About 2 years ago, I met up with one of my photographer friends.
We were at a glittering, beautiful event and obviously, obviously, talking shop. How many weddings have you had this year? I asked.
And I asked not because I gave a flying monkeys as to whether his answer was a ‘good amount’ or not – which always seems to be the case, right? We judge whether we are doing ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in comparison to how many bookings we have. I’ll get on to why I asked him in just a second.
Anyway so he replied – 45.
FORTY FIVE weddings. How do YOU feel about that number?
Do you feel like that’s amazing and you’d love that amount of bookings? Like he must be doing incredibly ‘well?’ Or do you think – yes! That’s about right, that’s my goal for the year.
Get this. The reason I asked him was because he looked completely and utterly exhausted. I mean, I’ve never seen anyone look so tired.
Both of us have children and when he said to me ’45’ and I then asked him ‘what?? Why on earth do you do so many!’ His reply was
‘I have a mortgage to pay’.
And I felt like saying and you have children to PLAY with. Because he also told me that he was working all of the hours under the sun. Not just editing, shooting; but working harder to grow his business further.
Listen – it’s not for me to tell you what your goal for your business should or shouldn’t be.
But just know that if your grand plan is to cram in as many bookings as you can in order to earn the most amount of money possible in order to be able to pay your mortgage/ car payments / bills / flight to Jupiter –
What you’re doing is not running that dream of a creatively-rich, passionate + inspired, healthy and WEALTHY business that you dreamed of when you first took the decision to become a photographer.
This is what you have instead.
A job where you trade your time for money.
A job, just like any other job.
The bonus being you get to work from home in your pjs. right? You are your own boss? You work when you want to work and you can go for a gym session whenever you like. You might be there to cuddle your kids when they need you?
Except you’re possibly so tired from crazy editing marathons that in all honesty, handling a crying baby right now when you know that argh- I just have to finish editing this wedding! feels like it could possibly tip you over the edge. Or perhaps your kids are your favourite way of hiding from and procrastinating against all that work that has to be done, which means that your business is heading for disaster anyway.
Trust me – I’ve been there. I have two, remember. And I would much rather work less and earn more than work my fingers to the bone and never see these smiling shining faces- it just doesn’t make sense OR sit with my grand purpose for my life + what I want from it.
So let’s say you don’t have kids, or you might not even have a mortgage to pay. Let’s say you work 45 weddings a year and work roughly from 10am – 6pm on your business, most days.
Do you see what that is? That’s still a CORPORATE MENTALITY, just applied to your business. You’re still stuck in that ‘I have to work 9-5 to pay my mortgage’ trap! And by the way, it’s a LIE. Sure, if you LOVE working 8 hours a day so that you can pay your mortgage, that is awesome. I’m truly happy for you.
But it isn’t the only way!! Why do so many of us believe we have to work ‘regular hours’ or worse, ‘all of the hours God sends’ in order to have a brilliant business?? Why do so many of us believe we have to settle for less-than-dreamy clients, (I’m not talking just wedding style here, either. I’m talking about those clients that ask for a discount and then want the moon on a stick thrown in with it), that the only way to pay our bills (at the least) is to work as much as we can and work with clients that make us less than happy to be able to do so?? It’s such a LIE that we have to do those things!
Like I said, if you LOVE working 10-6, and you LOVE shooting 50 weddings a year and EVERY SINGLE ONE of those clients are your dream clients, that is awesome- you’ve got it all figured out.
But it doesn’t work for all of us.
And if you’re reading this and knowing that actually, you’re not living your real dream- yep, the one where you actually have a LIFE, not just a 9-5 JOB, and that you’d love MORE of your dream clients, to work LESS, and to earn MORE, you have to know that it is ENTIRELY POSSIBLE.
I work at most 4 hours a day on my business, and to be honest I am lucky if I get that. (That’s having two toddlers for you).
But if I didn’t have two babies I’d be on the beach, at yoga, reading in coffee shops, visiting my widowed neighbour, exploring this beautiful island, writing more books, going to galleries and exhibitions, shooting WAY more personal work (and I don’t mean snaps of my kids. I mean, big, beautiful sprawling projects linked to messy sketchbooks and tons of ideas and test shots and play and experimentation and actual FUN from photography, not just work – this guy confessed he hadn’t shot a personal project in over 2 years) and generally I’d just be living + loving my life as NOT determined by standard ‘office hours’. And generally, as a family, that is what we do. We walk our dogs for hours some days. We visit our little juice bar that we discovered nestled inside a fruit market and go there daily to get our juices. The girls absolutely love being at the beach so we are there at least twice a week at the moment, sometimes every day.
Working a business just for having the privilege of ‘being my own boss’ or ‘being able to go to the gym whenever I like’ is not enough for me. It’s not anywhere near enough. I don’t run my photography business because I feel ‘lucky’ to be doing something creative + fulfilling. I run it because it is that AND because it is a way for me to live the life I desire.
It took me ages to realise that. I sat through all-night editing marathons for ridiculous deadlines that I gave myself. (Why do we do that)? I crammed in work into baby naptimes and baby bedtimes and baby feeding times, feeling so exhausted I was sure my eyeballs were about to fall out. I travelled to London and went to an intense workshop with some incredible women when I was two weeks away from giving birth. People had to help me off the train. Seriously. I’ve been away from my babies from before they wake up and got home after they have long fallen asleep. I’ve spent Sundays in such a wedding-coma and with such bad migraines that I’ve had to spend the day in bed. I got to that point where I got over the fact that I felt ‘lucky’ to be running this business, woke up, and realised that it was time to make my business work for me.
On my terms. Not on somebody else’s definition of what my business should look like. No more every single weekend vanishing from my family. No more ‘all-day’ packages. No more trading time for money. No more working whenever I could to try to grow the business.
There is nothing ‘WRONG’ with working 10-6 on your business. With shooting 45+ weddings a year. But you don’t need to believe that is what you HAVE to do in order meet your mortgage payments, in order to have a ‘successful business’.
So when my mentorees come to me and tell me that they work all day on their business, or they’re fully booked all summer, and I say to them – does this make you incredibly happy? Is this what makes your heart + life completely full? A full time photography ‘job’?
– they at first look at me like I am insane – of course this is what I want? Hello, I have a full diary!! I just want to know how to make more money from it?’
And then I see it click in and it is like fireworks exploding in their heads and reflecting in their face.
Because if you chose photography as a JOB, where you HAVE to do it 24-7 in order to pay the bills- whether you’ve had an overdose of clients or whether you THINK that is what you would like, I guarantee you will fall out of love with it. You lose that creativity, that passion, with that I-think-I-want-to-be-a-photographer nervous yet excited SPARK.
Which is a crying shame. Because when we start out we have so many big, beautiful, hopes and dreams for our business. So much magic caught up both in front of and behind the lens.
Don’t lose that. Don’t let it get sucked into being ‘just another job’ or ‘just another client’ or ‘just another wedding’.
This isn’t a ‘job’. You don’t have to shoot 45 weddings a year and work 10-6 if that isn’t WHAT LIGHTS YOU UP.
And if isn’t what lights you up? Makes you happy every time you sit down and do it??
Seriously; what’s the point?!
Are you living your wildest, wealthiest, biggest dream for your business that it could truly be?
And what about your clients?? Do you love every single one of those clients, are they your dream clients who you adore working with and get excited talking to them about their wedding? Because they are people who you would chose to hang out with outside of work, because you have lives and dreams and interests that you share, that bring you together?
I couldn’t wait for my clients weddings this year. I got excited every time I saw or spoke to them. Beautiful venues, incredible food, dresses I dreamed of. So much love and laughter. Don’t you owe it to your clients to be passionate about each and every single one of them? A client is never, ever just another job. The second you get that ‘another day another dollar mentality’, you are letting down your clients. They deserve more than that, surely. Don’t they deserve a photographer who sees them as more than just ‘another wedding’ or a mortgage repayment?
This isn’t me being idealistic here – I can say all this because I HAVE DONE IT. I earned enough for my husband to leave work and join me in business. To support all of us. Do you think that would be possible if I had continued to trade time for money, to cram my diary with as many bookings as I could?
IS ANY of this sounding close to home? Like you’ve been shooting a ton and working a ton and actually, you WOULD quite like to shoot less, while maintaining (or increasing) your earnings?
Or perhaps you’ve even just been working those standard ‘work days’ and what you’d actually like is a lot more time to spend with your cats, dogs, babycakes, beach or bookcase?
Or perhaps you’ve been dying to fill up your diary with bookings and for some reason it hasn’t quite happened but now you’re wondering if that would actually make you over- the- moon- in love with your life?
This is what you do.
-Set yourself a concrete, solid, financial target for the year. Break it down into how much you need to earn each month to hit that target.
-Figure this out BEFOREHAND – before you get sucked into saying yes to every booking, every client, every discount that comes your way.
-Keep your prices high. Higher than you feel comfortable with. Know how many bookings you need at this price in order to hit your goal. If you find you are shooting more weddings that you would like to in order to be able to work less, then increase your price.
-Figure out your comfort zone for accepting discounts – how much room do you have to play with by providing a discount, while still meeting your financial goals?
-Diversify your income stream, so you aren’t reliant on just bookings for your income. This made the biggest difference for me. When I learned how to sell prints to every single client (despite the fact I provided hi-res images), when I learned how to package my albums and sell them at prices that enabled me to hit my financial goals, when I created my books – I noticed a huge difference in both my income and the time I was able to spend working. I still spent the same amount of time working, but there was no longer any pressure to have to hustle, or constantly promote my business.
Running it just became so much simpler, so much easier.
Diversifying your income looks different for everyone. It could include
-courses / workshops
-templates / actions / websites
-even an entire movement – like Beloved collective, for example.
Choose the target market that makes your heart happy – whether you shoot weddings, babies, families, boudoir is irrelevant.
Work with clients who are kind + generous + love you. As in, they completely and utterly love and appreciate you and your work. I realised a while ago I loved working within a family environment. You know, those kind of people who invite you into their homes for dinner even if you’re just dropping something off, and always have time for you. Basically, clients who don’t just treat you as a ‘photographer’ but as say, a human being, rather than a camera attached to a pair of legs and eyes.
–Who do you love working with, truly? You need to completely nail down your target client and make sure you are marketing to them, and them only.
-Make sure you have a grand Master Plan for your business so you’re being proactive, not reactive. (And don’t be afraid to change it).
Do what makes you happy- and then figure out how to make money from it.
I did it like this. I love photography and I’m a huge film lover (I love digital too, but for different reasons). I didn’t want to have 45 bookings a year, so I set high prices, found my target clients, stopped giving discounts, began mentoring, and then wrote two books.
Now I have more time with my family, more time to shoot, lovely clients and I’m not editing 24-7. And I fit in lots of beach trips and reading too.
It’s not difficult to decide what your business should look like and how you want it to serve you. And remember that’s what your business is first and foremost.
It’s designed to serve you.
So don’t be a slave to it.
You have a choice. Start by designing your grand master plan. Set your financial goal. Figure out what figure you WANT, what you NEED, and then break it down into how much you need + want to bring home each month. Brainstorm how you could gain that figure without having to resort to tiredness, loss of precious time, without having to do less of the things that make you entirely happy. Decide what your dream business looks like, and then design it.
Start now. It’s the perfect time.