There’s one thing all the photographers in our community seem to agree on, regardless of lifestyle or business goals:
There’s no such thing as perfect work/life balance.
You’ve heard all about prioritizing, embracing imbalance and learning to let go. But what happens when you’re ambitious—and you like it that way?
You don’t want to settle for less than your mind-blowing best. You never lose momentum, like ever (this is me). You fiercely love your business and can’t get enough of creating art for your clients. You love the feeling photography gives you right down to your core.
So you pursue your business dreams with everything you’ve got . . . and end up holding yourself captive to your business demands.
When you’re working hard for something that brings you happiness, it can actually cause unhappiness in other areas of your life. Ever feel that way when it comes to pursuing your business ambitions?
I’ve focused hard on building Fearless and Framed into a community that encourages photographers to photograph freely, especially for those who want to photograph real stories for their clients with a documentary approach. Starting small with ebooks and blogging in 2014, F&F quickly grew into my full-time job. I started developing a marketing course and running documentary shooting mentorships in 2015. 2016 was about refining our business model while still trying my best to be present within the community . . . oh, and to actually be a photographer.
Much has been achieved, but my ambitions have had a negative impact on other areas of my life (my parenting, my shooting, relationships with friends and family, and most of all, self-care).
Sometimes we think, “If I just had some help or more income, things would be better.”
But that’s a lie. Even as an entrepreneur with an amazing team and an income that’s doubled from 2015, I still fall into ruts of feeling like a slave to my business.
Sure, it’s easier to step away now that I have more consistent income and with help from a team, but it’s deeper than that. It’s the ambition to constantly grow better and to do more that sucks me in.
I’m not the only one struggling with this. These are common problems I hear from fellow photographers:
- I don’t do any work until the kids are in bed. Then I stay up until 2 a.m. doing editing/admin work and have to be back up by 6 a.m. when the kids wake.
- I have full-time working hours but still feel like it’s never enough. I often end the day frustrated and craving more work hours.
- I’m not pressed for time, but I feel like I’m working harder than ever and barely bringing in enough to pay myself after the bills have been paid.
(I’m curious to hear what your journey has been like, too. Feel free to share in the comments below.)
So how do you fit your business ambitions into your life rather than letting them run your life?
The secret: There is no “right” way to make your business ambitions fit into your life.
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Fitting your business into your life is a matter of how you choose to blend the many facets of your life.
Being mindful of how you choose to pursue your ambitions plays a big role in what your work/life balance looks like. These tips will help you keep your photography business ambitions alive while avoiding a life takeover.
Understand your big picture (and expect it to change)
Think about how you want your photography (your art) and your business to fit into your life . . . and understand that this will probably change with time and experience.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What role does your photography business play in your life?
- What is your definition of success in your photography business, and how does this impact your day-to-day life?
- What do you want your daily life to look like, photography aside?
- With this information, what is an immediate goal you can tackle? (Break it down into actionable steps.)
Declutter your mind
Take a hard look at all the things you’re currently doing and want to be doing someday. Make a damn list that covers pages for days—get it all out of your head.
Go over each item on your list and think about these questions:
- How long does this take? (Guesstimate if you’re not sure, then start tracking.)
- How does this apply to my big-picture goals?
- Do I realistically have enough time to do this?
- Can I delegate this task? If not, can I let go of it or save it for later?
Decluttering your mind will help you redefine your priorities based on your immediate ambitions.
Listen to yourself—know your warning signs
I can recognize when I’m getting in too deep with my ambitions. My biggest warning comes in the form of guilt: guilt that I should be with my kids when I’m working; guilt that I should be creating something killer for you when I’m with the kids. Sometimes the signs are even physical: weight gain and stress insomnia.
When you’re feeling negative emotions like anxiety, ask yourself “why?”
Understanding the source of bad emotions can help you set better boundaries. It’s not foolproof, but it’s incredibly helpful. Speaking of boundaries . . .
Set boundaries and prepare for the unexpected
When you’ve set a goal to work toward, it’s important to set boundaries around the things that typically pull you away from your goals. That includes preparing for uncontrollable life happenings and interruptions. They are inevitable!
Paying attention to your needs will put you in the best position to make your goals attainable.
This section seriously deserves its own blog post (in the works), but to get you started, think about these things:
- What is working in your life that helps you attain your goals?
- What things pull you away from your goals and how can you find a solution?
- What are kind of boundaries do you need to communicate to key people (clients, family) surrounding what you will and won’t do (both in business and in your personal world)?
Know who you want to serve and how . . . then systemize it
I’m not asking you to commit to ONE type of client for life, but I am asking you to think about your income streams.
Profitable, happy entrepreneurs think equally about what satisfies their passion and how to make it their primary revenue source.
Then they turn it into a repeatable, scalable system.
Not sure what I mean? Consider the scenario when you have a string of new bookings and get into the groove of shooting, editing, etc. Then when it’s all done, you panic, thinking, “My calendar is almost empty. I need to get some sessions on the books.”
This gap happens because you have time to focus on marketing when business is slow. When your calendar is full, your marketing plan is likely non-existent. You may take any session you can get because you need the money.
You can close that gap with systems you build to attract more of your best clients, create a killer client experience, and save time. Sound too good to be true? I teach you how to do this in my Mastery Moment-Seekers course.
Make like a photography boss and delegate
It’s hard to hand off admin work to a virtual assistant (VA) when you’re thinking, “I can just save money and do it myself.”
Here’s the thing: you can nix the expense and continue doing it all yourself. Or you could start small, paying someone for 10 or 20 hours a month to knock out behind-the-scenes tasks that take you away from doing what you love.
Here are some things to consider handing off:
- Scheduling your social media calendar
- Answering emails
- Preparing blog posts for publication
- Developing a content calendar for your marketing plan
- Handling the details of your client intake process (sending contracts and questionnaires, following up with potential clients, etc.)
- Managing your schedule and scheduling calls for you
- Setting up galleries and/or IPS
- Tech support for your marketing, email, website, etc.
- Ordering print products
Guess what? Delegation doesn’t have to be limited to business tasks. Think about outsourcing some of these jobs around the house:
- Cleaning your house
- Meal prep and planning and/or grocery delivery
- Part-time childcare or activities
Can you do it all? Yes. But remember, saying yes to one thing forces you to say no to another . . . and that often means spending more time in the office than you need to.
You can start off slowly, just 5-10 hours a week or 10-20 hours a month. If you’re afraid to take commit to an ongoing payment, you can even hire someone to complete one primary project as a test run. Baby steps, friend.
Be realistic with money (and hold yourself accountable)
Whether you’re looking for hobby pay or breadwinner pay, you should know how much you need to earn to sustain your business + how much you want to pay yourself.
Add up the revenue each of your income streams needs to earn, then turn these income streams into action plans . . . and put it on a damn calendar.
If you know you want to do two family sessions per month, what actions do you need to take to get two more bookings? There is no single “right” answer. It’s going to be trial and error at first. As you grow your network and gain more marketing experience, you’ll learn which marketing channel is most effective for you (this is called your conversion rate).
Take frequent pleasure breaks
It’s hard to say yes to fun things when you’re in deep with a bunch of work. But seriously, your business is not going to fold if you take a break.
Last week was a super tough workweek. As the week came to an end, I wanted to keep going. But I already had plans for lunch and drinks with my girlfriends at our favorite restaurant. I had to set work aside and leave the house—and it was the best thing for me. This simple break turned my negative, “gotta hustle” mindset into a “this isn’t so bad, I’ll get through it” attitude.
Removing yourself from your work environment, especially if you work from home, can change everything and reset your mindset.
Surround yourself with positivity and free yourself from distractions
Are you surrounded by people who lift you up? I’m not talking about hanging out in Facebook groups or on other social media all day. In fact, these are typically counter-productive distractions.
I’m talking about people you can chat about your business and ambitions with on a frequent basis. People who are willing to get to know you and your business so they can support you in the best way possible.
If you’re missing these people in your life, consider joining (or creating) a small mastermind group or getting involved in a 1:1 or small-group coaching/mentoring/strategy environment.
The people in our everyday lives usually mean well, but they don’t always get it. Having a support team of likeminded business owners can make a big difference. Getting involved and interacting with other ambitious photographers can help you maintain momentum to see your ambitions through!
Evolving is exciting
I have to talk to you about the elephant on the screen:
Life is constantly changing.
No matter how you plan to tackle your ambitions from a place of control rather than submission, you’re in a short season.
I learned this most from my son, who didn’t sleep through the night until he was 17 months old and who is the most loving, wild child ever. Just as quickly as we said goodbye to the newborn stage, we’re continuously facing new stages and challenges.
Be flexible. Give yourself permission to dream and be ambitious, but do yourself the courtesy of checking in once a month. Take time to pause and determine the best way to weave your business into your current life.
So, there you have it. A whole bunch of things to think about when mapping out the way your business and personal life work together. All of this may feel like a lot to think about or a whole lot to work on, but think about small, impactful changes you can try.
I want to start an open-ended conversation about fitting our businesses into our lives. Please comment below and share your story.
What holds you back? What keeps you going? Which strategies do you use to be an ambitious boss without letting your business run your life?