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Eleven years ago, life was quite different than what it is now.
Back then (it feels like eons ago now!), I lived quite the fast-paced professional life. I feel like I am telling a tall tale to my kids when they see my old workplace on television; in fact, they seem to roll their eyes every time it comes on the screen at this point.
I used to rub shoulders with some of the most powerful people on Earth. Here’s the crazy part: I used to give them ADVICE on what to do! When I watch major television news networks, I laugh in that I used to babysit on the weekends for one of the political contributors.
A couple of the now major presidential candidates used to know me by name.
But can you see why my kids roll their eyes now? I mean, “COME ON, MOM! We KNOW you used to work on Capitol Hill!”
As I sit here, among piles of laundry, toilets that need to be cleaned, and four kids who need to be fed, I now laugh at the stark contrast of it all.
Long story short, while I was in college, I was hired as a Congressional Intern for one of my U.S. Senators from Nevada. When my intern summer was over, I was offered a job back in D.C. upon graduation. Like any political nerd with a dream in her head and a desire for change in her heart, I took it. I mean, who else wouldn’t (just kidding. Don’t answer that!)?
Over the course of three years, I worked my tail off in Washington, D.C., and LOVED pretty much every moment of it. I was a constant witness to history being made, and the stress of life there not only made me motivated for change, but PASSIONATE for it. I didn’t mind the crazy hours because it was more than just my JOB. It was ME.
In August of 2004, life did quite the turnaround.
I met my husband.
During August recess (a Congressional break), I saw my now-husband while I was home in Las Vegas. He and I had quite a history together; but this time was different. He had grown up, and I had, too. All of a sudden, my job in D.C. seemed secondary to a future with him.
In January of 2006, I married my sweetheart. And moved from the fast-paced Washington, D.C. to Minot, North Dakota.
For awhile, my professional life came to a screeching halt. Soon, we had a baby on the way. Then, five months later: our second was on her way. Then, a third….and, finally, our fourth. Add in two moves (one to California, and then to Texas), and you can see how life just got CRAZY!
When I decided to become a professional photographer, I may have started out with my deck of life stacked against me. I mean, what crazy pants person would want to add a business to my already full schedule?
That crazy person was me.
The funny thing is: from what I have learned, a lot of us in the photography industry are just as crazy pants as I am.
I have been in business for almost five years now. Looking back over my life as an entrepreneur, I have noticed that I have taken a LOT of what I learned during my former professional life and implemented it into my business, which is a big part of why my biz is successful today. I firmly believe that a lot of these skills are ESSENTIAL to running, growing, and maintaining a successful photography business.
Here are just a few insights:
I am not just referring to how professionally you treat your clients; but rather how you treat your BRAND.
Your brand is about SO much more than your logo and visuals. What FEELING do you want to convey to your clients? What makes YOUR BUSINESS special and worth going to? Think about pretty much every other major business that has been very successful in America.
They each have a unique “tagline,” consistent visuals and (usually) amazing communication to their clients. If you want to learn more about this subject, check out one of my favorite books: Why Johnny Can't Brand: Rediscovering the Lost Art of the Big Idea by Bill Schley. For a business nerd like me, it changed my mindset regarding how I approach my marketing and overall business communication!
Create a schedule and stick to it!
Remember having work hours in an office, and how productive you used to be when you had a schedule to follow? There is no reason why you can’t do this for your business. I have four kids, and I do it.
Hint: having a schedule means that you can even schedule down or “off” time. Yes. You don’t have to be a slave to your business!
If you have young children who demand your attention during their waking hours, then consider waking up before the kiddos so that you can get at least one hour of uninterrupted work in before the busy part of your day begins.
Calendar out your day
Just like an office-working professional does. By doing this, it helps you to stay on task!
Protect yourself legally
Yep. The boring stuff.
First things first: get LEGAL in your state! Nothing says “unprofessional” more than dodging federal, state and local government rules. If you want to find out more about making sure that you are legal, check out the Small Business Administration.
Also, contract yourself before ANY business transaction. This is will save you a TON of headaches in the future. Check out the TheLawTog for some contracts and legalities that may help your biz.
Finally, be sure to have liability, gear and business-related property insurance (if you are allowing clients to your home), per your state’s laws.
Be aware of communication
Keep your clients first; but have rules in place, too.
When coming up with your business policies (yes. You need them, even as a home-based business!), make sure to stick to them, even in difficult moments or during sticky situations. Be sure that your contracts reflect your policies as well. Practice your client communication with your spouse or significant other so that you are able to confidently relay your business’ practices.
At some point in your business career, someone won’t agree with you and/or your policies and practices. It WILL happen.
When I was in D.C., I frequently met with people who didn’t agree with my bosses at all. Here is what I learned: you actually learn more about how you operate, and how your business can improve, when you open your ears to both the good AND the bad. Learn from it.
Finally: the best way to communicate is in-person. If there is a way to meet with a client to discuss questions/comments/concerns, please take advantage of some real-life face time. It is much easier to read body language and to come to a happy consensus when you are physically sitting across from one another, and the outcome is often worth its weight in business gold.
Take chances and push your boundaries at every opportunity. “Cruising” does not result in growth; PUSHING does!
Put yourself out there and network with other local businesses that offer services that compliment yours! Concentrate on effective marketing in your local area, as word of mouth is key.
Also, consider specializing in what you are best at. Many of the most successful corporate businesses are not generalists, but specialists. Read more about why specializing in a niche does not have to be scary.
No one is perfect at everything.
Let’s face it: even in your business, where you are pretty much the “jack of all trades,” you probably have a few areas that you aren’t excited about.
Here’s the deal: in the business world, delegation is key.
Is email a time drain? What about blogging? Did you know that you can pay someone to do those things for you? Virtual Assistants are amazing. I use the Photographers Sidekick, but there are other assistants as well.
Are household chores eating up too much of your quality work time? Consider hiring part-time child help (even a couple of hours a week!), or house cleaners who can help you weekly or bi-monthly. You can even pay someone to do your laundry and/or folding!
When looking at outsourcing, don’t freak out about your costs as much as you consider your potential benefit. The $10/hour you are paying a babysitter or the $40 you pay an assistant can results in thousands more in profit, if you utilize your time correctly.
Food for thought: the CEO of a business, and the U.S. Senator in Congress, doesn’t know everything about all aspects of their enterprises. He/she hires people who are better at certain tasks so that they can focus on strengthening their bottom line.
Speaking of bottom lines: in certain cases, you may have to 1099 employees that you pay, even if it’s casual labor. Hire a CPA. It’s WORTH EVERY PENNY!
Keep up on training
Always better yourself through “corporate training.” Educate yourself on what you are weak on, and never be too proud to learn. Allocate your slow season to focus on learning. You will thank yourself later!
Allow for “team building”: attend workshops to meet other photogs and business people in your area. Network with other businesses in your area so that you can be trusted as a reliable source and you can refer your clients to your business friends for other needs (such as hair/makeup/styling, etc.).
By treating your business as seriously as you would treat a corporate job, you can give your biz a huge advantage in the market. You will soon stand out among your peers, as you will offer a professional advantage that many don’t!