Five years ago today, I walked into my corporate office for the last time. I turned in my employee badge, my laptop, took the rest of the odds & ends from my desk, and bade farewell to the folks I’d spent the last two years working alongside. I was SO EXCITED!
But mostly excited!
See, the day I gave my notice that I’d be leaving my corporate job was the same day we found out that Matt’s position at the church was being dissolved as of July 1. So, in short, I was quitting a very stable 9-5 gig, not knowing whether Matt would have a job a month after my quit date. And everyone thought we were nuts!
But we just KNEW this was what we were being called to do- to step out, make a huge leap of faith, despite the fact that it looked totally crazy from the outset.
Because truthfully, doing both my 9-5 and my photography business was making life really hard. I was tired, stressed out, and on the verge of tears more often than not, due to the amount of time I was putting in across both efforts- 80 hours a week combined was my new normal. And though part of that comes with the territory of building a small business, Matt & I reached a breaking point- I couldn’t keep burning the candle at both ends indefinitely. We were newlyweds, and I had worked away the first year and a half of our marriage.
So we made the decision that the chance was worth taking, because being able to enjoy life together was more important to us than being safe and risk-free.
And here we are, five years later. Not only did I survive, but we’re doing even better than I could have possibly imagined! We’re a husband and wife team, working from home, we’re able to take time off as we need and want without worrying about using all our corporately-allotted vacation days… we’re able to do MORE of life together.
Five years feels like a big accomplishment. It’s one of the most common benchmarks you hear quoted when talking about small business failure; something like 50% of all new small businesses won’t make it to their fifth birthday. And though I’ve been in business for seven years, there’s something extra exciting about the fact that today marks five years of complete self-sufficiency!
And in honor of half a decade of full-time small biz ownership, I’m doling out five of my best tips for a business that goes the distance!
1. Know your numbers
This is a CRUCIAL mistake that so many entrepreneurs make- heck, it’s one that I made, too! In the name of loving what I do, I mis-charged for a long time because I simply didn’t understand what it cost to do business. I didn’t have a firm grasp on what my time was worth, on what my out-of-pocket expenses were for each portrait session, wedding, etc. As my friend Adam Mason says, you can survive like that for six months, but not knowing your costs and, as a result, not charging appropriately can put you out of business faster than you can say “business checking account.”
2. Avoid burnout by knowing your limits
I’m all for pushing the boundaries of what you believe you’re capable of. Absolutely! But I’m also all for knowing yourself and the “absolutely can’t go there” breaking points each of us have. And for each person, that’s going to look different- maybe you can personally handle a completely packed schedule week in and week out and still feel sane, but I know that for me? That’s a recipe for disaster if I don’t also build in down time.
Whenever you reach a point of wanting to retreat into a dark hole because of the stress/overwork/whatever, take a moment to figure out what it is that resulted in you getting to that place. And then outline a plan in the future to avoid getting there again. (Read more on that HERE)
3. Find your people
Whether that’s other entrepreneurs in your field, or a network of business owners in your area, find other folks who you can encourage and support (and who will do the same for you). Our industry friends-turned-real-life-friends have been the ones to help Matt & I through some of the biggest conundrums & struggles we’ve encountered with AGP. Whether that’s help with diffusing a tense situation with a vendor, or brainstorming new ways to spoil our couples, having people we KNOW we can call on when things are hard has been invaluable. I truly believe that without those people, we would have closed shop a long time ago.
4. Outsource, outsource, outsource
Oh man, this one is so important! I firmly believe that small businesses CANNOT sustainably operate as a one-man/woman show for more than a couple of years. There’s just so many different jobs that go into entrepreneurship! If your desire is to GROW your business, to be really, really good at your craft, you need to be willing to let go of the areas of your business that are either holding you back, or are distracting you from excelling at the things you’re best at.
This has been a gradual process for me over the last few years and I’ll admit- I had a REALLY hard time giving up control. But because I’ve slowly given away pieces of our business that, let’s be honest, were never my strong points anyways (bookkeeping, album design, client gifts, etc), it’s enabled us to grow SO MUCH MORE in the areas we really love, the ones that make a big difference in the business! Workshops and products for creative small business owners, my ballerina series, shooting in France, planning The Signature Atelier in Paris with Katherine Bignon- all of these are things I’m able to devote more time to because I’ve taken the aforementioned tasks off of my plate.
5. Remember why you’re in business in the first place
Think of it this way: when you’re leaving your house for a particular destination but aren’t sure how to get there, you have to type an address into your GPS, correct? Without that address, your phone has no way of helping you navigate- you’d end up driving around without any direction, making little to no progress toward your end destination.
Your business is no different. Andy Stanley’s quote from his book Visioneering is one of my favorites: “Vision is a clear mental picture of what could be, fueled by a conviction of what should be.” (More on that here!)
Could you run a business without some sort of governing vision or mission? Yeah, you could. But let’s be honest: when the going gets tough, how long do you think you would keep plugging away if your purpose isn’t tied to something more than just “hey, this’ll be fun, right?”
Take the time to process through WHY you’re in business in the first place- it can instill a sense of stability and purpose when you’re weathering the ups and downs of entrepreneurial life.
Cheers to businesses that go the distance, my friends!