I wanted to start this post with that quote, because it really summarizes the last two posts in this series pretty well. But I also want to add to it: “Great why’s lead to great what’s and purposeful how’s.” (You can quote me in your next book, Pastor Ben.)
Building a side business while also working full-time is not easy. It is demanding, exhausting, and burn out is just around every bend. I have been working hard to walk the tightrope of burn-out to productivity. That has included a lot of different strategies that I could share with you all.
So, in order to make sure I was sharing the most important, I asked my best friend Erin Covey to interview me to provide the basis of this piece of the “Hustling” series. Erin is a talented writer, journalist, and researcher. She is a graduating Senior at Liberty University, earning a Bachelors in Journalism. Currently, she works as an intern for C-Span in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Fellowship program. Erin and I met in 2016 as college students. Since then, she has been a valuable resource to bounce creative ideas off of, as well as a loyal friend and confidant.
Due to her thoroughly curious spirit and attention to detail, she was an obvious choice when I decided to allow an outsider to interview me about what they’d like to know about this topic in my business. Here’s how our conversation went:
Tell me a little bit about your day job. Do you work overtime, answer e-mails off-hours… how do you separate your regular job from your side business?
I work at White House Writers Group, which is sort of a boutique PR firm in Georgetown, D.C. I work there about 40 hours a week, 9-to-5, Monday through Friday, so it’s your typical office day job. But I have made it a habit, not only in this job, but in previous jobs too – that once I’ve clocked out, I’ve clocked out. I try not to answer e-mails after 5 PM; I don’t even keep e-mail on my phone. That’s something allowed by my employer, which is a blessing.
I don’t check in on my work until I’m back the next morning. That’s created such a healthy mental and emotional boundary for me, personally. Once I am home, I get to focus on my home life and not on what happened that day, and vice versa. It lets me rest and refresh for the next day. This helps me as a business owner, but it also makes me a more productive employee at my day job.
On average, how many hours do you devote to your photography business on a weekly basis?
I try to spend at least 10-15 hours a week focusing on my business, whether it takes place on weekends or during my evenings. But when I have sessions on the weekends, that can easily go up to 20-25 hours weekly, just because of the editing and time spent with clients.
How much time does one client booking typically cost you?
My photo sessions range from 1-2 hours, depending on the nature of the shoot. Most of the shoots I’ve booked recently are about an hour long each. Editing typically takes me 4-6 hours of editing per hour of shooting. So a session can cost me anywhere from 5-10 hours of work, depending on the volume of images taken, not counting the time spent prepping for the session and communicating with the client before their appointment.
How much time do you spend on marketing efforts?
As far as marketing goes, I try to spend 20 minutes a day on Instagram whether it’s checking my feed, interacting with followers, or finding new accounts to follow that inspire me. Then I spend maybe collectively 1-2 hours a week thoughtfully creating posts for Instagram or Facebook. That’s the only marketing I’ve really been doing, because I don’t want to spend money on marketing just yet. I want to use the tools already at my disposal.
Then, I produce 2 blog posts per week, so that can take anywhere from 3-5 hours to complete per blog post – from the time I begin writing to the time I create the graphic to promote the post on social media.
Do you schedule your day to devote different times to these areas, or do you just do them as you find time?
I kind of do it as I go. It has become second nature. I think that is partly due to my career being in digital marketing, so I am used to having that mindset of, “alright, what’s going on in my Instagram?” My mind is already on social media because my day job demands that I spend a lot of time on social media. Plus, my degree program was directed towards digital marketing practices, so my mind already works that way. It’s already a priority. I don’t need alarms or timers to remind me to stop what I’m doing and focus on marketing.
Do you find that your side business ever burns you out, since you aren’t spending that time relaxing after work or doing what most people do when they get home?
Yeah, it definitely has reached that point before. I have felt the burn out especially when I would answer client inquiries that, in my heart, I knew were unlikely to follow through and book me. Sometimes they were price shopping or we just weren’t clicking as easily as I do with most of my clients. The emotional burn out happens when I work towards something like that, where it doesn’t seem to be adding value to my business or my time. Rather it makes me question if clients actually want to book me because they like my work or if I’m just a convenient or cheap option because I’m so early on in my business.
The mental burn out happens when I’ve had a rough day at my 9-to-5. I come home and sometimes just want to collapse on the couch and do nothing. I even had one of those days today! I feel like it’s been a hard day at work and I deserve to sit on the couch and watch Netflix. I don’t want to watch my educational videos, or do my course homework, or work on my budget, or answer client e-mails. I want to shut my brain off.
So when days like that do happen, I have to allow myself some grace. If I do push myself past my limits, this business will easily burn down. It won’t grow, because I’m not in a productive or positive mindset. When I have those days, I allow myself to just get home and have a little bit of a breather – sometimes that’s taking a power nap, reading a book, snuggling with my cat, or watching some tv – just something other than straining for more brain activity. Then once I’ve relaxed for a bit, I push myself to do one small thing for my business. Once I’ve done that, I ask myself, “Do you have enough energy for one more… and one more…” I try to get through my evening by not overworking myself, but by challenging myself to have small victories. I call them little wins.
Then I celebrate those little wins! If I can’t celebrate the little wins, then I tend to feel insecure that I’m not doing enough or that those wins don’t matter. But they really do! When I push myself to get up and write a blog post even though I’ve had an exhausting 8-9 hour work day, that’s a little win, but a win nonetheless. It’s worth celebrating to motivate myself to keep going.
A lot of people who do freelance or have their own business run the risk of sometimes feeling like they don’t know when the next paycheck is coming, or they put forth so much of their time that they don’t spend it on other important things. Then you have people who do it on the side, but they work a lot harder because they’re working full time and splitting between their passion project and the work life that pays their bills. Do you empathize with either? Do you plan to do your business as a side hustle in the long-term, or do you have plans to go into full-time?
This is something I’ve put a lot of thought into. I have to think about what I ultimately want for my career. What kind of work-life balance do I want to see in the future?
My dream is to become a full-time wedding photographer. What that means for me right now is working full-time at my 9-to-5 so that I have a steady income and can rest in my financial stability. I strongly believe that you shouldn’t jump into full-time, you climb up to it. I was raised in a family that honors hard work ethic and the patience that it takes to build a business.
My parents were business owners, and it took a lot of time before my Dad saw a steady salary in his business. My mom was a working mother of two before she had me and my younger brother, until the business could support all 6 of us. So my parents raised me with a worker’s mindset, and they continue to teach me through this season to have patience with myself and with my business. If I jump into full-time now, I won’t survive!
So my Dad and I talk about my business plan a lot to see what it would practically look like for me to take my business full-time. And if I’m not financially stable where the business market can fluctuate and I am still comfortable in my income as a photographer, then I’m not ready for the full-time step yet. I need to be willing to continue balancing the “work-life-work” balance until that next step is feasible to live off of.
I would offer this advice to anyone who is working a side business thinking about taking it full-time: Be patient. Test it out. This is a season where your full-time job may be seen as a burden or a hindrance, but I challenge you to see it as a blessing. That full-time job is enabling you to have a side business and do what you love. And I get it! I have my days where I don’t enjoy working at my day job, and I’d much rather be doing my side business. But I have to remember that God gave me this job, and even if it’s not my dream job, it puts food on my plate, a roof over my head, and funds my passions and my dreams. It’s all about perspective.
What is it like starting a photography business when it can seem like an over saturated market?
That was a huge fear of mine when I started! I started this business AFTER I moved to D.C. I could’ve started it while I was living in small-town Franklin County, VA, where there were not nearly as many photographers to compete with. But remember, there’s also not nearly as dense of a population that need your photography services, either! It’s a give and take. In D.C. and the northern Virginia area, it can be seen as very saturated and competitive.
I’ve since gotten over that fear, because nearly every photographer I have come in contact with has been nothing but community-focused rather than competition-focused. That is such a beautiful thing to see in this industry, and I wasn’t expecting it when I entered the arena! I’ve actually built relationships with other photographers that sometimes actually lead to referrals, when they are overbooked and can’t take a client on, or a client can’t quite afford their prices yet but the photographer refers me to help my portfolio.
I’ve also connected with two photographers who have hired me as a second shooter for weddings this summer. They are also offering me better benefits as a second shooter than most photographers, because they believe in my work and they want to help my business grow. It’s all been a sign of God’s provision.
I’ve also learned that an “oversaturated” market usually occurs in cities with a much denser population of people to market to. In other words, there’s enough to go around. It’s similar to when you plant a church in a big city! There are tons of churches in the area, but one more church just adds that many more seats to put people in and spread the gospel to the whole city. Different churches, same mission. Different photographers, same aim. And it only works when we all adopt a community over competition mindset.
Joining the arena in a highly saturated market only offers our consumers more choices, which leads to higher satisfaction. Clients now have an option to choose a photographer that meets their unique needs or clicks with their specific personality that other photographers wouldn’t. And on the flip side, photographers get to focus in on their ideal client and really pour into them!
I hope that was helpful for you all! Again, special thanks to Erin and her amazing ability to open up my brain and pick out the important pieces 😉
I hope that my story and thought process helps someone else who is deciding whether to start a side business, or is struggling to maintain a productive time management system while working to build a side business. It can be done, and I am rooting for you all the way!
Thanks for reading!
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