One year ago today I became a professional photographer! That’s not actually the best description of what happened. It wasn’t that simple; nothing is ever that simple. One year ago I registered as an LLC with Virginia because I was making a bit of money from photography and thought I should act like an adult and set up things correctly.

Alexandria, Virginia photographer-20

As is the case for so many people, my foray into business must look pretty awesome on Instagram. I get paid to photograph puppies! My business trips take me to France!

But, real talk, I have also done a really bad job at balancing everything this past year.

Since starting up, I’ve shot 12 weddings, and have several scheduled for 2019.  I’m paid to take pictures of people’s dogs. I’ve been paid an extra fee twice this year to travel out-of-town for weddings and have a surprisingly robust word-of-mouth newborn session business.

Based on how much I’ve enjoyed all this while also becoming profitable, my life plan has evolved to include a transition into entrepreneurship as my main gig. I’m not exactly sure when I decided this and I’m certainly not yet to the point of cutting ties with my full-time, day-job salary, but everything is moving in that direction.

As is the case for so many people, my foray into business must look pretty awesome on Instagram. I get paid to photograph puppies! My business trips take me to France! I shot an engagement at the Eiffel Tower!

All of these things are true. I do happily roll out of bed some Saturday mornings at 5:30 a.m. for my four-legged clients and couldn’t believe my luck when a couples session in Paris turned into a proposal.

But, real talk, I have also done a really bad job at balancing everything this past year.

When you start a business, you learn there’s always something to do. Shooting and editing a session or a wedding is fairly straightforward; there’s a delivery date when the client gets her gallery and I then move on to the next project.

But, guys, the marketing. It’s never-ending. There’s always one more blog post I could write, one more post I could schedule, one more networking thing I could do. The internet is a beast with an insatiable appetite for content, apparently.

I’ve been surprised by what’s been easy. I rebranded and built my new website in July. That was the timeframe I gave myself: July, when wedding season isn’t at full tilt. I got it done and am so far thrilled with the result.

But I’ve also been surprised by what’s been really hard. Raising my prices? Between a general lack of confidence and major discomfort in talking about money, that’s been hard. Really hard.

But the hardest thing, by far, is finding balance.

I’ve gained weight.

I’m not as fit as I like (I once ran a marathon in 4:15:31 but that girl is loooong gone. Honestly, I don’t remember my last run).

I can’t tell you how many text threads I have with friends that amount to “I’d love to do brunch but have a wedding that day so sometime soon!”

My evenings are basically spent on the couch either editing photos or doing something to push the business forward while also half watching TV (aka “relaxing”).

I’ve gone on exactly one date in the last year. It was a couple weeks ago and wasn’t great (that’s a whole other post).

My living space is, to put it mildly, cluttered.

The last couple of weeks, I’ve felt myself hit a breaking point. Basically, I would just like to sleep. All the time. The end of July and beginning of August are quieter for weddings so there haven’t been events and deadlines to propel me forward.

Clearly I need to listen to my body so I’ve taken some time to reflect on what I’ve done right and what I’ve done wrong and how I can make this coming year in business healthier, more efficient and more profitable than the last.

Hopefully those who are where I was a year ago can take something from what I’ve learned and spare themselves some heartache and missed brunches!

1. Journal after every session.
For the first several months, I’d write down what I thought I should improve and what went well after every session. Sometimes it was about personal interaction with clients, sometimes it was a technical question about my camera or other equipment, and sometimes I needed to learn more about posing people to flatter their bodies. But I saw the most growth in my abilities when I faithfully wrote about each session.

2. Use all the resources.
None of us are reinventing the wheel. Lots of people have become creative professionals and are willing to share what they’ve learned! Read the articles, listen to the podcasts and talk to people who have done it. Find what works for you and then pass it on.

Here is me passing on some of what I’ve found helpful:

3. Try everything and see what works.
My version of trying everything wasn’t cheap. After deciding to focus on wedding photography, I joined WeddingWire and TheKnot. To kick off a newborn portfolio, I made a small investment in Instagram ads. I bought a new website template, new camera and new lens. I paid for education about Pinterest and a scheduler for Instagram.

Some of this was worth it, some of it wasn’t. For some of it, it’s too soon to determine ROI. But while I have the safety of a salary, I want to experiment and figure out what improves my skills and builds my business and what wastes my time and money.

4. Set aside time for yourself.
I was really bad at this. But on Sunday, I meal-prepped for the week, then sat on the couch and read a book. I didn’t do anything business-related except like a few posts on Instagram. And you know what? This week, I have so much creative energy I want to pour into it.

It’s really hard imagine taking time away from the business when I owe a client a gallery, or when I haven’t received an inquiry in a week and assume everything will ALL FALL APART if I don’t blog or post or do something to drum up business. But neither my clients nor my business are served well by an exhausted, stressed-out Erin.

Recharging is key to sustaining creativity and growth. Taking time away from editing allows me to come back with fresh eyes and find more gems in the images I took for clients. Taking time away from all things digital enabled me to write what I hope is a coherent blog post in 45 minutes rather than just thinking about it for a week.

5. Separate work and relaxation.
It’s nice to have a job I can do in part on the couch, but studies show people are more efficient when they clearly separate work from other distractions. I’ve freshened up my desk with pretty things and plan to institute the Pomodoro Technique: 25 minutes of work followed by a 5-minute break (Thanks to Bokeh: The Photography Podcast for the tip!). We’ll see if this works for me, but it’s pretty clear that if I spend all my free time attempting to both work on the business and relax, then I’m doing neither effectively.

What are you struggling with as you build a business? Let’s chat and maybe we can figure things out together!