One of the questions I get asked most frequently by other photographers is how I was able to photograph weddings and go to nursing school full-time. I'm still not entirely sure how I managed to pull that off, but I did. I graduated from nursing school in May and now work full time as an RN in Tampa along with photographing weddings.
Let's be honest, I didn't get a lot of sleep over the last four years of my life, but I did learn some things that helped me along the way. I've compiled some tips to help you juggle your work-life schedule and find some balance in the hectic world of being a college student who is also incredibly passionate about wedding photography.
1. Get enough sleep
No, seriously. My first two years of school, I was up every night trying to cram information into my brain and editing pictures until three or four in the morning, and let me tell you, it wasn't healthy. I still struggle with getting enough sleep because my body got so used to only four hours a night at most. The nights that I would turn my computer off and close the books and go to bed by 10 PM were some of the best decisions of my school career. I would wake up in the morning feeling refreshed and ready to tackle whatever came my way, whether it was school, work, or photography related. I was able to focus more, which in the long run allowed me more time to do what I needed to do because I wasn't sitting there reading the same paragraph over and over again trying to understand what my textbook was trying to tell me.
2. Set office hours. And stick to them.
When I started going to school and photographing weddings concurrently, I sent out a mass email to all of my clients, other vendors, wedding planners, etc. I let them know that my office hours would be changing and I also included it in my signature so that it was right there for anyone to see when I responded to an email. Having the weekends off wasn't out of the ordinary since I was usually photographing weddings, but I decided to also take Mondays off. This gave me a chance to catch up on anything wedding related after the weekend, and it also gave me a chance to study without feeling guilty for not responding to an email right away. I did extend my weekday hours however to make up for that day I was taking off. I also had some leniency and responded to some emails at 10 PM because I'm human and if I didn't do it then I would probably forget, but I tried not to make that a regular practice. I also utilize Boomerang for Gmail, which allowed me to schedule my emails to be sent at a designated time. Often times, I knew I would have emails to send, so I would write them whenever I had some downtime (Downtime?! What's that?!) and I could set them to send on whatever date and time I needed them.
At first I was nervous about taking a weekday off, but in the long run was a good move for my business and I have actually kept that policy in place since graduating. I still take Mondays off. I will say that doesn't necessarily mean that I wasn't working on something photography related, I just wasn't responding to emails on that day.
3. Extend your turnaround time.
This was another one of those scary things that I had to do in order to keep myself sane during nursing school. In my contract, my turnaround time is 90 days. That seems like a really long time because it is. I didn't like the idea of my clients having to wait three months for their photographs after their wedding, but that deadline allowed me the time I needed if I got really busy or needed extra time to study for an exam. There were some weeks that I had exams every day and 12-hour clinicals and I was working a full time job as well, so it was nice knowing I wasn't going to be in breach of my contract if I needed a few extra days. I will say that I never needed all 90 days but it was nice to have that cushion if I needed it. Plus it was nice to be able to surprise my clients with their photos early when they were expecting them in three months! Underpromise, overdeliver!
4. Outsource your editing!
If you ask me what the best decision I made for my business was in the year 2016, it was outsourcing my editing. I had a really hard time with this. Like a really hard time. I am a control freak and I don't like giving up that control especially when it came to my clients photographs. I had tossed the idea around for a while and experimented with a few different companies but never found any but I trusted enough to use for all of my weddings. Along came Plus Minus Collective. Jack and Matt took every fear I had about letting someone else edit my photos and threw them out the window. I cannot recommend this outsourcing company enough. They took the time to get to know how I really edit, instead of just slapping a preset on my files and calling it a day. While the process to set up my account with them took a little longer, it was worth it in the long run, because every time I got a wedding back from them, I knew the images would look exactly the way I wanted them to look. Not only did outsourcing free up a lot of my time that I could use to study, but it allowed me to deliver my galleries a lot sooner than my clients anticipated, which was just an added bonus. Check them out if you're looking for an outsourcing company! Mention my name and you'll receive 20% off your first three jobs with them!
5. Keep it simple.
Photographing weddings and making sure my clients needs were met while drowning in nursing school was hard to balance. Answering emails from potential clients about packages and pricing can be very time consuming. Not to say I don't enjoy answering those questions and educating my clients, but there are only so many hours in the day. When I started nursing school I reformatted my website to include all of the information that a potential client would need in order to book with me. I included step-by-step instructions, full pricing and details, what to expect next, my availability, how to get a hold of me, etc. All of these things are on my website on one page, easy to find and easy to read. This usually meant that when a couple contacted me they already knew what package they wanted, how much it was going to cost them, and how to book me. More often than not, our first email exchange was the couple telling me they were ready to book, and maybe a few questions that they needed answered. The entire process was easy for me and for them, which meant I had more time to do what I needed to do. This is another thing that I have continue to implement in my business even after graduating. I don't get a lot of inquiries anymore but the ones that I do get are typically clients that are ready to book. This isn't necessarily a concept that everyone should implement in their business model, but it's something that works well for me. I'm a photographer, not a salesperson. It's easier for me to present exactly what I have to offer to my couples and not try to upsell them on other things.
6. Know that it's okay to say no sometimes.
Don't be afraid to say no – and that's coming from a people pleaser! When someone asks me for a favor, I say yes, no questions asked. I struggled with this concept of saying no sometimes for a while, but learning your limitations and learning how to say no will help you tremendously. Don't feel like you have to agree to everything all the time. Keep track of the things you have on your plate, and ask yourself if you really have time to do whatever it is your being asked, whether it's another wedding, a second shooting opportunity, or simply dinner out with friends. I promise you, your friends and family will be understanding to your situation.
7. Have a solid support system. And lean on them.
This is kind of a big one. When you're drowning in school and work and life and nothing seems to give...lean on your friends and family. I was incredibly blessed through school to have a solid circle of friends and my family, who were all there for me when I needed them, whether it was to answer a question, to bring over a bottle of wine to unwind after an exam, or just to simply be a shoulder to lean on and an ear to listen. Don't take these people for granted!
I hope some of this information helps you guys build your business and maintain your sanity throughout your school career and beyond! I implemented a lot of these things to help me find a balance during school, but I have kept a lot of them in place, even after graduating. I still work full time as a nurse outside of the photography industry, so these things help me keep that balance that I worked so hard to create.
I'd love to hear how these tips have helped, or if you have anything to add! I always love hearing from other photographers how I was able to help! Feel free to leave a comment below! And good luck! There is a light at the end of the tunnel that is college, and I promise it's not an oncoming train.