President’s Message: Is Busy Always Best?

©Carolle Dachowski

December can be a busy month. In fact, our studio is busy from June to year-end, so by the time December rolls around, we’ve been full throttle for many months. American culture tends to consider busy something we should strive for, as if it alone is a measure of success. As I travel around the country meeting members at their association events, I’m certainly guilty of asking, “How are things? Are you busy?” As I take stock and reflect on the balance of my studio time versus family time, I wonder if that’s the right question. Asking if someone is busy gauges whether they’re satisfied with the amount of work they have, but it doesn’t reflect profitability or career fulfillment.

This notion that busyness is the goal is prevalent among entrepreneurs. But a more helpful measurement might be whether we’re good at establishing boundaries. Many photographers, including myself, would have to say no. Major issues arise when we don’t establish boundaries, when we make busy the objective.

Here are three examples of what busy looks like for a studio and suggestions for setting boundaries.

1. Busy: We are available seven days a week, 12 hours a day to photograph, sell, take calls, and answer emails and texts no matter what we have going on in our studio or at home.

Setting boundaries: Set an optimum schedule and do everything you can to keep it. We changed our studio hours to appointment only, Tuesday through Friday and one Saturday a month. This has been a great template for a work schedule, but I’ll admit I’ve broken these rules for a variety of what I thought were compelling reasons. I’ll open my schedule if there are extenuating circumstances: A client wants a multi-generational portrait, and one person is available on military leave for two days only? OK, I can move things around for that and make an exception. It’s an exception, though, and not the rule. Since I’m the author of my own business, I can weigh the circumstance and make it happen for the client rather than open my CRM software for seven days a week. 

“If you feel compelled to work seven days a week so you can complete all your holiday sessions, a discount should not be in your business plan.”

Jeffrey Dachowski

2. Busy: When a client asks about discounts we cave in and offer something just because the client asked. Or we offer specials during the busiest part of the year. 

Setting boundaries: Become confident in the sales room. Your prices are a boundary of sorts. Sadly, entrepreneurs in the photographic profession are well known for breaking that boundary and offering discounts and incentives when they’re not strategic. If you feel compelled to work seven days a week so you can complete all your holiday sessions, a discount should not be in your business plan. I’ve always wondered why so many photographers offer discounts around the holidays. If you offer 10% off, you’re likely giving away most of your profit. Essentially, you’re working hard to be busy, not profitable. Bills cannot be paid with busy.

3. Busy: We burn out when we fill the best hours of our day with menial tasks, leaving no time for creative or strategic thinking.

Setting boundaries: Set time aside for creative education and strategic business planning each month. You don’t have to take an exotic safari (although you could) to stir your creative juices. How about an interesting personal project that challenges your skills? Every technique you add to your repertoire has the potential to improve your client work. And don’t ignore spans of time when you can do some strategic planning and creative thinking about your business.

In the end, the boundaries you set are a more reliable measure of your happiness and success than how busy you are. Being busy isn’t necessarily a virtue, especially if it comes at the expense of healthy profitability and a fulfilling personal life. 

Jeffrey Dachowski operates a photography studio in Bedford, New Hampshire, with his wife, Carolle.