I’m back again after an absence of over a month and I’m going to talk about my holiday in Australia. Now why on earth would you want to read about that and how is it relevant to running a photography business?
Well perhaps I should give it the title “Work / Life balance. Do you have one?” Stick with me and all will become clear. I’m no lifestyle coach but I hope relaying some of my personal experiences may give you something to think about and help you get the balance that’s right for you.
So my wife and I set off on what will probably be a once in a lifetime trip to Australia. We visited Melbourne ( the see relatives ), Sydney ( terrific city ), Uluru ( amazing big red rock! ) and Port Douglas ( to snorkel over the Great Barrier Reef, highly recommended ).
We were just driving into Heathrow Airport at the start of our trip when my phone rings. A new enquiry for a wedding later this year. I explained where I was and asked the potential client to submit a contact form from my website. I informed her I was available on her day and would get back to her on my return to the UK. She submitted the form and we have now arranged to meet for a chat.
We arrived in Melbourne. An email pinged up on my iPad enquiring about a date for next year. I formulated a reply and sent it. On checking my “sent” folder, there is no trace of my reply. It sometimes takes a day of two to show in the “sent” folder so I decided I would check it sent OK later on.
Now one thing that really surprised me about Australia is how difficult it was to get a reliable wi-fi signal. I kid you not. I don’t know if we were just unlucky and the places we stayed at were unusual in that respect, but it was like being in a third world country! On the odd occasions when we did get a signal, we had to pay extra for it in hotels. The best place for free wi-fi was the public libraries, if you can find one.
A couple of days later, we got a signal. I checked the emails. Another new enquiry to which I sent a reply. On checking my “sent” folder neither the reply to this new enquiry nor the one I sent a couple of days earlier were showing. What’s going on! I also found the enquiry form I have received a couple of days earlier was completely missing from my “in” box. Emails were simply disappearing from my email account!!!
Now I’m starting to get stressed. Not getting a booking because the potential clients prefer another supplier is one thing. Not getting a booking because they think I’m unreliable and don’t respond to emails (when in actual fact, I have), well that’s another. The last thing I want is a reputation for being unreliable.
Naturally I had set up an “auto reply” on my system informing clients of my absence and letting them know I would reply when I was able, but I was sending replies and through no fault of my own, I had no idea whether the potential clients were receiving them or not.
Couple of days later, another enquiry. Another reply sent. More emails vanishing from my email account. The stress levels are going up!
Now here’s the thing. I’m on my holiday. In the past when I was “employed”, I would have considered being called upon during my period of leave to be a very unreasonable intrusion on my personal life.
Yet here I was, on the holiday of a lifetime feeling stressed out and allowing “work” to ruin it. I would not have accepted such an intrusion lightly when “employed”, so why was I allowing it to happen when “self-employed”.
Those of us that are self-employed realise just how hard we have to work to make our business successful and earn a living. Sometimes we will go to extremes to ensure our clients are happy with the service we have provided and that we maintain our good reputation.
Then I thought to myself, hang on a minute. I left my previous job after over 30 years on my GP’s advice because the stress was affecting my health. I now consider myself lucky to be doing a job I love but, based on my previous experiences, I really should know better than to allow work to cause me so much stress during my holiday.
I have come to the conclusion that, whilst we need to provide a reliable and professional service to our clients in order to run a successful business, there are times when our clients need to understand that we are only human and when we are on holiday, we are on holiday. I can’t help but think it’s really important to have a good balance between our work ethic and the need for “down time”.
I decided to put the iPad away ( the auto reply will inform people that I will reply when I am able ), enjoy my holiday and ignore my emails until I returned from Australia. I believe most reasonable people will understand that we all need a break from work sometimes in order to maintain our mental and physical health. It’s no good turning up to their wedding feeling tired and in need of a break! Both our health and their photos will suffer if we do.
Let’s face it, none of our clients will attend our funeral if we work ourselves into an early grave and we will soon go out of business if our photos aren’t up to the required standard.
Now we’re all different. Some of us appear to enjoy stress and have a high tolerance level for it. For others, the level of stress we can deal with is much lower. My advice would be to ensure you are aware of your own tolerance for stress and don’t exceed it.
Personally, I have suffered very high levels of stress in the past and know from bitter experience just how ill prolonged periods of high stress levels can make you, so I will avoid it whenever possible.
Having said that, I don’t think you could ever avoid stress completely and there is an argument that some stress is actually necessary to maintain a healthy balanced life.
I know it can be easier said than done sometimes, especially when your job is also your passion, but I think we should all build “breaks” into our working life and stick to them. We also need to be aware of stress and the harm it can do and when things start to get too much, take action. It is my belief that you will be a better person and run a better business as a result to the benefit of both yourself and your clients.
After all, surely we should be “working so that we can live”, not “living so that we can work”.
So, remember the enquiries I was getting stressed out about during my holiday? Want to know the outcome?
I had two enquiries immediately before flying out to Australia who I was able to speak to on the phone, both of which have decided to book me. That leaves the two enquiries I received whilst actually in Australia.
I had emailed both of them twice, the second email explaining my difficulties and asking if they would be kind enough to confirm receipt of my replies. On my arrival back in the UK I hadn’t heard anything from either of them, so I sent them both one further reply from my office again asking if they would be kind enough to confirm receipt just so I was satisfied they had heard from me and didn’t think I had ignored them.
I can be almost 100% certain those replies must have reached them, but guess what. Neither of them had the good manners to let me know. I heard nothing from them.
The lesson. To me this just helps confirm what I have said before. When you are on your holiday, YOU ARE ON HOLIDAY. Stressing about your business doesn’t do you any good whatsoever and most of you clients won’t appreciate it.
That brings to an end my little series of articles about starting a photography business in the real world. I hope you have found it useful and enjoyed reading it. My intention at the outset was to highlight the things I did wrong when I started out so that you don’t make the same mistakes.
If you would like to read a blog that has a more “scientific” approach towards starting a business, I recommend you read this blog on the ShootDotEdit website.