We are excited to be a sponsor for the East Coast West Coast workshop, taught by Angie Monson, Shannon Sewell, Spanki Mills, and Jean Smith. It is a three day child and family lifestyle workshop in California in April 2016 and South Carolina in October 2016. We are excited to have these ladies join us to tell us why they almost quit photography and what they did to save their sanity, passion, and careers.
Hello! Shannon Sewell here. As photographers running our own businesses, we’ve all been there. Or almost been there. To that point where we just. can’t. do. it. anymore. We feel like bad wives or husbands or boyfriends or girlfriends. We feel like we’re failing as a mom or a dad. Our houses are a mess, kids are neglected, and/or we’re not getting enough sleep or exercise. We can’t keep up with all aspects of what it takes to run a small business. There just isn’t enough time and not enough of US.
For me, it was two days before Christmas and I was putting together packaging and waiting for UPS to deliver a last minute photo order. It was 7:00 at night and I still had to re-package it after it arrived and drive it across town so that my client would have their photos to give for Christmas gifts. My family was in the kitchen baking cookies and I was delivering one 8×10 and 2 5×7’s. (You don’t have to be too math savvy to know that wasn’t a smart business move). Why? Because I had gotten to a point that I was allowing my clients to dictate my business. I was burning the candle at both ends, working a schedule that worked for them. I was exhausted, hating my “business” and ready to throw in the towel. And I did. I took down my calendar, I told my husband I couldn’t do it anymore and I started the “what if’s” of closing it all down. What I realized in those what-if’s though is that I didn’t hate photography… not at all. I knew I would continue to photograph. I hated what I had let my business become, how I had let it take over what was most important to me- my family life. So, instead of walking away, I decided my business was going to work for me, I wasn’t going to work for it. That was 8 years ago and, while there have been hiccups along the way, I am still here and doing well maintaining that balance. Those small but hugely important changes I made have led me to an over decade long career that I can happily say is working for me (and not the other way around).
Hey, I’m Jean Smith, and I’m a recovering I-almost-quit-photography girl too. My story begins in 2007 when I officially opened my business. The struggle was real for the first year while trying to get my business up and going. I priced myself low and opened my schedule to shoot any where at any time. Over the next year, business slowly started to come, and then it came some more, and then it REALLY started to come. After several months of taking on everything that came my way, I saw things slipping…house was a mess, kids were spending an awful lot of time in front of the TV while I worked, I was missing most soccer games, I was averaging 3-4 hours of sleep, I wasn’t exercising, precious time with my husband was rare, and I felt pulled in a hundred different directions. I remember sitting at my computer one night…around 2 or 3 in the morning…and I just couldn’t function. I stared at my screen. I couldn’t believe what my life had become. I just started to cry and cry and cry. I KNEW at that very moment that I hated photography with every fiber of my being and that I had to quit. I. WAS. DONE. After some sleep and a talk with my husband, I knew that I didn’t hate photography…I loathed what I had let it do to my life. So, that was my turning point. Do I quit, or do I fight for this business I created and loved and make some serious changes? Of course I opted for the latter. I loved photography too much. I immediately implemented changes that would affect the entire future of my business and finally give me that balance that allowed me to run my business, and run it happily.
Do these stories sound familiar? Can you relate in some way? Do you want to find happiness and balance AND run your photography business?
PRICING – We hear it over and over again in our industry. DON’T SET YOUR PRICES LOW when you start out because you “don’t think you’re good enough yet” or you “have to keep up with the competition.” Setting your prices low not only leaves you with pennies after all of the costs associated with owning a photography business, but it sets you up to a “bargain photographer” who attracts the bargain shoppers. Whether you’re just starting out or are well into your business, you can always change your pricing and target client. An easy way to do this is to either raise your prices every 3-6 months, or raise it every certain amount of sessions (ex: 15 sessions). Even if it is a little at a time, you are on your way to earning more and being a respected artist.
OUTSOURCE – Outsourcing was the number one thing that changed my business and gave me balance. I am ONE person. A business requires several job roles and not only am I not enough people to perform all of the job roles, I’m not good at all of them. None of us can do it all and do it well. What do I outsource? I outsource the things that either I am not good at or that I don’t enjoy. I want to LOVE my business so I get rid of the things I don’t enjoy. Tax preparation, album design, image editing, branding, website design, packaging and shipping, house cleaning, and child care. House cleaning and child care? You betcha. I don’t need child care now that my kids are all in school, but when they were small, having a nanny come to the house twice a week so I could work all day allowed me to get a killer amount of work done, but still have my babies close. Then I could dedicate my entire self to them on the off days. House cleaning? Absolutely. One session will pay for house cleaning for a year and all of that extra time I would be scrubbing toilets could now be spent shooting or marketing to make more money. Yes, you’ll have to figure outsource costs into your pricing, but after Spanki’s tip, you and I both know it’s probably time to raise your pricing 🙂
SCHEDULE – Take control of your schedule NOW. A large part of your happiness depends on the time you have AWAY from work. I finally took control of my open schedule and decided the times I wanted to work, and I stuck with it. Monday evenings were for family, Friday evenings were for date night, Saturdays were off limits except for weddings, and Sundays were for church and family. I was scared that people wouldn’t book because of my now more limited schedule. But guess what? In the five years that I have changed my schedule, I have only had ONE person not book due to no weekend scheduling. ONE.
FIND A NICHE – Finding a genre niche in the photography world will help give you the extra time you need for your business, family, friends, and personal time. By choosing one genre of photography and focusing on that, you will not only be inspired and passionate about what you shoot, you will be setting yourself up to be a “master” in that genre and clients will seek you out for that particular genre. You can put all of your time and effort into that one genre, rather than putting time and money into several different directions.
SET HARD LIMITS – Going along with owning your schedule and raising your pricing, you also need to set limits on how much work you will take. Maybe you don’t have children and outsource all of your editing so 10 shoots a week is doable for you. Or maybe you have three small children, work an outside part time job, so 1 shoot a week is barely manageable. Decide on the number of shoots you are physically, emotionally, and financialy able to do each week, and make that number your hard fast rule. It’s ok to say no. It’s ok to start scheduling sessions out two weeks, two months, six months down the road. Not only will you be maintaining your happy balance, you will look like a busy, sought after photographer that people will need to book out early if they want you!