You can’t do a good job if your job is all you do.
At the end of the day, your job is an extension of your life. We learned this lesson the hard way, and we’re still learning it. We’re learning that sometimes the best thing you can do for your business is to give it some space. Wide. Open. Space.
As most photographers would say, we’ve always put our clients first. In the six years we’ve been in business, we’ve held tight to this philosophy, knowing that our clients are our greatest partners. In every decision we made, the guiding voice in our heads told us that making ourselves available to our clients would naturally bring us success. And so, we made ourselves available. We answered business phone calls after 5 pm. We shared our Sunday afternoons so we could accommodate our clients’ schedules. We rearranged our plans when an album edit would come in. And, we let clients into the half of our personal lives that might fit with half of theirs.
But it wasn’t sustainable. It required that we put on a mask so that we could do what we thought our clients expected of us. It wore us out.
About a year ago, we realized that we were very tired. Not in any grandiose sort of way, because on the surface, our business and our blog were as alive as ever. But we knew that the fire in our belly needed some rekindling. We realized we had spent so much energy pouring everything into our business that we had failed to acknowledge ourselves as the individuals behind the business. We needed a vacation – and not just a quick dip in the water! We needed a creative sabbatical.
Together, we slated plans to leave our business for two months each; and there would be one month where none of us would be in Colorado to maintain business as usual. We finalized our accounting and outstanding album orders, made lists and back-up plans, and we said no to incoming wedding leads and portrait shoots that were to happen during that time. The dates of our sabbatical were fixed and nothing would change that.
Before we left, we told each and everyone one of our clients about our plan. I’d be lying if I said we weren’t terrified, but to our surprise they rejoiced for us.
I spent a month backpacking Europe and had the time of my life. On a rainy night in Barcelona, after a full day of living, I booked two weddings over the phone in a crowded locoturio. My bucket was full.
Jenna and her husband, Matt, took off for the U.S. Virgin Islands to live in a tent for two months, and even started a blog called “Two months in a Tent!” Our clients couldn’t get enough of it and loved reading about their adventure. And even when they arrived to the islands and circumstances proved it wasn’t quite the creative sabbatical they had hoped for (think rats and snakes in their tent!), they returned home and didn’t worry what anyone would think.
When they returned to Colorado, it wasn’t business as usual. Although Matt and Jenna came home early, they stayed true to the plan and started a ‘staycation.’ I came home to find them brainstorming big dreams on pieces of tag board, creating art, and finding their center.
Because we took the time to step away from life (and business) as usual, our business is forever changed. The perspective and energy we gained in our time away has done more for our business and art than we could have ever imagined. We found new ways to fuel our passion. We learned that there is more to learn looking out a bus window than we’d ever realized.
Moving forward, we carry this knowledge and fiercely protect it. Although we won’t always be able to have two months away, we’re still getting out there. In October, I will go to Ethiopia as part of a social project. It will be the peak of our portrait season here in Colorado, but I know that my clients need me to take time to refuel. It translates into better art, better conversation, and better business.
If you think your company will die without you on the ground for a few weeks, that you just can’t miss a single networking event, or that you should skip out on that weekend away because a client needs you…think again.
Because you can’t do a good job if your job is all you do.
Written by Katie Thurmes, co-owner, Jenna Walker Photographers
Katie Thurmes, her sister Jenna and brother-in-law Matt Walker are industry leaders in the Colorado wedding market with work that is considered both emotional and real. Jenna Walker Photographers imagery has been featured in The Knot, People Magazine Southern Weddings, the New York Times blog and more. They photograph 45 high-end weddings each year, including destinations as far as Australia. Their portraiture, TreeSwing Kids, is lifestyle-based, drawing celebrity clients including Carmelo Anthony & Lala Vasquez. In all of it, they believe in working hard, playing hard – and choosing substance over the superficial. In 2010, they launched their women’s photography retreat series – Substance Workshops. Moving forward in 2011, they are most excited to unveil a social entrepreneurial component to their brand. At the core of this is their belief that if you strive for significance, success will follow.