Sorry I'm Busy.
Managing my time is so difficult everyday. My latest way of organising my life comes down to a huge wall planner, packed with coloured dots for different activities and there aren't any yellow 'social life' dots to be seen. Who'd have thought that when I was studying A-level Photography, enjoying every minute and able to go for a pint after class would be what I consider a luxury today as I'm now struggling to fit in any time for my friends and family. I'm writing this article to showcase what running a photography business entrails - both the positives and negatives, especially behind the scenes doing all of the businessy admin things (without giving away my secrets of course) because there's so much to do and to all of those people who receive a polite decline from me saying "sorry I'm busy" when they invite me out for drinks, here's why...
Wakey Wakey, Rise and Shine
There's a stigma around those who are self-employed. Many assume that us freelancers and small business owners get up late and sit and chill in our dressing gowns watching Holly and Phil on This Morning but that's not the reality for me, at least not any more. When I first quit my job to go full-time with Nelly Naylor Photography, I spent the first couple of days enjoying the freedom of being freelance, starting work late afternoon, catching up with old friends and doing whatever I wanted - but as the business began to grow so quickly, those luxuries soon disappeared. I've always been a big sleeper but not anymore. I am always freakin’ exhausted. More exhausted than when I used to drive 45-minutes to my job in a Hull Photography Studio and another 45-minutes home, working 8:30-6 five times a week. I could nap at any given time. I need coffee at any given time. I put it down to the amount of thoughts and ideas whizzing about my head constantly. With being self-employment there is no end, you’ve never completed everything. You are always behind. I knew that I would have to work harder, ‘cos Nell got to hustle to make sure she can pay her own bills, but man, I did not know the sheer exhaustion that would come alongside it, even when you get enough sleep. At least now, I have a morning routine, but it's completely different to the one I had whilst working for someone else. And to anyone self-employed reading this - when you're working from home, put on a nice shirt and get ready for work, don't stay in your PJs, you'll feel much better for it.
Flexibility is nice, sometimes.
I enjoy the flexibility of being self-employed, especially when the weather has been as nice as this week. My girlfriend Beth and I enjoyed working from a nice beer garden just the other day, I always change up the locations I work from to stay productive so I can be flexible in that sense. However, my working hours are typically 8 am - 10 pm and I'd keep going if I could. Whilst it might look amazing on Instagram when I'm travelling round all of these photogenic cafes and having an ice-cream in the park, I'm always working, a LOT longer than most.
Whilst Adele is Chasing Pavements, even if it leads nowhere, I'm busy chasing those payments. The more I work with clients, the more I roll my eyes all the way back to 1996 over how bad they are at paying. (Soz to all you good eggs out there who pay within 30 days – you're the best). There's also the unknown of when money is coming in, I'm always trying to generate new business and sometimes it causes me to become extremely anxious. I always have to make more money than I actually need incase of any unexpected outgoings or if I don't get payments on time, just so I can keep on living! I'm really lucky to gain a lot of work through word of mouth recommendations after collecting over 50 awesome five star reviews from my lovely clients on Facebook and Google. I also couldn't have had the success I've had without my support network, I'm starting to build up a really great team. I've got a second photographer now, a videographer, my mentor and my social media manager - I bloody love my awesome team.
If I'm not working, I'm networking
Like I've just mentioned, when you're self-employed you have to keep networking and selling yourself because otherwise no one will know who you are! I've gained so much from networking in Sheffield over the last few years and when I walk around this lovely city, I see all of the wonderful businesses and people I've worked with over the years. When I hear someone mention photography, I want them to think of me and I've gained so much business from networking and proving myself since starting my company - it's been so so worth it!
All the food!
Amongst everything else, when you're self-employed you find yourself eating on the go when you're frantically dashing between meeting to meeting with a couple of venue visits in-between. My schedule is always so jam-packed, I was really bad at preparing healthy meals for a long time but I'm starting to get better. It's hard not to grab a quick sandwich and carry on running but since my girlfriend Beth and I have started planning and preparing our meals in bulk on a Sunday, it's saved so much money.
The Social Life (or lack of it)
Being self-employed is incredibly lonely, and it’s hard because you don’t have a boss, that annoying woman you dislike sat on the desk opposite you or even the chatty receptionist to bounce ideas off, or someone to comfort you with a cup of tea and a biscuit on a bad day. Over the last few years, I've cancelled so many plans and made LOADS of sacrifices to allow my business to grow and it's been one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. Now, I find that most of my friends are also self-employed because they just get it. This is why it’s super important to network with like minded people who understand. Because it often feels like the rest of the world doesn’t.
Zero Sick Days
Sick days are not allowed. If I fall poorly these days, I can’t really spend the day on the sofa binge watching documentaries on Netflix. Instead, I actually toughen up and carry on. Unless I'm physically sick and I'm struggling to move, I would never dream of sitting on the sofa feeling sorry for myself with a duvet over me because I love my clients too much and I wouldn't ever want to let them down. If I ever am that sick though, I do have a back-up plan in place so I won't have to cancel any wedding photography!
Despite sounding like a negative Nancy I bloomin’ love love love what I do, and can’t imagine not being my own boss (mostly because I’m rubbish at trusting anyone’s judgement over my own). I just wanted to cover both the positives and negatives of being self-employed because boy it's hard but I wouldn't change it for the world.
It's taken me years to get to where I am today and I considered earlier this week how I should measure my success... I might not have all the money I want but I've won awards and worked on some brilliantly awesome projects. My website and photography style has come a long way, when I look back three years, my photos are awesome now compared to what they looked like when I started. The first photos I started taking which were once on my website, are now hidden away because they just don't compare to my photos now. I've gained loads of PR attention and been featured on the radio, TV and in magazines. I've also met so many lovely people and I wouldn't change my job for the world.
I hope this article has expressed my reality. Whilst many people see me as a photographer who clicks a button and gets to travel the world, I'm actually doing around twenty different full-time jobs, managing my finances, replying to emails doing admin, planning schedules... the list goes on... So next time you receive a text from me saying "sorry I'm busy", it's not because I don't want to see you or I'm making excuses, it's because being self-employed is hard and I'm constantly pushing myself to the limit and it breaks my heart to have to cancel on my friends and family.
Are any of you guys self-employed, had any of the above or any of your own surprises? Let me know!