How to Set Boundaries in Your Photography Business (and Feel Good Doing It)!
Picture a Venn diagram where one side says “Keeping Clients Happy” and the other says “Maintaining My Sanity.” Is your diagram just one circle? Then you’re probably not setting healthy boundaries! Without strong, clearly defined boundaries, your photography clients might accidentally trample all over your personal time, causing your work/life balance to crumble into a mess. Let’s get serious about establishing boundaries in your business.
Have Empathy for Your Clients when Setting Boundaries
Before we dive into strategies for setting boundaries, I want to be sure we’re all in the right headspace, so let’s get one thing straight: your clients are not intentionally messing up your life. When you get an 11pm text from a client the day before their session asking about last minute details, they aren’t sending that text maliciously. When you get an email 30 minutes after a session asking for a sneak peek, they aren’t emailing you just to stress you out. When you have a client who calls you to discuss ideas when you would much rather they email you, they aren’t calling you just to pick on you.
Too often we assign bad intentions to our clients when they deserve to be given the benefit of the doubt. Instead of feeling like a client is particularly needy or annoying or flat out disrespectful of your time, try to empathize with them. Maybe they’ve never worked with a professional photographer before and just aren’t clear on how your process works. Maybe they’re anxious. Maybe they have an attention deficit where written information isn’t absorbed as well as verbal communication. Whatever the case may be, I find my relationship with my clients works best when I assume they have the best of intentions.
Have Empathy for Yourself
Repeat after me: you deserve days off. You deserve to enjoy your relaxation time. You deserve to have quality time with your friends and family. You deserve a dang break! Creative business owners have a tendency to put our whole selves into our work, with very little regard for maintaining a healthy work/life balance.
We’ve all seen some variation of this classic entrepreneur joke:
The truth is: if you feel like you’re working 24/7 in a job that you defined for yourself, then you’ve made some serious mistakes and need to re-evaluate your business. And no judgment here: I’ve definitely fallen into the trap of working myself too hard because of mismanagement, overbooking, or simply feeling like my productivity is intrinsically tied to my value as a human being. But change starts with believing that you deserve better and loving yourself enough to do better.
Setting Work Hours (and sticking to them)
Part of the appeal of being self-employed is getting to set your own work hours! So few jobs allow for true scheduling flexibility and I love that I can choose to work whenever I want. But if I don’t set specific working hours, my tendency is to work 12 hour days on a regular basis. This especially happened when I was first launching my brand.
I spent long days designing my website, creating social media content, scouting for locations, watching YouTube know-it-alls explain how to achieve certain photography techniques…and I’d go to bed exhausted and feeling more or less like I hadn’t gotten anything done. My days didn’t feel like they had a beginning and an end, they just felt like continual loops interrupted by sleep.
Once I realized how unsustainable that was, I set my calendar up like this:
Using color coding, I remind myself that Fridays-Sundays are my days off, Mondays and Wednesdays are reserved for administrative work, and Tuesdays and Thursdays are for clients, whether that be phone calls, meetings, or sessions. I also prefer to work short days so my work day starts at noon and ends at whenever I finish (usually 4pm unless I have a late afternoon photo session.)
Do I always 100% stick to my ideal schedule? No! Sometimes I have clients that are only available for photo sessions on weekends, or only available for meetings on Mondays. Sometimes I have more editing to do so that might roll over to a Thursday if I don’t have any other client appointments on that day. Sometimes I take off on a Tuesday and watch trashy reality TV and stay in bed. I still have scheduling flexibility, but this outline helps me stay organized and prevents me from robbing myself of my personal time.
Using a scheduling tool like Honeybook or Calendly also helps with creating scheduling boundaries that clients cannot accidentally cross. When a client wants to book a consultation for a photo project with me, they are only able to choose from dates and times that I’ve pre-selected. You can set up your schedule to fit your lifestyle and the times of day or days of the week where you are most productive, and your clients will appreciate the clarity of your availability.
Set Communication Boundaries
Who else has phone anxiety?
I certainly do. And so I try to exert as much control over phone calls with clients as possible. I don’t have my phone number listed on my website. I’ve heard business gurus say that the key to getting leads is to be easily accessible 24/7. And while that might get you more leads, I am not convinced it will get you good quality clients.
Leads who are committed to calling me out of the blue can still find my number through my Google business listing, but my ideal clients are people who want to put more effort into front-end planning for their photo project. Those people are always going to fill out a contact form before randomly calling up a stranger they found on the internet. By taking away the option to easily call me, I reduce the amount of times I deal with clients calling me at inopportune times. And that is a healthy boundary!
Another option is to use your scheduling tool and have a “Schedule a Call” button on your website. I had this for years with good success, but after a string of leads who didn’t answer the phone during their scheduled time, I took it down. Now I only use that option for qualified leads: people who filled out my contact form and are ready to move on to the next step can schedule a call instead of emailing me back and forth for eternity.
Email boundaries are also important! If you’ve set up your work hours and are sticking to them, you shouldn’t be checking emails outside of your work hours. But to help make that clear to your clients, you’ll want to be sure you’re letting them know what your work hours are. Your Google business listing should show your office hours. You can also list your office hours on your website contact page and on your Facebook page. I go one step further and include this handy little blurb in my email signature, so everyone can see clearly when they should expect a response from me:
Finally, let’s talk about social media based communication. Personally, I loathe planning sessions or talking about pricing via social media DMs and comments. It’s way too easy to lose track of a conversation and forget what has been discussed. Anytime someone slides into my DMs to initiate a conversation about working with me, I direct them to my website contact page. Usually it goes something like this:
Lead: Hi! I’m interested in booking personal branding photos with you. What are your prices?”
Me: “Hey! The first step to get started working with me is to head to my contact page and tell me more about your project. I can then send over a customized quote or I’ll schedule a call with you if I need more details before putting options together for you.”
Lead: “Ok cool I’ll do that! Can you give me a ballpark number so I know if you’re totally outside my budget?”
Me: “Sure – most of my personal branding sessions start at $1200, some clients invest upwards of $6000, while my quickie headshot clients walk out with 3 kickass headshots for $389. But it really depends on what you need because every project is different.”
Lead: “I might need to save up a bit but I’m gonna go ahead and send you a message so I can get rolling.”
I won’t go into more detail about what all is included in the sessions, what add-on services I offer, or what my availability is via DMs. I’ll just keep referring them to my contact page, and might explain that I need to respond to them through my CRM to help me stay organized.
Now go forth and get your life back
Nothing says “I’m running a successful business” like a good work/life balance. Respecting yourself and your clients by creating boundaries will make your business stronger and your brain so much happier!
Written by Jesi Cason | Photos by Jesi Cason Photography