The focus of much of my energy as well as the content of my workshops and training of other small business owners has largely been how to do MORE. Be more productive. Be more efficient. Grow other streams of income. Which fits my personality well.
You see, I'm a recovering productivity addict. I thrive on being productive. I get excited about making systems more profitable and efficient. Which is great, right? Who doesn't want that? But as much as we are told over an over again by our American culture that MORE is better, I'm starting to long to figure out how to do LESS. And even as I type this statement, I'm shaking in my boots.
I've been in business for 11 years now. Eleven years of learning and growing and improving. And I've loved (nearly) every minute of it. This industry is tough. It's competitive and the work is grueling -- especially if you are not only trying to be a great photographer and business owner, but you add on being a leader in the industry -- attempting to consistently share new content that will bless and inspire your peers. I've been blogging 3-5 times per week every week for eight years. I love a challenge and the opportunity to wear numerous hats, but no matter how much you love what you do, I don't believe the adage that "If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life". Sometimes it's still work. And when you've done something you love consistently for 10+ years, constantly striving for excellence and growth -- no matter what it is or how much you love it -- you WILL start to wear thin at times.
Lately I've felt like I'm on a hamster wheel that I have to keep running on or everything will collapse. I understand this isn't entirely true, but as a small business owner in a competitive industry, there unfortunately IS some truth to it. If I'm not leading the charge for my brand, no one else will, but there is sure as heck many other motivated business owners out there who are going to keep running if I stop. Herein lies the crux of the struggle I've been facing lately. God has been working on me -- calling me to slow down, do less, rest more, refocus, and possibly downsize. I'm SO incredibly attracted to this change. But on the other side of that tug-of-war rope is my fear -- a fear of what will happen if I get off the hamster wheel of productivity and do less.
But God has gotten my attention. I know I need to change.
Two blog posts have inspired me recently in my quest to get a handle on this issue in my life -- one on zenhabits.net entitled "8 Ways Doing Less Can Transform Your Work & Life" and one written by fellow photographer and friend Mary Marantz on boundaries. I've always known that it's better to do less and do it well, than to do more and sacrifice quality. But I need a course correction at this point in my business journey in order to adhere to this belief. If I want to have higher impact, I need to do less and focus on quality more. Ahh! This is a tough pill for a recovering productivity addict to swallow. So what to do when something is tough or scary? Start small. I'm going to continue to seek God on the "how" and "what" to cut back on and start by attempting to implement these few goals and boundaries:
- One day per week of no work. Plan ahead to make it happen.
- No work or social media after 8pm.
- Check and respond to email for 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the late afternoon and shut it down the rest of the time.
- Spend time during the slow months this summer evaluating my future course and goals. Cut out or delegate non-essential tasks.
I declare -- NO FEAR! Lord, give me the courage to do less.
With over 160 MJ2Day alumni now taking over the globe, I thought it would be fun to do a series on my blog to check in on past attendees and see what they're up to now and how their businesses, lives and photography have been impacted by their experience at the workshop. I've heard so many fun stories from past attendees that leave me beaming with pride at their coolness and I can't wait to share!
We get photographers at all stages of their businesses at the MJ2Day and Emily was a little further along in her journey when she came to the workshop. She had been in business for 3 years, and had been specializing in weddings & engagement shoots exclusively for one year. At the time of the workshop, Emily was looking to break away from being a wedding photographer that clients hired to check a box, and become someone that couples sought out -- not just for her images -- but for who she was, and for her brand. She was also still working a part-time job and was hoping to gain momentum to allow her to focus on her business full-time.
I interviewed Emily for this post and it was so great to get her perspective on how the workshop has impacted her business at this juncture in her journey. Here are Emily's thoughts:
Q: What is the biggest difference in your photography since attending the MJ2Day?
A: One of the challenges for me prior to the workshop was feeling like I had to take so many photos in so many locations in order to please my clients. One of the things that hit home for me was that I needed to slow down, frame with intention, and move more. What I mean by that is, there are so many images I can capture in one location just by moving around a bit and by directing my clients to move. For me, quality images come from the emotion in them, not a plethora of landscapes and backgrounds.
Here is a sample of some of Emily's images before attending the workshop:
And here is some of her work since attending:
Q: What is the biggest difference in your business since attending the MJ2Day?
A: The biggest change is that I quit my part-time job to work solely for my business! It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but it was the best move I could’ve made for my business. I set to work right away to standardize my workflow and create a better system for my business management. I set office hours and spent the evenings with my husband. As a small business owner, it’s hard to turn off your brain from work when you step away from your desk, but it’s been something I’ve been working on. Having a very specific workflow in place has helped with that because I know I won’t forget something. I also have a notebook that I keep with me in case I think of something that needs to be done. I jot it down so that I can do it when I’m back at my desk working.
Q: What are some of your goals that you set after attending the workshop that you have since completed?
A: Standardizing workflow! I’m pretty equal parts left- and right-brained so I love the creativity and artistic side of my job, but I also love the management, numbers, and spreadsheets. (Interesting fact: my favorite time of the month is when I get our bank statements and I can reconcile our accounts!) In the beginning when there was little money to spend, I utilized Google Docs to it’s fullest powers. I had spreadsheets for workflow, money management, wedding day timelines, mileage, you name it! I used the form function for my wedding questionnaire and scanned/uploaded all my contracts for safekeeping online. As I planned on growing my business, I needed a better management system for my workflow. I use Pixifi now and absolutely love it. It took some intensive set-up work, but now, it works for me. I use it for everything from electronic contracts, workflows (one for right after they book me, one for their engagement session, and one for their wedding), and invoicing, to proposals and referral tracking. Standardizing has given my mind so much freedom!
Q: Have you made any changes to your website/branding?
A: I was in the process of a complete branding overhaul at the time of the workshop. Again, in the early years of my business, the idea of spending thousands of dollars on a professional logo, website, blog, etcetera was completely overwhelming and out of the question. I made do with what I had and created my own logo, website, and blog. Once I began specializing in weddings and getting a clear vision of the kind of brides I wanted to work with, I knew it was time to up the ante and invest in a brand that portrayed me since, after all, the first thing most clients see about me is online. I worked with Jennifer Olmstead of Deleted Space Creative to create a cohesive, personalized, online presence that was ME. I wanted something that was fun and classy, a little bit girly, but also very structured and grown-up. I first fell in love with my logo; it’s a statement piece that is so terribly sophisticated and clever. I adore it. My overall website and blog changed from nice to wow. I love that it is fun without being frilly. It’s clean, classic, and gives my brides an instant idea of who I am.
Here's a screenshot of my website before:
And here's how it looks now:
Emily Crall" target="_blank">Click here to see Emily's website in action!
Q: Have you seen a change in your booking rate or the type of clients you book changed since the workshop?
A: I’m much more picky about the type of client I work with now. I’m not afraid to stick to my style and refer a potential bride to someone else if she is wanting a different look or we don’t click well. Since my husband and I purchased our home last year, I designed our living room to be a great meeting space for my consultations. I invite clients over, get to know them, make fresh cookies, and have tea and coffee for them. They can look through albums from real weddings I’ve photographed and, maybe the best part, being in our home solidifies my overall style. I’ve found that if they connect with me through my website, then come to my home and talk about the curtains and the paint colors and my piano shelf, well, we’re pretty much best friends. It's great because I no longer feel like I should be someone else. I totally love my life, my sense of style, and who I am. If brides can connect with that, then we’re golden.
Q: Talk about the relationships you made as a result of the workshop. What relevance do they have for your business today?
A: I made so many good friendships through the MJ2Day! I still talk with many of the ladies (we were an all-ladies group) online and love keeping up on their lives and business journeys. My good friend, Jill, was gracious enough to let me make a giant canvas from one of her images and it’s hanging in the entryway of our home. I love seeing it every day and thinking of my Jilly. :)
Q: Are there any other changes or exciting developments you'd like to share?
A: I had originally wanted to attend the MJ2Day not so much for the photo aspect as the business aspect. Melissa is a crazy-amazing business woman and I really needed some oomph and knowledge to push me ahead. I came back refreshed and ready to get my business life in order. Getting that workflow in place meant that everything -- from editing and album design to email response and proactivity in getting published -- benefited. I feel I’ve grown so much as a person and a business owner since the workshop and I truly love this stage of my life!
Amazing Emily! I'm so happy for you and so proud of you for working so hard and accomplishing so much in one year's time! Thank you for sharing with us!
One of my super-talented associate photographers, Rachel, recently shot a wedding that is so gorgeous and I just have to share some of my favorite photos with you. Santino and Khristine were married at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort and it looks like it was such a dreamy, romantic affair!
Here are some of my favorite images:
Wow! Outstanding work Rachel! What an amazing wedding!
To find out more about our associate program and see more of Rachel, Michelle, Mary, Janelle and Tina's work, click here. If you are interested in hiring one of them for your upcoming wedding, please fill out our contact form!
Frivolous: playful, lighthearted, trivial; the little things in life that should be savored.
Highlight of the week: A spontaneous visit with my cousin (another one from MN) who let me know she was in town and leaving town the same day. So thankful it worked out for me to see her!
Yes, I did this:
1 -- Wrote 3 blog posts in one day -- a personal record.
2 -- Finally learned to cook fish.
In my continued effort to resupply the blood bank after my dad's aneurysm, I donated blood. The really kind technician didn't heed my warning that the right arm tends to work better. He thought the left looked like a better candidate. So I ended up getting stuck twice. Again. I'm considering a more emphatic approach next time.
Celebrating: It's a small victory, but I did Insanity (at least partially) four times this week. AND I'm making a concerted effort to work on my posture.
Feeling Blessed: Tomorrow I'm heading to Boston to support my sweet and super-human friend Julie as she fulfills her long-term dream of running the Boston Marathon. Can't wait to wear boots again, eat yummy food, and see my friend conquer!
This little surprise made our day recently when it showed up in the mail. One of our associate photographers, Rachel, recently shot a gorgeous wedding that I'm so excited to share with you soon. Our clients Khristine & Santino are not only drop dead beautiful -- wait until you see! -- but they are also apparently super-kind and thoughtful.
We don't ever expect to get a "thank you" from our clients for three reasons:
1 - They're paying us for a service and we are doing our job.
2 - I myself am not very good at stopping to say "thanks". So I guess, while this isn't something I'm proud of, it causes me to not expect it from others.
3 - The days and weeks after a couple gets married are typically CRAZY busy. So if we hear from them at all, we're pleasantly surprised.
So we are always so blown away and blessed when we get an email from a client with the sole purpose of thanking us, let alone when we get a hand-written card. Khristine & Santino took it to a whole other level, though, by including a print of an instagram photo taken of Rachel in action on the wedding day. A client sending US a photo!! haha -- so awesome!! This was so over-the-top sweet and blessed us so much, I just had to share. It's yet another reminder to me of the immense value of saying "thank you."
I'm so impressed with the instagram too -- I need to track down the person who took it and offer THEM a job! haha!
Stay tuned -- I'll be sharing Khristine & Santino's wedding photos on Monday!