6 Months In — Running a Business

Eastside Gallery - Berlin Wall

I’ve written this almost a dozen times. Erased it almost a dozen more. How do I describe what it’s been like being self employed for the past six months?

The initial elation of quitting my job and being self-employed was followed by the panic of no income. The fear that was, at times all-consuming. The strength of my friends and family, who picked me back up and pushed me forward, believed in me. Their support has been priceless. Truly. There are no words. There are a million words.

It hasn’t been an easy road – this one I’ve chosen – but I knew that. This is what happens when you take the road less traveled. Your life is thrown in turmoil, because it’s not an easy road to navigate. There is no GPS. You can and will sink to the lowest of lows. To the point where the fear of failure grips your heart in a vise, overwhelming all your ambition and dreams, and you’re searching for an office job because you’re scared. Scared you’re not good enough. Only to find that looking at office jobs, school jobs, grad school, is even less appealing that failing at photography. So you strengthen your resolve and turn away from the job applications. At other times, you’re tossed up to the mountaintops by an off-hand comment, a bit of praise, a moment of joy. The roller-coaster never stops. What I’ve found is that photography is a feast or famine industry, especially in the beginning. Wedding photography, they say, is not for the faint of heart. And it’s not just the actual photography that’s hard, it’s all the work surrounding it as well. It takes discipline to be self-employed.  And the road is different for everyone.

What I can tell you is this. Self-employment is not for everyone. It is a challenge and an adventure. It’s been almost six months since I walked away from my day job. Almost six months since I took a chance and decided to become self-employed. And six months in, I can say that this has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. Right now, I can say it’s all been worth it. Deciding to go with wedding photography in October was scary at first. It felt like I wasn’t actually doing anything.

Yet, looking back, I’m glad I quit my school job when I did. I was able to really dig into what my business needed to be successful. I was able to try out new things, learn about how to run a business. All without worrying about getting my clients’ work to them on time. Now, I feel like I’ve found my system (and it’s different for everyone and every business!).

Three major things I’ve learned:

Do your own research. Asking advice from friends in the business (or from friends who own small businesses) is helpful, especially when you have no idea where to start looking. However, it’s important to  make your own decisions. What works for your friends might not work for you. Everyone has a different way of doing things, and you’ll learn more by doing research than by only asking your friends’ advice. Not only that, if you take advice from friends who took advice from friends, you may not be getting the best information.

Find a schedule that works for you. I thought that because I was now full-time, I should treat my photography as a 9-5 job. But that wasn’t working for me. I couldn’t get up and work out in the morning and then work for 8 hours. I needed to break it down into smaller sections. An hour of something, followed by 30 minutes of something else. I learned that it was okay to mix in my “home” tasks (laundry, dishes, groceries) with my “work” tasks. I also found out that I needed a structured schedule. I needed to block out my days and weeks so that I was accountable. For me, Google Calendar works best. I can access it on my phone, create different calendars (to color code) for different things. I can easily move things around in my calendar if they take too long or my day changes.

Be Flexible. Just because I have a schedule doesn’t mean I always have to stick to it. Sometimes, I sit down to blog and just can’t find the words I want to share. Instead of struggling to put words to the page, I work on something else. Or, if I’m supposed to be editing but the weather is beautiful, I take advantage of that. Sunshine is a rare thing in Seattle & I take advantage of it. Being flexible allows me to follow my artistic senses, which is the reason I went full time to begin with.

Later this week, I hope to share the first (of possibly too many) posts on Germany.

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