At the beginning of our marriage, date nights were basically a default every night. (When it's just you two at home together every night, it just happens! :)) So to put a weekly date night on the calendar seemed a little pointless. Then with just one baby, having her tag along didn’t seem like too much of a big deal. (In fact, we were both pretty infatuated with her so we really liked having her with us all the time!) But once we had two kids, time to connect just became less and less and before we knew it, we felt a bit like strangers passing in the night. (Honestly, it’s a little scary how that can happen so quickly.) At the end of 2016, I made a goal to put my marriage FIRST before everything in 2017. And I am SO glad I did!
At the start of the year, I hired a weekly babysitter; every Sunday night. At first, this was to cover our MarriageWorks community gatherings, but soon after I made this arrangement in preparation, they announced they weren’t meeting at all until wayyyy later in the year! Ah! (Which we DID participate in and loved.) However, I kept our sitter lined up anyway.
I budgeted for this and made a long-term commitment to the sitter. She was setting aside her Sunday nights for this weekly job (and we got a pretty good “per job” price since we were committing to this on a regular basis). This really helped us stay accountable, because it wasn’t just us to consider if we wanted to cancel our date night.
Of course there were some Sundays we were out of town, in which case we would let her know weeks ahead of time. But there were also some Sundays where just one of us would be out of town. In that case, we would still have her come and it allowed the one who was at home with the kids to have some kid-free time and a night on their own.
While this investment was financial, it was also a large time investment... (just ask my Sunday Night Football loving husband!) But it was so very worth it. We got into a routine of going to the same place for dinner and drinks and it allowed us to create a new, safe place for us to open up and have some really awesome conversations this past year. I’m SO glad we made our marriage a top priority last year and we are both walking into 2018 with the same goals for our marriage this year as well.
It’s exciting to look at how far we’ve come in one year, where will another year take us?! We are definitely continuing on with this investment as long as our bank account allows us to!
This is a really personal one for me. I was diagnosed with postpartum depression when Izzie (my second child) was four months old. She just turned three years old this month and the past six months or so I have finally felt like I could see through the fog. I attribute this to my girls getting older (Izzie can do so much on her own now! It has really freed up a lot of my time), my marriage growing stronger (it’s been rewarding to be able to share these burdens/thoughts with my husband in a way that doesn’t burden him but simply allows him to understand me more), and self-care.
What IS self-care, you ask? Well, this answer will and should look different for each person. In essence, it is taking care of yourSELF. Whatever that means to you. In my experience, it was learning WHO I am and WHAT I need most to be the healthiest, happiest me. And then, of course, giving those things to myself.
I’m a big fan of personality tests. Through these tests I have learned SO much about myself, my strengths and weaknesses, and most importantly - the good I bring to this world in my natural state. Meaning, when I am at my healthiest and happiest, what comes most natural to me? What is the good that I can provide to the people I love, and what do I not do well? Self-Care for me this year meant a whole lot of learning what I do best, what I don’t do great, and how to fill in the gaps for the needs of myself and those around me.
In practical terms, this is what all that looked like for me:
Learning more about my Myers-Briggs personality and embracing my truths.
Reading StrengthsFinder 2.0 and, again, embracing my truths.
Speaking my truths outloud to myself, my friends and family. Some examples:
I may not be as driven as so-and-so, but I can handle a social environment with grace and I can make people feel loved and comfortable in a way that not a lot of other people can.
I may be sensitive, but instead of thinking of this as a negative, I now respect it as a privilege. I can sense when something is “off” in my body almost immediately. I can sense the energy in a room and try my best to either contribute or counteract it, whichever is necessary depending on the circumstances. I can sense when someone nearby is dealing with something heavy and I can be empathetic and careful towards them during that time.
Clearing space on my calendar for things that fill my cup. This included a retreat weekend with The Motherhood Collective (for staff), a lot of one-on-one coffee dates with girlfriends, a marriage retreat weekend with Tommy (through our semester with MarriageWorks, which we really loved!), a monthly massage at MassageEnvy, and occasional travel to visit friends and family out of town. All of these things renew my spirit, my body, and help me feel “normal” again during seasons where sometimes I can feel anything but.
Indulging in daily connection conversations with friends over the Voxer and MarcoPolo apps on my phone. Mama friends - if you haven’t downloaded Voxer, you are missing out! This is such an amazing way to connect with friends in a low-pressure way! My friends will send me voice messages while they drive down the road (because when else do mamas have time to themselves?!) and I’ll listen to them when I have a few minutes to open the app and listen in. I was able to rebuild and strengthen some of my closest friendships by using these simple apps in 2017.
Shifting to more business and professional investments…
17Hats (Client Management System)
For the past few years, I have been using a Client Management System by 17hats. Through this app, I manage all client information, contracts, invoices and workflows. This app is basically my business brain! If you are a photographer and you have more than a handful of clients a year, it would benefit you in huge ways to outsource your business management to an app like this one! It also has capabilities to manage client scheduling, bookkeeping and more.
One big change I made this year was to start using their Lead Capture Form feature. So, now when prospective clients fill out the form on my website, they receive an immediate email response with all of my pricing information and a link to the next step in the booking process! Basically this means my inquiry to booking process is almost fully automated. This has changed my WORLD! I used to spend so many of my office hours trying to tackle emails. However, because of my life season, I also was not in the office every day. That meant that sometimes prospective clients waited many days to hear from me! That’s totally unacceptable this day in age. I am excited for this new automated process and very grateful for the 17hats Management System!
I don’t think I’ll ever run my business without 17hats!
--> My goodness, I wrote this blog post a few days ago and it's amazing what can change in a matter of days! While I LOVE 17hats, it's the Client Management System that really was the game-changer for me. This week I made the decision to begin the process of switching to Tave. I'll write more about this as I settle into a new system and I'll keep you posted about whether it was a good move or not!!
Another investment I made in 2017 that I am SO glad I did is using a scheduling software. Setting my business up through Acuity Scheduling has saved me SO much time writing emails back and forth (“Would these dates work for you? No? How about these?”)! Not only that, it has helped me set healthy work/life boundaries for myself and my family.
I created a couple of types of appointments such as Outdoor Portrait Session, Newborn Portrait Session, and more. Then I set my availability for each type of appointment. I can also put a price point on the appointments and require full or partial payment at the time of booking. While this is not currently my practice (because I do most of my invoicing through the 17hats program), it is nice to have available for mini session booking!
But the most valuable aspect of using Acuity Scheduling for me has been protecting my family days. It sounds basic: if you don’t want to book clients on certain days, don’t offer those days. But as an ENFP (see personality type notes above :)) and people-pleaser, I found myself constantly making exceptions for repeat clients and having a hard time saying no. Now I don’t say no, I simply don’t offer. :) It’s a win/win!
Thank you, Acuity Scheduling, for giving me my life back!
Throughout 2017 I invested in a couple of projects, furniture and wardrobe pieces in the studio that I am LOVING. Among these investments were new flooring, a nice wrought-iron bed, a neutral colored settee, a new neutral colored wingback chair and a handful of new pieces of clothing for the wardrobe. Having these items sprinkled throughout my images I think have really increased the quality of my work.
The white flooring has added more light to work with in the studio with a great floor-to-ceiling light-bounce, while also bringing a cleaner look to my clients final photos. With white floors, there’s less yellow in the space to work with so the whites are whiter and my images are overall brighter. I really love the new flooring!
In the past, I’ve photographed on a simple air mattress and while it did the job, there’s nothing like the look of a quality bed frame! I am excited to have a new bed in the studio in 2018 as well as a new settee and wingback chair to create different set-ups and add variety to studio sessions!
Here are a few pictures with some of the newest pieces: