Wanna know something crazy? Ten years ago this month I photographed my first wedding.
Wow. An entire decade!
I photographed the wedding on a Canon Rebel Xt camera with one SD card. I took breaks during the day to run out to the parking lot, download the SD card to my laptop, clear the card (omg I'm hyperventilating at this thought right now!!!) and run back to take more pictures. (Are you wedding photographers having a heart attack yet??) Oh, wait! There's more!! My camera battery died and I had the guts to ask a guest if I could borrow his.
Needless to say, I've come a long way. And the ride has been wild.
I still wonder sometimes why God led me down this path. Why did he take me, someone who does not handle stress very well, and put me in one of the most intense industries? Being an entrepreneur is serious business. Committing to capturing moments that are impossible to re-create is a huge responsibility. Putting these two jobs together creates a(n at times) stressful career! Luckily, I have been blessed with remarkable clients and colleagues who have freely shared support, encouraging words, understanding and (both welcomed and un-welcomed, let's be honest) constructive criticism.
As I look back on the last ten years in business, I am overcome with gratitude for this journey. And to still be IN business, at that! I have watched a lot of colleagues close their business doors for many different reasons. And for unknown reasons to me, mine continues to grow. I give the credit to God, because heaven knows, I have failed many times over.
I thought it would be fun to share Ten Life Lessons I've Learned as an entrepreneur, a professional photographer, a wedding industry member, a birth industry member, and work-at-home-mama during the last decade.
Can you relate to any of these?
- There is always something to learn from a difficult experience. You can walk away bitter, angry, or sad, OR you can choose to reflect on the situation and learn from any mistakes you've made.
- Your calendar is the best depiction of your priorities. You can say what your priorities are all day long, but it's how you are spending your time that one can truly see where your heart lies.
- It is never a bad time to improve your time management skills. Like, ever. Just when you think you have this down to an art, you'll find another area where you can improve. Never give up fine tuning and perfecting time management skills! (P.S. My favorite resource for whipping myself into shape is FocusBooster!)
- Failing is not the end of the world. If you're like I was and you can't give yourself grace and learn to accept that you are a flawed human, then running a business will probably never be enjoyable. I had to let go of my expectations of perfection before I could simply take a deep breath and tell myself "failing is not the end of the world." I remember being pregnant with Sunday and I was currently on the road traveling from Fredericksburg to Lynchburg. I received a text message from a client who was waiting for me in Richmond. She was sitting on a park bench with her daughters and mother, thinking I was running a few minutes behind. But, in reality, I was two hours away singing at the top of my lungs to a song on the radio. Getting that phone call gutted me. A genuine mistake, a "pregnancy brain" moment. I called Tommy and said "I want to quit this work. I can't do this... I cannot handle disappointing another client like this." It felt like THE END OF THE WORLD. But, you know what? It wasn't. I am human, and I'm going to make mistakes. I just had to pick myself up, brush myself off, share my deepest apologies, and do what I could to prevent making the same mistake again. Grace, not perfection.
- Proper handling of stressful situations takes practice (and a whole lot of grace). The best thing you can do is stay calm, take a deep breath, and begin to problem-solve. I know this is common sense, but learning how to put this behavior into practice is truly an art form for a personality like mine. Ha! Of course, I'm still working on this... habits are tough to break!
- Accepting people just the way they are and/or letting go of unhealthy relationships is one of the best things you can do to find peace in your work and personal life. I didn't really think this one needed much explanation.
- Sometimes it is better to let go of control, even when you own your own business. For example, outsourcing a handful of business tasks has been one of the best decisions I have ever made, both personally and professionally. When you are not a professional at something, hiring another professional to take care of those items not only improves your product and experience for your clients, but it also helps you get back to focusing on that which you ARE a professional in.
- There are seasons in life and this is more than okay, it's a beautiful part of life! Seasons come and go. I've always said I will run this business as long as life, and God, will allow me to do so. Over time, this business has seen different seasons: I have focused on wedding photography, then birth photography, and recently studio work has been the forefront of my focus. This business has changed names twice. Did you know I originally began with the name Love & Laughter Photography?! Ah, I love to look back and see that my heart is still in the same place as it was in the beginning - capturing love and celebrating life! <3 Each of the seasons I've had in my business has followed the path of my personal life and what has been best for myself and my family at that time. What an amazing journey.
- No communication is the worst communication. Even if you have bad news to share, sharing it honestly (and quickly) is better than not sharing it at all. This is obviously a good life skill, but a difficult one to master. As someone who hates sharing bad news, I have had to learn the hard way a few times that it is truly better to share bad news than to hide from sharing anything at all.
- Personable service and client relationships are a part of a high-quality experience, but not a necessary part of a successful business. Hear me out. While I have a gift of compassion and I am very personable, I have had to learn that not all of my clients want that as a part of their experience. What they want is a business transaction - good images in return for a financial investment. For a long time, I spent too much time pouring into personal emails, long client conversations, and extra special gifts. While these are good things, they were not always the best use of my time. If you are beginning a new customer service business, take it from me: keep your systems simple until you have them down to an art. Then bring in the personal touches.
And I thought it would be fun to finish out this post with a blast from the past... a few images from my first year of business. Whew! Let me tell you, this is really not that fun for me. But, I thought it was only fair to share that, yes, we all start somewhere. I have to share my genuine gratitude to each of these clients (and friends!) for trusting me at such an early stage of my business and photography journey!
Also, I had to grab these pictures off of Facebook because they are all stored on a hard drive tucked somewhere in the depths of my files. Ha!