It's A Balancing Act
by Brooke Daniels of Brooke Daniels Photography
Let me preface this by saying, I don’t have all the answers! "Well, great, why should I read another sentence?" You might be thinking to yourself. This is a work in progress and is the one area in my business that I struggle with the most on a daily basis. But, I do know that if you are able to follow some of these simple changes in your daily routine, your life will become less overwhelming, more manageable and more enjoyable! I am going to be completely open and vulnerable because this topic is the most personal to my journey. Through my struggles, I hope you will find that you are not alone and that together we will break down some simple life-changing strategies of how to make your business work for your family, instead of you always having to work for your business. After all, the benefit of being a small business owner is that you get to set the pace, set your hours, dictate your salary, and enjoy complete creative freedom. But what happens when you feel like your business controls you and you lose sight over what made you fall in love with your career in the first place?
My passion might be photography, but my calling is being a mother to our 10-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter and a wife to the man I madly love. Our children are the most important blessing in my life and I cannot allow any other priority to ever come between me and my family. It is possible to have both a successful career and happy, loved, fulfilled children. It might not be easy, but it is possible! I hope you’ll find a few new ideas here that will help transform the entire atmosphere of your business! The small changes you make in your daily routine will make the biggest difference in the overall peace and happiness in your home.
You earn money when you are behind the camera, not behind a computer. No one else can create the art that you do. And if you have chosen this career, chances are, what you enjoy most is actually photographing. What do you spend hours a week doing that you could hire others to do for you? What are some of your tasks that you don’t enjoy doing and that someone else might even be better at than you? You can do ANYTHING, but not everything! So focus your time on doing what you love most and what you do best.
You can outsource your editing to a trained professional who can match your own editing style. Most charge $2.50 per image and the turnaround time is usually just a couple of days. Calculate how many hours you spend editing each session. Then weigh that against what you would have to pay for someone else to do it for you. Being completely honest, up until now I have been a total control freak with my work and have edited all of my own images because I fear that no one can do it exactly like me. In a rough calculation, over 10 years, that’s approximately 21,500 images my tired hands have edited. Boy, what I wouldn’t give to have those hours back! I am currently in the process of hiring someone because I now place more value on my spare hours to be able to be with my family, even if it costs me a little extra money. Not only is it a write-off for your business, but you could even slightly raise your prices to accommodate the extra expense. Your time is your most valuable asset, so protect it at all costs!
Once you are able to let go of one area of your business and start to enjoy the weight that’s lifted off of your shoulders, it will be easier to delegate other tasks. You could consider hiring someone to facilitate your ordering sessions who works as a commission-based employee. Since they are not emotionally invested in the portraits that were taken, they might be able to even produce higher sales for you. If you are not ready to let go of such a key component in your business, start by hiring an assistant or even an intern to help with social media posts, emails, packaging orders, etc.
In addition to hiring outside sources to help with business productivity, you can also look into hiring a housecleaner or personal organizer. I have a friend who hires a teen in her neighborhood just to help her with the mountains of laundry each week. There are only so many hours in a day and you can’t do it all! Write a list of all of the daily jobs you do, then mark the ones that only you can do yourself. Whatever is left on your list, choose one thing and hire someone else to do that job. Just see what happens, notice how you feel, observe how your children and spouse feel by having more of YOU present in their day. You can also automate to save time. In today’s world, social media and web presence are essential to running a productive business, but staying active online takes up an abundance of time. There are plenty of avenues available to automate your posts, like Hootsuite and Buffer.
For years I shot maternity, newborn, babies, children, families, boudoir, engagement, head shots, fashion and seniors. Over time, I grew tired of most of the types of sessions I was scheduling, except for seniors and commercial fashion and started to increase my session fees for the ones I didn’t completely enjoy. I thought, if I’m going to have to shoot this, at least I’ll be earning more. But, even raising my rates didn’t stop clients from booking. If you have to keep raising your prices to try to deter people from scheduling those sessions with you… I have a secret word to teach you. This word will empower you and free you from stress and worry. Are you ready? The word is “No.” They will simply find another photographer. They will not think any less of you. The world will go on. And you will rejoice in knowing that every time you are away from your family and behind a camera, at least you are truly loving every minute of your craft!
So reduce your scope of work to specialize just in your passion. Then tailor your website to only show the work you want to book. When you shoot for money it shows, and when you shoot with passion it glows! Therefore, if all of your images are coming from the heart, the quality of your work will increase and you can build up enough clients to take only the type of sessions that bring you the most fulfillment.
I’ve noticed that clients really place value on artists who specialize because they know they are investing in someone who focuses all of their time, energy and talents on them. If your child has a rare epileptic medical issue, are you going to go see a general family practitioner for their treatment? Of course not! You will find the best pediatric neurologist who specializes in that exact condition, even if it means driving hours away. By specializing you can ultimately create your dream job!
I’ll share with you my rule of thumb. However many sessions you think you can successfully manage per week or per month, reduce that number by 10%. On paper, things always sound doable, but you need to build in enough downtime for the unexpected. What happens when your children all come down with the flu, or if you want to surprise your husband with an impromptu weekend getaway? Be sure that you have some breathing room in your calendar.
A few years ago I scheduled over 60 sessions. The following year, once I started specializing just in seniors and fashion, I reduced the number of clients I would schedule down to 40, yet I earned 15% more. The goal is higher quality, less quantity… more profit, fewer hours…. more creative freedom, less stress. Stop equating the number of clients you book to success. It’s the fulfillment of your career, the available time you have to spend quality moments with your loved ones, and the money in your bank account that really equals success.
Organize your schedule so that it revolves well in conjunction with your family’s activities. For instance, I only schedule maybe 6 sessions all summer because it’s more important to me to be with my kids while they are out of school. I would much rather be riding coasters at the amusement park or making sandcastles at the beach and building priceless memory banks for our children than working those days away. I rarely ever shoot on the weekends because that is dedicated family time. Our studio is also closed from mid-November through the beginning of January because I want to be 100% dedicated to my family throughout the holidays and not editing images at midnight on Christmas Eve. I know that’s not practical for everyone, nor am I suggesting that, but I'm just reminding you that you are your own boss and only you can dictate how full your calendar is going to be.
Children thrive on the consistency of routines, so consider having a family movie or game night on the same night each week. On a free day, our family enjoys going fishing or geocaching. It doesn’t matter what it is, just as long as you are all together. One thing I’ve found to be instrumental in our children’s well-being is to schedule little “dates” with each of them. My husband and I both try to plan individual surprise dates with our kids. Sometimes it might be as simple as just taking one of them out to run errands. It’s in those moments that you can really talk, listen, share and connect. The one thing my kids want the most from me is my undivided attention. They always have my unconditional love and support, but it’s the individual attention they seek most. After reading The 5 Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman, we discovered that our son’s primary love language is quality time. He needs daily one on one time to truly have his love tank filled, and it’s my job as his mother to make sure I have that available time each day to wrap him up in my love and undivided attention. If you have older children, find ways for them to get involved with your business so that they feel connected to your job. Our kids love to greet clients when they arrive at our home studio. You could have your children serve clients a beverage when they arrive for their ordering session or have an older child attend a shoot with you as an assistant by holding reflectors and helping carry equipment. It’s equally important to make special plans
It’s equally important to make special plans with your spouse or sweetheart. Set weekly or bi-monthly dates, if your schedule permits. If it’s not feasible to get a babysitter, plan a nice candlelit dinner for two at home once the kids are in bed, or even just watch a movie together. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as the phones are on total lockdown! They deserve the best of you, not the rest of you! There are only 940 Saturdays between your child's birth and them leaving for college. How are you going to choose to spend those precious days together?
If you run a home-based studio, you’ll know the challenge of never being able to turn work mode all the way off (…says me, who is typing at 1:00 am on a Saturday). But in order to maintain some level of balance, you have to set a schedule and stick to it. Almost every employee takes two days off per week. If you have a question for your accountant, do you become annoyed or angry if you call them at 7 pm on a Sunday and get their voicemail saying they are closed for the weekend and will return your call on Monday? Hopefully, the answer is no. And your clients and prospective customers will be just as understanding when they receive an out of office email reply saying your studio is closed for the day and you will get back with them once you reopen.
Thankfully, there are very few emergencies in the world of photography. Everyone needs a break, everyone deserves some downtime. The only people you should be on call for 24/7 are your children. Schedule yourself at least one day off every single week. This means no checking email, no editing, no social media, zero. Take a day (or two!) off to regroup, recharge your batteries, and focus just on yourself and your family. You deserve this, and the little people and partner who love you so much, they really deserve this! Set a schedule, make it a habit, and stick to it consistently!
I’ve found that when clients come to pick up orders it can be an interruption to our family dinner time, so try to schedule one day a week during certain hours that clients can come by, or invite them to swing by when your children are in school. Set specific technology-free hours in your home where you limit all distractions so that you can be 100% mom. In the book the Hands-Free Mama, author Rachel Macy Stafford suggests putting your phone away in the mornings before your children leave for school and in the afternoons between when they come home and bedtime. Although that might seem like an impossible task to some (including myself!), perhaps set a goal for certain times of the day where the phone is in the car or on a different floor of your house so that you don’t have easy access. You don’t want their childhood memory of you to be the top of your head as you’re buried in your phone. One simple tip that has helped me, is to turn off all audio notifications on my phone except for texts and incoming calls. By default, my iPhone used to ping every time I received a new email or Facebook notification. I couldn’t hear my own thoughts for the constant noise. Turn that stuff off! If it’s truly important, someone will call you!
My friend shared with me a study she read about the world’s most productive business owners. They checked their email once in the morning and once in the evening when they were sitting at their desk and could adequately respond right then and there. How many times have you checked your email while waiting in line at the grocery store, then forgot to respond later that evening? Because you are not working in an office 40 hours a week and because you do not have a boss to report you, you get to set the tone of your business and decide just how much it’s going to consume your time. In 20 years, chances are you will regret the little league game you missed watching, the lego tower you missed building, and the snow angel you missed making. They will remember your absence, yet you will forget who and what you were even shooting during those priceless moments.
When I asked my fellow mom-togs to share their best advice for balancing work + family, the “phone” was the one subject that surfaced the most! So, my rules with the phone are slightly unconventional for running a business, and quite frankly, my dear, I don’t give a darn. This might come as a shock to some, but I have never posted my phone number on my website or anywhere online and I do not even have a business phone. Gasp. I know, crazy, right? When clients inquire about a session or other photographers seek information on workshops, they send me an email or submit their information through our Contact Us page on our website. Then I reply within 48 business hours, usually sooner, at night during my “office hours.” Once a client has booked and paid their deposit, then I will send them over my cell phone number, along with their photography agreement, model release form and wardrobe suggestion list. But I do ask them to please only call or text me the day of the session if they need to reach me and that email is my preferred method of communication and my clients all respect that.
I make no apologies for putting my family first. There are three reasons why I am anti-phone: First, I don’t have the best memory and prefer to have everything in writing. Second, have you ever tried to take a business call in the car with two little ones singing at the top of their lungs or climbing up your leg while you are cooking dinner yelling “Mom, Mom, Mommmmm!”? I find it doesn’t set the most professional tone. And lastly, it’s the one distraction I can eliminate from stealing valuable time when I’m at home in mom-mode. I’ve never once had a client complain or not book with me because I didn’t have a phone number listed on my site. If I cannot answer all of their questions via email and they would still prefer to chat with me on the phone, then I tell them that I am happy to arrange childcare so that we can schedule a phone date at a time that works for both of us.
Ahhhhhh, glorious sleep. Just typing the word makes me want to go crawl into my cozy bed right this minute. I do 90% of my non-shooting work (editing, email returning, packing orders, product design, social media duties, etc.) between the hours of 9 pm and about 1 am every night once my bambinos have drifted off to slumber. In that time, I am trying to pack in about 8 hours worth of work into 4 hours…. my to-do list is never fully checked off, I am never, ever caught up, and the workload never ends. Once I finally get into bed, my mind is still racing with new ideas and unfinished work. But I’ve learned that our little monkeys do not care one bit that mom has been up till the wee hours of the morning working. They still jump out of bed bright and early, ready to start our day and I better be ready for it! I’ve also learned that I simply cannot function with such little amount of sleep. On those rare nights when I have gotten the recommended 7 or 8 hours of sleep, it’s amazing how refreshed, energized and patient I feel all day.
Getting adequate sleep makes all the difference in the world for your health, mood and overall well-being. Set a timer on your phone to turn your computer off at a certain time each night. Write a daily to-do list of just your most essential tasks and once those are checked off, you need to check out. Ask your partner to hold you accountable and make sure you are out of your office and in bed at a reasonable hour. You might want to find a photographer buddy who struggles with working too late and text each other at a designated time as a reminder to call it a night. Sleeping with a white noise machine in our room and wearing a sleeping mask, has been a big help in getting a better night's rest.
You cannot take care of others until you have first taken care of yourself. As moms, we are so focused on taking care of others, that it’s easy to lose sight of our own needs. You should take time every week (or better yet, every day) to do something that does not involve a camera or your munchkins. Maybe it’s going to get a pedicure, meeting a friend for lunch, exercising, reading a book, going on a hike, volunteering, baking, or taking a bubble bath while listening to your favorite music. Unwind, decompress, relax, breathe. Every other week I meet my Mamma Tribe for Chick Flick Friday at the movies. It's an escape from the never-ending to-do list and is one of the highlights of my week! It’s in the moments when we are removed from the noise that we can see and appreciate all of our blessings more. You will never have complete peace and contentment at home if you aren’t at peace mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. This could be a great opportunity for you to explore a new hobby or enjoy some much needed quiet time.
This might possibly be the most difficult, but also the most rewarding change you can make in your daily routine. Life is full of noise and distraction, but a ton of it is completely unnecessary and totally unproductive. How many times have you gotten bored editing a session late at night, so you pop over to Facebook real quick to see if there are any new updates… then 30 minutes later you find yourself looking through pictures of someone you barely know, and honestly, hardly care about? TOTAL TIME SUCK! Social media can drain the ever living life right out of you! Don’t allow it to have that much control over your valuable time. We spend so much of our life behind a screen interacting with people we hardly know, that we often times neglect the human connections with those we love most. So how do we break those chains of distraction? Unfollow, unfriend, unsubscribe.
I’m only “friends” with people on Facebook that I personally know and if someone posts content that makes me feel unsettled, upset, or irritated, I simply hide or unfollow that person or business with one easy click. You have the power to chose who can steal your time, be sure they are worthy of it! Life is too short for negatively and drama, so use your social media time simply to connect with loved ones and to market your business. Out of sight, out of mind! Declutter your screen time so that when you zip through your news feed and email you are only viewing content from people and companies who are inspiring, encouraging and genuine. It’s also a good idea to condense your web-based commitments to a minimum. I only have a website, Facebook page, and Instagram account. I occasionally browse through Pinterest when I need a break, but I am not on Twitter, Snapchat or Vine and I do not have a Blog. I already feel spread way too thin, so for my own sanity, I choose not to add any more distractions.
Yes, you do need some social media presence for your business, but don’t think for a second that you have to do everything that’s available. There will always be something new and something better. So stick with just what’s essential and trim the fat where you can.
When I’m feeling burnt out, overwhelmed and underappreciated, planning a personal creative project or offering a donated session to a non-profit organization that I volunteer for is usually the best dose of medicine. It’s the fastest way to remind yourself why you do what you do and what made you fall in love with the art of photography in the first place.
Through your charity work, your children will also learn life lessons of the importance of giving back and be able to see the good that you are able to bring to others. As I mentioned before, I rarely ever shoot on the weekends, but each year on the first Saturday of December I shoot for Help-Portrait. A couple of years ago I remember my kids being sad when I got home because they missed me and wished I had been home for pancakes and cartoons. But once I showed them the pictures I had taken of the men and women at the homeless shelter and explained that these people had never once had their picture taken before, our son’s eyes filled up with tears and he hugged me with a tightness I will never forget. In that moment he understood that what I was doing was helping someone in need and if that meant him being away from his mamma for a couple of hours, it was worth it.
It’s also so important to practice what you preach by taking portraits of your children and hanging them on your walls. Let your children be reminded visually every day that mom or dad’s gift brings so much joy to their home. Have you been reminded lately of your superpower? If not, let me be the one to tell you that YOU have a gift. A gift that few possess and many wish they had. A gift that can freeze a moment in time to be cherished forever. Don’t take your gift for granted. When it’s all said and done, the most valuable tangible possession we will ever own are photographs of loved ones. And YOU are able to create glorious art so take those babies out and photograph them frequently. Be sure to get on the other side of the lens too. Your children will want to see images of you with them as they grow. They won’t care if you didn’t have on any makeup, were wearing stained pajamas, or had dirty hair in a ponytail…. all they will see is your love and care for them.
My hope is that you have found at least one tidbit of advice that will help you be able to better balance the two hats you wear simultaneously. Once you get a plan into place, it’s a good idea to find an accountability partner. They say that bad habits are like a comfortable bed, easy to get into, but hard to get out of. So you might need a little help getting out of that cozy bed. It’s OK to ask for help. Confide in someone you trust and ask them to help hold you accountable to make sure you are making progress by eliminating the areas of distraction in your life so that you are able to best utilize your work time for productivity and your free time for your family.
Your business should be a blessing to you and your family. Do YOU own your business or is your business owning you? Photography has the ability be a wonderful outlet for creative expression, an avenue to share your gifts with others, and a means to bring financial support to your family. If it’s become a thief of joy, then you have the power to change that. Sacrifice is giving up something you love, for something you love more. Take baby steps each day and I hope that soon you’ll be able to find that perfect balance between being super mom and camera queen!
Brooke Daniels is an award winning and nationally published portrait artist specializing in modern seniors. She is best known for her creative stylized shoots, where fashion meets imagination, and her Destination Workshops hosted with Senior Style Guide. She enjoys teaching one-on-one mentorships and is passionate about helping other Mom Bosses juggle being a super mom and a successful business owner. Over her ten years in business, her work has been featured in over three dozen publications including the Washington Post and has been on ten different magazine covers. She works closely with three non-profit organizations and resides in Northern Virginia with her husband and their two children, Dane and Chapel. When she's not behind the camera, Brooke enjoys traveling with her family in their camper "Lola" and is an adventure-seeker at heart.