Last month I went on my first Personal Business Retreat after hearing the idea from my girl Lashonda and reading a little more about a personal retreat here and here. Recently, I have also picked up on a new-ish trend of batch working: the practice of batching important tasks like scheduling social media posts, writing for blogs and other publications, and taking care of office maintenance tasks. So as 2017 was wrapping up and I was in the midst of a lot of personal reflecting, I decided one of my goals for 2018 would be to experiment with a personal retreat as well as batch working. Why not do both at the same time?! :)
Five Good Investments
As I worked through my Goal Setting process for 2018, I naturally did a lot of reflecting on the past year. Something I love to do is read what works for other people in their lives: routines, planning systems, books they loved, etc. While I understand what works for one person may not work for the next - there are times that I’ve discovered something life changing from another person sharing what worked for them.
That said, I really wanted to share with you all some of what I think are the best investments I made in 2017. As a note: you will see that I consider both time and money to be an investment. :)
Without further ado, here are the top five investments from 2017 that I’m really grateful I made.
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:
And lastly, I’ve gotten my hands on a couple of gems for the studio wardrobe: dresses, blouses, and a few new items for children! I just received the mannequin I ordered (and my friends on Instagram named her Florence ;)) so I can begin creating an online catalog of the wardrobe pieces so clients can peruse the wardrobe from the comfort of their own space. For now, if you are interested in checking out the new wardrobe pieces you’ll need to schedule a complimentary, in-person consultation to come by the studio and see them yourself! I’d love the chance to meet you and talk with you about your photography needs! :)
So those are the big investments I made in 2017 that I’m SO grateful for! They each added quality to my life in their own ways - but all BIG ways! Did you make any big investments last year that you love? I’d love to hear about them!!
Last week, I spent 3 days with an incredible team of artists at the beautiful Serenbe, right outside of Atlanta, being inspired, catered to, and coached. The Fount Workshop was a photographer's dream getaway (honestly, Tiffany Farley confessed it was based on her idea of a dream workshop) and I am so very glad I made the investment to attend.
Fifteen other motherhood photographers and I spent our time together observing while professional stylists and photographers collaborated to bring their visions to life. Between each of the five separate styled shoots, we also had the opportunity to learn that business money management isn't so bad from the very knowledgable (and sought-after) Shanna Skidmore. In addition, we gained valuable insight into the creative process of photographers as artists. This workshop leaned more towards relaxation, inspiration and encouragement to consider yourself an artisan versus equipping and training on the business and marketing side of things. Athlough, there truly was a bit of everything thrown in. I knew ahead of time that this workshop would be different. And in my case, different was oh-so-very good.
It is easy to lose a bit of your artist self when you have to approach your work from a business standpoint. Balancing numbers and customer service is a quick way to help you forget why you started doing this work in the first place. The Fount Workshop took me back to the heart of why I do what I do. The team embraced the differences of each attendee and encouraged us to continue being true to our own voice. They shared practical tools we can use to bring us back to the heartbeat of our work again and again.
Some of my biggest takeaways were:
- Rest is best... sometimes you have to take a step back and regroup in order to continue producing your best work.
- I'll be painting my studio walls white... not grey.
- I'm going to beg my husband to let me also stain my studio floors white (ha!).
- Journaling is truly all it is cracked up to be.
- Client experience really does go a long way... (not that I ever doubted)... and I will be adding even more elements to the experience I offer my clients in the very near future.
- More session styling also coming to the Liz Cook Photography studio in the very near future.
- I've also already purchased a few more pieces for my client wardrobe as well.
Below are some of my favorite behind the scenes images from our time together. In the coming days I will be sharing images from each of the styled shoots we worked on. And also... this blog is coming back to life! :)
Doesn't it look heavenly? It really was. If you are looking for a workshop that will renew your artisan spirit, encourage you to keep being true to yourself, and equip you to reach your goals, I highly recommend The Fount Workshop. Tiffany, Rylee and Abany are skilled in their crafts and are passionate about encouraging other artists to find their why. This was the perfect blend of a momtog getaway and an inspiring retreat, with sprinkles of business wisdom on top. :)
I am so grateful I made the investment to attend... and I totally plan to attend again in the future!
Liz is a wedding, family and birth photographer in Central Virginia. She loves to photograph fun and easygoing couples in love as well as emotional and discreet birth stories and just about anything in-between.
For the last couple of weeks I have been experimenting with and researching about the new-ish social media platform, Periscope. Periscope is Twitter's live video broadcasting app. If I'm being candid... it's basically like everyone was just given their own TV show and platform to use as they wish... for free. Some people ROCK it... some do not. In the meantime, I am trying to learn how I can use it as a tool in my business.
I would have bet a million dollars back in college that I would NEVER be a public speaker. I actually won the "most improved" award in my college Speech 101 class because I was HORRID the first time I stood up in front of my class. And I think by the end I was... not so horrid. Hah! Honestly, who is honored to receive a Most Improved reward? That just confirmed that I was actually as terrible the first time around as I had thought. Hah!
Anyway... so it's been an interesting few weeks exploring this app and basically putting on my own live broadcasts. But the app has really grown on me and I've enjoyed getting to know people better and share information with others. What I love the most about the app is that there is a constant influx of information... I learn SO much from the other broadcasters! About everything from homeschooling to cooking, to social media marketing strategies and where to buy sparkly pink backdrops (which we all know won't be happening... so yeah sure, some of the info is useless ;)).
All that to say... I have officially started 'scoping daily, and this week I am starting my very first Periscope Series! I've been too afraid to invite you all to watch my 'scopes - but this ENTIRE experience has been about pushing past my fears (like going live with NO make-up on. That seriously happened...!) and taking the leap! And honestly... that's kind of how the entire last year has been. And I have loved it.
So - if you are a birth photographer or if you are interested in what my life looks like while running a birth photography business and raising girls... or if you just want to see me make ridiculous faces and stumble over my words... come follow me! I'll be scoping twice every day this week! :)
It feels a bit surreal to be writing this blog post. For years, I have watched as colleagues and industry friends have grown their photography businesses to levels that have justified the start of industry educational opportunities. For the past few years, I have casually offered mentoring through my website on an as-needed basis. However, I have always stood firm in the fact that I am NOT a teacher. I don't have the talent of teaching... I even struggle with my own children! (Eek!) Regardless of this claim, I have met with numerous willing photographers and openly shared anything and everything they have asked me regarding photography business information. And surprisingly, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. The best part for me, though, has been the relationships were introduced through this avenue. Some of my best industry friends have come out of these mentoring meetings!
One of these friendships has officially grown into a business partnership. It's so crazy to think of the journey I have walked with Emily Gerald over the past two years and where we are today! You guys... Emily IS a teacher! When I met her she was a grade-school teacher and had just finished her Master's Degree in Teaching. I mean... this partnership was destined to happen. :)
Earlier this week, Emily and I launched our first e-book we co-wrote (that you can download for FREE right here!), which was crazy exciting! I suppose it wasn't exciting enough, though, because today we are sharing MUCH bigger news! Ahh!
Emily and I are hosting an intimate, one-day, all-inclusive birth photography workshop!
At this workshop in March, we will be sharing all we know about running profitable birth photography businesses to help equip and encourage other photographers to run their own businesses more efficiently and with great success.
Our ultimate hope is that by sharing and teaching how we run our own businesses, the birth photography industry will grow.
The workshop agenda is packed full of content including portfolio building opportunities, information about the birth process, connecting and gaining wisdom from other birth industry professionals, the ins and outs of running a profitable birth photography business, client relationship tips and tricks, and more!
For details and to find out how to join us, click here.
Registration opens 02.01.2016 at 10AM EST! To sign up to receive an email reminder, click here!
I just want to say thank you to those of you who have given me the chance to share my knowledge and for all of you who have supported me in my photography career so far. It's the most incredible feeling to do what you love and know that you are helping others in the process! <3