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I see you, Side Hustling Photographer

Nov 2, 2017

I saw her over there, side-hustling, raising two kids and working a full-time job. Her photography was really progressing, and I couldn’t help but write her a note to tell her how impressed I was.

She responded with a thank you and a question:

“How can a budding photographer balance working a full-time job and pursue professional photography at the same time?”

I remember these days so well, balancing a full-time position as an Occupational Therapist and my growing photography business. In so many situations, new photographers are learning, progressing and shooting, all while working 9-to-5 jobs and/or raising kids at the same time. It is not for the faint of heart, but if you love photography and are willing to manage expectations, you can totally make it work.

Below are a few tips to stay on top of it all and maybe still enjoy a few Netflix specials here and there.

1. Stay in control of your inbox.

I try to keep my inbox to fewer than 20-30 messages, a la David Allen. Basically, delete anything that doesn’t have an action associated with it and archive anything that might be useful later but doesn’t need any action now. Additionally, I set up folders like ‘invoices’ and ‘receipts’ to help things semi-organized. As Allen says, “The problem is that most people do not have a system for managing their emails beyond the inbox area, so if they can’t move on or finish dealing with the email right then, they will leave it in “in” as the safest place.” Clear your inbox and free your mind!

2. Establish a simplified workflow

If you’re not a full-time photographer, it will be pretty much impossible to turn a wedding around in under a week. My goal with weddings is a 3-week turnaround (telling my clients 4 weeks to give a buffer). This covers culling, editing, blogging and uploading deliverables. To keep it simple, I’m pretty much a shoot-and-deliver photographer; I use a software that takes care of drop-shipped prints as I don’t have time for print order sessions or the errands involved with photo inventory. If you are in a dual-work situation, you’ll need to create a workflow that you can manage. There won’t be time to experiment with post-processing techniques or edit every image in Photoshop (I do primarily batch edits in Lightroom). Further, you will want to avoid momentum killers, such as taking time off mid-editing.

3. Get comfy saying NO

Practice it in the mirror if you have to. For me, this is the most challenging thing on this list. I always need to remind myself that saying ‘No’ means I get to say ‘Yes’ to something better, later. To protect your workflow and effectively the quality of your work, you will need to learn to turn sessions down that take away from it. I learned quickly to only accept two weddings a month (sometimes three if I can schedule two into a single weekend) and I have to keep it that way if I want to keep myself feeling balanced, and protect my non-negotiables. It is definitely hard to turn some clients away, but remember quality over quantity. I’ve seen many photographers burn out with their inability to say no. Don’t worry, Clients will keep coming.

4. Establish ‘non-negotiables’

I know, balance seems like a Unicorn, but it is really important and not that hard to achieve. Designate times during the day that are ‘non-negotiables’ (a term I learned from my good friend Dan Martell). This is a block of time that is dedicated to you and your personal life and cannot be touched, i.e. no work allowed! In our home it is 5-8pm. We pick up our son at 5 pm and he is asleep by 8 pm on weeknights – so it makes the most sense for us to stop working within this block of time – to have dinner and family time. Outside of these hours is generally free reign for working, or Netflix, or whatever else. I stick to this limited arrangement, pounding through my checklist as efficiently as possible. In many ways, it works to my advantage because I don’t have time for distractions like Facebook.

5. Take care of yourself

It seems so simple, but it’s not. I see new photographers posting to Facebook that they’re editing until 2 a.m., I think first, wow! I can hardly function past 10 pm, and second, you’re going to burn out. Building a photography business does not need to come at the price of your health. If you are not getting the rest you need, you will not be able to produce your best work. Simplify your workflow, learn to say no, and get some rest!

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