There are a lot of things I wish I’d been told. You know, early on, when I first embraced my entrepreneurial spirit and and shouldered the burden of self-pay health insurance. (This is America, y’all.)
For starters: “You can make bacon in the oven!” and “You don’t have to wash your hair EVERY day…”
Being the navel-gazing, soul-searching, daydreamer that I am, this wish list could stretch around the planet at least twice. But I’ll spare you the gory details and focus on the insights that breathed new life into my business, and, well… my life.
Treat your business like a business, and treat your clients like people.
It’s a familiar story: Artsy Gal/Guy embarks on the road less-traveled. And the very first thing s/he does? Adopt a fat vocabulary of corporate speak and tack a list of Company Policies to the wall by her/his desk.
(If this wasn’t you, just stop reading, because You Don’t Know My Problems.)
In hindsight, I think I was just hungry for structure. Structure is familiar. Structure is comfortable. As freelance creatives, we think tangible boundaries will help shore up our otherwise boundary-less existence. So we assign structural value to things that actually provide zero structure; they’re just a bunch of made-up rules.
Truth: I’m a big fan of rules. I was that asshole kid in Sunday School who knew all my Bible verses and was eager to be called on by the teacher so I could prove it. I like to know exactly where the lines are so I can color in every damn corner of the box.
But “Just Because” rules and policies don’t propel us forward; they hold us back. They create an Us vs. Them dynamic that is utterly unnecessary (and often destructive) in work this personal.
Now, when I’m confronted with a challenge, I ask myself two questions:
1.) What’s best for my business?
2.) What’s best for the person I’m doing business with?
Because my clients aren’t account numbers. They aren’t line items on a spreadsheet. They are the energy of my work, the lifeblood of my art, the purpose behind my creativity. And I should celebrate them with every opportunity.
This means taking the time, every time, to tailor my response to the individual. This isn’t a “one size fits all” gig. This is a highly customized, deeply personal collaboration. And I’m doing myself – and my clients – a disservice by behaving any other way.
Show yourself some love.
All that isn’t to say that I don’t have policies in place. I DO. They just flex with the twists and turns life throws my way.
Last year, I took Mondays off. Every single Monday. I never edited or answered e-mail or scheduled anything other than dinner out with my husband. And it was glorious. This year, we’re being a little more flexible with Mondays, and that’s okay. That’s what’s working for me right now. I’m sure next year it’ll be something else.
The important thing is to treat yourself with as much love as you’re showing your clients. We all need a break to go to a movie, or share a drink with friends, or just stare into space and think about nothing and everything while we listen to the new Spoon album. (It’s actually pretty great.)
Loving myself also means loving my business. Think of your business like a kitten. If you feed it and pet it it will grow into a cuddly companion who only occasionally sticks its butt in your face.
Keep track of your money. Maintain an organized calendar. Honor your contracts. Update your gear.
When I care for my business, I’m freed up to care for my clients. And when I take care of my clients, my clients take care of me. It becomes this awesome circle of kindness and creativity that self-perpetuates and makes life worth living and photography worth doing.
Ignore the masses.
I don’t always feel it, but I tell myself over and over: I don’t care what everyone else is doing.
That’s because I can’t. If I spend all my time digging into the details of how other photographers are running their businesses, well, I won’t have any time left to binge-watch Orphan Black. But I’ll also psych myself out asking, “Am I doing everything WRONG?!?”
There’s a lot to be gained from other professionals’ systems and strategies, but at the end of the day all that really matters is what works for you. Maybe what works for you is eating breakfast for dinner and culling weddings at 3:00 AM. Maybe what works for you is wearing Christmas sweaters year-round. I don’t care. Whatever it is, if it works, keep doing it. And when it stops working? Stop doing it.
Changing your mind is the best part of being human – along with whiskey and flannel pants. But what fun are whiskey and flannel pants when you’re stressing about “doing it right”? What good is being your own boss if you’ve made yourself a slave to the hive mind? And what’s the point of the road less-traveled when you’ve worn yourself your very own personal rut?
Hands-down, the best part of this bizarre photographer-life I’ve chosen is that it is, in truth, a lifestyle. It’s not a job or a line on a resume. It’s an extension of my very soul, the finest expression of my authentic voice.
Be the you-est You you can be. The people who love that You will find you and stick with you for as long as you take care of them.
HUGE thanks to my outrageously un-hiveminded friend Carrie Hilgert for allowing me to use her paintings of me for this piece. Carrie is magic. Show her some love.
What do you wish you’d known when you started out? What have you learned in the past year… three years… five years? What keeps you coming back for more? Tell me in the comments!