The Good. The Bad. The Ugly.
When I look back at 2007, my experience can only be described as a roller coaster ride. Every great success was also paired with incredible challenges. In the end, it all creates an equilibrium, and perhaps even a slight improvement since the experiences in and of themselves have helped me learn and grow in ways that wouldn't have been possible otherwise.
I have to admit that I personally started off this year pretty depressed. I had big-city-girl-living-in-a-small-town blues. It took a long time to find even a few like-minded people here, and in the meantime I spent many days working alone from my desk at home. Most of the people I shared interests with lived in Indy- but that proved to be too far for getting together on a regular basis. My husband introduced me to new people whenever he had the chance, and I embraced his students and colleagues as friends, but the school relationship is a delicate one and no matter how awesome someone was as a person, I just never felt completely comfortable divulging very personal information to them. The two people who I became closest with early on, Jamie A. and Dan P. ended up moving for jobs in other cities just as I was starting to really enjoy their friendship- but that's pretty standard for this town and probably why many of the locals just don't get involved with newcomers anymore.
Luckily I have been fortunate to become better friends with Julie M., Anna & Chris B., and Melissa & Shane- though we still don't hang out NEARLY enough because we all lead very busy career-centered lives (I'm equally guilty). I'm just so grateful for those people who force me to step away from my work for just a simple dinner or lunch together. It's their friendship and persistence on involving me in things outside of my work that keeps me sane and healthy- which, ironically, allows me to work even more!
It wasn't until I met Samantha (aka Sam) that I felt like I had really found a best friend- someone who could understand what I was going through as a photographer, a wife, a small business owner, a twenty-something woman, all while living in Terre Haute, IN. What a difference having a really close friend makes. It completely changed my feelings about living in Terre Haute, as if I wouldn't mind living here for several more years. I helped her launch her photography business into a full time venture and she helped me catch up on mine. That's definitely an over-simplification, but without going into a full page of detail, I owe so much to Sam for how she's helped me. No amount of money will add up to everything she's done for me, and I'm sincerely grateful for her and her friendship. (I love you Sam!)
As of January 2007, I knew that I'd be traveling back to Michigan for nearly half of my weddings, Chicago and Washington DC for a few more, and Indianapolis for pretty much everything else, but what I didn't know was how much of an impact that travel would have on my business and personal life. I thought I was prepared with my new and improved iMac, speedy workflow, and limiting my schedule to only 30 weddings, and yet I had no clue what I was REALLY in for.
I used to think traveling was so glamorous, but now I know that traveling for work is not nearly as glamorous as traveling for pleasure. Consider the traveling salesman. When you're traveling for work, there is no "down-time". Nearly every minute is spent in anticipation or planning for what you're about to do next. Going back to your hotel alone isn't the same as going back home to your family. You have obligations and timelines to keep, and the pressure to deliver keeps the stress level high enough to prevent total relaxation for the duration of the trip. At least that's what it's like for me. Of course I'd never show it- after all, what bride and groom needs one more flakey-stress-head at their wedding?! So, I have to find ways to remain calm and relaxed under so much pressure, which usually means planning much more time than needed in case any small thing creates a set-back... which almost always happens. Semper pratus = always prepared.
With the above said, I would much rather be traveling in order to do what I love, for people I love, than feeling stuck and confined to something less than ideal just to stay close to home. I don't take for granted how fortunate I am to be able to do what I love- it's the most fulfilling feeling in the world and it's that feeling that gets me through the really rough times and pushes me to strive forward. Being able to work with awesome people is the best icing a cake could ever have. And if it weren't for my awesome clients, I wouldn't be able to do what I love.
So, just as I was recovering from the setbacks of 2006, my 2007 weddings started pouring in, along with all of the travel associated with those weddings. Each out of town wedding requires two days of travel- which means two days that I can't do the work that needs to be done behind a calibrated monitor in controlled lighting conditions (post-processing and photoshop work). Add to that: the day for the wedding and a day for catching up on things while I was gone and you've just filled 4 out of 7 days of the week, leaving me only 3 days to accomplish a series of tasks that normally takes 6 days. In late 2006 I was able to streamline my workflow from about two weeks down to one for each wedding, but I was still doing everything on my own because I had not budgeted additional help into my pricing. It didn't take long before I realized that even with an improved workflow and computer, I was quickly falling behind just by the sheer limits of space and time.
I have very high quality standards and will sacrifice many other things before giving up quality, so you can imagine how difficult it was for me to resign myself to finding someone else to help me produce the quality I love in a time when it simply wasn't possible for me to do it all myself. Even more difficult, was finding the right people to help- and for a price that would still allow me to cover my expenses and have just a little left over to reinvest in myself, cover any emergencies, and to add improvements to my business when needed. After several months and even posting flyers at the local art department (which proved unsuccessful), I finally found someone to help me with my editing, but because she only had a laptop, she couldn't help me with post-production. After working on a few weddings, she was quickly able to take my feedback and reproduce my editing style, but that still left the most time-intensive part of the process up to me when I was already at a deficiency of time.
I was desperate and my clients were losing their patience and ability to understand what was going on. I decided that I was going to solve this problem no matter what the expense, and realized that I would need to sacrifice a large part of my personal income in order to make things right. The only decision left to make was deciding who I could put my trust in. After two very strong referrals from other photographers who I admire and are just as picky as I am about quality, I decided to finally send a large portion of my backlog to a post-production company in California. Just as I was getting ready to prepare a ton of work to be sent off, my hard drive crashed. I held my breath until I knew the data was going to be recovered, but what was already a back-log of work quickly became a mountain of despair. Thankfully everything was backed up and all of the data was recovered, but not without the sacrifice of even more time delay. Once I was finally able to start sending my work to the post-production company, I received an announcement that they were on backlog as well, and shortly after that, the California fires began and caused a shut down of operations.
My stress level was so high that I wasn't eating or sleeping (too bad it didn't result in any weight loss!) I was working around the clock just to prevent things from getting backed up any further, all the while maintaining a heavy travel schedule with more and more work coming in the door. Some days I was on the verge of sanity and ready to end my life early just so I could stop experiencing the constant pressure and stress that overwhelmed me and seemed never-ending. Thank goodness for my husband, who knew exactly what I needed when he scheduled a cruise for our anniversary. I realized how vitally important it is to have more balance in my life so that I can be the person I want to be for the people who love and support me the most- because I know how much me being stressed out makes THEM feel stressed out, especially when there's little they can do to help.
Taking the cruise, which allowed me to catch up on sleep and forced me to not look at a computer screen for a few days, renewed my strength and ability to deal with the problems, setbacks, and stress that I was still in the middle of experiencing. As of today, there's still a large chunk of work that needs to be finished, but it IS getting finished, even while I'm on vacation, which is a tremendous improvement and step toward greater progress.
Despite what seems to have been an awful year, a lot of REALLY good things have come out of all the challenges. I have learned so many valuable lessons, and all of those lessons have served to help me make necessary improvements not only in my business, but also in my personal life.
To shorten an already very long, but much needed post, here are the top five things I learned from 2007:
1. Love What You Do
Life is far too short to not enjoy as much of it as possible. With time becoming such a precious commodity for me this year, I realized just how important it is for me to spend my time focusing on the things I love the most. I realized that I was ten times more productive and creative when I was working on a project that I loved versus projects that I didn't love but had to do because I couldn't hire someone else to do them.
2. Outsource What You Don't Love
When you don't love something, it becomes a low priority or something you dread or procrastinate doing when there are plenty of other projects to complete that you DO love working on. There are plenty of people in the world who love doing the very same things you hate doing, and knowing how much more productive you are when you're happy- isn't it better to give the things you don't like away to people who enjoy them more than you?
3. You Can't Grow Alone
Plants need sun and water to grow, and a small business needs outside help to grow as well. I learned that my clients and I are both better off when I try not to do everything on my own. By finding parts of my business that I can can hire other people for, I am able to dramatically improve my turn around times without sacrificing quality, and the added expense is most definitely worth it.
4. Ideas Are Nothing Without Action
I had so many great ideas and projects that I wanted to pursue this year, but I was unable to take action on any of them because I was so busy working on projects and tasks that I didn't love. If only I had freed up more of my own time sooner, I would have had time to take action on some great ideas which would have expanded my business further and potentially brought in even more income.
5. Your Actions Reveal Your True Priorities
In 2007, my actions put work and clients above all other things in my life, including my health and family. I consider my clients to be good friends- so I value the time I spend with them just as much as the time I spend with friends. With the birth of my first nephew, and the increased distance away from family, I realized how important my family is to me and that I want to be available for them whenever they need me. I found myself too often putting my family aside to work on my business, when the whole point of working for myself was to have more freedom in my life to spend with the people who love me through thick and thin, even after the job is done.
I am incredibly blessed and thankful for the people who have supported me in the pursuit of my passion. With everything that has happened this year, my clients, friends, family, and even fellow photographers and wedding vendors have been more than supportive with their patience, understanding, and encouragement of me to continue pushing forward. These are the people who have allowed me to do what I love while living in a town where there's little to no wedding market to support a full time wedding photographer. These are the people who have told me over and over that my quality is strong enough to support raising my prices which has facilitated outsourcing and the ability to offer a larger selection of products and services. These are the people who have given me glowing reviews in spite of my many challenges, which has led to a fully booked 2008 calendar way ahead of plan. These are the people who have inspired me to create award winning images, and have allowed my work to be featured in publications. These are the people who give me the hope and strength to succeed. Without them, I am nothing, and I will never take that for granted. Thank you for being there for me when I needed you most.
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