Business + Marketing

6 Lessons Learned in Taking a Step Back

October 22, 2019

By Michelle Lange

© Michelle Lange Photography

A lot of new small-business owners are focused on growing their business quickly instead of seeing the big picture. I was one of them. I remember constantly reading articles related to quick growth, like how to make six figures in the first year of a wedding photography business. In order to go full time as a photographer, I thought that I would have to make the same income that I made at my corporate job. I owned a home, had student loans and was hoping to have a baby in the near future. I loved my daily Starbucks and not having to live by a “budget.” I didn’t live a lavish lifestyle, but I didn’t want to worry about all those extra Target items somehow making it into my shopping cart.

It wasn’t until I left my corporate job and, shortly thereafter, found out that I was pregnant, that my view on the growth of my business changed. When I first resigned, I planned on photographing a higher volume of weddings to establish a strong referral base. My goal was to photograph 25 weddings in that first year as a full-time photographer. Once I found out that I was expecting, my tune changed: I wanted to shoot a limited number of weddings at a slightly higher rate to be able to stay at home with my baby during the first four months of his life. I was willing to take a hit on my income to prioritize that time with my son.

[When Saying “No” is Better For Your Photo Business]

I wasn’t closing up shop or hitting the pause button on growing my business; I was just taking a step back from the number of weddings I was planning to photograph. I re-evaluated my business goals for the following year and adjusted my volume and financial goals. During this whole process, I learned some valuable things about taking a step back.

1. No two businesses ever take the same path to where they are today.

One photographer may photograph 35 weddings a year for the first three years in business, only to  “downsize” to 15 weddings in year four. Another photographer may photograph 3, 8, 12 and 15 weddings, respectively, over four years. Just because you aren’t shooting the same volume as another photographer or charging the same rates, doesn’t mean you both won’t end up with the same volume and price point in the future. It doesn’t mean that you won’t end up with the title of top photographer in the world by a bridal publication. It doesn’t mean that you won’t be happy with your life or with the state of your business. If you focus on your own path, instead of comparing it to others, your business will be exactly where it should be.

2. Money shouldn’t be everything.

Don’t get me wrong, having a money mindset is beneficial when running a business, but it shouldn’t define your happiness. I thought earning the same income as my corporate job would make me happy, but in fact, I am happier making less, doing something I love and having a whole lot more time with my family. Growing a business doesn’t mean doing more and making more every year. Take a step back from how you currently define growth so that you can reanalyze what it means to you and create more space to do what you love.

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3. You may not experience a loss in revenue if you decrease your volume.

For example, 25 weddings with an average booking amount of $6,000 is the same as 20 weddings with an average booking amount of $7,500. That said, adjusting your prices is not always as simple as changing the number on the “Rates” page of your website. It does require experience, patience and lots of calculations. But once you’re there, you can shoot less and still achieve the same financial goals.

4. You do not need to apologize for taking a step back.

You do not need an “excuse” at the ready. I always felt I needed to explain why I wasn’t photographing more weddings than I did every year because it didn’t stack up to the volume of other wedding photographers. Do you have a new baby? Are you in the middle of one of your busiest years in your business and feeling exhausted? Is life bringing you in an unexpected direction? Is a loved one sick and in need of your care? Do you want to take on a personal project that will require a lot more of your time? Maybe you just want to take a step back because that is what you feel your business needs. Whatever it is, you do not have to explain why.

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5. Taking a step back allows you to see the big picture.

It is really amazing to see what you can do with the extra time. My extra time allowed me to build my family and newborn portfolio. If I was photographing my original volume goal of 25 weddings, it would have been almost impossible to do so. I can now continue to give an incredible gift to my wedding couples if and when they expand their family.

6. You’re a small-business owner. You get to make the decisions on the direction of your business.

I am personally able to adjust my yearly volume based on the demands of my personal life while still being able to serve my clients the best way I can. I am able to define what success means to me, and my definition of it is the only one that matters.

Michelle Lange is a wedding and newborn photographer and educator based in Albany, NY. She last wrote about improving your communication with clients who book you.