I spent the better half of this morning sitting on the dusty floor of my apartment with my head buried in my lap out of despair. The culprit? Attempting to assemble a new ergonomic chair for my home office and realizing I couldn’t differentiate between a nut and a bolt, an Allen wrench and a ratcheting wrench. I can make e-commerce websites and pull off multi-day intensive photo shoots, but when it comes to doing anything crafty with tools, I fall apart, mostly due to lack of experience or everyday necessity for these tools. In fact, if it weren’t for my boyfriend being home to help, I would have been willing to pay someone to come over and assemble that damn chair. A couple hours later, all is well and the chair is perfectly fine, but I’m left with a feeling that seems to be the theme of this month: humbleness.
How January is Supposed to Go
Since I began my freelancing journey in late 2012, I’ve been trying to identify patterns in demand of services so that I can schedule my planned downtime accurately. My assumption from the get-go was that since the bulk of my seasonal work comes in the form of event and real estate photography, my schedule would follow that of wedding photographers: busy summer and fall, lackluster winters and springs. As a result, December through March is generally when I’ve planned the bulk of my leisure travel, such as last year’s treks to Belize and Mexico in January and to Thailand in March. But this January proved these past assumptions wrong.
How January Actually Went
Due to a mosquito epidemic in the Caribbean, my annual winter escape got pushed back to March, thus leaving me here in Seattle for the month of January. I prepared for a month of “laziness” and instead got slammed with 25 photo shoots, resulting in a 95.23% increase in January 2015 profits compared to January 2014 profits. WHOA. I guess taking off for over half of January and February can really make a difference to your bottom line.
At first, I was perplexed by this onslaught of work. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.
The explosion of work in January was due to two things:
1. An increased commitment on my part to dedicate more time to weekly tasks relating to my business (ie. posting one blog a week here). In other words, I created more work for myself that would pay off in non-monetary terms such as efficiency.
2. A bunch of contacts I’d made over the past two years were doing exactly what I’d asked of them when we first met: keeping me in mind for their photo needs. In fact, I had a job come my way in late January that paid me a month and half’s salary for 8 hours of work. You never know when a contact you bumped into that one time will ring you for a big job later down the road.
Networking is like planting a bunch of seeds that will sprout and mature at various times.
What Went Well
In terms of all that work I imposed on myself, it actually paid off quite a bit. The first big “payoff” had to do with filing taxes. According to the State of Washington, I co-own and co-operate two businesses in addition to my main photography business. Typically I stay up to speed with accounting for my business, but admittedly the other two fall behind quite a bit in terms of bookkeeping. To prevent that from happening this year, I spent a good chunk of the month making my bookkeeping for all 3 businesses more efficient so that I don’t fall behind. This involved quite a bit of extra work since many of the bank statements were archived in csv format and had to be scrubbed and formatted manually. Super humbling to go back to basics, and it made me more grateful than ever that I still have advanced Microsoft Excel skills to speed up the process. In the end, I used QuickBooks Online for my main business, and simple Excel spreadsheets for the other two businesses since financial activity is marginal and fairly easy to track.
If you’re reading this blog post from my main website, you might notice that the layout is different and, in my opinion, drastically improved. But wait, didn’t you JUST redesign this blog not too long ago? Well yes…and I regretted it when I realized that old layout had terribly formatted individual blog posts. This was a fatal error in that old design, so I finally switched over to a new design that I hope is here to stay. I put the finishing touches on this new website last night. The main things that were changed were better readability and a more simplistic design for each individual blog post, and a more organized homepage that gives more visibility to my library of content.
I also redesigned two other websites this month: one for a client that will
soon be announced via a case study on this blog (update: here is the case study!), and another for Gemini Connect, a tourism business that I co-own. The process of working with the aforementioned client was a humbling experience as I worked out kinks in my web design services work flow since there are WAY more moving parts to web design than there are to photo shoots. But the end result is looking pretty cool and I’m excited to make a formal announcement about it in a case study coming to this blog soon!
As for the Gemini Connect web design, this was also a trial and error experience since it involved one of my own businesses and doing a very honest evaluation of what our company website should look like. The resulting design is actually very similar to this site, since the emphasis is now on content that promotes lifestyle and culture within the Pacific Northwest. The content is still a work in progress, but I hope to publish a case study on this redesign soon as well.
The bread and butter of my main business is in freelance photography services. As mentioned earlier, I usually expect January to be a dry month for photos, but I was pleasantly surprised by getting quite a few photography gigs this month. A few were in real estate, which is always shocking off-season since most realtors prefer sunny exteriors (and understandably so!). Towards the end of the month, I also got a rush of event photography requests from a few contacts that I had made last summer. These events were a great way of ensuring that I got out of my apartment to socialize (something that most Seattleites suffer from in the winter months) and network with the slew of new-to-me faces at these events, as well as photograph some pretty iconic faces including Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, Karl Urban, Stephen Amell, and Star Wars actors Anthony Daniels (C3PO) and Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian).
Despite having to push back my tropical winter escape, January still saw a fair amount of travel within the Pacific Northwest. The second weekend of January was spent a couple hours north of Seattle in Vancouver, B.C. for indulging in the plethora of Asian restaurants in the city as well as taking advantage of post-holiday retail sales (in other words, the one time of the year I actually buy new clothes). A couple weekends later, I went a several hours south of Seattle to Portland to photograph the third annual Wizard World Comic Con event at the Oregon Convention Center. Both travel opportunities were a fantastic reminder that satiating the travel bug need not involve traveling really far away — in most cases, there are fun adventures just a couple hours away from your home city.
While some parts of January were overwhelmingly busy, I still found time to kick back and relax by playing movies while working on photo edits. I covered quite a bit of box office movie ground in January including Unbroken, American Sniper, Against the Sun, Fury, Wild, The Theory of Everything and The 100 Foot Journey, as well as episodes from shows including Black Sails, The Good Wife, and Boardwalk Empire. Standout favorite? Fury. Hands down.
What Could Be Improved
With lots of positives for the month come some negatives. The main struggle I had in January is the on-going problem of achieving balance. Specifically, the inability to cut back on commitments and fit in more fitness. Luckily, I do have a few ideas for improvement.
Commitment-wise, I’m doing better at evaluating what a client is actually asking for and expecting and meeting those requests in ways that are more efficient for me while maintaining a high level of quality. I’ll give you a technical example: I’m obsessed with photographing everything I shoot in RAW format with my DSLRs, meaning each shot I take generates a 23 megapixel file that takes extra time and effort to process. I’m slowly learning to judge each photo shoot better and when the situation calls for it to shoot in JPG rather than RAW to save myself post-processing time afterward.
In terms of fitness, I’ve been following a new fitness regime based on Bruce Lee’s The Art of Expressing the Human Body, aimed at achieving fitness results with more efficiency. I’m also committing to making my home office more ergonomic by investing parts so that I can have a stand up desk at home. Which leads me back to the chair that was causing me so much grief this morning. As they say, no pain, no gain, right?
With that, I’m closing the book on January and looking forward to a fabulous February!