An Honest Look at Balancing Home & Business | Part 1: A Lesson in Making Change

I have thought about writing a work-life balance blog for a few years now, but never felt that I had it all figured out or had the right answers for anyone struggling with life balance.  I now know, that although I still don't have a "perfect balance" between home and business, it's what works now and is subject to change with my life.  I'm sharing personal tips that have kept my sanity under control!

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When I started this business, I never thought it would turn into a full-time job.  I was a high school teacher and made photography a side business.  I wasn't married yet.  I wasn't a mother yet.  I had the freedom to combine extra income with an enjoyable job, after school and on weekends.  

FAST FORWARD TO 2013:  My husband, Joe, and I got married and I decided to cut back at school, only teaching part time to pursue my photography business.  

SKIP AHEAD TO 2014:  I was pregnant, tired and working too much.  I was terrified of slowing down at the studio, because I had to maintain the business if I ever wanted to take it full time, which was a future goal.  My blood pressure was up significantly. I was very swollen until our son, Braxton, arrived a month early, on April 3, which we were not expecting at all!  I wasn't well for a couple of months afterward, dealing with hormones and blood pressure issues.  (Thank God for my husband!)  The lack of control over business and teaching, along with my hormonal craze, was terrible for my Type A Personality!  I took the rest of the school year off and worked from home, editing, answering emails, etc.

THE HARDEST LESSON OF MY LIFE: I taught high school for one more year, part time, and that year was the absolute hardest lesson I have ever learned, and I am trying to hold back tears as I write this.  That year, I was beyond exhausted and lost an unhealthy amount of weight due to stress.  Both jobs were much more demanding and my exhaustion from a new baby, and balancing everything, made Braxton's first year foggy for me.  I was ashamed that motherhood wasn't exactly what I had expected. That year taught me that it's ok to SLOW DOWN!  No career was worth the overwhelming feelings I felt back then. I knew my life had to change if I wanted to find success in my home.

1. I Learned to say No.

I used to say yes to everything a client wanted, even if it was a photo-related job that I didn't want to do or felt inadequate satisfying the request. I was trying to please others instead of my family and, even myself.

I realized that, in every aspect of life, you're not going to be able to please everyone.  You're probably thinking, "duh!"  The thought of disappointing someone, in any way, still makes me cringe, but I am not a surgeon or a magician!  I cannot be on call 24/7.  I had to realize that my job isn't an emergency situation - it is photography.  No one is going to be in turmoil if I don't answer their Saturday night email until Monday morning.

2. I Set Boundaries and Expectations.

Here's where I don't have it all figured out, but I have made strides!  I work from home most editing days and yes, I do laundry, maintain the house, and play with Braxton during these days.  It's not always easy to be interrupted, but at the same time, taking small breaks from work is necessary when you sit at a computer for awhile!

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I don't work every weekend or every single day.  I set my hours based on my family needs and babysitting schedules.  I also let people know what appointment times I have open, instead of asking when they want to schedule their session.  This sounds simple, but I was always so accomodating, and I still try to be, but I cannot make everything work for everyone in my life.

I do charge more for weekend appointments. If you call a plumber on a Sunday, it's going to cost more because it's out of their normal business hours.  If I take time away from my family and "normal business hours" on a weekend, I charge a weekend service fee as well.

I try to meet client expectations, so they aren't wondering what's going on.  My clients know that my editing turn-around time is fast, and they appreciate that, so they aren't emailing me, wondering where their photos are.  (I actually don't know if that's ever happened!)  If I am running behind, I try to email the client and let them know when they can expect their images. Expectations also force me to have a deadline, less liability with holding on to unedited images, and less emails to answer!

3. I Streamline Tasks & Communication.

On a similar note, I receive emails, texts, calls, Facebook and Instagram messages, regarding photo sessions.  While technology makes it so easy to communicate, I politely ask people to email me. This makes our communication more streamlined and I am not answering text messages while I could be rocking my son to sleep or watching a movie with my husband.  There are always exceptions to this, like if someone is running late, but I love using my email because it's connected with my studio software, 17 Hats, which keeps my mind and workflow organized!  

I love having a planner because I am able to get things off my mind and onto a physical calendar or to-do list, as I explained in FIVE BEHIND THE SCENES TIPS FOR MAINTAINING AN ORGANIZED BUSINESS.  

I do make/take phone calls,  but when I am on the phone, Braxton suddenly gets louder, the dogs begin barking uncontrollably, and I find myself locked in the corner of a bathroom, yelling over background noise so the client can hear me! How unprofessional is that?! (I'm sure you moms know how this goes!)  It makes me just want to turn up Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence." 

4. I Set Attainable Work Goals: Daily, Weekly & Monthly.

This is something new I have started doing this year.  Written goals are a gentle reminder that I am accountable, and completed goals are rewarding.  When I set a larger business goal, like painting the studio, it forces me to clear some time off of my monthly calendar for the length of time the task will take.  

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Goals also force me to plan ahead.  For example, Cake Smash Sessions take planning: what the set will look like, when I will pick up the cake, and what part of the studio will be used for the set.  Figuring this out well-beforehand allows me to balance my time better. 

And, this is a piece of advice anyone can use: A fellow-English teacher once told me that he never took all of the papers home that he had to grade, because the stack of papers was visually overwhelming. He said that taking home a realistic number of papers to grade made him more productive and less stressed out.  This is obvious, but lots of people have their plate full and underestimate their time.  I was (and sometimes, still am) one of those people!  I strive to under-promise and over-deliver to my clients. When something happens sooner or better than you thought, you're happy, and that's the way business should be.  

5. I Change My Attitude.

This is a no-brainer for anyone.  Instead of complaining about the hardships in my life, I decided to be happy for what my life is, and that I have a wonderful husband, happy and healthy son, and a career that I love so much.  My life isn't always sunshine and unicorns, I promise.  When I am having a hard day at home or work, I tend to listen to the audiobook, "The Power," by Rhonda Byrne.  It's inspiring and makes me realize that good attracts good.  My mood is better after listening to this, and my reactions to situations change.  It sounds silly, but this book has made a huge difference in my life.

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