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Welcome to Keeping it Candid – Wedding Photography Unfiltered for photographers who want to keep it real. I’m your host, Sandra Henderson, international wedding and family photographer and educator with a Marie Kondo style approach to running a business – you know, keeping things simple and getting rid of anything that doesn’t bring you joy!. More importantly, I’m a strong enneagram 3w2 who is obsessed with tacos, and my love for travelling is one of many things that drives my passion for all things systems, workflows, and beating burnout as a business owner. Join me twice a month for a candid, behind the scenes look at what it’s really like working as a wedding photographer – where I’ll give you actionable steps to take your business to the next level. Absolutely no fluff here, friends! So grab your favourite notebook and pen, and let’s dive into this week’s episode.
For some wedding photographers, spring season is already underway, but for all of my Canadian and northern US friends, we’re just about to get started!
I don’t know about you, but I’m SO excited to get behind my camera again. The last two years had me under lockdown restrictions in the spring because of the pandemic, so I haven’t been able to host my spring mini sessions or get a ‘normal’ start to my season since 2019! It’s so crazy to think about, and I’m so glad this year is starting to look a little more like it should.
I always start getting pre-busy season anxiety as we get closer and closer to the spring. It’s a huge adjustment after a relatively quiet and slow-paced winter where I spend most days working behind the scenes, doing things like making sure my systems and workflows in Honeybook are all in order, updating my website, planning my calendar for the year ahead… All the things I know I won’t have as much time to get to once all that snow melts. And then, come May, it’s like a night-and-day difference, waking up one morning to a fast-paced “busy season” that couldn’t be more opposite than those winter months!
Anyone who struggles with anxiety knows it’s not always rational – I’ve been doing this for more than nine years now and it still starts the same way every year. I worry about showing up as my best self to serve my clients. I worry about managing my workload while also navigating chronic illness life. I worry about work/life balance. I worry about all the unknowns.
All of those worries and the negative thoughts and feelings all eventually lead to the same road – the absolute dread of feeling burnt out at the end of the season.
Burnout is a serious struggle for wedding photographers. Really, all business owners. We wear 20 different hats on a daily basis and the mental capacity it all requires takes more out of you than the physical requirements of the job most days, without us even realizing it. You just keep going and going and going, until one day, you hit a wall. You’re exhausted. You’re feeling uninspired and like you’ve been doing the same poses at the same locations for months with no way to really express yourself creatively. You don’t want to show up on social media because you keep getting lost in the comparison game, and the idea of having to spend another minute in your inbox is making you want to delete your inbox altogether.
You might even wonder, why am I doing this?
Eventually, though, you come out the other side and remember your why. You remember all the things that make you love your job and that led you to a career in wedding photography in the first place. You come up with new ideas, and the idea of creating gets exciting again. You confidently handle emails in your inbox and start finding the fun in social media again too.
Sounds MUCH better, right?! And if you’ve ever struggled with burnout, I know you can relate.
Going through severe burnout myself more than once, along with my own personal struggles with anxiety and depression, led me to almost closing down my business a few years ago.
I literally vowed to myself that it was never going to happen again and that I NEEDED to make some changes to ensure it stayed that way.
So this week, I’m sharing five of those very changes that I made, so you can implement them in your business too, and stop burnout before it happens!
Make this year the first time you get to November feeling confident and accomplished instead of exhausted and burnt out. Start your busy season with intentional, proactive actions to stop the fires from happening altogether so you don’t have to worry about putting them out down the road.
The first change is one I’ve already talked about on the podcast more than once, and I promise you, it won’t be the last time I talk about it either!
PRIORITIZE taking time off! This year, no more saying “I just need to get through the next few weeks of craziness and then I’ll get a day off.” If you don’t prioritize it and book it into your calendar the same way you would a wedding or a portrait session, it’s not likely going to happen. There will always be one more thing to do until the day you wake up exhausted, overworked, and – you guessed it – completely burnt out.
Most often when we talk about burnout, we talk about how it impacts photographers at the end of busy season, but the truth is, it can happen any time. After a wedding, after launching a new product or service, after writing out a month’s worth of content all at once… It looks different and feels different for everyone. And that’s why I am such a huge advocate for building time off into your schedule to help avoid burnout before it happens. Your body and mind need to rest!
I always think of a quote by the Dalai Lama when I talk about taking time off. He was asked what surprised him most about humanity, and he said “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health.”
I think it speaks to the conversation around burnout SO well, because as business owners in a seasonal industry, we do typically have less time to bring in our income than someone who works a 9-5 in the corporate world. So what do we do? We fill our calendars with as many weddings and sessions as we can, and put off everything else until we quote-unquote “have time”.
But taking control of your calendar and giving yourself time is one of the most impactful ways you can start fighting burnout.
Speaking of taking control of your calendar… It’s time to get reasonable about the number of clients you’re taking on at one time.
I totally understand the feeling like you have to take anything and everything that comes your way to be able to hit your financial goals. BUT there’s more to running a photography business than physically taking photos, and there’s more to life than just working all the time.
If you have the capacity to do 75 weddings in a year, then by all means, do you friend.
But I’m going to go out on a limb and say, that doesn’t apply to many people.
It sounds great but that kind of workload isn’t sustainable when you start factoring in things like marketing, accounting, editing, and having a life outside of work. All it takes is one thing to come up unexpectedly and all of a sudden everything feels like it’s falling apart.
Remember that it’s impossible to be all the things to everyone all the time – no matter how much that inner people pleaser tries to tell you otherwise.
Start by taking a look at your calendar from last year – were there any weeks or months that you remember thinking, “what have I done? This is WAY too much!”? Count how many bookings you had in that timeframe, and decide how many you can feasibly take on before you hit that point again.
Now, I know you’re thinking – okay Sandra, but I still have bills to pay and financial goals I want to hit… How do I do that if I’m purposely turning away money?
Well, the simplest answer is, raise your prices. If you charged $500 per session and had 10 sessions in a week, you generated $5000, but you were overworked and exhausted in the end. To be able to hit that same $5000 goal, you could do 8 sessions at $625 each, or 5 sessions at $1000 each. If doubling your prices seems too daunting, don’t worry. Try increasing it in smaller increments every few bookings you get. Also consider adding print and album sales into your sales strategy to help offset what you need to charge for a session! 5 sessions at $625, with $375 in print sales per session, will also generate $5000.
By limiting the number of clients you take on at one time, you’re giving yourself the ability to give the clients that you do have an exceptional experience. And more importantly it will give you the confidence to raise your prices so you can continue to support yourself and live comfortably while taking on less work.
Another really simple way you can do less work is by turning on your auto-responder in your inbox!
I turned my auto-responder on one day in 2019 and it’s been on ever since. I literally never looked back! It was such a game changer because it cut the last of the ties I had to my inbox – you know, those unhealthy patterns of checking my emails constantly and feeling like I needed to reply right away.
With my auto-responder on, anyone contacting me knows what to expect, like when I’ll be back in my office and how long it typically takes me to respond. I can relax knowing everyone is taken care of and no one is left wondering what’s going on.
One of the MOST COMMON things I hear from my clients as they are searching for wedding vendors to hire, is that they sent someone an email and weeks had passed but they had yet to hear any sort of reply. This even happened to me when I was planning my own wedding!
If it’s ever happened to you, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, it doesn’t leave a great lasting impression. And it regularly takes income out of the pockets of a business owner – moreso than intentionally taking on less clients ever could!
Try addding a little personality to your auto-responder – it doesn’t have to be the super formal, impersonal corporate-style response that we used to see in the past. Write in the same way you would talk to someone as if were you having this conversation in person, add some gifs just for fun, and most importantly – add any information that will put their mind at ease. If you use a CRM system like Honeybook, you can even have a questionnaire included in your auto-responder to start collecting information from someone without you ever having to be at your computer.
The fourth change I made is arguably one of the best tech decisions I ever made as a business owner. I set up an online booking system for meetings and sessions! Let me tell you – you don’t realize how much time it REALLY takes to email back and forth with someone until you don’t have to do it anymore. Giving them options for dates and times you’re available, only to then have them reply and say none of those work for them, going through this over and over until you finally find something that works for everyone. An online booking system takes out all of the guesswork!
I use Calendly because I love how user-friendly it is. I set my master availability, AND have it connected to my Google Calendar so I never have to worry about getting double-booked accidentally. You can take a look at how I’ve set it all up in my business by heading to lifeisbeautifulphoto.ca/booking – I’ve used Calendly’s embed feature to build it right into my website, which is great for SEO, too!
My clients can now view every date and time available at a glance, and book whatever works best for them right there.
One important thing I wanted to mention about this is that this booking page is not a page featured anywhere if you’re just browsing through my website for information. I still like to have a chance to personally connect with potential clients first, and then I send them the booking link myself when the time comes. That way I also never get random, impersonal bookings from total strangers either!
The final change I want to share with you today is one I typically get the most pushback on. But stick with me.
If you’ve been listening to this episode and you keep thinking, “Okay, but I don’t WANT to take more time away from my camera to do the backend work. I hate the backend work. I fill my soul behind my camera and that’s what matters most to me,” then this is going to be the strongest recommendation I can make –
It’s time to consider outsourcing.
We can’t make more hours in the day, and we can only do so much ourselves. So whether you want to give yourself more time behind your camera, more time to work in your business, or more time to spend with your family and friends, outsourcing the tasks you don’t personally HAVE TO do yourself is the best way to get more time to do those things you want to be doing.
This could look like outsourcing your editing or wedding album design. It could look like outsourcing your finances to a bookkeeper or an accountant, or even hiring a housekeeper or a nanny to help you out at home.
One thing I want to make abundantly clear –
There is no shame in outsourcing.
It’s not cheating. It doesn’t mean you’re lazy or frivolous or any of the negative things society has tried to make us believe about asking for help.
Like I said, one person can only do so much, and life is too short to be weighed down by all the things you don’t enjoy doing.
For myself, I started outsourcing my editing first. It is truly the thing I like least about being a photographer. For years I came up with reasons as to why it would never work. I told myself I couldn’t trust anyone else to be able to edit the way I do because I had a vision of how I wanted the final outcome to look. I told myself I couldn’t afford it.
And I’ve never been so happy to be so wrong, friends, let me tell you.
It did take a bit of trial and error to find an editor that I meshed with perfectly, but when it happened, it was like pure magic. I edit some photos as sneak peeks, and then my editor uses those as a reference to finish the rest of the wedding. She’s not applying any of her own creative style to it! When I get the gallery back, I love loading up Lightroom and watching the photos edit themselves as the metadata updates. From there I go through to put some of my own finishing touches on everything before I export and prep the gallery to send to my client.
What used to take me literal days now gets wrapped up in just a few hours. And I couldn’t be happier!
My clients have no idea that it’s not me, personally, who is editing their photos. And the ones that do? They truly do not care. When I have mentioned it to a client, they have all responded with overwhelming support. Then when they get their photos even faster than they expected because I only had to do a fraction of the work myself, they’re wowed by the experience, too. As long as the final outcome of the photos they’re receiving is what they’re expecting, it really doesn’t matter who is doing the editing.
To offset the cost, all I had to do was raise my prices by $25 for portraits and $200 for weddings. I pay my editor per image, so sometimes it will work out to a little less, sometimes it will work out to a little more, but overall the cost is TOTALLY reasonable and I definitely regretted not taking this step in my business sooner.
Ok – that wraps up the five changes I made, and you can too, to stop burnout before it happens.
Here’s a quick recap:
- Prioritize taking time off and book it into your calendar the same way you would a wedding or a portrait session
- Take control of your calendar and be realistic about the number of clients you can take on at one time
- Create a permanent auto-responder for your inbox
- Set up an online booking calendar for meetings and sessions
- Start outsourcing anything that doesn’t NEED to be done by specifically by you
It’s time to redefine the word hustle. It doesn’t have to mean 20 hour non-stop, back-to-back workdays at the sacrifice of anything and everything else. That’s not the only way to success. It works for some people but it’s not sustainable for most. You deserve more than that. You deserve to have a full, fulfilling life, and I hope today’s tips will help you achieve that and so much more.
Before I go, make sure you head to my website, simplysandrayvonne.ca/keepingitcandid, to check out the Show Notes – you’ll find some discounts, links, and more for all the things I talked about on today’s episode!
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Thanks so much for listening to Keeping It Candid: Wedding Photography Unfiltered with Sandra Henderson! You can find full show notes from today’s episode at simplysandrayvonne.ca/keepingitcandid. In the meantime – let’s connect! You can find me on Instagram @simplysandrayvonne, and on Facebook in The Wedding Photography: Unfiltered Community! If you’re loving this podcast, I’d be so honoured if you’d go ahead and hit that subscribe button and leave me a review!
Until next time!
Ok – remember those discounts and resources I promised?!
Here are all of my faves that I talked about this episode:
Honeybook – Get your first year for $1/month!
Calendly – Online Booking System
Google Workspace – A Google service for businesses. Redirect your domain email through GMail for added security and tons of features, like auto-responders and scheduling emails! Use code Y9Q9UGFDTWHW7XE
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