Making your business work for you….and not the other way around by Sarah Black
One of the great things about running your own business is that, in theory, us business owners get to “call the shots”. We make all the decisions big and small, such as whether we run our business full or part-time, how and why we set our price points, the products we offer, our ideal clients, the list goes on.
Funny thing is, I’ve noticed that lots of photographers end up running their businesses according to a whole list of ‘shoulds’, and I can’t help but wonder why? Not sure whether to go with high volume and low sales, or low volume and high sales? Minimalist branding or floral wreaths? It’s easy to get tangled up in what everyone else is doing, or what we think that clients want.
But here is your opportunity to sit back and take a moment to think about this: what kind of business would work best for your life?
I am a hands-on mum of 4 kids aged 6 to 14, and have a husband who works full time. Like many family photographers I know, I started my business in the midnight hours, in between baby feeds and diaper changes, just doing whatever I could whenever I could. As my family, and business grew, I felt things would get easier once the babies grew into children. What I didn’t know then was that my role as mum was never going to take a back seat. The ‘more time’ was never going to fall into my lap. Something else had to change.
As a natural, lifestyle family photographer, the most important changes I have made in my business have been to take control of when and where I wanted to shoot my sessions and to begin shooting in a way that felt entirely authentic to me. It’s how I got my life back, and put me in the driver’s seat of my own business.
When I started out I thought I had to shoot at golden hour because photographs taken at that time have such pretty light, and in turn attract attention on social media. It was what everyone whose work I admired, whether starting out or well known, was looking to do. But where I live, in Melbourne, Australia, golden hour can start as early as 4:30pm in winter to 8:15 pm in summer. Heading out late in the evening to start a photography session didn’t suit my family at all and it often didn’t suit my clients either! It’s not a great time of day for toddlers, and as I shoot more sessions in the warmer months, it could sometimes be tricky to convince clients to come out after their kids’ usual bedtimes. On top of that, meltdowns and tantrums sometimes meant that the sessions weren’t as much fun as I wanted them to be - for any of us! So I began encouraging clients to have family photo sessions in their homes during the day (while my kids are at school). This really does allow you to still find amazing, arresting light at almost any time of day and to create beautiful, standout images. When my kids come home from school, instead of heading out to a session, I can be there to help with homework and play.
I also switched to shooting traditional (analogue) film, because one of the amazing features of film is that it is prettier at less ideal times of the day. So for clients who still want an outdoor session (say 10:00 am), I am able to accommodate that without sacrificing the quality of the work I want to offer.
Another big change I have made to suit my lifestyle is to reduce the number of weekend shoots I offer. In the first few years I bent over backwards to accommodate client requests to hold their sessions on weekends. Then I spent a few years shooting weddings on weekends and I was rarely able to offer weekend sessions to families. It turns out that most clients are able to find a weekday that will work out for them! You can suggest alternative solutions, such as mum or dad taking just a few hours off work in the morning, or coming home early, and older kids can always do the same without it causing too much drama at school. Most clients are relieved when I suggest this, it seems such a simple idea but it works for most clients! These days, most weekends find me taking my kids to sports or playdates, or bike riding to brunch with our whole family. I know, right?
Finally, I can’t even say how much time I spent emulating the work of other photographers. That energy would have been so much better spent on paying more attention to my own photographic interests and strengths. When I finally got around to paying my own work the attention I gave so readily to others, I discovered what really made my heart sing, and this in turn improved my work in spades, and my business finally took off. That continues to give me the confidence to work things in a way that fits into my family life.
Tip #1: Be strict with yourself about your working hours. Strangely enough, the more strict you are with these hours, the more efficient you will be when it comes time to sit at your desk and get that admin done. Perhaps turn off facebook notifications and close down your email for a few hours, allowing you to focus on sending invoices, ordering supplies, or preparing your taxation! In your busy season, schedule a session for after school hours, or even set aside a few days during school holidays to concentrate on shooting. Utilize camps and holiday programs, or arrange playdates with friends, to free up the days you need to work, leaving you focussed the rest of the time to enjoy precious time with your family.
Tip #2: Social media can be so great for lots of reasons, but it can also be vortex of productivity. Limit the time you spend poring over other photographers work (I know, it’s so tempting right?), scrolling endlessly through your Instagram feed and wishing you lived in a house with it’s own forest and sunset view, and use your time researching products that will enhance your business, beautiful packaging that your clients will adore, keeping on top of industry trends, and exploring pathways for growth, as both an artist and a business.
Tip #3: Get to know other working photographers in your area. They can be a wonderful support network, understanding the joys, and difficulties, of being a small business owner in the same industry. Getting informed about how others do business can also be great for your business too, as you pick up ideas that may or may not work for you.
Tip #4: Outsource the parts of the job that you don’t like to do or don’t naturally excel at. This might be editing, marketing, in person sales, or anything else you personally find difficult to make time for. The time you free up for improving other parts of your business (the parts you are GREAT at) will quickly pay for this small investment!
Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, Sarah Black is a spirited and curious family photographer, using traditional film photography to capture families all over Australia. After nearly a decade spent mastering digital photography, Sarah is a multi award winning photographer who is now an enthusiastic advocate for the beauty of film on medium format and 35mm cameras, and is happy to bore the socks off you talking film any old time. She is also passionate about lifestyle family photography, and strives to create, and capture, meaningful memories for her clients.
When she doesn’t have a camera in her hand, you can also find her sipping coffee, reading books, and trying to hear herself think over the sweet roaring of her family.
To view more of Sarah’s work, visit her here.