2016 defeated me. If there ever was a year that tested me both physically and mentally – this was it.
Not the most uplifting way to begin my 2016 year in review post, but I’ve always used this platform for honesty, and how will I ever learn from my mistakes if I don’t acknowledge them?
This year I have barely blogged, I have only photographed one ‘just for fun’ fashion shoot and I haven’t even finished sharing pictures from our year abroad.
Three months ago I got to a point where I had so much work to do and so many commitments that I had to tell all my friends and family that I would be unreachable until Christmas. That I had no time for catch-up’s, coffee dates or even to reply to messages. I had to give up blogging, not shoot anything but my scheduled jobs, with my head down, focused on providing clients 150% of my attention and energy. I’m the kind of girl that could never give less than 150%. So it mean’t I had to eliminate everything else just to stay afloat.
How did I let this happen?
It caught me by surprise. Spending 2015 overseas and jobless (but having the time of my life!) mean’t that when I returned to Australia at the beginning of this year I was absolutely so excited to throw myself into work again. I had missed having a purpose, and I had definitely missed photographing clients. The first six months were perfect. I managed to book out my entire year with weddings, and those first few months I was shooting couples every second or third weekend (and loving it!). A part-time job for a really awesome start-up (Travelshoot) just fell right into my lap. I wasn’t really sure if I was looking for part-time job but waking up one morning and finding an email in my inbox that lead to such a great working opportunity and now lifelong friendships. I started shooting portrait shoots for paying clients, working with brands, photographing entrepreneurial women, flying to Adelaide for work, finding a girl tribe of friends, building a home again from the ground up (starting with just a blow-up mattress). Winter came and it was quieter but it flew by quickly. Melbourne was ice cold and we spent most days inside between travelling to work at the start-up during the week and weekends spent shooting. I still didn’t find time to blog or sew or do very much gardening. I hadn’t quite realised yet how tired my body was getting.
And then it was the end of August. I remember opening my bookings spreadsheet to start planning my diary for the last few months of the year. I was trying to gauge when we would next have time to take a short trip to visit family.
I quickly realised I had unintentionally booked weddings every single weekend until mid December. Fifteen weekends in a row of wedding bookings (some of those double weekends), with portrait shoots scheduled in between, working part-time during the week at Travelshoot and now the looming guilt of knowing I didn’t have even a moment to spare for a trip to see family, especially over my Birthday in October. It didn’t hit me right away, but a week or so lately I really stressed out. It was only after Martin and I sat down and eliminated things from my schedule to help make room for the work that I started to see how I could manage it. But it was upsetting to cross off the list “friends, family and hobbies”. I’m a people pleaser, it causes me stress to think I am letting people down. So those messages to friends and family left me feeling ashamed and like a failure.
First big business lesson: Always be aware of your diary, don’t overbook/over-extend yourself and don’t book stuff thinking ‘Oh Future Claire will deal with this”. Because sure she will, but she’s going to hate and curse Past Claire for doing this to her.
I’m sure there are some people reading this post thinking I am either weak (because they could easily handle this workload) or stupid (because of the obvious mistakes I made). I’ll totally acknowledge to some extent I am both of those things! Trust me I’ve already had the internal lecture that I am weak.. I have not been taking care of my diet or body this year. You could definitely describe me as frail… and I even had doctor tell me I really need to start working out! But more so than physical weakness, I am a soft person. I am introverted and quiet, but in some cases I can be loud and commanding. I’m proud of the presence I have at a wedding, and also the softness I have when photographing a Bride. But due to my introverted-ness it means that after a big day of extroversion effort, I need at least two days to recharge. Gee if I thought I learnt a lot about myself from my year overseas, it pales in comparison to how much I learnt this year. I’ve had some huge personal discoveries and I’m really grateful for that.
As for the stupidity – yes I’ll agree with that one too. But this was my first time working as a ‘full-time’ wedding photographer. In fact, it was probably the first time in my life that I’ve made a somewhat ‘normal’ figure wage… all by myself, running my own business and self employed. At 24 years old I’m actually really proud of that. Sure I nearly killed myself to do it but I DID it.
And I did do it. I photographed every wedding, I gave 150% of myself into every single job. I made my clients so happy and that in turn made me happy. But it wasn’t without a lot of sacrifice. My anxiety flared up (badly, which is never fun to admit), I started developing a very stiff and achey hand from the weight of my camera (sometimes holding it for 10 continuous hours, and resulted in me not able to even hold a pen), and in the last couple of weeks I injured my back leaving me editing from my bed during the week and taking lots of pain killers before shooting. I’m willing to admit it broke me. And the only person who knew and saw that was Martin who was helping me every step of the way. Writing lists with me before bed so I could sleep, planning out my weekly schedule and sticking it to the wall, cooking me dinner for when I arrived home at 11pm from a 12- hour wedding (and honestly, cooking me dinner every night), going on evening walks around our neighbourhood when he got home from work and I was stir crazy from being alone all day staring at my computer screen, massaging my back and bringing me pain killers when I was crying from pain, but most of all telling me I COULD do it.
Now for the positives! It was almost two weeks ago that I photographed my last wedding of the year, so I’m now able to look back over the last three and a half months and feel super proud of what I achieved. I officially run my own business now (still feels weird to say that!). I’ve photographed over 30 weddings this year and both the experience and portfolio I have gained from that is so beneficial. I feel like I could photograph a wedding while sleep walking now… and anything that could possibly go wrong on the day I am prepared for. I’ve seen it all. My workflow is so fast, my backup system is rock solid, my gear list is growing and my style is evolving. I’m so grateful for everything I learned, and both the super tough lessons and the really special moments (cue me always crying behind my camera when the Bride walks down the isle…) I’ve made some amazing friends in my clients, and I know we’ll keep in touch for so many years to come. I also now know what I want to do to improve my business next year, and according to my business plan 2017 is going to be pretty awesome, but 2018 is going to be killer. I am willing to admit I want to dial back how many weddings I shoot per year so I can concentrate on those clients AND have time to shoot other subjects and passions. It might mean not being so in control of my income (the planner in me loves knowing how much I’ll make in a year) but I’m willing to sacrifice the stability for spontaneity.
If you’ve read this far…. thank you! You’re most likely a photographer because I can only imagine this post being interesting to my fellow photographers… so I hope this failure (and kind of success?) story resonated with you or helped you or even just made you feel better about how far you are in your own business. I think everyone has a year like this in their business. When they jump in guns blazing and come out with their butt kicked.
So what’s on the cards for 2017? Well, I’m pretty excited to let you all in on a big big change that’s happening for my business next year. When I became increasingly busy and struggling to manage both the admin and shooting side of the business, I realised just how much I needed some help. The long term goal for Martin and I has always been to run a business together, we actually came to that realisation just before we embarked on our year abroad. We weren’t sure what that business would look like, and this year it ended up being right in front of our faces. We made the decision a few months ago that Martin would finish up his job as a chef by the end of the year, and from January 2017 we would work full time together on my photography business. We’re really excited, and in the new year we’ll be launching a new name, branding and overall business concept which is the beginning of us building our dream life together. There’s no denying we’ll do it a bit tough in 2017, but I’m the queen of budgets, and we’re both so excited for the next chapter! At first I thought we would aim to run the business together in a few years time, but then I realised why wait? We can spend so many years trying to prepare for something, that never quite feels ready or ‘attainable’. Or we can jump right in and give it our best shot! We’ll be shooting weddings next year, but we’d also love to work with more brands, entrepreneurs and makers. I feel so much passion when working with other creatives, and I can’t wait for all the exciting collaborations to come.
I wanted to finish this posts with some positive tips and lessons I learnt this year while struggling through the busiest, most hard-working time of my life. If you’re also feeling a bit burnt out or not coping with your commitments/workload, here are some things that helped me:
Self Care Tips:
- Getting out of the house and going for a walk. Preferably at sunset or early morning. It doesn’t have to be fast pace, but just getting out in the fresh air did wonders for me. Especially with another person who you can talk to about things other than work.
- Warm baths. When I was particularly stressed I would run a warm bath with Epsom salts and lavender oil, I’d make a big cup of camomile tea, burn my favourite candle, leave my phone in my room and read a magazine. Optional: lots and lots of chocolate.
- Gardening. Taking even 30 minutes out of my work day to be in the garden really made me feel a bit better.
- Giving up Caffeine. I very very rarely drink coffee but I’m a big tea drinker. And I was finding after a whole pot of black tea my anxiety would be really high. If you’re going through a stressful time ditch the caffeine (and carbonated caffeine drinks) and opt for calming drinks like lavender or camomile tea.
- Being organised and early. I started getting all my gear ready the night before, even if I didn’t need to leave until 11am. That way in the morning all I needed to do was eat breakfast, shower and relax. I could put on a show I liked to watch and just get in a good headspace. It did wonders, I wasn’t nervous. But if I had to rush around my nerves would be on edge. I also arrived to every wedding day 30 minutes early and would either sit in my car or outside in the sun. Usually I’m driving between 1-2 hours to a wedding and having a chance to relax before bursting into the room did wonders for me.
- Podcasts. I can be alone editing or driving for hours a lot. And music just wasn’t cutting it for me. I needed something to occupy more of my thoughts and distract me from the little stressed voice in my head. I started listening to Podcasts and it changed my life. My go to ones are: Sounds Good by Branden Harvey and After the Jump by Grace Bonney. Sounds Good was fantastic for listening to inspiring people tell their story and struggles. After the Jump was sooo great for motivation and business tips.
- Eat healthy food and drink lots of water. Even if you feel like you don’t have time. I started feeling so much better when I concentrated on my diet, had a blood test and got on top of my Iron levels, just overall taking care of myself has really helped.
- Lying in the sunshine. My final tip is that good old Vitamin D. 30 minutes in the morning on my front porch with a smoothie or juice, sometimes a book but otherwise just eyes closed and soaking in the warmth. If you know me I’m super pale so I’ve always hid from the sun under layers and hats. Turns out 30 minutes a day actually has made me feel so much more alive. Plus it really boosts my mood when I’m feeling a bit down.
- As mentioned earlier – always be aware of your diary and don’t overextend yourself. It’s really not fun. If you’re a planner like me, try and find a middle ground. Everything will always work out, don’t try and plan too much.
- Be organised. Make lists, don’t avoid emails, don’t procrastinate editing. I’ve learnt to just get on top of it immediately.
- Pricing. I’m still working on this one. But underpricing yourself means you have to work so much more. When you put your pricing up you can work less, still earn the same amount AND have more time for yourself and to dedicate to your clients. But if you’re like me it’s hard to find confidence in yourself with pricing. I’m still learning. But I definitely learned that I never need to justify my pricing packages ever again. Being a Wedding Photographer is the hardest job I’ve ever done, gruelling in every way possible!
- Social media. I used to think social media was the most important part of my business. It mattered how many followers I had, what my engagement was, how many times a day I was posting, what time I was posting etc etc. This year my poor social took a nose dive because I was just too busy to keep on track and update it + I didn’t have much content to post except for weddings. What did I realise? I booked more jobs that I ever have, I was too BUSY to be posting on instagram and facebook. And I quickly noticed that a lot of the most successful business owners/photographers weren’t posting on instagram all day, some weren’t even on social media and others had other people running their social media accounts. Don’t get me wrong it’s great to have an online presence. But I think I used to post all the time to make myself look busy, now I literally am busy and I’m barely posting at all. It’s good to find a middle ground, and most importantly post great content, not fillers.
- It CAN wait. I struggled to switch off this year. When you work from home and there’s always tasks to be done, sometimes I’d work from 8am til bedtime. Make boundaries and set work hours, take days off! Everyone deserves a weekend, even if you’re self employed and you have to lock the office door and get your partner to hide the key 😉 We’re not super hero’s!
Happy holidays everyone. Wherever you are in the world I hope you have a blissful break, enjoy the celebrations and have a wonderful New Year!