Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Business Burnout - Ways to Recover

This year I've seen another round of my peers reach a point of serious business burnout.  Working to the point of exhaustion and losing the joy in their creative work.  I totally get it, I was there once too.

At the time, I wanted to give all of it up and find a completely different career.  I searched high and low for something I thought I'd enjoy more.  I picked up some part-time teaching artist gigs to get back into the classroom and public school system in case I wanted a job there again.  I studied and took the MAT's in preparation for applying for a Master's Degree in a completely different field.  I considered the hundreds of other, easier jobs I could do for the same amount of money or more.  Nothing ever felt more awesome, but my business wasn't feeling awesome either, and I felt like I was just getting sicker on a bad carnival ride that never ended.

I learned that by scaling back and doing something else for a while, even just part time on the side, and putting myself in a position of only taking clients I really enjoyed working with, that I was able to regain some of my love back for my own business.  I became reminded of how much freedom I have to create my own schedule and take on as much or as little as I feel like I can handle, I was reminded of all the things that I disliked about working in environments where other people aren't as passionate about their work, and I really started to acknowledge that I didn't actually hate being a photographer or business owner... I just hated how I was running my business.

I had been letting my clients take over and push me around but the clients had very little to do with it.  I hadn't set appropriate boundaries or expectations that provided the space I needed to do the work in a way that didn't stress me out each week.  I had taken more work than I could handle, but didn't outsource or hire to make up for the increased workflow needs.  I had been a terrible boss: giving myself no days off, expecting me to be available to clients 24/7, and not hiring more help when I really needed it.  If I'd been working a traditional job, you can be sure that I would have quit under those working conditions!

Being a small business owner doesn't mean you need to be slave to your business or your clients.  Your clients benefit more when you have the energy and creativity that comes with being well-rested, taking days off each week, making enough time for self-care each day.  You're happier, you're healthier, and little problems bother you less because your bucket isn't overflowing with stress.

When you learn how to take back the control you've had all along, but unintentionally had let slip out of your hands, you start gaining some of your joy back in your career and your life.  A lot of it starts with setting appropriate business expectations and acting accordingly.  That means, if you declare your working hours are 10am - 6pm, you literally turn off your computer and don't accept business calls after 6pm.  Period.  You don't open up your computer by your bedside at 9am.  You get up, take a shower, have some breakfast, and get ready like normal people before you open your computer.

That immediate response time is only expected when you make it a regular habit.  If you begin your client relationship by letting them know how long it generally takes to respond to emails and phone calls, than they can have more appropriate expectations up front.  I tell my clients that email may take 48 hours and I don't usually answer it on the weekends, but phone calls can usually be responded to within the next business day.  Just because they're thinking of some question at 11pm at night, doesn't mean I need to respond to them at 11pm at night.  To help make this easier for myself, I completely removed email from my phone.  If I'm on location, I'm not trying to answer emails on my phone.  I'm far more likely to write something rushed and mistaken when I'm trying to respond between travels and clients than if I put myself in a collected and thoughtful place behind my computer.

When you start taking back your life, you plan vacations and get togethers with friends and family and schedule them into your calendar so that you aren't tempted to schedule every weekend with no recovery.  You decide that there will be no shoots on Monday or Wednesday (or whatever days work for you) because you need a couple office days to catch up on email and post production and you want to get to the gym those nights.  You hire and outsource tasks that you're always procrastinating on, because you recognize that your time and stress level are more important than something someone else can do for $15-$20/hr.

You may have to take a break for a while to be reminded of all the things you love about being in business for yourself.  Of course, if you take a break and find something else far more freeing and awesome in the meantime, than isn't that a better situation than being stuck in a cycle of stress and burnout?

If you can't even fathom taking a break (especially in the middle of the season), start simple by implementing one new boundary or rule at a time.  Like declaring Monday is always a recovery day, or no email in bed, or portrait shoots only on Tuesday and Thursday.  Practice it for several weeks before adding another.  Allow yourself room to mess up and try again.  Be real with yourself when you're putting your mental and physical health on the back burner to serve a client, and then find ways to make up for it in the week ahead by taking a day off, scheduling lunch with a friend, or scheduling more gym time- whatever helps you get your groove back and feel more like a human than a slave again.  As you gradually reclaim the time and space you need to feel rested and recharged each day and each week, you'll gradually get yourself back to a place where you love owning a business again because you're really in full control of your schedule and your life again.

For more related posts see:

How to Stop Running Behind & Feeling Overwhelmed
http://photolovecat.blogspot.com/2012/03/how-to-stop-running-behind-feeling.html

What WON'T You Do?
http://photolovecat.blogspot.com/2012/04/what-wont-you-do.html

Hire a Remote Photo Assistant
http://photolovecat.blogspot.com/2012/03/how-to-hire-remote-photo-assistant.html

Anne Ruthmann is a professional photographer in New York City. With over 10 years of success as a full-time photographer in weddings, portraits, editorial, and now architecture and interiors, she spends any extra time she has helping others find smart solutions to business problems. Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

1 comment:

  1. Anne, This is a great article! I was in the photography industry now self employed as a furniture maker and this is such great advice. I appreciate you taking the time to share!
    Austin

    ReplyDelete

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