I remember when I first started out in photography. I quite literally hit the ground running. I had a wedding every single weekend, usually back to back. Friday AND Saturday. Some of my dear friends still maintain this schedule, and to them I bow down. Seriously - it is not for the faint of heart, and I learned that the hard way.
This was my second official year doing photography as my full time hustle, and I booked 30 weddings. THIRTY. 3-0. Not including the winter months. My amazing second shooter Kelly and I were quite literally dead to the world at the end of the year. I remember sobbing on a regular basis, not because I was unhappy in what I was doing, but I was just so tired.
When you're creating full time, the energy it takes is mind boggling, and I'm not sure a lot of people outside of the creative industry understand that - and I don't blame them. I didn't understand that either until I threw myself into the mix. In order to be creative, it's imperative that we are first our best selves. That we're rested. Inspired. Focused.
When you shoot 30 weddings, 2 in a weekend, without spending time with the people you love or those who re-charge you (and maybe that's strictly sitting alone in your apartment with Netflix or your Kindle - right on), you start to head down a dangerous path of forgetting who you are, why you're doing this, and what sets your soul on fire.
While I'm so happy to say I walked away from that season with 30 satisfied clients, I fell into this hole of feeling like I wasn't good enough. That maybe I could have done better, especially for those clients towards the end of the year. I spent so much time going back and looking at the images. reliving the customer service, panicking that I fell short, even though the reviews were in tact. This was basically my brains way of saying that something had to give - and that if I wanted to deliver the best possible experience for my clients, this meant I would have to work less.
Whenever I hit a road block of sorts with my business, I would always turn to my dad for advice. He, too, was an entrepreneur and seemed to always have the right answers. When it came to this battle, he filled me in on a tactic that would change my life.
Work less, make more.
Not just make more money - make more beautiful things. Make more meaningful connections and valuable relationships, both personally and professionally. Make more opportunities for yourself.
Work less, make more.
I still live by that motto today.
Some of you may be rolling your eyes and saying, "yeah okay girl - but I've got rent to pay and food to put on the table." Totally get that. Me, too! I'm with you.
But there's a way to feed your family and your self, take care of shelter and still have time and the funds to travel the world or whatever might strike your fancy. I'm going to tell you how I made it happen, and how it's still to this day the way I operate my business.
Ready? Les' go.
First things first:
EVALUATE YOUR PRICING & YOUR WORTH.
Tough stuff right here. You've got to sit down and ask yourself how good you really are. How much you want it, how much you're willing to invest in yourself and your business and in turn, how much you're worth because of the time you've put in.
(this pertains to weddings, portraits and commercial work - so no matter your niche, this technique/practice still works)
I started by answering the simple question of: is the demand high? How many inquiries am I getting in a month? The answer was a lot. I had yet to know if this was because I was priced way too low or if I was just having a really good year, but the only way I was going to find out was to adjust my pricing and see what happened.
I knew I was worth more than what I was offering. I had spent every waking moment thinking about my business, learning about photography, practicing on friends and family and giving some shoots away for free just because I was hungry and eager to learn. I had invested a good portion of my savings into the best gear on the market at the time, and I had invested time and money into my website to ensure my first online impression was strong. So I raised my wedding collections each by $1k (and some change) and my portrait collections by $300.
Guess what happened?
I booked 50% less than the year before.
Less weddings, less portraits.
It was such an emotional struggle watching the decline emails come through. One after the other - "we're so sorry, but you're out of our price range" or "is there any way you could come down in price by $x amount?" Or just no emails at all.
It took everything in me, and a post-it on my computer where I wrote:
"Know your value, baby girl."
...in order to stick to my gut and pass up these negotiations in a respectful manner. In turn, I booked 15 weddings, had at least 2 portrait sessions a week, made MORE than I had the year before, and had SO much extra time for my family and friends, and most importantly - myself.
I've continued to do a version of this every year during Q4, and I tell all of my friends starting out that they should, too. Each year we're growing and evolving in our craft, each year the supply and demand grows (or it should be), and each year our value goes up. I raise my value in a modest amount - give or take $500 or so for weddings, $100 or so for portraits, but I do this with confidence because I truly feel that what I'm delivering is a unique, specific experience in relation to who I am, what I'm creating, what I've learned, and what I'm giving the client in return.
Now at the end of the year, I'm not burnt out. I don't cry. I freaking PINCH MYSELF over and over again, because I feel so insanely lucky to make money doing what I love, and being able to give people the gift of photography. It's pretty incredible, I think.
SHOW WHAT YOU WANT TO SHOOT.
This was something I learned a little late, but it's been such a game changer. Show (only) what you want to shoot. It's as simple as that. Larger scale weddings just aren't for me anymore. I thrive in intimate settings, smaller guests lists, unique venues and places I've never been - this is what gets my heart rate up and allows me to create on a whole other level. Once I figured this out, I immediately started showing what I wanted to shoot - international weddings, court house ceremonies, small unique venues in different states other than where I'm living (Montana, Colorado, Tulsa, etc) For portraits, I thrive off of capturing families and people in their natural elements. No posed photos in famous parks, no matching outfits or pre-meditated moments captured, where I can help it. So the moment I stopped showing that kind of work, the more emails I was getting for those real lifestyle sessions that I've been dying to create. (this is how the Mother Baby Collective was born)
If you don't put it out there, people will assume it's not in your wheel house. This is a great thing, and keeps the inquiries that aren't for you to a minimum. Less emails to respond to means more time for everything else. To create, to be with the ones you love, to take care of yourself.
SAVE YOUR MONEY, TAKE A BREAK.
This is something that's so invaluable to me - having the ability to take a break during the winter months. Especially in Chicago, the inquiries for weddings and portrait sessions goes way down, other than family sessions for holiday cards and whatnot, but that's usually only in the month of October. Now I won't stop working completely - in fact this is when my commercial and product work sky rockets, because majority of these shoots are indoors or in the comfort of my own home.
So to make this happen, each Q1 I add to/re-evaluate my personal savings account (see this post here for more information) that acts as my "paid time off fund." I have a separate account to take care of a full year of rent just in case something happens, and a separate account for travel should I want to go on a trip or two (or five!) so really this personal savings account takes care of my groceries, dinners out with friends, health insurance, etc. The logistics. Generally this off time falls between the end of November (Thanksgiving) through end of February. I almost always start getting steady inquiries by March since Spring is starting to show itself. And then the official season starts up again.
If I get an amazing opportunity in those off months, though, I won't turn it down. Be it an international wedding, a collaboration with a company I love, fashion bloggers, or a family who wants a cozy in home session - if it's a good fit, I never say no just because I'm on a break. I make sure that I don't over work, but it's important to listen to yourself intensely. If you want to create, create. If you don't - if you feel burnt out, rest. That's what your personal savings is for; to carry you through this low key period.
Like clockwork, come early February I'm always itching to get back into the grove of shooting on a more regular basis. I feel so revived and ready to put all of my ideas and shoot concepts into action, which makes for a successful and spiritually fulfilling 9 months ahead.
So there you have it - my 3 tips to ensure you continue to fall in love with your job again and again. Life is too short to be unhappy, babe. So be good to yourself, and love what you do. The rest will fall into place. x
Photographer. Stylist. Writer.