by Guest Contributor Veronica Gillas
When I first started out in the photography business, I jumped in with both feet and then forgot how to swim. I went from treading water to drowning in a matter of only months. I was priced too low for the custom portraiture market, overbooked and of course, overworked. My relationship with my children began to suffer, my marriage begin to suffer and I, of course, began to suffer.
I quickly realized that I was devoid of what I had spent a decade teaching other people; work life balance. I had to take a good long look at my business model and make some pretty serious changes. The changes prompted me to write this article about why I had to slow down. In the months following my turnaround, my quality of life has improved drastically. I meet new photographers regularly who talk about the same trials and tribulations that I faced starting out, and have shared my thoughts with them. That being said, I felt the advice deserved a larger audience, and so I’ve put together 5 easy ways that you can start today and maintain the (almost) perfect work life balance.
1. Work Smarter, Not Harder
For someone who prides themselves on being a workaholic, working smarter was a tough one. When I worked in the corporate world, putting in extra hours and moving up the chain quickly was a surefire way to success, or so I thought. Editing through the night eventually meant that I was missing movie nights with my family. Scouting locations for my fourth family session in a weekend meant that I was canceling date nights with my husband. Taking six client consults in a day meant that my kids were spending more time with Curious George than they were with their mother. I was a cranky mess.
Re-branding and changing my pricing structure (see #2) was an integral part of learning to work smarter. I started doing my consults by phone and developed a streamlined process for workflow. Working smarter had benefits for me as well as for my clients. I was able to spend more time with families individually, which meant that the relationship I have with my clients is incredibly close. In fact, I regularly have play dates, coffee and lunch dates with several of my clients and these are friendships that I keep close to my heart. My families are some of the most wonderful people I have ever met.
Ask yourself what you’re doing that is eating away at time that you could spend being more productive. Are you stuck trying to figure out post-processing? Hire a professional that you admire (like me!) to run you through their post-processing to help you perfect the process. Are you beating your head against a brick wall trying to market yourself? Talk to colleagues and join professional organizations (and forums like Rock The Shot) to bounce some new ideas around with other togs. Think outside the box and move outside of your comfort zone!
2. Price Yourself Right
This was probably the most difficult change I made. Starting out in the portfolio building phase, clients were paying very little for my work. When I sat down with my husband to re-draft my business plan (as a photographer, you should absolutely have one!) we calculated that I was losing money on every single session that I did. By the time I had figured my time, gas, mileage and expenses into the equation, I was seriously in the red. Increasing my prices was met with a great deal of resistance from about half of my existing client base. These clients were very value-driven as a lot of people are, and that is okay. When you raise your prices and charge what you are worth, there will still be people who will go elsewhere. What I found however, was that half of my clients stayed. I can’t even tell you how wonderful it felt to have a client tell me that I was worth every single penny, and then book their third family session with me in as many years.
I could dedicate an entire article to pricing alone (and I have), but the truth is that you have to price yourself based on your cost of goods and services and how much you’d like your business to be making. I worked backwards when I did my business plan. I work on-location with little overhead and so I set out a dollar amount that I wanted my business to hit every year (before expenses). I then figured out how many sessions I could do per month (it is five, in case you are wondering) and divided that by the income I wanted to generate. That figure determined my goal average sale, and I adjust my marketing efforts to reflect that. It meant marketing to a higher end market, but that in turn resulted in a higher transaction with fewer clients per month. What’s your magic number?
3. Reignite Your Passion
It is easy to forget the reasons that you became a photographer when the business side of things consumes you. My husband made a comment in passing a few months ago about him not remembering the last time I took the camera out when it wasn’t for work. I was shocked (and a bit offended) but realized he was right.
There was a time where I used my photography as a creative outlet for my artistic side. I used to be an artist and I had quickly just become a photographer. A few days later, I was struck by a concept for a shoot right after dinner (about 14 minutes before sunset, go figure), so I grabbed our 6 year old and took off to one of my favorite places. The end result was the image below. To date, it is absolutely my most favorite image of her.
What did you stop doing when you became a business owner? Never stop creating. Never stop learning. Remember what it was that drove you to pick up the camera to begin with. Get back to being the artist again.
4. Take A Time Out
As a mother, wife, daughter, small business owner, friend and sister, we often put the needs of the other important people in our lives before our own. This will inevitably lead to disaster. Please trust me when I say it will.
We use time outs on our kids when really, we need to start using them on ourselves. A part of being more successful in every facet of my life meant being more self-aware, and one of the exercises that I practice regularly involves putting myself in time-out. I had to vocalize when I needed help. This means asking my husband to come home early every once in awhile so that I can go for a run when I have had a rough day with the kids and hiring help one day a week so I can dedicate myself to tasks at the office.
I learned so quickly that if I don’t put myself first and attend to my needs, I can’t really take care of the people around me very well either. Putting yourself first will make you more successful in your photography business, and in every single other role that you play.
5. Family Day
Many photographers are mothers who have a family, husband and home to look after. While we spend time with each other throughout the week, the truth is that we were not spending quality time together. I am not at a point where I can completely block off one day per week for family, but we do make sure to book time out every single week for just us. It can be something as simple as a hike in the park or a trip to OMSI. We also make sure that we have one meal a day together, usually dinner, and occasionally go out to eat.
Commit to your family and you are committing to a better you. Time with your family will make you feel less guilty about those times when you have to scoot out for a last minute booking or have a newborn session that runs longer than you expected. You will feel more confident about how things are going in your life and in even in your marriage, I know I did! Family time for me also meant time away from my children and just with my husband. I soon found that we were using date nights to bounce creative ideas off of each other. Some of my most amazing creations have come as a result of conversations I have had with my very best friend!
So, let’s hear it. Will you take the plunge and make changes for the better? I promise if you follow these easy tips your photography business will change so dramatically, and so will your quality of life.
How about it pros, was there anything you’d add to my list?
About the Author: I am a natural and studio light photographer based out of Portland, Oregon. I specialize in the fine art portraiture of newborns, families and children. I love playing ring around the rosy with our 6-year-old, re-enacting the epic light saber battle between Darth and Luke with our 9-year-old, chasing our one-year-old with a camera and holding hands while watching the stars with my amazing husband.