a meeting

Today I had a 3 hour meeting with Christina. For those of you who are new to my business, Christina is my assistant. My office manager, my customer service rep, my right-hand gal. The smiling and enthusiastic face on the other side of the room, taking care of all of the little details I simply don’t have time for. 

We have been trying to have this meeting for weeks, but there has been so much going on that it just wasn’t feasible. Today was the day to finally make it happen.

We met at Starbucks, and over the course of the afternoon talked about, well, pretty much everything having to do with Cowbelly.

The conclusion that both of us came to, especially me, is that things need to change. And quickly.

For a long time now there has been too much.

Too many clients, too many projects, too many orders, too many photo shoots, too many emails (uh, did anyone see my post on Monday?), too many phone calls, too many details, too many deadlines, too many obligations, too much work.

Just too much.

(And I am not including the workshops in these, which didn’t actually take that much prep work in the weeks leading up to them!). It is simply impossible for anyone on the outside to really understand just how crazy things are at the Cowbelly HQ.

As a small business owner I am acutely aware that poorly managed growth can kill a business. I don’t want this to be me. I am balancing on a precipitous edge. 

So things need to change.

First, although I have gotten good at saying no, I need to get better. Although I have been choosy, I need to be very, very choosy about which opportunities I decide to take. I need to be able to quickly asses if something will be worth my time, both in terms of effort outlay and time obligations involved. 

Second, I need to reign in my desire to keep starting new personal projects. I am currently working on a book project (project #2- and book project #1 isn’t even done yet- see the crux?), that I positively LOVE, so instead of saying “oh I am going to get this done this year” I am giving myself an infinite amount of time to do it. It needs to be fun, it needs to happen organically, and really, I am in no hurry. 

All of these projects simply distract me from the most important thing- doing the best I can for my clients. 

Third, I need to be more realistic with how long things will take me. For whatever reason, I was born thinking I am superwoman. In reality this is so not the case. I simply cannot be all things to all people at all times. This is what I have been trying to do, and honestly, it’s killing me. 

Fourth, I need to stop trying to please everyone. I always say “I am not in the business of disappointing people”, but I am starting to learn (or rather- forcing myself to learn) that disappointing people is inevitable, if I am NOT going to be all things to all people. The reason why this is so painfully challenging for me is because I WANT to do these things. I WANT to do everything and be everywhere and meet everyone and be involved as much as I can with, well, everything. My desire to be a giving person, and my unchecked expression of passion for life is taking away my ability to live a normal, stable, healthy life, if that makes any sense (it does to me). This phenomenon is so common that Nichole’s talented writer mom wrote a book on it called “The Curse of the Competent Woman”. Um, I am suggesting to myself that I read it. Like, right away.

Fifth, I need to, and will be, taking on less clients every month. If I do nothing else, this is the first and most important thing I need to do. The painful part about this is that it will mean increasing my waiting list. Which inevitably results in disappointing people. People who often really want to work with me, but are moving, or need it right away as a gift, or were hoping to do it before the weather changed, or while their dog is still a pup, or before they change residences (etc, etc, etc). People that I really WANT to work with. Wonderful, amazing people with wonderful, amazing pets. There are so many reasons why it’s hard for people to plan ahead- all of which I empathize with and understand. Having a 6 or 8 week (or longer!) waiting list makes it extremely hard for me to be flexible and spontaneous, and means that there will be opportunities for shoots that I won’t be able to do. Some photographers may envy having a waiting list, for me, it’s just painful. Until I feel comfortable hiring a 2nd assistant to do a lot of my processing, photo editing and photography-related work, the only solution is to have a waiting list. 

Sixth, Christina’s whole world working with Cowbelly is about to change. She will now be working more hours, and have a much more structured use of her time while at the studio. She will also be working regular hours, Monday-Friday, regardless of whether or not I myself am at the studio. Last week she finally got (ahem- was given) her own set of keys, so now she can come and go without me there. This makes so much more sense and on a practical level will result in the business being run so much more effectively by both of us. 

Christina will also be taking charge of projects I have wanted to do for a long time but just haven’t had time for. She will be taking on a lot more responsibility and will stand in for me when I am not able to be 2 people at one time. She will respond to emails I would normally reply to, to people I know on even a personal level, simply because I can’t do it all. She will become an even more integral part of my business, and help me reach an even greater level of success and one that is much more feasible to maintain. 

Seventh, although I love working with and near other long-established photographers at the studio, I have grand dreams of getting my own space, and possibly even soon. Now, the vacant space in our building that I am drooling over is $2200 per month, and before you jump to any conclusions, I am not THAT successful to even begin to afford something like that. But still, I am keeping my eyes peeled for the perfect space in the same complex that would be all my own. I can be an easily distractible person (except for in a shoot- that is an entirely different story), and the less distractions and noise and ‘external stuff’ that I need to think about, the easier it is for me to concentrate on my own business. Yes, the studio is awesome, but yes, I would love to get my OWN studio. Now I am making it a goal to happen sooner rather than later. 

Eighth, I will be refining my business systems. I have always had systems in place, but they have been more abstract and less concrete, which is fine when you don’t have an assistant. When a business grows to the point that responsibilities are being delegated to others, the business needs to have effective, clear, useful systems in place. One example: I haven’t used order forms in years. Partly because I have had so many products, and so many changes to products, that it would have been impossible to create and maintain a form. Also partly because I have been so busy for so long I simply haven’t had time to develop a form. Now I have learned ways to make a form work exactly as I need it to, and can take the time to create it, which will create a much better and more effective system in the future.

Ninth, I will be highly selective in the commercial and editorial projects I take on from here on out. I let slip a huge commercial opportunity a couple of months ago that would have kept me busy for a good chunk of 2009, but in retrospect I am happy it didn’t happen- I just couldn’t do it. 

Last, I will be taking more time for myself. I don’t know how or when, or what this will look like, but whatever risk I run in pushing away and saying “I need a break” I am going to take that risk. I am toying with the idea of heading out of town next week for two nights, even though I have the upcoming trip to Sonoma. Of finding a cabin nearby, bringing the Fergs, some good magazines and just chilling. 

And I am sure there are many more things that will change along with these, and things will grow and happen organically, but I feel really good about understanding where my business is now, where it needs to go, what my goals and needs are, and what I need to do to make this business the best it can possibly be, and make me the best photographer, and person, I can possibly be. In many ways I feel I am just getting started. 

What WON’T change?

The work I have already promised clients for the remainder of 2008, my plans for 2009 workshops, or the schedule I intend to carry next year, the private client shoots I will be doing in other cities in tandem with the workshops, the products I offer, the style of photography I provide, the value I place in my professional and personal relationships, the new friendships I have forged with my workshop attendees, the frequency of posts on this blog, my involvement with CityDog Magazine, the long-held goal of providing photography to clients outside of Seattle, the amount of love I feel for each furry client I meet, the value I place in my clients, the quality of work I give my clients (which has always been high- one of the reasons it’s so hard to maintain at a large volume), the love and dedication I give to my pooch, the desire I hold to always learn more, and constantly stretch my mental and creative muscles, and lastly, and most importantly, my passion for my business, and my love for helping others reach their dreams. 

I have never been more passionate about photography, or my business, or people or animals before ever. I am so excited to see what lies ahead, and what new doors open, what incredible adventures I have yet to go on, and what good, warm-hearted people I have yet to meet. I really do feel that life just keeps getting better.

THAT SAID, I am getting really tired of all of the yakking on my blog, and am really missing the photos (!) as I am sure you guys are too! Tomorrow I will be putting up a post on Workshop II highlights, and from then on it will be new photos- lots of photos, for as long as I can do it without yakking again.

Expect a darling white maltese with floaty fur, a tear-jerking story about a pug, a couple of tributes to pets who have passed, some photos of two miniature goldendoodles (who knew they even existed!?), another tear-jerking post + photos about a poodle, some fall shots of a golden retriever, more low-key black and white shots of a cool-looking mutt, and if the gift gets given beforehand, some shots of the cutest chocolate lab boy ever. So stay tuned! No more boring business stuff for awhile I promise! 

OH- one more thing! If you get really sick of hearing me talk, and all you want to do is look at the pretty pictures, click on ‘private client shoots’ under the ‘categories’ menu at the top. Less talk, more photos. 

Here is a photo of Fergie just so I can say this post wasn’t ALL words. 🙂

Thanks everyone for following my blog. It means more to me than you could ever know. 🙂

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16 thoughts on “a meeting

  1. i am so proud of you jamie! to see that you recognize you need time for yourself just makes me (and the boys) so happy, you have no idea. and of course if you ever need help with anything, you have two pugs (and an owner) who would do anything for you!

  2. Great post. I am at the same exact place of wanting to somehow scale back some areas of the business. I lost my Allison this year so I am going into the holidays with a real need to scale back a wee bit and adopt a new approach to project management. The thing we have to avoid in our desire to offer first rate customer service is to not allow our clients to define our business model for us. We have to set things up in a way that works for us and allows us to have a life too. I am 10 years into my business and this is the 1st year I have taken off weekends. I use to work 6 days a week all year long and more during the holidays. This work ethic has gotten me to where I am today however this type of work-load is just not sustainable over the long haul. Your long winded post has made me pause and realize I need to do some real soul searching too in regards to my business direction. Artist Linda O’Neil recently took a long hiatus from her blog posting and web-life, she is back blogging this week. I missed her on-line presence and yet I find myself envious of her ability to recharge herself offline in a way that will no doubt fuel her creativity in a powerful way. I love to see other artists taking care of themselves … it means there is hope for me too.

  3. You are only one person after all. An amazing person, but everyone has their limits. I know you will strike a balance and then you will re-read this one day and be so glad you made changes when you did. Best of luck to you and all you do. Enjoy a MUCH deserved break.

  4. Read every single word of this and wish you ALL the SUCCESS, REST & RELAXATION in the world. I admire all your strength generosity and energy! And don’t forget your advice to me about burn-out. Please take that weekend away and spend some time recharging! Doing nothing with some magazines and the dogs sounds yummy.

  5. hi Jamie, good job of laying out a plan…and good to have it in writing, that way you can look back at your plan when things get off trackc again.
    There are tons of great dog friendly places in our lovely Pacific NW. We love to head down to the Oregon coast with the puppies. Very relaxing and so beautiful. Hugs, Judy (Puglette)

  6. Jamie….It sounds like you need to redesign your business. Everyone needs to every now and then and I can only imagine how hard it’s been to keep juggling everything. Gees…even I was struggling to keep my business under control before I moved to the USA. I was in the beginning phases of a redesign, much like what you are going through…even though I was nowhere near as busy as you are. Remember to put yourself at No1. If you don’t take care of yourself first, everything else will fall in a heap. Good luck! And I’m sure many of us are willing to lend a supportive ear if you need to bounce ideas or just to vent.

  7. All the best to you and Christina! Remember to take time for yourself! You really are a super woman, I wonder where you get your energy sometimes!

  8. Woah. That was a lot of reading! Glad you are sorting out what you need to do to continue! Sometimes you have to put yourself first without worrying about pleasing everyone else around you. Give yourself the breathing room you need–it will benefit both you and your clients in the long run.

  9. I suppose in the overall scheme of things, these are all good problems to have, but at the same time, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be much good to your clients either. A few days off is exactly what you need to feel refreshed and not so overwhelmed…Just breathe and remember you don’t have to be superwoman and do it all yourself…Delegate what you can and say no when you have to. You are super smart and super talented…you will figure out a balance for yourself…We are all here if you need to vent!

  10. Hey, Jamie. You are one busy woman! You’re so lucky to have an assistant that is there for you and will work hard with you. That must be such a comfort when you have so much going on! Take some time off for yourself, take a few minutes to stop and breathe. 🙂 You are an incredible photographer, especially considering how busy you are. I don’t mind all the “yakking”, but I sure do love seeing photos, too! You are such a giving person. Take care of yourself! 😀

  11. wow jamie, it sounds like you have a lot going on! while i’m sure it’s overwhelming, these are all great problems to have because you are doing so well…if it’s any consolation, i gave into the necessity of a waiting list a long time ago, and while i REALLY hate having to tell people i don’t have any openings for 4+ months, the clients who stick you with have a greater respect and appreciation for your time and talent. while i still bend over backward to accommodate those devastating situations that could have never been planned for, i have learned to differentiate between the clients who urgently “want” sessions and those who “need” them (do you know what i mean?) — and for those that want the session with you, they will learn to plan because they love your work and have to have you! good luck with all your changes and thanks for the reminder to all of us to stop and breathe and look at the big picture from time to time.

  12. Good for you! I know how hard it can be to pass over some of the reigns. I struggle with the same stuff myself and just two days ago decided to ask a co-worker to come in early once a week so I could have some “me time”. Now that “me time” will also have some work errands built in and it is only 3 hrs but it is a start. Here’s to a happier, less crazy future. Cheers!

  13. Good for you this just means you have a very successful business and it is smart that you are recognizing that now. As a CPA I have seen to many businesses fail when people try to do it all and don’t delegate more or slow down a bit. it is admirable that you are spilling your heart out on the blog to. I really wish I lived closer to you so I could teach you more about the business and accounting side and you could teach me more about the photog side. Good Luck to both you and Christina (and Fergie)

  14. Wow Jamie. You are really good at writing and expressing yourself. And I think what you are doing is awesome. I commend you for taking time for yourself (and delegating more duties, Christina is fabu!)… we all need it!
    If you ever want a Florida vacay, you have a place to stay!

    I can’t wait to see all the amazing stories/photos coming up. I’m a crybaby so those tear-jerkers will get me for sure!

    ps. Yay Christina! Congrats on your “promotion”!!

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