Learning to run a successful photography business is a challenge all by itself but learning to juggle the responsibilities of being a full-time student and a business owner at the same time can be especially challenging.
To your professors, you are first and foremost a student and to your clients, you are first and foremost their photographer. You will be hard pressed to find a professor who will be sympathetic to your missed assignments simply because you “had to edit wedding photos” and your clients will have a hard time viewing you as a professional if you are “too busy with school” to promptly respond to messages and consistently deliver their photos on time. Both roles, student and business owner, demand a huge amount of your complete and undivided attention, and neither role allows much room for costly mistakes.
Although I photographed seniors and families throughout high school, I have only been an official wedding photography business owner for three years and for two of the past three years I have also been a full-time college student. Over the past few years I’ve learned a few things about running a business while being a full-time student and I’ve come to discover that the habits you develop (or fail to develop) will either turn these years into a stressful nightmare or into the most exciting and rewarding (albeit challenging) years of your life.
Through a lot of trial and error, I have worked hard to develop good habits to keep me happy and sane and today I’m sharing seven of the best habits which have helped me keep my head on straight, even during the craziest periods (like when I had back to back wedding weekends during midterms and traveled to three different states in the same month).
This is something that I think is key to running your business no matter what else is going on in your life, but when you’re a full-time student as well as a business owner, this is especially crucial. I know there are plenty of time management and calendar apps on the market, but for me, I know that I need to use a physical planner and write down my life on paper with my brightly colored pens. I bought generic planners in high school from Walmart but never really used them past the first few weeks of school and I knew that had to change once I got to college. This might sound superficial, but I decided to invest in a more attractive, creative planner that would motivate me to pull it out each day and use it. And you know what? It worked. I actually created my own planner which I used freshman year (I blogged about it here) and I’ve been using a Create365 planner since last August (which I absolutely LOVE). Use whatever works best for you, but once you pick some sort of planner, use it consistently for at least one complete semester.
This may be obvious, but it’s a biggie. Trust me when I say you do not want to turn an assignment in late or miss a payment simply because you never wrote down the due date. As soon as I open a new planner I sit down and enter the due dates for all my various bills (sales tax, insurance, credit card, and website to name a few). Next, I write down any weddings or other sessions that I have booked and I mark down the deadlines for delivering each session’s final images. Once the semester has started and I have the syllabuses for my classes I immediately add the due dates for all the assignments, especially marking out huge projects, papers, and exams. I’ve found it helpful to use one color for school related due dates, one color for photography due dates, and another color for financial due dates.
Every week my schedule is quite full, especially once I became more involved (see number 7) in extra-curricular activities at my school. My very first semester I didn’t set aside any particular time each week for my business and my business (and peace of mind) suffered as a result. Now at the beginning of each new semester, I block 8-10 hours of time which is to be used SOLEY for my business. Now, I don’t forget about my business the rest of the week, I continue to answer e-mails and messages, but my anything major, blog posts, editing, contracts, phone calls, and paperwork I try to save for those blocked “business” hours. Going into each week knowing that I have time set aside for my business has been a huge game changer.
While in the midst of a busy semester I simply do not have the time for big projects for my business such as updating my website and creating new pricing guides or products. It won’t hurt your business if you save those projects for breaks, and as a bonus, you will be able to tackle them with a refreshed mind free from the distractions of looming assignments and exams.
You do not need to be a full-time photographer with a prestigious art degree to be a pro in this industry. You do, however, need to treat your clients with a professional level of honest and open communication. I spent my four years of high school building up a client base around my hometown in central Pennsylvania and now nine months out of the year I live five hours away in Ohio. I have to be willing to explain to client’s why I now have such a limited availability back home. Along with being open about your current student status goes being firm with your availability and your pricing. I know there have been times when I was desperate for more clients so I drove hours away and charged way too little for my time. But as a student, my time is much more limited and therefore that much more valuable. Stick to your pricing and don’t be afraid to be the boss of your own availability.
Flowing right out of number five is number six. I’ll be honest, I’m not the best at remembering to do this consistently, but it’s important if you wish to maintain your client base in your hometown. This can be as simple as a photo ad which you share on all your social media sites a few weeks before you will be back home. This way your clients know when they can expect to be able to schedule a session with you.
My freshman year I had my friend group and my classes and that was about it, I didn’t take advantage of the many various extra-curricular activates and groups that my university offers. But last year I joined a household (my university’s version of a sorority), joined a ministry, and took part in some of the intramural sports offered in the spring. Being a student and business owner are both demanding jobs and you are going to become burnt out if you don’t allow yourself to relax and have some downtime. You are in college after all, and the same opportunities for adventures and close-knit communities won’t be so easily available once you graduate.
Are you currently a student and business owner? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!