Y’all…in the beginning, I knew nothing about running a business! I went to college to be a Spanish teacher and I taught in the classroom for eight years, picking up a camera and shooting a few sessions on the side to pay off my student loans. After six years and going full time, things were really busy. I was stretched too thin, my calendar was maxed out, and I was losing track of my “why.” By the end of 2018 I was overworked, frazzled, burnt out and only able to offer the leftover version of Mommy and Wife to the boys. I knew something had to change. There were several changes that needed to be made in order to double my business’ income.
Now, sitting here at the end of 2019 I feel much different! I am still tired, but my mind is still bursting with creative ideas (too many for me to actually accomplish them all), I am fired up to start new projects, and I am CURRENT with almost all of my photo and video work! I still shot 26 weddings this year as well as two dozen miscellaneous sessions, and yet I am not zombie-Mom like I was this time last year!
The difference? I came into this year with a PLAN and worked on five key changes to boost my income as well as my overall wellbeing!
1. SET IMMEDIATE BOUNDARIES.
Admittedly, I am REAL BAD at saying no. To my core, I am a people-pleasing enneagram type 2. But doesn’t saying yes to everything and everyone get exhausting? Not only is your calendar completely maxed to the brim, but it’s probably filled with sessions and obligations that just don’t set your heart on fire. If I’ve learned anything in this business, it’s that burn-out is a real thing…and it effects EVERYONE in your life. But I didn’t start my own business to feel overwhelmed. I didn’t become a photographer to take on every client that inquires. And I didn’t get into this business to edit my nights away or work every single Saturday in the summer. #facts
I wanted to run my own business so that I could design my own life instead of living most hours of the day under someone else’s control. My goal was to make my own schedule, have the flexibility to be with my son more, and to choose how I work and what I work on. I am IN LOVE with my work! Meeting new people, telling their stories, and creating beautiful images that help people see them for as amazing as I see them sets my heart on fire! But when the work was controlling me, I started not to enjoy it and worse, not enjoy most of my life.
Jason and I had a few long talks about what was working and what wasn’t and how we were going to change things. The beautiful part of saying “no” to some things, is that you create space for yourself to be able to say “yes” to all the things you desire! When I started saying “no” to a few more sessions, I could say “yes” to date night, family board games at home, a Saturday at the lake together and most importantly I could say yes to work that fueled my creative spark.
The absolute biggest change that I made last year was setting boundaries and saying no. It’s not a negative thing, it’s a tool that we can all use to improve our lives. Decide what is draining you and how you can set boundaries to limit its effect on you. How can you simplify the calendar, what can you cut out all together, what could be rescheduled or multi-tasked, can anything be delegated, how much is too much. Analyze all of it and make your plan before the year even starts.
2. PRIORITIZE SELF CARE
I bet you’re behind the screen rolling your eyes at me thinking “what does self care have to do with my income?” EVERYTHING, friend. Everything.
That saying about not being able to fill others up by pouring from an empty cup? I’ve never heard anything more true. You cannot give your best to your business, your family, or your friends if your needs are not met first. Yet somehow, when running our own businesses, we always come at the very end of the to-do list. Am I the only one who has not eaten lunch or showered because “I was just on a roll with this batch work”?
What I realized at the end of 2018 is that no one wants a Mom/Wife/Photographer who is frazzled, confused and unorganized. I don’t like that version of me, and why would anyone else? I like the me that is rested, that jokes and laughs and spends time making herself feel beautiful and cared for. That was the old me, and I wanted her back.
So, I decided I was going to be one of those business owners I was envious of, and actually take care of myself better. Do things for ME. Self care is a trendy word that has lost a bit of its meaning, so make sure you sit down and envision what taking care of yourself really looks like. For me personally, it includes: daily walks or workouts, showering, always remembering mascara and lipgloss, getting a monthly cupping massage, getting my nails done every three weeks, wearing real clothes even working at home, wearing my pearl earrings that make me feel like a boss, cleaning my car, reading books, getting back to crafty pastimes, eating a Reese’s peanut butter cup, putting my headphones on and having a dance party, wearing pink again, and making sure to include moments to breathe, and my ABSOLUTE favorite – Fresh Flower Friday!
Self care doesn’t have to be indulgent and expensive. It does have to be personal and meaningful. The little bit you invest into yourself will yield a HUGE return, I guarantee that.
3. FIND A COMMUNITY
The biggest thing I had to learn when switching from teaching to running my business was that entrepreneurship is LONELY AF. I write that with implied cusses and all caps, because it is so hard to describe in words how lonely it can be. I went from seeing 180 students as well as at least a dozen co-workers every day to being BY MYSELF. Yes, I decided when I worked and what I worked on, but there wasn’t anyone to socialize with, to brainstorm with and run ideas by, no one to chat with over salads at lunch. Most importantly there was no one to share similar struggles with to feel “normal” and keep problems in perspective.
Yes, I had my husband and friends, but I didn’t have anyone “in the biz.” Joining a mastermind group, finding like-minded women in the industry and true “biz besties” was a huge factor in doubling my business’ income! I needed friends that knew exactly what I was dealing with day in and day out while working. If you’re a photographer, your biz bestie does not need to be a photographer. You can build a network with other vendors and all help each other promote their services. Find a good mix of people that are local and nearby, as well as “virtual” and may live far away but are in close contact online.
If you’re looking for quick access to a Mastermind group, Round One of the Jessica Brees Mastermind is looking to fill a couple more seats. Our group starts in January 2020, just in time to implement the 5 big changes we are talking about. You can find more information here and make sure to apply right away.
4. DEVELOP A BRAND
If you’re anything like me, you hear brand and the first thing you think is “logo.” Yup, for 6 years (SIX) I thought my “branding” was my business name, logo, and a color. When I started to figure out who I was as both a photographer and a personal brand, I was ALL over the place. I was an imposter that kept modeling my presence after others I looked up to. I had no sense of authentic self, and certainly no consistency, which confused my audience and possibly lost me business. How did anyone know what to expect if they hired me?
The truth is, I didn’t know much about branding, and I was too busy trying to figure out how to run every other aspect of my business. Then, I realized my brand, and what I am putting out there for the world to see, IS MY BUSINESS. It’s my business in it’s entirety and will directly effect the clients I’m attracting, and the money I am making.
The only way to stand out in a saturated market, and be profitable, is to develop a brand unique to you and your style. Sometimes the world of internet and social media feels like a big mosh pit of noise and bombarding messages. You have to have a recognizable and consistent presence in order to grow an audience and therefore grow you income.
So what does “brand” even mean? It’s your entire presence and the visual representation of your business. It includes: name, logo, colors and fonts, website design, graphic design, emotions evoked in clients, message you are sending, problems you are solving, the language you use in your writing, etc. It’s the overall “vibe” clients get from your business as well as what catches their attention and sticks you in their memory when they need what you’re selling.
I had to get my identity clear in both my shooting and editing style, as well as gain confidence in who I was as a personal brand. As much as I love the appearance of clean, neutral backdrops and social feeds, I simply love bright colors too much! I would love to be a boss in a clean-cut business suit and heels, but at the end of the day I am a messy bun, tshirt and jeans kind of girl. Once I clarified who my ideal client is and embraced who I really am, my business really started picking up steam. I was making money doing work I really loved, serving my clients well, and feeling confident in my presence because it was truly ME.
5. STUDY YOUR FINANCES
The only thing I knew less about than branding, was the financial health of my business! In my marriage, I am the dreamer and spender, and my poor husband has to constantly keep me in check. So, when I was running a new business, I was also running a second set of finances and not doing so well! A business can make a huge income, but still not make a profit. Your business can have money coming in, but you may not have enough left over to pay yourself.
I spent a lot of time last year studying different approaches to business accounting, figuring out what made sense for me, and implementing the strategies. I personally adhere to the Profit First method and utilize 5 different accounts for my business cash flow. Every payment that comes in gets instantly split up into the following categories: 7% Sales Tax, 10% Income Tax, 5% Profit, 50% Owner Pay, 28% Operating Costs & Equipment. Since implementing this strategy, I have been able to ensure that the money I need is exactly where is needs to be when I need it. When I dropped and shattered a lens in June? I had money saved to replace it the next day. When taxes were due every quarter? Already saved up. When we finally chose what Caribbean island to visit on vacation? Savings was already setup in the profit account!
This method is not the right fit for everyone, but you need A method. You cannot expect to run your finances successfully without a strategy! If you are like I was and not paying yourself, then your business is not running well financially. The point of running a business is to cover costs, pay your workers AND make a profit. Set yourself up right and choose an accounting strategy that works for you!
Whether you are a seasoned pro or just getting your business started, I hope these tips can help you make real change in your life. Learn from my struggles, and do things right the first time through! Happy hustlin’, friends!