
There is a lot more to this program that I cannot cover in a short review. My practice test proved that it is versatile and has a lot more features than its competition.
During my test we had a major storm with power and phone service outages, and it was reassuring to know that Light Blue was still accessible on a battery-powered laptop. In comparison, web programs, like Studio Ninja, have become inaccessible. Having the data stored locally but able to sync with other computers is a huge boon and puts it ahead of the game.
Light Blue also has a lot more features than its competition. Plus, its interface is customizable, unlike most web-only programs. In addition, I found it to be intuitive to use.
There is no Android app yet, but the software syncs with Google Calendar. It would also be nice to see the CalDAV network protocol allowing the exchange of calendar data over HTTP. These are minor setbacks, however, and Light Blue is certainly good value for photography businesses with a healthy customer flow.
The company seems to take pride in its customer support, and it shows in its communications. Their response to questions via email was exceptionally quick and friendly. There is a good knowledge base online and also offers training on the software.
Like most applications, you have to weigh the costs against the benefits, and there will be a minimum number of customers where the monthly investment in this software will make it viable. It would be good to see a one-time payment perpetual license version for a computer, which would be an attractive option for individual businesses and new businesses that don’t need the benefits of the cloud.
Would I recommend it? If your business is big enough to justify having it, then definitely. It is impressive and well thought out software.