Work-life balance is the ultimate, isn’t it? It’s elusive and mysterious and almost impossible to achieve as a small business owner in the creative industry. If it’s not an urgent email, it’s crafting a blog post, fulfilling Etsy orders or reordering your branded stationery stash because you’ve written so many handwritten notes that the bundle pack you thought was too many is dwindling way too quickly. We do it all, you guys.
I’m not going to lie… it took me a long time to find even a smidgeon of work-life balance! As a full time nanny to three boys under 6, AND a wedding and boudoir photographer, plus a wife, sister, friend, mentor, etc., it was a lot of trial and error before I felt like I could even see the surface of the water, never mind actually come up for air to breathe!
But, it happened. Eventually, I found myself in a rhythm I could stick with until I take my business full-time at the end of the month, and develop a new set of habits to help me get closer to a healthy work-life balance. I’m not here to say it was easy or that there weren’t times that I cried all the tears, but I want to share a few tasks that helped me get past the nights of wanting a goblet of wine. Because they did come, but they passed with a little purposeful planning and intention!
1. Let your business run itself while you can’t with an auto-responder.
I borrowed this amazing idea from my friend, Kat of Dear Sweetheart Events, and honestly can’t remember my email life before the auto reply! I manage my email through Gmail and have had it set to vacation mode since January, right after learning about the wonder of automatic responses at Creative at Heart.
I share a quick message letting the reader know that I’m excited to respond when I’m back in the office or within 48 hours (which allows me to surprise them with a quicker response!), link to a few pages on my site that point to important and frequently requested information (for me, wedding FAQ, portrait pricing, mentoring details, etc.), then list my office hours, a few places my work has been featured, and upcoming travel dates.
Most of the time, it points readers in the right direction to the specific inquiry they emailed about, or it simply lets them know when to expect a response. Either way, it helps manage expectations and set communication standards for clients when I can’t do it right away!
2. Tackle & prioritize that to-do list that won’t quit.
We all have a list of things that need our attention. For most of us, it’s probably overwhelming and staring at us whenever we sit down at our desk. I’m a list-maker and I love crossing things off so while I have one big running to-do list.
I take a few minutes every couple of days to update smaller and more manageable lists. My goal is to always keep my clients at the heart of my business and that doesn’t just mean paying clients, but vendors and editors as well. If they are a part of my business in some way and invested in me, my services and/or my work, they matter.
I prioritize tasks based on necessity because working two full-time jobs and trying to maintain a life outside of work means some things will slip through the cracks, but at least I can decide which ones they are. I ask myself what my clients need/are expecting, what I want them to have/what I want to surprise them with, and what will go unnoticed? For example, I’d first deliver a wedding gallery and email vendors with the blog link and images, then place a print order to send as a post-wedding gift, and finally reach out to my graphic designer about updating my brand collateral.
Deciding what needs to be taken care of now, and what can wait a little while longer gives me more control over the experience I’m providing, which ultimately is what drives my business.
3. Build a social media presence when you can’t actually be present.
There are so many apps, blog plug-ins, and tools that help manage social media, but sometimes, doing things the old fashioned way (you know… by yourself!) is totally necessary. Instagram is the hardest for me. I can go days without a post, then share 3 in a day because I’m too excited about everything to wait. Instagram is also really challenging because there isn’t a way to store future posts, schedule them, and have them push on their own.
So here I am… it’s my third day of working a fourteen hour day in a row, I’m covered in goldfish dust and sunscreen when I get home, and I realize I haven’t shared anything on Instagram since the weekend so my clients probably think I’m not in business anymore. Not really, but what’s the plan? Social media upkeep is imperative and I’m failing!
So, I pull from the archives. I keep a separate folder of ready to go iPhone images, already edited in VSCOcam, and I say something about how beautiful the flowers are in May, add a witty hashtag (at least I think it’s funny, right?), and post! Or I can go to my galleries page, download an image, and do the same. 2 minutes and done. When you’re visiting a beautiful venue or location, perusing Anthropologie, or having dinner with friends, stock up on images you can use to relate to your followers later!
4. Call in the troops.
When all else fails, turn to community. As creatives, we know that we’re the only ones that run our business. There are no reserves, so we have to manage every moving piece in our businesses. But we don’t have to do it alone! Finding a community of driven, positive, like-minded creatives has given my business the support it needs to run successfully and it’s given me the friendships and relationships that fulfill my life as a whole. It’s the conversation had between friends over coffee that helps me find my way back from wanting to pull my hair out to feeling motivated. Friends, I believe you can do this! You can and you already are!