Align's Owner Melissa Jill: My Album Story

Tips & Tricks

Hey guys! I'm Melissa Jill -- the Owner of Align!  
I wanted to take a second to introduce myself to those of you who may not know me. 
I started out my career as a professional photographer based out of a Phoenix, Arizona where I shot weddings for 16 years. Four years ago I moved to Huntsville Alabama where I am continuing to shoot weddings part-time but focusing even more of my energy on Align Album Design. I started this album design company back in 2012 as a way to help other professional photographers get a handle on their album workflow because I know from experience how tough it can be. Small business owners have A LOT of balls in the air at any one time.  
I really value albums and always highly encouraged all of my photography clients to include one in their package. But my relationship with albums hasn't always been a happy one. I struggled like many photographers to learn how to sell albums profitably and efficiently and at times it was a rough road! More on that later!  
I now live in Huntsville, Alabama with my husband, Bruce, and our four year old little boy, Beau. They are my world:

Our days are filled with raising a human, running a business, pouring into our church, and keeping up with family and friends. Oh -- and eating my husband's amazing cooking! I totally lucked out in that department! 
So that's a little about myself. I LOVE what I do, but like many photographers, album design and workflow has been a pain point of mine. I remember sitting down to do my very first album after a client requested one during my first year in business and thinking... "This is going to be easy, I'll just throw this together." Turns out it wasn't so much. There was a HUGE learning curve and every time I thought I had one thing mastered, another issue popped up.  
First there were gazillions of options -- which company do I use, which style album do I pick, which cover, which paper type? Do I design it myself or outsource it? Which software do I use or which company do I outsource to? How do I manage proofing with my clients? In addition to all of these choices, I hit so many obstacles with my client workflow. I waited FOREVER for clients to pick their images. Then when I figured out I needed to be pre-designing, I waited FOREVER for them to finalize their design. There were endless rounds of revisions, clients wanting to stuff every last corner of the design with images, and the list goes on and on. I was left wondering -- IS IT EVEN WORTH IT to sell albums?  
Clearly I answered that question in the affirmative. And I've lived to tell about it. And not only that, but I figured out how to make albums PROFITABLE. For the last couple years we were in Phoenix, my studio's yearly profit from albums was close to $25,000. I share this only to encourage you that it is possible. And it IS worth figuring out how to navigate through the obstacles and frustrations! 
Over the coming weeks I hope to share a few things I've learned along the way that have helped make my album workflow profitable and efficient. These tips will apply to Align clients, but they will also apply to those of you who design your albums yourselves. And while what I share has worked well for my studio, it's not the only way to do things. I hope this blog can be a place where we can have a conversation; where we can learn and grow from sharing our knowledge and experiences with one another. Life is always better lived in community. So I hope you'll join me, follow along, and share your insight in the comments!  
To make sure you don't miss out on any of the upcoming tips in this series -- many of which I guarantee will be life-changing! -- click here to sign up to get them sent straight to your inbox! 
And exciting news! If you're a photographer who wants to start offering albums without investing hours of guesswork and trial and error -- we have a solution for you! Check out the Album Start-Up Kit and start maximizing your profit today! 

Blog post written by: Melissa Jill

Hilton Head Island Wedding Album Design for Dana Cubbage Photography

Album Designs
We have been working with Charleston based destination wedding photographer Dana Cubbage for a decade now! It is seriously such an honor to be trusted by so many photographers for such a substantial length of time! It is so humbling, truly. In that time we have designed over 50 albums for Dana's clients and it has been so fun to see her photography develop and just become more and more mesmerizing as the years go by. She has mastered her craft!  
Check out just how lovely the second spread of this album design is! What a beautiful color story it tells. Each detail was so thoughtfully styled and framed: 

This wedding looks like it must have been a blast to photograph! Here are a few more of our favorite spreads:

To see the design in full, click through the slideshow: 
Thank you, Dana, for trusting us to be a part of your team!
Design by: Denise (View More) // Design style: Classic (View More) // Blog post written by: Melissa Jill

Festive Backyard Wedding Album Design for Sharon Elizabeth

Album Designs, Align Legacy Books

Today's Featured Album is just TOO FUN!! We created this album for long-time client Sharon Elizabeth who is a wedding photographer based out of North Carolina. We've had the pleasure of working with Sharon for over a decade on over 50 albums and absolutely adore her and her work! She is one of our beloved Client Advocates and shares generously about her album workflow with other photographers. Click here to watch a short video where Sharon shares why she used to think none of her clients wanted albums. It's definitely worth the watch! 
This backyard wedding that took place in Norfolk, Virginia was so colorful, whimsical and festive! The whole day looks like it was pure joy! Sharon printed this album through us as well and sent us some gorgeous photos of the printed 10x10 Align Legacy Book with an indigo linen cover and gold foil debossing in Allura font. The cover is so perfect for the wedding story it holds inside! 
Here are a few of our favorite spreads from this fun design: 

To see the design in full, click through the slideshow: 
Thank you, Sharon, for trusting us to be a part of your team!
Design by: Sarah (View More) // Design style: Classic (View More) // Blog post written by: Melissa Jill

Systematized Solutions: How to Solve Business Problems Wisely

Tips & Tricks

Hey guys! Melissa Jill here! I've recently shared some of my strategies for solving common album workflow problems. But there are sure to be others that you've experienced that I haven't covered. No matter how hard I work on my photography business, problems inevitably arise. Welcome to being a business owner :). But the secret to really succeeding long-term in business is not just found in solving individual problems, but in systematizing solutions to each problem that arises so that you prevent it from happening again. That's how a business becomes more profitable and efficient over time. 
Think for a minute about an issue that you've recently dealt with in your business. Has a client been unhappy about something? Have you been frustrated that someone didn't understand how things worked or didn't get back to you in a timely fashion? Do you have that issue in mind? Good! I'm going to try to help you today to systematize a solution to it so you never have to go through something similar again. 
There's an analogy I like to use to help me explain systematizing a business, and help paint a picture of this effort as an ongoing process. I like to call it The Principle of Plugging Leaks. Let's say for some reason that you are in a dry river bed (just go with me on this). You know the water is coming, and you want to build a dam to help stop the water and protect something valuable to you on the other side. So you gather rocks and debris -- anything you can find around you -- to set up a sturdy dam. When you're done, you step back and admire your work. You look at it from every angle, trying to access where the holes might be. You do your best to build the dam well, but you don't really know how it will hold up until the water comes. You might even feel a little over-confident that it will be impenetrable. "No water is getting through this thing!" But when the water comes gushing through the river bed, you instantly see where the weaknesses are, because little streams of water are coming out the other side. For the most part, the dam holds up, but you are left plugging leaks. Occasionally another leak will crop up and you will need to plug that one, trying to make sure it holds up over time.  
Since this isn't a remarkably sophisticated analogy, you've probably figured out that the dam is the system you build for your business. Plugging the leaks will be an ongoing process -- we will never be completely done solving problems as business owners. But the goal should be to plug each leak or solve each problem by tweaking the system so that that specific issue does not arise again. 
Here are some of the common album-related issues that I myself have experienced and heard are common to other photographers: 
- Waiting forever for clients to pick their images 
- The client doesn't love the initial design and wants too many changes 
- The client wants to cram as many images as possible onto each spread, resulting in a cluttered design. 
- The client makes endless numbers of changes to the initial design. 
- The client is unresponsive and doesn't finalize their album in a timely manner. 
- The client is surprised or frustrated that the photographer designed their album larger than what they ordered and is trying to sell them additional pages. 
- After delivering a larger album design with the option to upgrade, the client doesn't respond quickly and ends up deciding against upgrading. 
If you continue to experience one of these issues, click on it and you will find another article with a solution I have systematized that has effectively solved it and removed this pain point from my workflow. If you don't see your issue above, or if you run into other non-album-related issues in your workflow, try to strategize a way that you can tweak what you do to prevent that same issue from happening again.  
1 -- Could you create a template email that you send out to your client at a certain point in their experience (or a .pdf you share with clients in your initial meeting) to better educate them and help you achieve the optimum result you desire? 
2 -- Could you create some type of incentive or deadline to help move things along and motivate your client? 
3 -- Could you change your contract to make something that a client has misunderstood more explicit so that expectations are better managed?  
Hopefully this gives you some ideas about how to systematize a solution to the specific issue you recently experienced. And next time a problem arises (and we all know it will), rather than beating yourself up or playing the blame game by being frustrated at your client or another vendor, you can use your energy to pre-empt that problem in the future by tweaking your system. 
Thanks for reading today! I hope you found something helpful here! As always -- this is a community and we love to hear from you and share a dialogue in the comments below. Have you had issues you've found creative solutions for? Share a comment so we can all benefit from your amazing wisdom!
If you found this post helpful and would like to receive tips like this straight to your inbox, click here to sign up!
How to solve business problems by creating smart, systematized solutions
And exciting news! If you're a photographer who wants to start offering albums without investing hours of guesswork and trial and error -- we have a solution for you! Check out the Album Start-Up Kit and start maximizing your profit today! 

Blog post written by: Melissa Jill

Fall West Point Wedding Album Design for Jennifer Larsen Photography

Album Designs

This stunning album pair is one we designed for New Jersey based wedding photographer Jennifer Larsen with printing done by Miller's Lab. They turned out SO beautifully! I love how the couple chose a blue leather color that matches the blue in the groom's military uniform: 

Jennifer always prefers for us to start her album designs with an opening spread with one photo of the bride on one side and a portrait of the groom on the other. What a thoughtful way to introduce the wedding story!  
We've had the honor of working on over 50 designs for Jennifer over the course of the last 8 years and she is always such a joy to work with. She is also one of our beloved Client Advocates. Click here to watch a short video of Jen sharing how she has elevated her client experience through her album workflow! 
The fall colors and beautiful backdrop of this wedding really put it over the top for us! And we're so appreciative of Jen for sending us a few photos of the printed albums to show-off to you as well! Here are a few of our favorite spreads from this gorgeous design: 

To see the design in full, click through the slideshow: 
Thank you, Jen, for trusting us to be a part of your team!
Design by: Shannon (View More) // Design style: Classic (View More) // Blog post written by: Melissa Jill
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