I have a confession to make. There was a time when I didn’t run my business. It ran me. Literally. In those days, if someone would have asked me how I was balancing business and family, I would have laughed. Or cried. Probably both. But, things are different today. I run my business, not the other way around. However, to be completely honest, if I don’t keep my business, and myself, in check, it still tries to slip right back into that dominate role in my life.
When my business controlled my life, it didn’t thrive. My family wasn’t thriving, either. I was so bogged down with work, lack of sleep, unorganized chaos and constantly running from one place to the next, always feeling behind and never making any progress. I missed out on gatherings, said no to meeting with friends, passed up on opportunities to simply be and worked tirelessly in my office, hearing my family in another part of the house, without me. I hated it. I hated my business. And I hated myself for allowing it to happen. I had started a business in the first place, so I could be at home, with my family. But, I was working longer hours than ever, making far less money and felt like I had no time to spend with the ones I love most in my life.
I’m sure many of you out there can relate. Maybe you’ve been there before. Maybe that’s exactly where you are right now. Trust me when I tell you, I know how hard it is to be in your shoes. The amount of stress, guilt and uncertainty I felt in those days was like living in a nightmare, day after day. A nightmare I had created for myself, simply because I didn’t know any better. A nightmare I escaped by implementing systems, setting boundaries, and finding the right balance between work and home. This balance allowed me to grow a thriving photography business and a thriving family- at the same time.
I have always said, “If you don’t love something, change it.” I love photography, but I didn’t love my business structure at that time, so I changed it. I have always felt that if I am going to spend time away from my family, it has to be for something that makes me happy and brings joy to my life. As a creative, running a business as a whole is not something I am naturally good at. There are key tasks that I excel at (marketing, branding, posing and connection), others that are a real struggle for me (bookkeeping, anything involving numbers, staying on top of emails) and things I simply hate doing (logging mileage and post-processing). Raise your hand if you feel me. Or better yet, since I can’t see you, leave a comment and share some of your own strengths, struggles and blatant hatred for day-to-day tasks you face in your business.
Balance is something I talk about at the EVOKE WORKSHOP because I know that it is a common struggle that many photographers- and business owners alike- face at some point in their lives. But balance is possible. I wanted to share what I have learned over the years and the steps I took to build a thriving business and a thriving family. I hope that it will help some of you out there. Please keep in mind, every person, business, and family is unique. I am a one woman show and this was my personal approach on the matter.
1 SET LIMITS. This is so, so important. It is also totally subjective. Setting limits means different things to different people. For me, I had to set limits on the number of hours I was working each day, because I can easily let myself work 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Seriously. I set a limit on the number of sessions I take each week (three), the number of workshops I teach each year (three) and how much traveling I willing to do out of state without my family (two times a year max). Another limit I am really focusing on this year: the number of photos I take during a session. I am trying desperately to lower the number of photos I take because it just isn’t necessary and it becomes a major time waster on the back-end when I cull.
2 CREATE STRUCTURE IN YOUR BUSINESS. If you’re working all hours of the day, leaving no time for yourself or your family, stop it. Stop it today, right now. Stop giving your business the power and privilege of running your life. If you have a to-do list that is a mile long and nothing is getting accomplished, it’s time to pull up those big kid pants and make things happen. Step up and manage your business. Manage what needs to be done and how it will get done. Take accountability. This is your business and if you don’t do whatever needs to be done, it isn’t very likely that anyone else is going to step in and do it for you.
3 BUILD A SCHEDULE THAT WORKS FOR YOU. And I mean a schedule that works FOR YOU. I used to work all hours of the day. Morning, afternoon, evening, late into the night… One of the things I love most about running my own business is that I don’t have to have bankers hours. My workday is actually cut into two segments: 9am-2:30pm and 9pm-11pm. I know that seems a little strange, but it works for me. My morning hours are devoted to blogging, emailing and working on various tasks that need to be done. When my husband and kids get home at 2:30, my work-day ends. It’s off to gymnastics, basketball or run errands with the family. Sometimes we just hang out on the couch, make dinner and veg out. My work-evening kicks back in at 9pm, which is my favorite time of the entire day to work. I get so much accomplished in those few hours and I love it. I am a night owl, so it allows me to funnel my sudden burst of energy into something productive. This schedule works great for me- and my family. What does your day look like? What schedule will work best for you? *Side note* My summer schedule is structured a little different, as I have photo shoots to factor in. 9am-12pm are my office hours, 4pm-7pm are my shooting hours, and 10pm-12pm are my evening hours. I typically book 3 shoots a week, on the days I don’t shoot, I take my kids to the pool.
4 TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR CALENDAR. My weekends belong to my family. It isn’t very often that I take on weekend shoots. Of course, there are always a few exceptions. But, in general, I don’t work weekends. I have two active kids in club sports, we live in a college town and attend sporting events all of the time, and we are avid campers. In fact, last year, we purchased an RV and went camping nearly every single weekend last summer. It was awesome! When a client contacts me to book their session, the contact form on my website requests that they provide me with the month they would like to shoot. When I respond, I give them the dates I am available for that month. If you don’t already have a planner, invest in one. (I highly recommend ERIN CONDREN’S LIFEPLANNER!) Map out each month. Fill in the dates that you have appointments and school activities so you can make sure you don’t double-book yourself, mark the days you are open to taking sessions and block off the days you will devote to NOT working. Own your calendar and feel good about it.
5 KNOW WHEN TO SAY NO. AND SAY IT. Saying no doesn’t make you a bad person. There, I said it. Now I want you to chant it. There is power in the word no. And happiness, as far as I am concerned. You can’t take on everything, you can’t say yes to everything and everyone. Are you feeling overworked? Stressed? Like you’re about to lose your mind? If you answered yes, then you clearly say that three letter word way too much. Your plate is only so big, friend. There are only so many hours in one day. And keep in mind, whenever you say yes to one thing, it means you’re saying to no to something else. Save those yeses for the things that matter most.
6 OUTSOURCE. I am a control freak, so this is a very hard step for me. With that said, outsourcing is also the greatest gift I have ever given myself. The beautiful thing is, YOU get to choose what to let go of. For me, I hate editing RAW files. I can do it, I just don’t like to. So, I outsource my RAW editing to the amazing KATIE CARTWRIGHT. Right now, I am still completing the Photoshop portion of my editing process. However, this year, I am strongly considering turning over 100% of my editing to Katie. Doing this will give me more time to shoot, more time to spend with my family and less time behind my computer. Yes, please. If you’re like me, I urge you to hire a personal editor. If you love editing, keep doing it and outsource something else! There are tons of companies that offer various services for business owners, you just have to be willing to hand it over. You can do it!
7 SAVE TIME WHERE YOU CAN. This kind of piggybacks my previous point on outsourcing. One way I saved a lot of time was writing email templates. For instance, whenever a potential client contacts me about booking a session, I have a pre-written email response that I send. All I have to do is make a few personalized adjustments, but the bulk of the email is already done for me. This saves a ton of time! Following the initial email, I used to find myself answering tons of questions about how my sessions are structured, what they could expect, etc. So, to save even more time, I created a Client Site, which is LOADED with everything my clients need to know in order to prep and plan for their senior session. Because the site has everything at their fingertips, it eliminated the back-and-forth correspondence. It’s also way prettier to look at than a boring email.
8 UNPLUG. OFTEN. Go away for the weekend. Or stay in. Just shut down shop and absorb as much family time as you can. At our house, our family sits down at the dinner table each evening together. We have a no-electronics-at-the-table rule. Seems simple and maybe a little silly, but it’s our rule. Dinner is our opportunity to connect with one another, share about our days and just talk. We are a very active, on-the-go family, so this little slow down in our day is exactly what we need. Whenever we go camping, we typically unplug while we’re gone, too. No emails, no phone calls, no social media posts. Just us. And I love it.
9 LEAVE TIME FOR YOU. Go to the spa. Read a book. Take a nap. Watch a movie. Go for a walk. Take a trip. Get lost. Find yourself… Whenever I have a stressful day or just need a break, I resort to baking. It keeps my hands busy, it keeps my mind blissfully occupied and it gives me the much-needed break I need. Whatever you love doing, that doesn’t involve your business, do it. Take a break. Reset and rejuvenate yourself. Not only will it make you feel good, it will make a world of difference in your day. You give so much to your family and loved ones, and so much to your clients and business. Take a moment to give something back to yourself. You deserve it.
10 REMIND YOURSELF WHY YOU FELL IN LOVE WITH PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE FIRST PLACE. Keep that close to your heart. My journey with photography has been pretty amazing. I found myself through photography. I rediscovered the girl who had unintentionally been forgotten… A dreamer. An uncaged bird. A creative. Before photography, I was content to commit to working every day at my corporate gig. To sit in a cubicle and crunch numbers, write reports and answer phone calls. And then photography happened. It revived my heart, my passion for creation, and my ability to see beauty all around me. I never want to forget the way photography made me feel in those early days. How it makes me feel now.
That is a simplified breakdown of how I achieve balance between my business and my home. I hope that this post is helpful and inspires some of you out there to implement some of these simple changes. I would LOVE to hear back from you! Let’s make this a conversation and connect. Please post a comment below. Much love!!