One of the greatest things about being a full time photographer who owns the business is the flexibility it offers in scheduling. Case in point – last week. My kids were out of school for spring break and even though it’s a busy season for me, I was able to move things around on the schedule and spend some good time with them. Of course, like most things there are trade offs that come with this flexibility. The biggest is lack of security. Another is the constant need for self discipline when it comes to non assignment shooting and other internal tasks.
Everyone’s business is different, but if you’ve been doing this for a few years and have been carefully keeping track of your business you’ll know when the busy season is, and when things are not so busy. I know in my business March through May are usually very busy and then it gradually tapers off over the summer until it dies in August when I might shoot two assignments all month. Then September hits and all Hell breaks loose for three more months, tapering off over the holidays and into the winter until we start all over again. My business has been pretty consistent in this pattern for a few years (although I don’t mind telling you that in this climate, I was a bit concerned about things coming back this spring.)
If you’re not careful, important business functions like marketing, portfolio and professional development as well us plain old goofing off can quickly become casualties of a crazy schedule. I’ve found that planning out the year in advance and placing these internal tasks on your assignment calendar are extremely helpful. For example, I have a quarterly email promo that goes out to prospects in the magazine, advertising agency, and corporate markets (three separate email campaigns.) These promos are done, designed, written and scheduled with my email service. They automatically go out on the appropriate dates. On my schedule I’ve marked when they go out and when I need to follow up on them. It’s on the schedule, I’m booked. If someone calls and needs to shoot that day I try to work around it.
If I have to move an internal job to get a paying gig of course I will, but the point it to move the internal job, not skip it. If I plan to shoot a portfolio shot on the last Thursday of each month (and I do) but then someone calls and wants that Thursday, sure they can have it, but that means I’d better shoot that portfolio shot on Wednesday instead.
I personally schedule things like promo mail dates, personal shooting, portfolio shooting, marketing days and free time. I know it seems kind of lame (and contradictory) to have to schedule free time but I don’t actually schedule what to do in my free time, just that I have it.
The point is, you must treat internal tasks like paying jobs. They have every right to be on your schedule and be treated as equals. They are just as important to running a successful long term business as jobs are. Think of this as the 14th amendment for your photo business.