It happened. I had my first down year. I knew it was coming but it wasn’t until I wrapped up the taxes that it became real. I have no problem admitting it. No one wants to have it, but I was told by so many who came before me that it was inevitable. In all honesty, I kinda feel like it’s a right of passage as a business owner. I’m established enough after 7 years that I’m not afraid of it. In fact, it’s had several rather positive effects on me.
The first is one that reminds me, time and again, that things happen for a reason. My family needed my attention a little extra over the last 6 months and I was able to give more of myself than I usually am able over the Fall/Winter. Things could be different for my son right now if I had not been able to be present enough to see what he needed and have the time to give it to him. And as a result, our daughter needed even more reassurance that she’s just as important to us as he is, even though it seems he’s getting a lot of us lately. Basically, the extra time I had made me recognize things I may have missed in my usual Fall state of hysteria.
The other great effect my downtime had was that it forced me to take a step back and look at my business. Where it was, where it is now and where I really want it to go. After a highly concentrated two weeks of craziness, consisting of back-to-back weekends of roughly 25 mini sessions between Forrest River, IL and Haddonfield, NJ, I had a lull. A long one. In fact, if I’m going to truly share and be honest, I’ll have to admit that I had only had one full session this past Fall. ONE. I don’t mind saying it out loud. My prices are on the high-end and right where they should be. I never apologize for it as I believe you get what you pay for. But it happened, and it knocked me down a bit. However, it then forced me to pick myself back up and look inside.
A few weeks after the holidays, still unable to shake the crappy feeling from my Fall, I was scanning through old shoots looking for something funny to post on a Friday. I happened upon a full session from a few years ago with a family that, at the time, I hadn’t yet gotten to know really well. We had a great session with a lot of laughs and great results. However, it wasn’t until a few months ago that I realized just how great. Over the years since the shoot, this family has become an extension of mine. We’ve grown very close and when I went back to look at that shoot, I saw the genuine interactions that I now get to see whenever we’re together. It brought me to tears because that’s what I love about my work and how I do it. Everything we captured that day was so truly the Bakers. From silly to happy and then back to super silly. And right then, I knew why I was feeling unfulfilled.
There are reasons I only do one day of mini sessions locally and one time, per year in Chicago. And also reasons why I feel kind of like a jerk saying no when people ask me do a mini for them other times throughout the year. So I want to be very clear in saying I am super grateful for everyone who uses me for these sessions. They’re a necessity for many reasons and if I didn’t want to do them, I wouldn’t. To me, a mini session is meant to accomplish certain things, be that getting a few updated family shots or maybe just a couple holiday card photos. I’m good at what I do, so in 20 minutes, I know exactly which combinations of photos I need to capture to ensure each client gets both of those things. In fact, many of my mini session clients are past or regular full-session clients who don’t feel the need for a full session every year but want a few annual photos. Makes total sense.
This whole explanation about mini sessions leads me to the point about ME and the feelings I arrived at this past year. I have spent 7 years building a business doing what I love. I’ve been blessed enough to grow it from just a family and lifestyle offering into a thriving commercial photography business, as well. I know why people hire me and I know why they come back. I just needed a good look back to get a reminder. What families hire me for, and will end up with as a result, is a product of time, my desire and ability to connect with families, and my endless drive to give them exactly what they want, as well as things they never dreamed of having. I’m never content giving anyone the same thing they had a previous year or the same thing their neighbor got from me. I don’t churn out sessions quickly to get paid and move on. To me, that would signal the death of my creativity, and if churning becomes my thing, I will kindly kick own my ass.
I love having a parent say, “you really captured him/her/us.” And that’s not to say that cannot happen in a mini session but it’s much harder because the play time, chat time and interaction time isn’t always there. It’s not unheard of in a mini session but it’s rare and usually the product of an existing relationship. What I’m trying to say is that My ART, the one that lights me up, makes me continue to innovate and, in the end, draws clients to me, exists wholeheartedly in the time I get to spend with people and families.
Since all this has happened and I’ve had time to reflect, I’ve gone back to so many shoots where I found the magic and was so easily reminded why I can’t get enough of what I do and why it fulfills me so completely. And I got so reinvigorated. I’m pouring myself into a new personal project that is 100% for me. One that’s causing me to learn new things and be so proud of the fact that after 7 years, I’ve established myself enough to be able to put time and money into something personal. And I was able to realize that I can also have a down year and know, with zero doubt, that it won’t slow me down one bit. In fact, it’s caused me to hit the accelerator. Hard.
So, as I’ve poured over this post too many times, I really, really want to stress that I am so grateful for everyone who hires me for any type of session. And I respect that what is for one, may not be for another. That’s what makes the world go round. I just needed to find my craft again and know why I felt something was missing. All of these cycles make total sense to me. Like I said above, it’s like a right of passage. I arrived, crushed it and then stumbled a bit. All so I could re-examine and then arrive again.