Advice on how to successfully manage working from home
And the good stuff that comes with it
As photographers in this day and age, it’s quite common for us to run our businesses out of our own homes. Gone are the days when being a professional photographer meant you had to have a physical “studio”. Even the term “studio” has come to mean something different to most people who think about photography. These days, professional photography encompasses all types of businesses, and more often than not, if you’re in the wedding photography business, you probably run that “studio” right out of your own home.
Having a home office/business/studio definitely has its plus sides. You are your own boss. You don’t have to share your working space with anyone. Your commute to work is non-existent, as are almost all of your office rental overheads (but don’t think you don’t have ANY overheads. You do). You have everything at your fingertips and you’re never late to greet the kids when they come home because you’ll never be stuck in traffic.
However, running your business out of your home can also have its drawbacks and a lot of the time these aren’t really apparent until you’ve done the day to day of it. You don’t have colleagues, there’s no water cooler chats, there’s no coffee breaks and there’s no commute. Yep. I put commute in both pros and cons because it’s true. There’s also a hell of a lot of distractions. Facebook. Laundry. Dishes. The neighbour’s kid screaming “Mamma” constantly. The gardener next door with his excessive use of machinery. I could go on. Working from home can really start to drive you a little cray cray… you are at work 100% of the time you are at home. And this can prove challenging for many people.
So how do you work from home and still keep your sanity? No… really, how? Haha… I kid, I kid.
In my last 5 years of the 10 I’ve been in business I have worked exclusively from home. And sometimes it’s been empowering while other times it’s had me pulling out my hair. It’s one thing to leave the house everyday and take the bus to work in the city, but it’s another to switch from home-mode to work-mode when the environment you’re in doesn’t change a single bit. How do you switch off at the end of the day? How do you really separate work and home? While I don’t think I’ve mastered this, I have compiled a list of things that help me to handle it. Some of it’s obvious and some of it had to be learned by me the hard way – like not reading work emails before bed. There are many times when I’ve been sitting at my computer, working away, when I’ve looked outside and really wished I had a photoshoot. But that’s not always the case. 80% of what a photographer does is actually not using a camera.
Set hours for yourself and stick to it
If you’re like me, then you don’t blink once at working at weird hours of the day or night. But if you work from home, it’s important to set yourself working hours and keep to it. Back when I was working a 9 – 5 office job, I relished in the fact that I could go home at the end of the day and not think about work until 9 the next morning when I had to be there again. When you work from home, this is actually one of the biggest things you tend to skip over when you set your business up. I know, it’s easy to keep working all day and night because you love what you do. But it can lead to a burn out extremely quickly and nobody needs that on their hands. Just because you have a home office does not mean you should be working outside of the hours you set for your business. If you set your hours as Monday – Friday 9am to 5pm, then stick to it. If you work weekends, as most Photographer’s do, then set aside a day during the week where you don’t touch a single bit of work. I know it’s hard. Especially when it’s right there and needs to be done. However, it can also wait. Working hours will also help you to be more efficient with your day, knowing you have to complete something before you sign off.
Have a schedule, plan your time
Having a schedule is probably the next most important thing in running a home based business. It will not only help you plan your time within the hours of business you set for yourself, but it will also help you keep track of things. I’m a huge fan of the old-fashioned paper planners and diaries. I just can’t keep everything together in a tiny little iPhone calendar and have it make sense. I need it in front of me when it runs out of battery and I also need to be able to put it down and not look at it if I choose to. A great planning tool, if you’re old-school like me is the Photographers’s Planner from Colorvale, which is a Photographer’s all-in-one planner and business tool. And it’s sexy! Planning your time and having a schedule reduces the risk that you’ll get up in the morning and…. because you probably do everything yourself…. finding it hard to prioritise what you should be working on… and instead, working on what you like to most. So, by having a schedule in place that allows for different tasks to be done at different times and days you plan the day way more efficiently than if you just wing it after your first cup of coffee in the morning.
Don’t work through lunch/breaks
I am so guilty of this one that it’s almost laughable. It’s just so EASY to do. You’re there. Your work is there. Your lunch is there. Why not? Because everyone needs a break. You should be allowing yourself at least a 30 minute lunch break. If you can, go out for lunch. Meet a friend or a colleague, take the dog for a walk, leave the house! Or at least leave the space you work at. Working through your breaks is a guaranteed way to create stress for yourself and make yourself LESS productive in doing so. Everyone needs breaks. No one can do a task constantly and not get sick of it. If you work through breaks, you’re more likely to feel this way, which in turn will only cause procrastination for the next time the task comes up.
Don’t wear Pjs all day, do hair
Sounds silly. But it’s true. Getting up and getting yourself dressed and made-up is essential to a healthy working from home business. It will not only help you to focus on tasks more easily, it will also give a sense of actually GOING to work. And that can be one of the biggest hurdles in working from home. You don’t actually leave your private space to enter your work space. It’s more often than not the same house, if not the same room as your living room, especially if you live in an inner-city apartment. It can very easily blur the lines between work mode and home mode if you don’t dress the part and you’ll be more easily distracted and do tasks that are not work related.
Don’t do the housework
Which brings me to my next point. Don’t do the housework. If you’re not getting up and getting “dressed” for work then it’s very easy for you to subconsciously still have your “mind” at home, leaving you more likely to do tasks like the laundry or the dishes that stacked up the night before. This means you are completely inefficiently using your work time. Think about it, if you had a job that placed you in an office in the city, you couldn’t just go home and do the laundry. You’d have to wait until you got home. So why is it that we do this with a job that we work at from home? It’s still your job. You do not have to feel guilty about working from home and feel that you aren’t doing your domestic duties because you are within physical reach of them 24/7. Stick to those working hours and only do the housework outside of them. So get up, and get dressed for success. It’s cliche because it’s true.
Un-clutter your workspace
Yup. Un-cluttered desk = un-cluttered mind. It’s REALLY easy to let your workspace become cluttered in a short amount of time. I know. I am completely guilty of this. Ask my Husband… he complains ALL the time. And while it’s true I know where everything is, it does help me to tidy it up once and again. My mind feels less stressed and I am less distracted when I do tidy it. I find that because I have no staff, I have no-one to delegate things to. So when I get something that isn’t super top on my to-do list for that day, it gets put aside. Like an invoice here or a package there. Having in and out trays for this kind of thing really helps to organise the space and to de-clutter.
Have a comfortable chair
Like, expensive comfy. There is zero point in sitting at a desk for almost 80% of your time if you are sitting in a chair that is uncomfortable or impractical. Our backs, necks and spines take a real beating as Photographers. We lug around heavy equipment, and usually more than we actually need, so we don’t need to be adding any stress to our backs by having a chair that is completely unsuitable. If it’s not height adjustable to your desk, get rid of it. If it’s too hard, add some pillows to sit on. If you can’t adjust the back, you’ll most likely slouch. A proper chair is a something that should be high on your priority list if you don’t have one. Your back will thank you when you’re 80 and you’ll save money on the chiropractic bills which you can put back into your business.
Plan time for inspiration
Working from home can be such an awesome thing. But it can also get you down a little. You don’t leave the house much, you work too much… yadda yadda. So that’s why it’s essential to keep yourself inspired. Attending galleries and exhibitions is a fantastic way to keep your inspirational need satiated. A vernissage is a particularly good event to attend for inspiration as the artist exhibiting is more often than not present and available to chat with. This is not only a great way to stay inspired in your own work, it’s also a brilliant way to network. Both by getting to know another talented artist and also if you take along those some friends and colleagues as a networking exercise.
Don’t neglect personal projects
I cannot stress enough how important personal projects are to an artist. And even more so to an artist that works from home. Undertaking a personal project can be a big commitment, I know, and it can sometimes feel a little like everything else gets in the way of completing it. You have wedditing to complete, you have product viewings to host, you have albums to create, you have weddings to shoot. We work a lot. But personal projects not only provide you with some fun, they also help you to keep your skills sharp and take you out of your every day niche. We all have things we wish we could shoot, so why not try it with a personal project. Better yet, why not try a 52 week challenge or a photographic challenge that takes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to shoot things you wouldn’t otherwise shoot in your professional life. You’ll not only be a a saner person, you’ll be a better photographer.
Learn something new every week
Whether it be learning how to use a function on your camera you’ve never used or teaching yourself more about SEO, it’s important to keep learning things. Even if it’s something small like how to properly set out a blog post or even finding out how many people statistically get married in your area in August, it’s all beneficial. Set yourself a goal to learn something new each week. It doesn’t matter how big or small it is but it has to be something you do not already know 100%. Put it in your weekly schedule and set aside an hour or so to complete it.
Use music while editing
Music is an excellent tool for concentration and can even help the time feel like it moves more quickly. It can occasionally feel really overwhelming to work from home and constantly hear things that create distraction. The neighbour’s kids coming home from school, the noisy gardener outside with his incessant power tool noise, the voices in your head (Did I say that out loud?)… Having music on can not only drown all of that out, but also aid in you being more efficient because it reduces distractions. Try it. When you’re in for a long wedding editing session, wedditing, put on some music and see how it affects you. I like to put on some happy, upbeat tunes while I weddit. Maybe something a bit romantic, too. It gets me smiling about the session I’m editing and reminds me of how awesome a day it was to capture it. It actually makes wedditing fun.
Have a quitting time
I’ll ram this in again because it really is that important. When you have a quitting time. Really quit. If you close your business hours at 6pm, then really knock off work. Of course, you’re your own boss. You can choose your hours and you can choose to work overtime. But unlike most jobs, you won’t pay yourself overtime. You’ll just work more. Urgency is one thing, but don’t keep working just because you can.
Don’t answer emails or take phone calls at 11pm
Obvious, right? But don’t do it. Seriously. Don’t.
Remember a time without smartphones? When texting didn’t exist and sending an email meant dialing up and waiting a stupendous amount of time for it to send? When I was growing up, it was considered rude to call someone after about 8pm. You’d probably interrupt their movie or tv show or even their dinner if they were into the European style of eating. People only called you at such an odd hour if it was A) an emergency or B) they were a relative from overseas. I pitied them if they were a telemarketer and they called during dinner! The ear lashing they’d get would be epic every time. It wasn’t uncommon to simply not answer the phone if the phone did ring at an odd hour.
These days, with everything being in our pockets, etiquette has slipped a little and we think nothing of emailing or texting at late or early hours because we know we can. But is that really something we should be doing in our business?
In my line of work, it’s not uncommon for clients to send me emails at all hours of the night. It’s understandable. They come home from work, they have their routine with the kids if they have any. They have dinner. They leave emails until last because that’s when they have a spare moment to get to it. But, while it’s perfectly ok for them to send you midnight emails, you should not be responding to them outside of the hours of operation you should have set for yourself. It will only cause stress and worry when you should be turning in to bed and possibly even prompt you to respond in order to relieve that stress. But I bet you, once that email has been sent to you, they’ve more than likely gone to bed or turned the phone off. So responding at such an hour will only result in them reading it in the morning anyway. Better that you do as they probably do and turn off your email alerts after a certain hour. You wouldn’t expect any other business to respond to emails or calls after their closing hours, so why should you?
Network like your life depends on it
Networking is one of the biggest tools for any home-based business. Because you are in charge of everything, unless you outsource, you will need to take this on as not just a good thing for your business, but also a good thing for your reputation. Networking can not only bring you new business ideas and ventures, but it can also lead to invaluable contacts.
It’s also lovely to have meetings and gatherings with other Photographers and vendors to keep up with current trends and generally to share ideas and information. You don’t have to wait for someone else to make contact with you. Join groups, send an email to someone you admire, host an event. You’ll find that more often than not people will respond positively because they too are sole traders most likely working from home offices.
Get together with colleagues
Socialising. We all need it. It’s good for our sanity. Getting together with colleagues can be such a luxury when you work from home. I bet some of you are even thinking about how you don’t have any colleagues to get together with. There’s no-one to chat with around the water-cooler… which in this case would probably be your kitchen tap. LOL. So, where are your colleagues? They are the people that do something similar to you and should be in the network you should have created. They also most likely have a lot in common with you given that you probably are in the same line of work. I know a lot of photographers see other photographers as stiff competition, and that’s okay. Competition can be a good thing… if it’s friendly. There’s business enough for everyone. So even though it may seem strange to have fun with the people that seem like your direct competition, it won’t impact you or your business in a negative way to socialise with them. You’ll even end up making lifelong friends with some of them. So give it a chance and offer a colleague an after work social.
Have an Office Buddy
This one is my personal favourite. Mostly because I have the best dog ever, but also because having an office buddy is the equivalent of chicken soup for the freelancer’s soul. Before I got Bentley, my days were spent behind the computer, constantly working. The days were short and the weather was COLD and DARK. I really had no reason to leave the house or my workspace for anything other than restocking the toilet paper and grocery shopping. I hadn’t yet made too many friends and I didn’t really know anyone in the city I’d moved to. After Bentley joined our family everything changed. I suddenly found myself having to stick to a schedule that I couldn’t ignore or procrastinate over. 3 times a day. Every day. He needs walking. And every day, he sits beside me at my workspace and keeps me company. Now, I no longer talk to myself! I talk to him. I even take him on photoshoots occasionally. Having a schedule for him also meant I need to learn how to plan my time within my business better, and he’ll have no problem telling me if I am working overtime. His body clock is more accurate than Greenwich!!
I hope that by reading this you’ve nodded along at least once and could see yourself in this situation. Working from home isn’t for everyone, but it is doable and you can have a successful business. I’m sure there are many more tips others could offer but these are the ones I’ve found to be the most helpful for me.
Do you also work from home? How has it been for you? Drop a message in the comments section and let me know.