I’ll be honest with you: being a photographer is hard work. From the initial email to picking up an order, there’s a lot that goes in to each and every session, and its not just the time I spend snapping photos of your family. In fact, most of what I do happens behind-the-scenes and takes hours to finish. Needless to say, I had to quickly learn how to set boundaries, for my own work/life balance and with clients.
Here are a few tips to avoid burn out and make sure you’re protecting yourself and not being taken advantage of:
BE UPFRONT ABOUT YOUR TIMELINE
Let clients know at the beginning how long they can expect the process to be, from scheduling to pick-up. It may be tempting to say that everything will be ready unrealistically early, but isn’t it better to surprise someone with an email that their order is ready two weeks before it was expected then to have to say that you’re running behind and it will take longer?
Keep in mind that life happens. Some weeks are busier than others, and sometimes, things pull you away from work. Padding your timeline for clients will give you some wiggle room in case something urgent pops up and means you won’t have to rush everything, which will produce better work. Under promise and over deliver!
WRITE YOUR BOUNDARIES, AND PRACTICE THEM
Take a minute to sit down and write out your rules – from days you work, to the hours you’ll answer emails, etc. Having them on paper makes them more official, don’t you think? Take that list and keep it where you work, so you’ll always have the rules in mind, and read them out loud if they’re getting challenged. It may seem silly to stand in front of a mirror and say, “I don’t work on Sundays,” but practice makes perfect! Even if your boundaries are small and it seems like no biggie to cross them once in a while, envision your schedule if it happened like that every day. Think about the boundaries you’ve written for yourself, and decide what it’s worth to you to break them not just once, but every day, because those little things add up!
Which leads to my next tip…
BE OKAY WITH THE WORD “NO”
You let one client schedule on a day you never work, and then you rush to finish another client’s order in half the time, and suddenly…. You’re doing everything you said you wouldn’t! And, as it often goes, if you let one person get special treatment, you’ll eventually let everyone. There’s plenty of sweet touches you can give clients without sacrificing your time and sanity.
Learning to say “No” also means saying no at the very beginning. Being busy is a great thing for any small business, but you don’t have to take on every project, especially if you’re going to be squeezing it in when you really don’t have the time, or if you have a sense that the work or client will be difficult. One of the great things about working for yourself is getting to choose that work, and saying “no” to things you simply don’t want to do will actually have a positive effect on your career and your life!
TAKE A BREAK
Whether it’s one day or a month-long vacation, it’s your business and you make the rules – which includes closing up shop and hitting refresh every once in a while! Remember, you’re a person, not just a faceless service (and, if you’re like me, you have a tendency to take work home a little more often than you should).
Most of you know how much I LOVE to travel, and something that helps me maintain a work/life balance is scheduling my trips far in advance. Rather than fitting in my vacations around my sessions, I schedule my sessions around my vacations – which means I always take the trip, and sometimes have a day off at the end to relax, too. Something as simple as marking off a long weekend 6 months from now, maybe right after the busy season, will not only help you stick to your plans, but will also be something you can look forward to as you work hard.
In the end, setting boundaries is all about one thing: appreciating and respecting yourself. Even in a customer-service industry like photography, you can’t make everyone happy. If you’re exhausted from over-commitments and not enough rest, it will show in your work. Life is meant to be fulfilling, and that includes your work life! There will be ups, downs, and everything in between, but with solid boundaries in place, you’ll always have the time and space to step back, reflect, and remember how much you love doing what you do.