How I Went From Backed Up To Back In The Game

Let’s get really honest really fast here. I consider myself a good business person. I make decisions swiftly and effectively most of the time. I have strong ideas with a lot of follow through. But the reality is that being a good business person isn’t all about gavel banging and big ideas; that is just the fun stuff. I’m good at the fun stuff. I can take pictures for days, post on social media endlessly, find topics to write about on my blog, etc. etc. etc…

But that isn’t the GRIT that it takes to run a successful business.

Let’s define successful business. I don’t just mean a “working” business, or a “bringing in money” business, or a “getting by” business. I mean a business that runs smoothly, is profitable in the ways that it wants to be, and treats clients in the most respectful way possible.

I started my business when I was 22 years old, and was 21 when I started laying the groundwork for it. I was very naive. I had no experience in running a business or in business at all. I never even bothered to take a class in college despite having that available to me (Oh what I would do differently now!). I would say that I entered into my business selfishly. Not in every way, but in some ways that ended up being really detrimental to my work. The number one way I messed up from the get-go is thinking that I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to do. Let me explain.

My stubbornness in wanting to do only what pleased me was really good in some ways. It allowed me to focus like a lightning rod on the tasks that brought me joy. That proved to be helpful in starting a very specific business that eventually grew in only those aspects. I wouldn’t do that differently at all. I would never go back and accept odd jobs or different types of photography sessions because that was not my passion and therefore not my pursuit.

What took me six or seven years to learn was how to separate what I want from what my clients deserve. A business requires two types of respect: respect for your clients and respect for yourself. I had respect for myself, enough to only do what I loved. I lacked in respect for clients. I did what they asked for the most part, but I did it in my own time. I lacked respect for other people’s time, and in doing so, didn’t respect my own time.

For years and years I told myself that I simply got too many emails to deal with it. I wouldn’t respond to people, or I would take months to get back with people. It cost me money in jobs, but far more importantly, it cost me relationships. My attitude was that I was above it all – that I could respond whenever it suited me and I rarely thought about that person waiting. (Well, I might be exaggerating at how bad I was, but still, it wasn’t good!). I decided at some point that I wanted to change my behavior so I hired an assistant. She helped a lot and I was able to mostly stay on top of my work. It was a wonderful 2 1/2 years. And then that ended, and in October I found myself alone again working as a business of one.

Come December 1st I knew I wanted to make a change, and I didn’t want to go back to my old ways of being unreliable. I liked the feeling of being in control of every aspect of my business. In that way it felt the same as doing self-portraits. I love being in full control, so why not in business as well as creativity?

On December 1st I reformed. I became a totally new business person. I made these significant changes:

  1. Email Labels. I have had email labels for a long time, but I really got to using them properly. I made two folders, one called “Fresh Greetings” and another called “Pending”. Every time I would receive an email I would put it in Fresh Greetings, and when I answered it, I took it out. When my Fresh Greetings folder was empty, I knew I had finished my emails. My Pending folder is for emails that couldn’t be responded to yet.

  2. The 24 Hour Policy. I decided I would not let any emails go unanswered for more than 24 hours. I carved time out every single morning for 20-30 minutes to knock out my emails. I am a morning person, so I use my best energy on tasks that aren’t as much fun as taking pictures or writing, etc. So, my best 20 minutes are spent emailing. Further, as emails come in through the day, if I am conveniently at my desk and can answer, I do. I don’t let it linger. I used to think I would look too “uncool” if I started answering people immediately, but it is better for everyone.

  3. I shifted my attitude. I used to see emails as annoying or time consuming. Now I see them as neither. I look upon the sender with genuine love and appreciation that they took the time to email me. I want to give them that same respect by sending my heartfelt thanks to their message, or to give clients the respect they deserve with a prompt reply.

From December until now I have completed a photo a day challenge, spent a full month traveling, and am selling my house. Busy, right? Even in that chaos, I haven’t gone more than 24 hours without responding to an email. Further, in January alone, I received 3 emails from clients thanking me for being so easy to work with – for making decisions quickly and for responding immediately.

I stopped the toxic behavior I was exhibiting. If there was a decision to be made, I used to put it off for weeks if I was unsure. Now, I make it immediately. I don’t wait and let it linger, I simply search my soul and say what I feel is best. Sometimes it means outright turning jobs down, or taking them, or telling people to hold off for a better time. Sometimes it involves answering interview questions right then and there, and other times I simply can’t at all. This new way of working has revolutionized my time.

The downside is the increased desire to check my phone and make sure my inbox is cleared, that all decisions are made etc. So, the next step in my business reform is to lock my phone up after a certain time of day until I wake up. Productivity should only be taken so far. How far? As far as you can take it to be on top of your work while not letting everything you do need a productive excuse. Read more about that idea in this incredible article.

And it isn’t just emails. It is everything. For example, I have a tax day on the first of each month. I organize and categorize my receipts. I backup my files once a week. I follow up with people by creating events on my calendar to remind me.

The big change I made was IMMEDIACY. I always thought that was crazy. I thought people who were on top of their emails didn’t have a personal life, or were addicted to their phones. That doesn’t have to be true. I spend most of my days without a phone in front of me. I try to be in the moment for whatever I am doing, truly committed. I have found that I have more freedom – with my time as well as in my mind. I no longer stress about getting back to people. I no longer worry about if I’ve missed a deadline. And while I do suffer from thinking even more about my work now that I’m on top of it, I know that I can change that as well and not let the immediacy of my business bleed into my personal time.

Yes, it could all crumble and I could slide back into my old ways. But so far, so good. I’m 4 months into working alone again and I have never had a more smooth running business.

Want more details or to share what works for you? Leave a comment!

I am arranging a small mentorship for anyone interested in this topic.
A totally-free, just-because-I-love-business, Skype session with about 10 or so people.
To turn YOUR business around and to help each other grow!
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