As a creative, do you think about your inventory? You should.
In any business with physical assets, inventory management is essential. You don’t want to hold a lot of expensive items in stock, tying up capital. But you certainly don’t want to miss out on sales because you allowed your inventory to become depleted, and the process of ordering, purchasing, and shipping new merchandise is time-consuming.
The JIT (Just In Time) method promised to cure this issue by ordering inventory “just in time” so that you neither stockpiled items nor ran out. But, depending on the asset, the timing can be tricky.
As a creative, if your assets are digital, you can control that timing much better. I am a writer and photographer, both digital assets, and I have learned over the years how to manage my inventory effectively.
The good news is, other than the ever-decreasing cost of storage; my assets don’t cost me much to stockpile. But I have learned over time that too much inventory has other downsides besides pure cost. The primary one is loss by attrition.
As a stock photographer, I could always find and produce new inventory when I needed it. Hire a model for a day, do some product photography, or a simple walkabout to grab new architectural and street images. But the bulk of my pictures came from traveling. Due to the nature of stock and the fact that I can sell an image of virtually anything, I used to come back from trips with thousands of photos. And as we began taking more and longer trips, that inventory grew to epic proportions.
Which, in theory, sounds great. But over time, I would get bored processing too many similars, or file a set of images away and forget about them, or just get plain lazy and sloppy with processing. Even if it’s a picture of a fire hydrant, it needs to be treated as a work of art and given the same attention as the grandest cathedral. In reality and in the world of stock, I am likely to sell more fire hydrants than churches. But I would get complacent.
And then along comes Covid-19, wiping out my entire inventory in a matter of months. I wasn’t getting out much, and I certainly wasn’t traveling. And so, as of the middle of November, I have produced less than 300 images for the year, instead of my usual complete and marketable inventory of four to five thousand.
But, with all that, I have managed to maintain my income. True, this is partly due to the passive and residual nature of stock income but is greatly enhanced by my ability to maintain tighter control on my inventory.
Before this year, I would try to upload anywhere from five to thirty images a day. Every day. As you can imagine, that leads to some very quick, and sometimes admittedly, sloppy work.
Now, I want to upload one or two images a day. Just enough so that I don’t start dropping out of search results. As with my writing, which I will get to next, my image production is a step-wise process. I need to cull through and select my products. I need to do post-processing, which may involve multiple steps in itself. I need to research and include proper metadata so that each image stands the best chance of being found in a search. And finally, I need to decide where to upload each image to maximize the chances of a sale.
In keeping with JIT, I can do all of these things to one image every day. But I have discovered that it works better for me to split these tasks into separate days. I’m still doing all the same tasks but on different images. This keeps my ideas fresh and actually speeds up the workflow.
So, in terms of inventory management, I first need to look at the two ends of the pipeline. How many raw images do I now have available, and what is my optimum output over the coming weeks. I can then decide the proper workflow to meet my desired output with my current input. But more importantly, this gives me at least a week’s advance notice when I need to get out and shoot new inventory.
The same is true with my writing, but the process is a bit easier to manage. After all, I don’t need to set up a studio or travel to a location to get inventory. I just need to have an idea and my keyboard. But, as I have found many times, it’s the management of ideas in my inventory that drives the whole process.
My workflow follows a similar process as it does for photography. One day I write the rough draft; the next I proofread, the next I polish, and then on the fourth day, I publish or pitch. But if I get busy, complacent, or just plain lazy and let my ideas dry up, the whole train comes to a crashing halt.
In photography, my culling of a batch of photos is done all at one time. In other words, once I have made selections from a shoot, I know that all of those images will be ultimately produced as content. With ideas for writing, there is more attrition. I get ready to write, pull up an idea and think, WTF was I thinking. So, I try to keep at least three ideas in the pipeline for each article I need to write.
Income as a creative is all about output. But you can’t have output without input, and the workflow required to get it from point A to point B. And that requires inventory management, just as if you were a retailer or anyone else that needs to manage assets.
Manage your inventory, and you will never run out of assets to market.