COVID-19 has changed a lot about the wedding industry, but one thing remains — engagements! Proposals and engagements have been a bright spot for many couples during the pandemic, so wedding industry creatives have had to find was to stay motivated and productive. As a small business owner, I’ve used this new-found time to think about how I can propel my freelance photography business forward to continue pursuing what I love. During this unprecedented year, these nine lessons have helped me boost my business, productivity — and creativity.

1.   Project Management Is Key 

I consider myself an organized person. When I was younger, I was obsessed with using different colored highlighters to coordinate my planner. I loved the feeling of crossing things off the list. Even in my college days at Miami University, I kept comprehensive to-do lists and completed concurrent tasks with ease. As a working professional and an entrepreneur, there are (what feels like!) thousands of things to do for each job. It can feel overwhelming! Part of managing this is accepting that, no matter how urgent it feels, you can’t expect to do it all in one day. Find a project-management system that works for you. A few highly reviewed project management systems include AsanaBasecampFreedcampMonday, and Trello. If you are someone who likes to write tasks out with pen and paper, invest in a good spiral notebook. Regardless what you use, it is important to have a good system to stay organized in all aspect of life.

2.   Work in Batches

When I started taking Dawn Charles’ Rise Academy education course, I discovered Hannah Murphy, who is an expert on creating a profitable and productive schedule. She educated members in her course on “batch working.” The concept is to set aside specific days for client work, content and marketing, administration, and dream projects. Rather than trying to do it all at once in one day, assign specific days of the week for specific categories of your business.

3.   Find a Work/Life Balance

Sometimes, I think I have a minor obsession with productivity. It’s a great trait, and I’m grateful for it. It’s made me self-motivated, determined, and goal oriented. But it’s also made it hard for me to embrace “down time” or doing anything that isn’t “work.” I have to shift my mindset and remind myself that down time is productive: movies, books, and games can educate you in different ways, plus be a rest from daily screen time.
If you know me, you know I’ve always thrived on being busy and having a million things to do. I’m usually happiest that way and struggle without structure. But remember that taking breaks will reenergize you.

4.   You Can’t Do It All in a Night … and That’s Ok

I’ve come to the conclusion that in a given day, knowing that I have another full-time job, I can realistically achieve 2-3 photo tasks per day. Plot out your time and decide what is realistic. Keep a list of what you hope to achieve in a given day, and mark which tasks are must-finish, and which can spill into tomorrow. Focusing on what you can achieve, versus what you hope to achieve, helps to set realistic goals.

5.   Say “No”

I’ve heard time and time again: find your niche and stick to it. For me, I still love to photograph portraits in a variety of aspects — newborns, maternity, graduates, families, engagements, and weddings. Check out my recent engagement sessions at Red Rocks Open Space in Colorado Springs. As I continue to take on a variety of assignments, I have to be mindful of what I am posting and sharing on social media. I need to post what I want to be hired for. If I receive an inquiry for a type of assignment that doesn’t align with my vision for the future of my business, then it’s okay for me to say no.

6.   Ask for Help

Running a small business by yourself is hard work. If you try to do everything on your own, personal time becomes nearly nonexistent. I never thought I’d get to a point where I’d have the means to outsource specific tasks. I’ve considered the tasks that I can handle weekly, as well as the ones that I could use a bit of assistance on. I’ve remembered that I don’t need to start by outsourcing everything at once; I can start small and try it out for a bit. Either way, my goal is to free up time and add someone to my team who can do the job better than I could. Look for tasks you can outsource to other entrepreneurs — web development, copy editing, or even logo design can be a big help.

7.   Connect with Your Creative Community

This one is HUGE! I’ve learned that if I want others to follow my work, I need to interact with them just as much, too. I’m now taking time each day to discover and engage with other creatives by commenting and sharing their posts too. By filling your feeds with like-minded entrepreneurs, you’ll also find new sources for education and inspiration.

8.   Gain Expertise through Podcasts 

Like many, I’ve found myself taking more walks during this pandemic than ever before. someone who actually processes information better by listening when I’m doing something physically active, too — walking, biking, or stretching. Why not use that time for expanding your understanding of topics related to your work. I’ve found some really neat educational podcasts that I’ve been listening to daily, such as The Heart & Hustle PodcastCraft a Life You LoveDon’t Keep Your Day Job, and NPR’s How I Built This. They are extremely informative, and I’ve gained a tremendous amount of new-found knowledge and advice.

9.     Remember to Look at the Big Picture

It’s important to take a step back and look at your own growth. It helps you stay grounded, keep your perspective, and celebrate the small wins. It wasn’t until this year, when I turned 30, that I put thought into how long I’ve been working as a freelance photographer professionally. I’ve upgraded my camera gear, became better at posing families and couples, learned more about editing techniques, created and revised contracts to protect my time and energy, and tried new, creative ideas to better my craft. If you’re needing motivation, look no further than your own wins!

COVID-19 has prompted many creatives to step back — particularly those of us in the wedding industry — and reflect on our personal and professional goals. Never has there been a time when I have traveled less and been home more. But as a small business owner, the extra time has helped me reenergize my productivity — and reminded me what I love about family and engagement photography. My goal is to always create the very best client experience I can and provide photos that will last a lifetime. Photos that you can’t wait to share with family and friends, photos that you print in photo albums and put inside picture frames. I’m grateful for all the people who have put their trust in me to capture their special moments. I look forward to taking all the skills I have learned and adopted this past year onward as I continue pursuing what I love to do.

Sarah Arnold (SArnold Photo) is a Colorado Portrait, Engagement and Wedding Photographer located in Colorado Springs, CO