In the five years that I’ve been running my photography business and The NotWedding, I’ve learned plenty of lessons the hard way. I know that I have plenty more to learn, but in the meantime, I wanted to share these ten lessons that are not meant to help you build your business or make more money or to gain a million Twitter followers but are really just intended to keep you from imploding.
And if I’m being completely honest here, this week has brought me close to that “imploding” point. Nothing huge… just work and sick children and those pesky life things that wear on you, and I’ve found myself saying (multiple times actually) “I can’t do this.” And the truth is, I can’t. Not by myself anyway. So my pre-quel to this list (so that you’re not sitting there thinking it’s just another list of tasks to accomplish) is don’t be super(wo)man. Humble yourself and ask for help or else you’re gonna get humbled anyway.
Okay, on to those lessons…
Build a solid support team. After receiving a $400 invoice for an email response I received from the fancy lawyer I had hired to help me incorporate my new business, I decided I needed a new lawyer – someone I could trust and depend on and not be scared to contact. Asking for references and then being upfront and honest about pricing and expectations has led me to find an incredible team of professionals that I can depend on. My CPA, my insurance guy, my web developer, my graphic designer… they have all become dependable members of my “support team” who I can trust and depend on for superb work, friendly service and exactly zero $400 surprise invoices.
Fight isolation. It’s easy to think that your job is the only one with difficult clients or stressful days or failed ventures when all you do is sit on your laptop by your lonesome. I’ve learned I need to be around people (at the gym, at Target, at the park…), I need to hear about other people’s jobs for some perspective and I need to meet consistently and intentionally with other small business owners and with at least one person who is ahead of me in terms of business (more employees, more clients, more experience, etc) who can serve as a business mentor. Isolation lets the crazy thoughts breed. Interaction with people keeps them under control.
Use social media wisely. Both my photography business and The NotWedding were launched thanks to Facebook. I’ve learned that people as a whole like pretty photos, things they can see/read quickly, funny/witty/quirky posts and comments, happy/emotional stories and free stuff. I’ve also learned that posting consistently leads to a measurable increase in followers, “likes” and ultimately business, but that there is a fine line between posting consistently and posting obsessively, and that is a line not to be crossed!
Pay yourself. I remember when my husband told me The NotWedding was a glorified hobby and that if it were a business, I would pay myself. So three years ago I set a (tiny tiny little) salary for myself and set up an automatic transfer from my business account to my personal account each month. It was an act in faith that the money would come from somewhere, and it also put a fire under me to make sure that money appeared. And bonus: periodically the boss (me) gives me a raise!
Set boundaries and, in particular, set a schedule. Having kids is what really made me realize the need for this, and I’ve since set a few rules that have made me work more effectively and have allowed me to enjoy real life when I am “off” work. I only work when my kids are asleep or at their Mother’s Day Out program two mornings a week (an incredible service all mamas should look into). Often this means I have to wake up early to get work in. I try to use my husband’s schedule as my boundaries, so that means waking up early with him and shutting down work when he is home (and keeping work very minimal on weekends). My goal for 2013 is to stop checking emails in bed!
Pay for certain services. I’ve learned that if I let someone do something for me for free to build their portfolio or to gain experience, I forfeit the ability to ask for changes or to instruct in any way. You get what you get (and you don’t pitch a fit). I’ve also learned that if I try to do something myself (web coding, taxes, graphic design), I often spend precious hours working towards a project that I finally have to pay a professional to clean up for me. Professionals charge for their services for a reason!
Work to your standards and then leave it alone. My husband often reminds me that not everyone responds in the same way and especially not in the same way I would respond: giddy exclamation-ridden emails. I once emailed a bride a link to view her wedding photos and she responded that they were “lovely” which I took to mean “terrible” because what does lovely even mean?! I’ve learned to deliver a product that you are proud of and then to leave it alone. Don’t worry about what they are thinking, don’t assume they hate it/you/everything, don’t value other’s approval over your own. Chances are your standards are higher anyway so pleasing yourself means others will be pleased.
Create a replicable model by getting help. If you are working ninety hours a week and are doing everything yourself, you can’t grow and you definitely can’t replicate what you’re doing on a larger scale. In fact, you will probably just implode and just quit altogether. For me, letting go of control has been the only way to move forward, and finding the right person (or people) to hand control over to has made all the difference.
Remind yourself that there is enough work to go around. Following others in your field on their blogs and social media sites can lead to great inspiration, but if we’re honest, it more often leads to jealousy and some embarrassing self-wallowing. All too often I have seen posts about how many bookings someone has or how busy they are or how fabulous their work is that has just been published and I feel like closing up shop because I’m not as good or desirable or (is it middle school again?) popular. It’s those moments that lead me to take a little social media or blog break and remind myself that there’s enough work to go around. The goal is to celebrate others’ success without coveting it and the remedy is usually (as my mom would say) to just take a chill pill.
Work with purpose. I struggled with what “success” was until I realized I had nothing to measure it with. If we measure it with money, then how much is enough? If it’s by website hits or brand recognition or the number of employees you have, then what is the benchmark for success? For me, I needed something to check myself with, and I developed a mission statement for The NotWedding (which happened to be three goals) that could continuously hold me accountable: We exist to promote local businesses, to inspire brides and to encourage solid marriages. If we were reaching these goals, I concluded, then we were reaching success. Working with purpose makes the hard lessons worth learning.
-Callie Murray, Founder of The NotWedding