Time to Prioritize | Kansas City Newborn Photographer
Back when I first started my little business every month was the same to me. I would hustle to book sessions, shoot as many as I could. I wouldn’t really pay much attention to my own schedule or things I had going on in my life, but my kids were very young. They didn’t do many activities outside of the home. And my husband was (and is) a retail pharmacist so he had weird hours. He was never home for a family dinner at a normal time. I just had this kind of unconventional schedule that easily lent itself to allowing work to become the first priority when it came to time.
So yes, I owned my own business so I still had time to see my kids and do some fun stuff with them. I made my own schedule, you know? They weren’t all in school and I would carve out time for them during the day (at least enough so I wouldn’t feel guilty) and then I would squeeze in all the sessions I could when I could find a sitter. I might stay up late editing (and omg this was before netflix had streaming shows). My husband might be a little irritated that he didn’t get to see me much that day, but I would figure out a way to balance time with him later in the week. And well, that was my life. Hustling to get work, learn new things, make money, shoot sessions and I basically asked my clients when they needed me to work.
Time moved on, my kids got older and all of them were eventually in school. I suddenly had all this free time that I quickly filled up with work. You would think one might dedicate some of that time to house cleaning, home maintenance, meal planning. You know, things like that…no, not me. And I struggled. And my home struggled. And my family struggled. Now, my business did not. My business grew. And grew. And soon my business, my clients, my computer and my camera were running my life. My schedule was dominated by work that I had to do, photos that needed to be edited, deadlines that needed to be met. And I was serious about it. Because I loved my job. I wanted to be successful. I wanted to be my own boss. I wanted to do this thing for as long as I could. And because of that I thought I was at the whim and mercy of when people wanted me to work.
I somehow got it into my mind that part of great customer service was saying, “When would you like me to shoot this session?” And then figuring out a way I could make that happen. For me this was not taking into account that I might have other things already planned with other people in my life. Or that I had already promised my kids a fun day out with me. I would just push those things aside, make new promises of time owed to them. It made me feel pretty awful, but I told myself, “This is my job, this is my business. This is what people do to get ahead.”
And I did that for a long time. And I loved my job. I loved my clients. I loved being a successful photographer. I did not love how I was managing my time. My kids were getting older. They were doing more things. They were involved in sports and had friends they wanted to spend time with. They weren’t just waiting for me to be done working so I could see them whenever I had time to spare. And I slowly came to realize that I really would never have more time to spare for them.
As my business grew my time became less and less. I do have an assistant (and she is amazing), and she helps me out a lot by taking on some of the workload. But there is always work that I have to do myself. And that workload has been steady and unwavering for the last few years (thank you to all my clients). And I just couldn’t see the free time I had become greater than the work time ever again unless I did something to change it. And that’s when I started working for me. That’s when I really thought about what it means to have your own business.
This could definitely be a blog post about how much it costs to be a newborn photographer, about how much I pay in taxes. How much I spend on props and equipment. Those are all things I think about. But really, at this point in my life, what I care about most is my time. How much time does this business cost me? How much time does this business cost my family?
And that is when I stopped scheduling my life around potential clients work schedules, doctor’s appointments, birthdays and dance classes. My life is full of the same things. And those things in my life are just as important as my client’s. That is when I stopped asking, “When would you like me to shoot the session?” And when I started saying, “These are the days that I can shoot your session. I hope one of those will work for you.” And you know what, sometimes none of those days worked for that particular client. And maybe sometimes because of that ( their family’s schedule) they needed to find another photographer. And that is something that I had to let go. I am not the photographer for everyone. Maybe some don’t like my style, or my website doesn’t appeal to them, or they met me once and decided that we just didn’t click (I might have felt it too) . And maybe I am not the photographer for them because I can’t work for them when they need me to work for them. And that is okay.
Now I am really upfront about my availability. I don’t apologize for it. I don’t make exceptions. Not because I want to be difficult or hard to get along with. But because I run a business and my business has operating hours. This is not a new concept and people get it. Okay, some don’t…but like I said, I am not the photographer for everyone.
I photograph newborns Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons. I photograph baby studio sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays all day. And I also shoot baby studio one weekend a month, all day on both days. And spring-fall I photograph sunset sessions on select nights.
I need my weekends for my kids now that they are in school, but I also understand that new moms go back to work and can’t always take a day off to shoot a studio session. So, while I would like to have that conventional schedule where I don’t work evenings and weekends, it just isn’t realistic for me to have that type of schedule. However, now my schedule no longer pushes me to the point of sacrificing my family for my work and that makes all the difference for me.
I also decided a couple of years ago that I would not work in December. Now, I am obviously working in the office, here I am writing this blog. But I decided I wouldn’t shoot new sessions during that month. I would give myself some time to breathe every year. So this year I had some doctor appointments to attend to, holiday planning, all my kids activities to attend and just basic things to wrap up that I have been meaning to do for the last eleven months. And if you follow me on Instagram, yes these activities included sitting on my couch and watching tv in the middle of the day. But so far it has only happened a couple of times…and it was glorious.
I would have to check with Kati, but I honestly think we turned away close to 20 inquiries of December due dates. KILLED ME. It is still eating at me as I write this blog, but I know that I need this time to get refreshed and ready to hit the ground running in 2017. I plan to enjoy my “stay at home mom” time while I have the opportunity. And my kids will be on winter break soon and I will be available to them.
When you own your own small business you don’t get a guaranteed salary. You don’t get sick days, or a company keeping up on your 401k. You don’t have paid vacation time or medical/dental insurance. You don’t have a customer service line that takes calls for you. Or someone to pass on the grunt work to. There is no one to back you up if you just can’t get it done. You can do the work or you can sleep. Those are your choices.
However, when you own your own business what you do get is the opportunity to manage your time. Manage it on your terms. You get to say how your time is spent. Now, I can never get back time that I lost with my kids when I let this job take over my life. And depending on the day that can make me really sad, but on days like today it can make me remember to not make that mistake again. And that is such a valuable lesson for me.
So while I can be sad about the potential clients and money I lose when I turn those jobs away I can be confident in knowing that I am doing all that I can to appreciate the time I have with my husband and family while I am in this world.
And time with the people I love is always time well spent.
Photo cred to my friend Kelci Coatney, who is not only talented but also totally adorable.