The wedding photography industry seems to be obsessed with earning money and building a six-figure business. In today’s episode, I’m sharing the three metrics that I believe will actually lead to a happy and fulfilling work/life balance. Looking at client happiness, financial stability, and life outside of work, I’m opening up a broader discussion about what it means to run a successful photography business.
The Focused Photographers Podcast was created based on the idea that the most incredible tool for learning is a deep dive into any given topic from multiple perspectives. Join us every other week as we explore important topics, with host Daniel Moyer and a variety of guests offering different perspectives! Make sure you’ve hit that follow or subscribe button on your favorite podcast player to get notified each week as we air new episodes!
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REVIEW THE SHOW NOTES:
Success means more than six figures (2:05)
Client happiness (8:16)
Making a difference in your clients’ lives (10:29)
Five tips for establishing financial stability (14:32)
Enjoying life outside of your photography business (23:12)
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Review the Transcript:
Hey, Photographer friends. I’m Dan Moyer and welcome to the focused photographers podcast where photographers gather this episode is brought to you by the focus five newsletter, go to www dot focussed photographers.com/newsletter. It’s a newsletter I put out every single Thursday, and this entire episode, about three measurements for a happy, successful photography business really came out of one single newsletter I put out, there was sort of a venting newsletter about how our industry is really obsessed with this one metric for success. And that’s, that’s money or, or this marketing term of six figures. So I put it out. And it’s one of my most popular newsletters, and even on Instagram posts I posted years ago, probably about us about a year and a half ago, that basically said, you know, making six figures is not the goal, being happy and making a difference is the goal is still one of the most liked and commented things I’ve ever put out there.
And I’ve only recently really started to see a lot of the threads of the things that I care about. And the things I’m having, you know, conversations with other photographers about all coming together. And it’s these three measurements for success in a photography business. And this is really a 500 foot view of, of what each of these measurements for success are, you know, our industry focuses enough on money and stuff. But I want to have a real honest conversation. And I want to start this as really the three areas that I want to continue to really focus on in my coaching and the content that I put out there to really help photographers also, you know, continue to move beyond just the money aspect of it into these other metrics or these other measurements for success. So get ready for this one, I’m pretty excited about it. And I hope you find it meaningful and interesting. So without further ado, let’s hop in.
So if you’re part of my newsletter, you’ve already heard me talk about some of this stuff, or, or at least you’ve heard me sort of talking about the foundation of where this episode is coming from. But let me just dive right in here and say that this episode is coming from a place that I’m just noticing a lot that the education in the photography industry is overly focused, obsessed, even with the term, six figures. It’s a marketing term. And I believe that there’s more than that there’s three measurements for success in a photography business. But our industry is so focused on just this one money, right. But you’ll see this term, six figures pop up everywhere, you’ll see it in a lot of ads and stuff for you know, coaches and courses and everything. I’ve even saw one that says make your first million as a wedding photographer. But I think making money is not a problem, right? Like we all need to make money. And making money is great.
But it’s not the only goal. And the problem occurs with our industry’s obsession with it is that when we start to believe that making six figures will bring happiness or make you feel like you’ve made it in business, I hit six figures my second year in business. And I’m not saying that in any way to make me sound awesome, or whatever it was, it was a totally different market 13 years ago, when I first started out, but looking back on it now I can tell you that I would give up my six figure status in a heartbeat for more time with my now wife, more family picnics and and friends, birthday parties and all that kind of stuff. And I know I’m not alone in that, because I see so many photographers who are starting out and so excited about photographing that they take everything right, like they’re so hyped that somebody likes their like the way they take pictures and likes their art and likes the that person’s craft so much that they will give them money to do it for them.
And that’s an exciting thing for a new photographer. So much so that they booked themselves every weekend and you know, with doubles, and they book every kind of session on the sun, and they hustle and it’s awesome. And it’s incredible for a moment. You know, if you’re like me, you know what that’s like when you receive the first check for like several $1,000. And you freak out like, oh my god, I can’t believe I just got a check for $2,000 Whoa, right. But that incredible moment goes away really quick. And everybody starts to realize that there’s a trade off. And that first trade off is often relationships and then after that it’s physical health. And then after that it’s mental health and burnout, right? As a long term motive motivator money is at the bottom of this list. And if you look at any of the world’s thought leaders or scientists that talk about and research motivation, you will discover quickly that things like purpose, your why you know being of service to others and things like that are what’s going to provide the long lasting drive to take your business
To next levels and new levels, right. And I’m well aware that there’s going to be some disagreement about this. But I would say that our photography businesses purpose goes way beyond just generating money. If money were the only measurement of success in our photography businesses, then we wouldn’t be having a conversation or as many conversations about burnout or being tired all the time, or missing family, or how we wish our clients how we wish our clients would give us the validation of an email or a phone call after they receive their wedding photos. There’s way more to it than money. And this whole thing sort of reminds me of this story that I heard, and I cannot remember where I heard it from. But it’s a story about an author and artists and a billionaire. And it goes like this. Basically, there’s an author and an artist, and they’re standing in a party, and they’re talking and they’re catching up and seeing each other and while and all sudden, this billionaire walks in the room. And the author having written about the billionaire starts, you know, talking about their investments and how they got all their money and, and how many cars they have in their houses and all this stuff. And the the artist sort of, you know, unamused looks up and says,
Well, I have something that the billionaire would never have. And the author is like, fascinated, like, well, what could you possibly have that this billionaire would never have? And the artists just reply, simply enough, I have enough. And the thing that sort of not worries me, but the thing that I think is really important to understand is that the peaks are never high enough. And we’re constantly chasing more money, for the status for the house, for the car, for the whatever, and it’s just there’s no ceiling to where you want it to go. And it’s just ultimately leads to this sort of frustration and burnout because there’s life outside of business. So these three measurements for success in a photography business are the things that I’ve sort of noticed that I spend a lot of time talking about already. And I’ve only recently realized that they sort of all follow the same path of of leading towards a photography business that is fulfilling, and, and joyful and also profitable. So that’s what this episode is about. It’s about talking about these three measurements for success in photography, business, and they are number one, client happiness, number two, financial stability, and number three, enjoying life outside of a photography business.
Now, I’m going to give you this last sort of 500 foot view of each of them in this episode. And I could each one of these could be its own episode and multiple volumes on top of that, but I’ve definitely, I’m already talking about a lot of these in the nitty gritty in my newsletter, which if you’re not a subscriber there go to focus photographers.com/newsletter, it’s called the focus five, it’s a weekly newsletter I put out every Thursday, that just covers a lot of these like same topics, but maybe broken down into some more bite sized topics and things like that. But I’m gonna go through each one of these from the 500 foot view, discuss them a little bit in the hopes that they sort of bring up a broader discussion about what a successful business looks like, that has happy people behind it, who feel like they are making good money and getting time with their families and have happy clients. So here they are client happiness, financial stability, and enjoying life outside of your photography business. So this first one is all about sort of client happiness and where that comes from, if you’ve ever had a client ghost you after you’ve delivered their their gallery, or their wedding photos, and you know how strange it feels where you put all this, you know, blood sweat and tears in and you’ve held up your end of the bargain.
And you expect some kind of validation from that for your, you know, for them to honor your creativity or honor the hard work that you’ve done. And when you don’t get it, it’s this misalignment that occurs where you thought that there was something there that wasn’t or you misjudged the relationship, and then you start to wonder if they even like their photos, and so on. And it’s this like, you know, negative thought process that just takes us down. And we all want our clients to be happy, right? Like, like, it’s awesome when you know, client shares your pictures and or shares their pictures and, and tags you and you know, you see their photographs on, you know, on their, their walls in their homes. And if you’ve been doing it for a while, like it’s really sweet to like have them reach back out to you. And, you know, you see a couple who you photographed five years ago or 10 years ago and they post a picture you know, that you know, of their grandparents or something that may have passed away and you end up taking this you know, last picture of a grandmother or grandfather something like that. And it’s like you know that there’s like this meaning behind it and we know that you know, we want cluster like are their photos and all that stuff.
But I think you know how to make your clients happy is going to vary from one one photographer to another. And I have a pretty good idea of how to do this. I’ve refined it quite a bit over the last decade. And I think you know, the way that I do it, it also is very applicable to other photographers but the foundation of how to make your clients happy is one really to fulfill your promises, but to also to fulfill or fill the valleys and elevate the peaks of their experience. But there’s an unspoken stuff also about blurring the line between what the expected photographer client relationship looks like. And all the stuff. There’s, like I said, lots of different ways to make your clients happy. But suffice it to say that, you know, if your clients aren’t happy, then your business is going to be in your business longevity is going to be in jeopardy. Wow, that was a tongue twister. Holy moly. All right. So there’s like this other level, though, of clients who are just happy, right? Like, yeah, they’re just happy with their photos. And I think that it goes deeper than just happy clients. And that’s making a difference in their lives and allowing that difference to fill us with meaning. So you may recognize this next quote, it’s from the the books and slash the movie into the wild. But the this quote is from, I think it’s from family happiness by Tolstoy, and in his family happiness, the character is talking about main characters talking about, like what’s needed for sort of a happy life. And I love this, because it’s very simple.
But he says, I think I have found what I needed for happiness, a quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to having a done to them. And this is my favorite part, then work which one hopes may be of some use, and rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbor, such as my idea of happiness, I think that is, you know, parts of that are spot on for most of us. But I love that section in there about, you know, being being able to do good for others, and then work which one may hope will be of some use, and making a difference is deeply part of our photography business. So many of us honor this sentiment of capturing moments for our clients to be able to revisit when times get tough, or when life changes, or, or whatever it looks like. And we want to be part of that client’s journey and capture the meaningful part of it. And we want to know that our photographs are making a difference in their lives beyond Instagram, you know, worthy and viral photos. But we can’t be totally sure. And, you know, just to sort of double down on this concept that like that, like knowing your purpose and knowing that things are really lasting, and really building that into your experience that that’s making your clients happiness, there’s these two terms.
In Costa Rica The Nicoya, Ann’s call it Plauen de vida, and the Okinawans in Japan have this term called iki guy, and I’m definitely butchering both of the pronunciations those, but they both translate into this idea of like, reason to live or reason for being or sense of purpose. And both the Okinawans in Japan and the coins in Costa Rica will say that this idea of, of having like a deeply purposeful, or like meaningful life is what propels them into long health. So the point of the whole point I’m trying to make of all this is that maybe the path the client happiness is more than just taking photographs and making cool Instagram worthy or viral photos, maybe it’s, there’s something to knowing your clients on a very deep level, so much. So that that will allow us to create photographs that we know will be meaningful, rather than showing up on the wedding day or session day, and hoping that we get meaningful photographs. Because if we have this deep sense that we know we’re creating these meaningful photographs, and our clients are going to be really happy. It’s just like a big happiness circle, it’s just going to keep going around.
And I think that, that idea of, of knowing my clients on a really deep level is one of the things that’s really propelled me through some very difficult times. And I remember getting some of these reviews that were like, paragraphs long, like 1000 1500 words, at really sort of low times in my photography journey. And, and knowing that my clients were, like, literally over the moon saying that they you know, they spent two hours on a review for me or something like that, that, you know, really lifted me up that I’m making a difference in their lives. And I think we can all do this and that, that knowing your clients are happy is one of the things that’s going to really help sort of propel you to this long term view of what longevity and a photography business looks like. So if we can move from that sort of side of the like mushy, you know, heartfelt side of things to maybe maybe some more of the logistical or some of the numbers oriented things, which is the second part of a healthy or measure of a healthy photography business, and that is financial stability.
And it’s funny that I say more logistical because, you know, I recently asked over 100 photographers to sum up their rulelationship with money in one word, and their answers were all over the place. But they were pretty resoundingly sort of negative or confused. But their answers were like all replaced, like I said, from confident to confusing, frustrating, overwhelming, exciting, conflicting freedom, anxious illusion, necessary resource generosity and tool, the highest concentration of these responses came from frustration, and being overwhelmed by it. And there’s a there’s a pretty good amount that said, Freedom after that. So I don’t you know, I want to make sure I say that part. But the overwhelming amount was, was these responses about frustration and being overwhelmed. So I’m not a CPA, right? Like, I can’t tell you how to do your taxes or how to invest. But judging by the responses, from the poll of photographers, I took handling money has more to do with our emotions than rules and figures. And I am way more interested in how our, our mindset around money affects how we deal with it. And I’m way more interested in how we make the most of the money that we already have, versus just continuing to grind. For more.
That doesn’t mean we stop grinding, stop hustling, but it does mean that you sort of take stock of where you’re at and take a hard look at the mindset that you have around money first. Most most photographers, you know, focused on this hitting this ultimate milestone of six figures, which is a worthy goal, like I said in the beginning, but it’s not the only goal. And you certainly need to know why you want six figures. More importantly, you can make more money. But if you don’t have the system, the values the mindset in place, doesn’t matter how much money you’re going to make. Because your business expenses and your lifestyle is going to bloat right along with it. This section is on money is a tricky one, because I feel like it’s so multifaceted that I could have multiple episodes on you know, just about money. And I can say a whole bunch about pricing and profitability and all that. But like I said before, I think the problems are more about mindset and systems than pricing. And in the interest of sort of being clear and concise. And for time listening to this episode, I tried to narrow down, you know, my views about financial stability and money into these like five very simple areas. Number one is that we need to identify the core values in your business and life and spend on those.
So many of us, there’s these like really interesting, as I was researching for some projects I have coming up, there’s these three toxic money mindsets that I see pop up all the time, and it’s their money status, money avoidance, and then money worship, money status is basically this idea that like, you know, I’m nothing without money, my net worth is equivalent to my self worth, money avoidance was me. And if you’ve listened to any of the other podcasts I’ve been on where I talked about money mindsets, and all that stuff, you will hear me talk about money avoidance being where I spent the most of my time in my childhood, and in my early business years that some stuff that I saw when I was younger, and just the stories I’ve sort of told around money and what I observed really influenced that I didn’t want anything to do with money and I had no desire to even hold on to it even I started making good money. The last one is basically money worship, where money is going to make me happy acquiring things with money is what is going to bring me happiness.
And if you don’t take care of those three of any of those three things, if you’ve got one of those, then doesn’t matter how much money you’re going to bring in, though that mindset around it is going to you know, knock the legs out of your ability to save or your ability to spend and sort of get ahead of and spend on things that you really want. So this doesn’t mean like I said that you stop trying to make more. But as you identify the core values you have in business in life, you are able to spend money in places that you want them to be spent you spend them on stuff that you know actually matters to you. And as the saying goes you know so many people spend money on stuff they don’t need to impress people they don’t like like if you look at my budget, our family budget it’s kind of funny because we don’t spend money on a lot of stuff but if you look at our home improvement part of our budget, it’s way higher than probably most people because we love our house and you know we really enjoy like spending time here so we spend a lot of money there but that that you know sort of value of family togetherness and having a you know, house that feels like a home is something that we spend money on but we don’t spend a lot of money on eating out or buying a lot of new clothes or things like that, right. So that first first one like I said is sort of identifying your core values and business and life and spend on those. Second one is to get a system in place for organizing your finances. Profit First or the envelope system is how you do it for or business.
And then like I said before identifying values and creating a budget that honors those values through an app like YNAB, which is called you need a budget is how you do it for personal. So one of my favorite exercises for starting with how to create the sort of a personal budget is literally just totaling up the absolute bare necessities you need for each month. Those Bare Necessities include housing, utilities, insurance, basic food, and hygiene. And when I mean basic food, it is food that you cook at home, not that you’re going out, also included our childcare, basic internet, because we need to run our businesses, transportation, debt reduction payments, and retirement contributions. Now, technically, you can cut retirement contributions, but I still think that they’re necessary. Because no matter what happens, you should always be putting something away for the future, knowing this number, this like Bare Necessities number will put your mind at ease. Because each month you know exactly what you need to make. And you can bank the rest. The third one is very simple. And it is cut the junk from your spending. And this goes back to the values right when you when you start calculating like now that you have this very basic necessities number that you know, you need to pay every single month to, to, you know, cover your bases, you can look at all the other places that you’re spending money.
And a lot of people will say like, oh, you know, I spent just 20 bucks today or whatever. But as you start keeping track of it and looking at your bank statements, it’s, it can add up really quickly that 2030 bucks here and there, you know, some cash out of your pocket there really adds up over a long term. And that really cuts your legs out from underneath you. So this number four is paying yourself regularly, I like to pay myself the amount I need for my bare necessities plus an additional percentage for family activities and family joy. The last one is all about debt, one of the things I did was to modify Profit First to be able to pay down debt, if you follow the Profit First system, you basically, you know, take you work up to taking 5% right off the top, and that goes into a profit account that you just like us to save for later. And then you take you know, regular distributions of that profit. But what I did is I took most of that profit percentage, and every time instead of putting into the other account, I just put it on my credit cards that I had and just hammer away on them. The other thing I did was was also to hammer away on debt was to find other so my, my major income source is weddings, anything outside of that I consider to be gravy. And I would put a massive like so I did real estate photography. And I was doing a bunch of that anytime I would photograph a house, I would set aside money for the taxes with that payment. And any of the costs of goods sold that were associated with photographing that house. And the rest of it, I would put right on a credit card. So any that extra income that I would have would really be focused on paying down debt. If you hear one thing from me about this financial stability part, it’s something that’s not for me, but it’s advice that I love and live by. And it’s from JL Collins and he says spend less than you earn, invest the rest and avoid debt.
So this last one is is the tricky one. And I think it might even be more tricky than money. It is life outside of work, right? And photographers are known. I feel like for having little work life balance, right? Like you’ll find reel after reel or meme after meme a photographer saying things like I left my nine to five for more freedom, but now I work 24/7 Right. I know you can relate. And I know everybody has gone through these you know periods of of being stressed and overworked and all that. And I think a big part of it comes from this mixture of no formal work hours, the lack of systems and saying yes to everything too much. And too often. I also think it stems from a misconstrued version or view of what work life balance is. Because by its nature, work life balance suggests that there’s that work and life are two totally separate things. And that each has their own goals. And you’ve got work on one side with its own goals saying things like you want more money and more status are more followers, whatever. And then the other side our personal life goals, which are more family time, more personal activities, whatever. And then both of these have to be balanced. But the problem is, is as you begin to focus and optimize for one, there will naturally be trade offs. Because as you optimize for you know, putting a whole bunch of time into more followers and more money, then the relationship side of things go but if you you know focus on you know, having only family time and only, you know time away from work, then you’re not showing up and then you maybe don’t have as many clients or your client experience fails or or whatever, right. And so you end up spreading yourself too thin as you try to feel accomplished in any of the areas as you try to balance it all. But I think that a major
shift occurs when we can look at both work and life as two necessary parts on the same path towards a meaningful joy filled life. Work can allow for more time with family and activities outside of work. And then having a strong family and strong and healthy family life and time with your you know, your parents or your spouse or your kids can increase the likelihood that you’re going to feel fulfilled at work, right. And if there’s any place that you start, it’s with your schedule, we photographers have it backwards, we edit and work all the time. And then what’s left over is what our friends have, or what what we give to you or your friends or your family. Right? That’s backwards. A perfect example of this is, you know, photographers given themselves six to eight weeks for wedding, well guess how long it takes six to eight weeks to edit the wedding. There’s this idea called Parkinson’s Law. Parkinson’s Law says that work expands or contracts to fill the time given to get the work done. Have you ever noticed that if you had a deadline, that you can hit it even if it’s short notice, how does your approach and perspective of the task shift when you have a you know, an hour or 24 hours or three days to get something done. But here is where you start. This perspective shift is something that I I talked about in episode 22, that that, you know, work life balance experiment. And it’s a shift that we all need to have fuel to enjoy time outside of work.
And it’s that all of your time is yours. All of it every second, every minute, every weekend, every week, night, every hour of the day. And all of it, I mean, literally all of it is yours. And then once you start looking at your calendar, and you say I’ve got a completely blank slate, you start filling it with you stuff first, me time, family time, friend stuff, if you want to, you can schedule friend stuff, maybe you don’t have to, then you decide. Or you may decide to rent some of your time out to a client every once in a while knowing full well what that means, but you only rent it out, if they will pay you well enough that you decide to give some of it to them to rent some of your time to them. And you have to know full well that the time you’re giving to them is not just 10 hours on a Saturday in June. It’s all the other stuff that comes with it right you have to own your calendar and set boundaries for the year by scheduling specific days, weeks or months off, you have to look at your entire year. And look at all the days and weeks and birthdays and vacation days that you want to have in there. Opposite of of those special months or months like March, April and May where I don’t really care how much stuff we pack in there. Same with like September right packet in same with all guests, right? Pack the sessions in there, because I’d rather pack sessions in those times and have the times that are really meaningful to me to be able to enjoy them. Right. Another one is the end of the year. I’ve my wife and I were talking the other day. And we sort of made this plan that after like the second week of November, I will accept nothing else for the rest of the year, which is a bold, a bold move. But this past year felt so good.
My last wedding was November 12. And my birthday is in the beginning of December. And I love Christmas stuff. And we did it was like the first year I think in my entire time in business 13 years, that I did not have a wedding or anything to edit over Christmas. And we got to enjoy the full month of December and do Christmas stuff and you know, travel up to see lights and go to, you know, see family and all this stuff. And it, it really felt like this weight off my shoulders, I’ve come to the realization that, you know, I am not the most patient person I think a lot of us are the same way. But you have we have to remember this like tortoise over the hare analogy, right? Where there’s lots and lots of talk about efficiency and optimal optimization and all that. But we we have to be conscious of what timeframe we’re talking about.
If I wanted to be optimal and and get lots of stuff done over the next you know week or the next 24 hours, I would get four hours of sleep a night you know I bulldoze through my work on espresso and energy drinks and I’d get a ton done. But that wouldn’t be optimal for a month or a year or more. And this isn’t about optimal. It’s about sustainability. So setting your schedule and time to do the deep work that you want. In addition to the time with family is what is the most important part of all of this. Again, this is not about optimal or cramming as much stuff in you know might look like that in those months that I’m talking about March April May where I’ve got you know, I’m trying to pack things in or August and September. I’m trying to pack all this stuff in but when you’ve zoo amount when you look at this year period, you can say, okay, it’s balanced on these like big chunks of time, where I’m hustling, and I’m working really hard during the lease periods, but then it’s balanced out by the family stuff, because it’s already scheduled in there. And when it comes up that, oh, I’ve got a wedding inquiry for this state’s like, Nope, that’s my daughter’s birthday weekend, it’s already scheduled in there. And I’m not taking anything that weekend.
I feel like I’ve taken a 500 foot view of this, you know, each of these topics in this episode. But I’ve really come to realize over the last year or so that these areas I’m particularly passionate about, and I only recently drew sort of the, the thread or the lines between all of them, that these are the things that I’ve been working on in my business for the last decade, that are allowing me to experience such significant moments of joy, and sustained me through 13, or into 13 wedding seasons. And I want to sort of make this promise that like, this is really where my heart is at. And this is where you know, all of my content, and stuff that’s going to be come up is going to really be based around discussions around these three topics. And like I said, I feel like I’ve blown through a whole bunch of things here. And I’ve just, you know, hit you with like taking a drink from a firehose, but I’m going to be sharing lots of variations on these problems, and lots of discussions about you know, these three areas, and I have some big projects coming up that that are really, really going to dive deep, deep, deep into how to look at all three of these areas, and make the most out of them. So that way, we can have a happy, healthy life and happy, healthy business through Yes, making good money, but also having clients who are over the moon for us and fulfill us in that side of things that we know we’re making a difference, but then also get to do all of the fun, amazing things outside of our photography businesses that we love, and that a lot of us are not able to do right now. So that’s my promise to you. Thank you for tuning into this one. Let me know what you think because I feel like this is a big one. And this is something that’s coming from me that I feel like is a pivoting point in my journey as a podcaster and a coach and all that so hit me up. Let me know what you think. And we’ll go from there. So make it a great day and I will talk to you all later.