To be honest, I told myself I would never write an educational blog for photographers/entrepreneurs. We’re living in the age of education, and at times it seems like anyone who does it, teaches it. Whether it be through blogging, vlogging, workshops, online or in-person mentoring, photographers are expanding their expertise to far more than just knowing how to use their cameras. They’re equipping aspiring photographers with the knowledge and tools to become great artists and business owners, and it’s a beautiful thing! A part of me is a little jealous that I didn’t jump on the education train sooner, because now I feel like the world has more than enough of them and doesn’t need one more. Which is why I’m starting out with this! But, I’m biting the bullet and writing this anyway because I can’t find one blog or one person to say what I want to tell you today. And it’s way too important to stay quiet. Somewhere, there has to be at least one person who is desperately searching for the answer like I have been for years now. There has to be somebody like me who has spent hours watching videos, reading blogs, going to workshops and conferences, trying to find someone who is in the same unique shoes. We all want to find someone who understands us, right?
What is Hustle?
When I say “Hustle” what immediately comes to mind? Coffee? Messy buns? The word printed in a cute gold font on a white t-shirt, coffee mug, or canvas? Now take a second and think of what hustle looks like practically in your life. I’m talking to you, you 8-5 day job-worker who has a husband and maybe some kids and pets, and parents and siblings, and a home that requires occasional cleaning and extra-curricular commitments and a human body that will only let you function if you feed it the right things and let it sleep for 8 hours a night… and running a creative business “on the side.” Am I getting warm? “Just drink more coffee” doesn’t work for you like your Instagram buddies, because they must be superhuman and don’t feel the side effects of overdosing on caffeine. Or maybe they do, and just don’t let the Instaworld know when they go into a coma of exhaustion. When you stay up too late and wake up too early a few days in a row, you start falling asleep at your day job, and sure as heck don’t have the energy or mental ability to give your business and your loved ones the time of day when you get home. You know what happens next, don’t you? The guilt sets in for neglecting your family. Your spouse says they miss you and your kids ask you why you won’t play with them. No one has clean clothes to wear, and the dishes in the sink are starting to resemble Mount Vesuvius as they spill out onto the counter.
You feel torn. Your family needs you. Your business needs you. You need you. You’ve read so many blogs, listened to so many webinars (because who has time to actually sit and watch something for an hour and a half?) and payed so much for in-person education that you can’t imagine deviating from the plan. If you don’t follow their advice- the things that made them successful, you’ll never get there. You will never grow enough to quit your soul-sucking day job. You won’t book as many weddings, as many sessions, get more Instagram followers, Facebook likes or blog comments. Your clientele will slowly disappear, and your followers will stop following. People won’t respect you, care about your work, or want to invest their money in you. So you tell your husband and kids that you just need to finish this last blog, then you’ll spend time with them. Just one last session to edit. Just one more Facebook post to schedule. Just a couple of emails. But just… never ends.
There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of sources of education that teach “hustle.” Day job, night job, no job… just keep hustling and doing all of the right things and it will pay off. Your hard work and talent will pay off and you can live your dream full time. But what if that’s not the case? Hustling and doing all of the right things is growing your business, but much slower than you hoped, and ruining your family in the process. And your health. What now? Easy answer: make more time for family and don’t put your business first anymore. Find balance and create margin. Okay, but what does that look like practically? Where is part 2 of that webinar? How do you prioritize better, and still do it all? I’ve been asking that questions for years now.
Are you ready for the answer?
You DON’T do it all. If you’re a control freak like me, you need to take a deep breath right now. Good? Now let me say it again: you don’t. Do. It. All. And no, I’m not talking about outsourcing. Don’t get me wrong, outsourcing is an incredible solution for busy business owners, and has transformed the lives of many of our good friends. But if you are working your tail off to grow a business that is nowhere close to paying you enough to put a roof over your family’s head, feed them, keep the electricity turned on and gas in the car, outsourcing isn’t an option. And let’s not forget about making payments toward the debt you incurred trying to get the business started in the first place. When outsourcing isn’t an option, what is?
What I finally learned, after fighting the system for years and feeling completely helpless and alone, is that maybe hustle isn’t about doing it all, all of the time. Sacrificing my marriage for consistent blogging and social media presence. Poisoning myself with large amounts of sugar and caffeine to turn around a wedding in a week, so they’ll be impressed and refer their friends. Maybe the hustle is actually about saying the hardest word in an entrepreneur’s vocabulary: “No.” Or, “Wait.” For workaholics like you and me, that type of hustle is far more difficult than the typical definition.
In Jon Acuff’s book, Do Over, he says that hustle has seasons. Hustle looks different for every individual, in every season. A mother of a 3-month-old who is returning to work after maternity leave does not need to be blogging, editing, Instagramming, and Facebooking every weekday, shooting weddings and sessions on the weekend, and then adding in designing a new pricing guide. That is not her season. When you’re falling asleep at your day job because you’ve barely slept all week and your employer is starting to notice- that is not your season. But don’t worry, seasons don’t last forever.
Reid and I are a team in this business. There are two people to divide the work. So we shouldn’t have a problem with this, right? Again, one size does not fit all. Husband and wife teams are not all created equal. Having two people doesn’t mean that we are both gifted at all of the tasks involved in our business, and that the work load is 50/50. For the longest time, I thought that we were doing it wrong, and all of the other husband/wife teams MUST be doing it “right.” After learning the long way, I’ve finally accepted the truth about hustle. Hustle for me is knowing when to let it go, when to say no, and when to wait.
The Turning Point
It was late Sunday night and Reid somberly walked in to the office. I knew what was coming, and grew irritated. We had been really busy for the past couple of weeks, and unable to spend much, if any, quality time together. Another work week was about to begin, and he just wanted some time with his wife without the glow of the laptop screen on her face. I blogged faithfully every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and was NOT about to mess that up. If I missed a Monday, what would people think of us as business owners? If we missed a Monday, how could we be trusted? No one would want to hire us! We began to argue again about my inability to ever stop working, and then my husband said it. The words that changed everything. As I sat there in my desk chair, with my “Marriage Monday” blog (oh, the irony) waiting to be written, my husband told me that he wished I cared about him as much as I did about the business. GUT PUNCH. There I was, trying to write marriage advice while I was destroying my own.
Is consistent blogging an incredible business tool, and an effective way to make a personal connection with your present and future clients? Absolutely! And it was one that I refused to relinquish. We just couldn’t afford not to! On top of that, I was spending time each day designing a 24-page pricing guide in Photoshop (with zero prior Photoshop experience)! Something had to go. What I learned is that the cost of saying no to my husband and health was far greater than the cost of saying no to blogging 3+ times per week. I decided that during this season, I would only blog sessions, weddings and the occasional personal post, and would work on the pricing guide as I was able. And guess what happened… we kept booking weddings. Not only that, but we booked almost as many weddings in a 3 month period than the total number of weddings we shot in the entire year of 2015! We get inquires more consistently now than we ever have! Our business did not cease to exist because we didn’t follow the proven plan of success. I truly believe that God has blessed our business because we put our marriage back where it belongs.
How do you know when the season changes, and it’s safe and wise to add something back to your plate? I think this looks different for everyone, but there is one question that applies to everyone. “If I say yes to this, will I have to say no to something else?” If the answer is yes, then you need to evaluate your options carefully, and determine the value of the task in question. And don’t believe that because it’s not the right time to say yes that you have to say no. Be patient, be wise, and give yourself grace. You can’t, and don’t have to do it all. By saying yes to blogging 3+ times a week, and working on the pricing guide daily, I was saying no to my husband. At this point in our business, we believed that creating a product which would better educate our potential clients on the front end on who we are and our process was crucial to our growth and their experience with us. We evaluated the options, and decided what was more important at that time. By saying no/wait to the blogging, and yes to putting our marriage first, we hustled. By saying no, we were blessed exponentially.
Odds are that you’ve heard a lot of this before. You can’t do it all, your life and business need margin, keep your priorities in line, etc. etc. But do you truly believe it? Slow and steady wins the race, and everybody wrecks on the fast track. The downside to the plethora of available education these days, is that it is SO easy to let yourself believe that the only way to be truly successful is to follow ALL of their advice. To want so desperately to be full time, to book destination weddings, to be busier than the other guy, to make more and work less. It can be detrimentally blinding and suck the joy right out of you. I can say that with full confidence because that is something we deal with on a daily basis. Social media can make you feel like a failure, simply because there are hundreds of people that are in the shoes you want to wear. But please, please don’t let it suck you in. Please don’t let it hold you there. Take their advice with a grain of salt. Soak up all of the education you can, but ultimately you have to do what works for you. What works for your situation, your season and your family, in your market. And define what success is to you. Don’t allow others to define it for you.
Learning by Trial and Fire
Since we’re being honest here, we didn’t get to this point without learning a lot of lessons the really hard way. I’m writing this from a place of brokenness, because I don’t want you to end up there too. I believed the surface level perception of hustle for far too long, and that I wasn’t successful if I wasn’t full time. I based everything in life off of the single goal of being self-employed. Let me tell you, friend to friend, that is SO DANGEROUS. All of the above advice is absolutely true, and learning how to say no has been crucial for us. But by the time we got to that place, it was too late. We were past the point of burnt out. Past the point of exhaustion. We loved our couples dearly and loved photographing them, but when it came to the behind-the-scenes work… we gave up. I stopped blogging engagements and bridals. Stopped posting on social media. If I didn’t care, why would anybody else care? I had poured my whole soul into this business for so long without getting the return that I mistakenly believed should be there, and I was done. Please, please don’t let yourself go there. And trust me, it will sneak up on you. It doesn’t happen over night. It’s a slow, slow fade. And a slow, slow healing process.
An Open Apology
To our dearly loved couples whose Reid & Brittany experience has suffered,
From the bottom of our hearts, we apologize for letting you down. For making you feel like you aren’t important to us. You mean the world to us, and we are so very sorry for making you feel less than that. We love you, we appreciate you, and YOU are what make us successful. Your stories, your love, your friendship- that’s why we do what we do. Yes, it is a career. Yes, it is a business. Yes, it is how we ultimately want to earn our living. But you are our “why.” Please forgive us for losing site of that, and thank you for giving us and our business a purpose. Thank you for being you.