Today marks my last first day of school ever, which is something that I am so thrilled about. I will graduate from undergrad in only a few short months! Since high school, I have had the privilege of running my own business while simultaneously pursuing an education and balancing other jobs in between. Lately, I have received a few questions regarding how I was able to do this. While it has not been the easiest road going back and forth between lectures, homework, and then photographing weddings throughout Atlanta, over the last few years, I have learned so much about grit and the hustle while realizing that we, as humans, are much more capable than what we initially give ourselves credit for. We just need the discipline and drive to do it all.
I am so excited to share today some of the processes and things that I have learned throughout the years that have helped me in my entrepreneurial journey as I run this creative venture and chase my dream.
1. To Do Lists
For me, one of the biggest things that I have had to learn to implement are to do lists. I am not talking about a vague, generalized list, but rather, a well thought out, detailed, and thorough list of the things that need to get accomplished. Not only for the month, week, and day, but also divided up into different segments for the various classes and tasks within my business. It is so important to have everything laid out. Break down a monthly to do list into what needs to be accomplished within the next week, also giving priority order to specific items on the list. For me, this looks like having multiple lists on a spreadsheet, categorized by sections. I have a list for my school broken down by each of my classes and then lists for my business, sorted out into various categories.
Another thing that I have started implementing is outsourcing, which has been a lifesaver and one of the best things I have done for myself (and my sanity) this year. Not only as a business owner, but also as a student, time is one of the most valuable asset that anybody has and it is also one of the things that seems to always dwindle. It is so important to focus on the things that you do well and things that cannot be replicated by another person, but the things that are tedious and often simple, can be hired out. Using a virtual assistant or outsourcing work that can be done by other individuals who you trust saves so much time.
For me, I currently outsource blog scheduling, and implementation of various projects into different platforms. I also will outsource different forms of communication that come through e-mail and replying to comments on other platforms. I’m also in the process of further outsourcing my post-wedding work so that I can spend less time behind a screen and more time with those I love or working on other areas of business. I highly recommend looking into outsourcing the things that are not your forte. Starting off small, perhaps 10 hours over the course of 1 month will lift so much weight off of your shoulders. It will definitely take some time to sit down and write out all that you do and need done, but once you do, it will show you how much you truly do as an entrepreneur, and will allow you the freedom to truly flourish in the areas that are already your expertise.
3. Automated Systems, CRMs, and batch processing
Another thing that has saved me a lot of time is having automated systems (like Quickbooks, which automatically does my bookkeeping, read more about that in this blog post here) and various e-mail templates that I implement throughout my communication with clients and vendors. For things that are in my inbox, I use Boomerang, a FREE app, to schedule my e-mails if I need to send things out on future dates or at different times.
E-mail templates are helpful because I am asked the same questions or follow similar processes, and by saving my e-mail responses, I can quickly respond to my clients with a well-thought out reply through a click of a button.
I am also moving over to using a CRM called Dubsado that helps manage my client experience and decreases my response times. It automatically sends out detailed and customized messages, questionnaires, proposals, and forms for me right when I need it to (without me having to be at the computer) and is the best thing!
4. Appointment Scheduling
I recently implemented an incredible program called Acuity Scheduling, another FREE app, for my consultations, discovery calls, in-person meetings, and sessions. I send all inquiries to this calendar if they need to meet or talk with me and they can schedule a time to talk instantly. This has cut out a lot of the back and forth between the other person and myself (which takes a lot of time!!) and also allows me to stick to the boundaries I have created for myself.
Through Acuity, I am able to set the days and hours that I am available throughout the week, and forget about it. My calls are scheduled at the times that are most convenient for my clients, around my availability. It has made it a lot easier to stick to my boundaries – whether that be not scheduling sessions on the weekends, doing calls past a certain time, and you can do this too!
When a meeting, call, or session is scheduled, it will automatically sync to my calendar and send confirmation e-mails to both myself and the other person.
5. Separate calendars
I am a visual person and like seeing my month at a glance. For me, what works well, is having a calendar that is strictly for business and then also having another calendar that contains all of my assignments, projects, and exams. Having the two separate calendars allows for me to remain organized, and not to overwhelmed by the writing.
The thing that I love most about this is that by having two separate calendars, enables me to be able to focus on specific aspects of my life without overlap: think of it as functioning in “business mode” or “school mode”. I also have the ability to sync the two digitally, if I need it – however, typically I don’t do this. Otherwise, my calendar will seem overloaded. Throughout the week, I am able to compare the two calendars and make sure that I do not run into conflicts for scheduling which allows for me to allot enough time for me to study or complete assignments.
6. Block Off Time
Running a business and being in school simultaneously is definitely not for the faint of heart. Things can become overwhelming and stressful during specific times of the year. For photographers, that is usually during busy season, which picks back up in August through November. For students, that’s usually during midterms and finals.
Most creative entrepreneurs that I know struggle with finding the balance between wanting to be working all the time and resting, and this is only heightened while in school. I remember finding myself feeling the need to always be working in the additional time that I was not in lectures or completing homework.
What happened was that I felt burnt out crashed very quickly into the semester. Having balance and realizing that rest is necessary was essential for my mental and physical wellbeing. If you are doing both school and a business venture, I encourage you to rest! Although your mind might believe, at first, that you “need to do more”, taking a step back will allow you and your heart the time necessary to recover and to do work well and serve your clients better than ever.
What I do now is block off 3 weeks throughout each semester and do not allow myself to schedule anything outside of lectures. School gets the priority – no meetings, no sessions, no weddings. I will of course, still respond to e-mails daily and have calls with potential clients or other vendors, but locking down those weeks to focus on the bare necessities has been so good in helping me feel balanced and not over extended.
7. Time Tracking
To better increase efficiency, I have started tracking my time using Toggl, a FREE app. This helps tremendously when I need to understand how quickly it takes for me to complete certain items. By setting timers and tracking various activities, I am able to understand the tasks that might need to be outsourced and things that I do well. I also only allot a certain amount of time to complete various tasks. In my mind, “beating the clock” has made me more motivated and has allowed me to complete tasks quickly.
8. Separate the work days from the school days
Over the last four years, I have been diligent to ensure that being on campus does not occur more than 2 days each week. The reason for this is also due to needing balance and not feeling over extended.
I go to campus typically 2 days per week for lectures, and no more than 2-3 in-person lectures per semester. On the days that I go for lecture, I focus on completing the various assignments for each class when I come home. I piece out my work for each class and do as much as I can in those two days.
On the days that I am not in class, I focus on scheduling my meetings, sessions, marketing, and wedding (pre and post) prep. While I am not able to do as much marketing as I would like to, it has been a great system so far that has helped me maintain a 3.9 GPA throughout my entire college career!
Throughout the week, I will always give preference to responding to e-mails over doing homework. It’s so important to have a quick response time to messages.
9. Do things you love and be surrounded by those who love you
It’s easy as a student and business owner to be lonely. You are often feeling like you are going through the motions and “doing the next thing”. It’s important to balance being dutiful and accomplishing all the other tasks by doing things you love that are completely unrelated to your business and school life. For me, I am involved at my church, play piano, and sing using this app on my phone. One of the few things that gets me through finals is also watching The Office and anything from the Bachelor Franchise!