Returning to San Diego- The Year of Redefining Normal

“It’s time to stop making excuses.”

It was this past spring, March to be exact, and we were experiencing one of the rainiest months in Seattle history. Rainiest in Seattle history? For an area known for its soggy days and gloomy, overcast skies, this is really saying something right? I was walking back and forth in front of our living room window, watching the sheets of rain coming down, wringing my hands and fretting. “How can I run my business when it won’t stop raining?” I had been rescheduling sessions for weeks due to all the rain and our money reserves were getting lower and lower. I was full of panic and anxiety, terrified that I wasn’t going to be able to make my portion of the bills and I realized my feelings were exactly the same as I had felt in that first year of starting my business. My mind and body was consumed by fear and worry and I realized that it was time- time to stop making excuses and redefine our “new norm”.

For 2 years I have been making excuses for not taking care of certain things that need attention. Home repairs that need to get done? (Seriously, we have a master bath that hasn’t been used in 2 years) “Can’t right now, I have just started a new business.” Retirement accounts that need to grow? “Now is not the time, I just started my business.” Debt that needs to be paid off? “Just pay the minimums, I have a new business.” The truth is that these decisions needed to be made initially when I started my business. It can take 3-5 years to really get a small business off the ground and you truly need every penny just to survive. But here on this rainy spring day, going into my 3rd year of self-employment, I realized that my mindset had to change. I realized that if I never accept that this is our new “normal”- that I would continue to make excuses, that I was always going to live this life of anxiety, panic and fear. Is that what I really wanted for myself when I made this big jump a couple years ago? This jump was supposed to improve my quality of life and the quality of my families’ life. What good am I as a mother, as a wife, if I am constantly riddled with fear? I knew it was time. Time to redefine my business, our finances, and time to find peace with the roller coaster of emotions that come with owning your own business. No more excuses, no more looking back and thinking- “I can always go back to a regular 9-5 if I need to.” No, it was time for me to “grow up” run my business and stop putting up obstacles.

The past six months since I made the decision to redefine and accept by self employed life as “normal” have been liberating. I have made some big changes to my business this year both personally and professionally and I am so thankful for the stability and foundation I have gained on the shaky ground I used to stand on. For me, stability is HUGELY important in controlling my fears and anxiety and I knew I had to create that for myself. I had to rid myself of the “what if’s” and stand on my own two feet. So what changes did I make? (This is the boring part.) Well the first thing I did was completely strip down our budget. I took us to bare bones and got rid of every unnecessary expense I could find. In the past I had a monthly budget that we had been working within. I took us down to a weekly budget so I could keep tabs on every penny and make sure we didn’t overspend on a weekly basis instead of getting to the middle of the month and realizing we were out of money. Now I knew exactly how much we had to spend each week and that took pressure off of overspending for the month. The second and biggest change I made was to put myself on a payroll. In the past I would have a photo session and use that money to pay off bills and then what do you do- you spend the rest, right? With the crazy Pacific Northwest weather, you never know when your next photo session is going to be, so that just wasn’t sustainable for me or my business. You think that putting yourself on a payroll is simple business 101, right? I am sure several of you are rolling your eyes at me and thinking I am an idiot, but for me it was something I had to learn. My amazing husband actually suggested it and I took to it like a fish in water. I was able to take my weekly budget and build my paycheck based off of our weekly needs and it was life-changing for me.

From a business stand point I knew I wanted to grow my business based off an exceptional client experience and focus on what I truly love photographing- Seniors and T(w)eens. I LOVE working with Seniors and Teens. I enjoy everything about their sessions- getting to know them, hearing their stories, being able to relate to them and provide them with an experience that they love and can remember. It makes my heart happy and feeds my soul when I see them gain confidence in front of my camera and get a glimpse into how beautiful and special they are. Let’s face it, life is HARD for them and the pressures of our Teens and Seniors today are way beyond what we had as kids. In front of my camera, they are safe, they can be themselves, and they are free. (I will remove myself from my soapbox now). So with that all being said, I have my new business focused on my amazing Seniors and Teens and I LOVE IT. Focusing on one genre in photography is key in truly creating a one of a kind experience for your clients. All my time, attention, training, and focus is spent on creating a session for my kids that they walk away from feeling amazing and excited. I can grow my business any way I want and continue to raise the bar for these exceptional kids because they are my passion. I can’t wait to showcase all that is coming for 2019 Seniors. I am so excited!

The other big change I made for my business this year was to set boundaries. Owning your own business can be completely consuming and I realized at the end of last year that my family looked beaten down (again) at the end of Senior and Family season. We were all hunched over, I had photographed over 50 seniors last year and tons of families and realized that I needed quality more than quantity for my business this year. The time I take on each client, the amount of hours spent on communications, shooting, culling, editing, ordering session prep, and placing orders is massive and not making minimum wage was unacceptable for me this year. Not to mention all the hours it takes to actually run my business above and beyond regular client work. Being a photographer is such a small part of what I do. Only about 10% of my time is spent behind a camera. The other 90% is truly running my business and I had to make sure that the clients I took on this year understood that. I had to set boundaries, I had to create a healthy work-life balance this year in order to create sustainability and keep my family happy. It’s always a work in progress and I have learned so much, but I have been truly blessed this year with some incredible clients that value me, my business and my talent. Gosh, all I can say is “thank you”. It is truly humbling when people trust you with so much and are so personally vested in your business. I have loved working with my clients this year and have loved building relationships with them. They are the true foundation of my business and the reason I can live my dream. For this I am truly thankful.

In wrapping up, I want to share a little bit on my family of 3. (This is the good part). So how are we doing after 3 years of growth, living in the uncomfortable, and mounds of change? I am happy to say that we are doing very well. My boys are truly my world. They are without a doubt the biggest advocates of my business and I couldn’t do what I do without their support. Jack helps me cull images on every Senior Session and loves building their videos. Dan is the reason that I don’t have a 7 year old in tow on every session because he takes Jack EVERY SINGLE time and doesn’t complain about it. During your ordering sessions, Dan is either out entertaining Jack or upstairs keeping him and our barking dogs quiet so my clients can have the best and most personal experience possible. They cheer me on, wipe my tears on the hard days, and check multiple weather apps when it’s time for sessions on rainy days. Jack knows all my Seniors’ names and faces by heart because he is part of my business. Dan vacuums and cleans the dining room for my clients ordering sessions because he is a part of my business. He has my dinner warmed up for me when I get home late from golden hour sessions in the summer. He has a warm cup of tea and a blanket heated in the dryer when I get home after shooting in the cold fall rain. We are not perfect- we have our moments and our disagreements, but I couldn’t live the life I am living or create my dream job if not for my boys. Running a photography business has been one of the hardest things I have ever done. They have ridden every hill, every loop of this roller coaster with me and I am so thankful. They love me, they love my clients and we are truly a family run business.

While on vacation last week in the beautiful San Diego sun, we met up with our favorite sunny photographer, Kelsey Smith, to get some updated family photos. I love her work and the way she can tell a story and as always, she handled our quirkiness beautifully and captured the personalities and connections within our little family perfectly. I look at these photos and see our lives as we are living them right now. My life is filled with lots of boy chaos, rough housing and physical craziness. Everything is a race, a tackle, a mosh pit- something girls don’t necessarily understand, but I am learning. I see my husband, shrinking before my eyes since he has been focusing on his own health this year and is down 50 lbs and looks amazing. I am SO proud of him. I see the attachment that me and Jack have at this particular stage. He is very clingy with me and often hangs off my arms and legs. He is so emotional right now, so expressive. I hear “I love you, Mom” more then I ever have and he fills our time together with lots of genuine hugs and snuggles. I know this is short lived, soon he will be a teenager and want nothing to do with me, so I take everything I can get. I see the bond that Jack and Dan have, their personalities are so similar. They are both so silly with their goofy faces but at the same time so loving and generous. They want nothing more than for the people around them to be happy (me especially). I see Dan making me laugh- constantly. This is his tactic for dealing with the stressful days in our home. He knows just how to do the “creepy” face that makes me awkwardly uncomfortable and gets me laughing. He holds onto me on the days I try to push him away, thinking I don’t need him, but somehow he always knows. Like I said, we are not perfect. There are so many stressful days, so many days where you are trying to do it all and simply fail, but with my boys I know that God has given me what I need to cope, to grow and to thrive. I don’t let a day go by without thanking Him for all our blessings.

Thank you for reading (if you are still hanging in there). I think it is good to be transparent about myself, my family and my business- hopefully it helps someone along the way. The truth is that you never “make it” as a small business owner. There is never a point where you can stop trying because your business is running on rails. It’s a push, a fight every day and you have to want it, you have to work for it every day. You can’t go away and come back and expect it to still be there. It is always a work in progress, you constantly have to change, readjust and refine. It’s a business, it’s my business and every single inch of it I created and it speaks to me and the business I want to run for my clients. I am so thankful for it all. God bless you and your family as we approach the upcoming holiday season. I love being a part of this community and a part of your lives and I can’t wait for what’s ahead.

Photos by the amazing Kelsey Smith Photography in Sunny San Diego. Enjoy the photos! She does an amazing job!

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