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Photographers Share: 9 Secrets for Keeping Love Alive While Running A Business

Few relationship stressors are quite as far-reaching and pervasive as starting your own business. 

Businesses impact multiple hot-button relationship areas – money, stress levels, weekend activities, time spent with kids, general well-restedness.  Our poor partners – particularly when they aren’t photographers – often have to watch us crumple into a cranky, sleep-deprived ball in front of our computers, comfort us after difficult shoots, and deal with months of financial instability.

It’s not exactly a tiptoe through the tulips.

I sent an email out a few weeks ago asking for what helps you keep the love alive while running a business.  Responses poured in by the dozens.  Last time, we devoted a whole discussion to money and relationships.  This time, we’ll cover nine other must-knows and must-dos your fellow photographers and I thought you should be aware of.

Grab your favorite toasty fall beverage and dive in – and don’t forget to add your own suggestions in the comments!

1.  Know that involvement = excitement.

My mom, probably like yours, used to try valiantly to get me to finish eating my peas.  I would try with equal gusto to avoid them altogether.

But that year I helped her and Dad plant peas in the garden, and I got to pick and shell them myself?  I scarfed those suckers like they were M&Ms.

Moral of the pea story?

The fastest way to get someone excited about something is to get them involved in the process. 

When people get involved in something, they take ownership and pride in it, and are thus more invested in its success.

One photographer said:

“I have learned (and learned quickly) that if you want to get your significant other on board, you need to get them just as in love with the business and process as you. I’ve sat down and explained every piece of my pricing with him, I’ve asked him for his advice on photos before (colors, styles, etc). He gets excited for me now because he is starting to see that this isn’t just a ‘take photos of a friend’s children’ thing any longer.”

Bonus:  Including your children may help them be supportive and cooperative when they understand what Mommy is doing at the computer all the time:

“My children help to keep little ones out of my office when I’m busy editing, so explaining what I’m doing and how long I need their help keeps things running smoothly.  My business is a family affair, we’re a team.”

Of course, use discretion. 
If you were married to a plumber, you wouldn’t necessarily want a blow-by-blow of his latest drain clog call.  As one photographer wisely observed, “Don’t bore her with details.”  Your partner might not want to hear about every plugin you install, but involving them in big-picture stuff helps them understand and support you more easily.

2. Be clear with each other HOW decisions are going to be made.

Of course, involvement may have its limits.

When a formal investor puts money into a business, there’s usually a discussion about what role that investor will play in making decisions.  Some investors want heavy control, some get a more honorary spot on an advisory board.  Bottom line is – they have a clear role, and everyone understands and respects it.

Since your partner is an investor in your business (emotionally if not financially), be sure to discuss what role they are going to play in how business decisions are made.

Some partners might enjoy making decisions with you:

“I know he appreciates is that I involve him in decisions I make for the business: shoots, schedules, equipment purchases – I ask for his advice and thoughts on most of these things and don’t make huge purchases without him deciding so he does feel he is involved too.”

Where as other photographers prefer to maintain control, seeking advice when needed:

“I don’t need to consult with him when I make a business decision. I DO consult with him, when I’m torn about a new educational program or something I’m not sure I need, but I use him as a sounding board, not as someone required to give me permission.”

Whatever you choose is up to you, just be sure you’re both on the same page about it.  There may be times when you ask your partner’s advice and then go do the opposite of what they suggest.  It’s important that they have clear expectations for how much their input will affect your decisions, lest arguments and resentment result.

3.  Invest in education.

This might seem odd to include in a “relationship” post, but this is a big one.

Yes, you can learn a whole lot about photography, marketing, graphic design, web design, SEO, customer service, client experience, Photoshop, and Lightroom for free.  WAHOO!  I thank heaven every day for the Internet and the local library.

But there’s a catch – you have to wade through a whole lot of stuff to find the gems that really propel you forward.  And some things aren’t out there at all, and you get stuck in a trial-and-error cycle, where you’re never really sure if what you’re doing is best.

Good business and photography education can spare you a whole lot of wasted time and opportunity cost.  It keeps you from reinventing the wheel.  And all that directly affects the amount and quality of time you spend with your sweetie.

I know solid business education can be expensive – or at least feel expensive.

But every minute you spend an hour wading through blog posts, YouTube videos, and library books while trial-and-error-ing your way through something is one hour you can’t spend with your partner.  

Is that not also an “expensive” education?

We’re all on a budget.  But time is our most precious and most limited resource – don’t forget to budget that, too.

Survey your strengths and weaknesses, and research what education would help you most.  Paying an expert to give you the straight scoop can save you more than just money down the road.  Your relationships (and sanity) will thank you.

4.  Talk in language they understand.

Don’t you hate it when you’re at a dinner party, and someone starts describing what they do using all kinds of jargon?  Especially when they act like you should know what they’re talking about?

You feel stupid asking for further explanation, so you just want to walk away.

Don’t be that guy.

Explain things to your partner in terms they can understand and relate to.

One photographer does this brilliantly:

“My boyfriend is a baseball fiend, and we’ve been together 3 years. My best way of explaining why I need new gear is relating it to sports.  ‘If I can get a close up with this lens, I can shoot flip book speed images of his body, I will catch the pitch to the home base of a run at this time of day.’ That’s how he understands it. That’s how I got my new lens, no questions asked.”

Your partner might not know what an f-stop is, but I promise they’ll understand “$1600” right quick.  Explaining things to them in terms of what they care about goes a long way in helping them understand your goals.

5.  Setting work boundaries does nothing.  Only sticking to them does.

Look, we both know that “five more minutes” can morph into “two more hours” in the blink of an eye.  Especially when Photoshop or WordPress is involved.  It’s important to carve out family-only time and stick to it.

Most of us already know that we “should” set boundaries for when we will do our work.  But setting boundaries does nothing for you or relationship – only sticking to them produces actual results.

When setting boundaries for yourself, be true to your actual work habits as well as your family needs.  Set yourself up for success by delineating boundaries that jive closely with how you already work.  If you work best at night, don’t swear that you’ll keep all your evenings open.  Just designate two work nights a week, and devote the others to your loved ones.

Here are some ways other photographers divide up their time to maintain balance:

  • “Every Travel Tuesday we hop in the car and drive within an hour to a place we’ve never been; this has become our weekly date (or bi-weekly depending on our schedules).”
  • “Keep Sat and Sun nights free from photography stuff and just chill on the couch together, or actually sit down and have dinner together!”
  •  “I try to balance one late night of editing with one night on the couch with hubby.”
  • “Every Monday night I leave the house as soon as my husband gets home and go get to work. If I have nothing else during the week, it at least gives me a solid 4-5 hours of uninterrupted work time and I can get so much done in that window. Otherwise the late night editing sessions can just drag on forever!”
  • “I try to put specific time periods aside for myself to edit, and no longer than that (ex. editing from 3-5pm and once the clock hits 5:00, no matter where I am, I shut off the computer).”
  • “[Taking time off is] important, not just for your own sanity so you don’t burn out, but for your family’s sake, so THEY don’t burn out. So they don’t feel like they’re being ignored, or that they’re not as important as strangers’ families. Put the camera down, and walk away from the computer.”

6.  Follow up!  Communicate about whether something is working or not.

Several photographers said they edited photos while watching TV with their partner.  A good way to sneak in a little “together time,” to be sure.

However, one photographer commented:

“When I had a lot of work, I thought it was better to cram in some marketing, web, or photo editing work while we were on the couch watching a movie or TV together in the evenings. I thought this was better then being in my office the entire time since we would still get to spend some time together. This however was not the case.

My husband would get very upset that I would be working during “our time” and hated that I was on the computer for work all the time. After a few arguments and discussions, he made it clear that he would rather me do my work in my office and then put the computer away completely when I came to the couch, even if it took longer for me to get there.”

Some of the worst relationship problems are caused by silence.  One person assumes something is okay, the other quietly seethes.  Arguments can erupt over the wrong things (e.g. someone says “you spend too much time editing” when they really mean “you spend the wrong time editing – please keep it out of “our” time.”)

Talk a lot.  Listen more.  Even more than you think might be necessary.  Check in regularly about both your work habits and schedules to detect points of friction before they erupt.

7.  Meet and greet with other couples.

You might feel alone at times, but there are probably dozens of couples near you tackling the very same things.  Get together and support each other.

One photographer suggested having the non-photographer spouses getting together, in particular.  It will help them see that they’re not alone, and that their frustrations in living with this career choice are normal.

Knowing that you’re not alone helps tremendously, even if the ‘problems’ remain unsolved.

8.  Have patience.  And remember that you’re not the only one with dreams and passions.

One reader observed that they had to learn to “respect that this is my dream, not hers.”  Photography may never be quite as important to them as it is to you, and that’s okay.  Be patient with them as they learn to understand how important it is to you, though.

“To make it work, you have to be willing to REALLY see the other person’s point of view. You have to have integrity to put the relationship and your spouse’s feelings above your own desires sometimes. You have to be patient with your dreams and know that the other person isn’t out to crush them! You just need to get more creative as to how you can invite them to be a part of that dream.”

As you find yourself consumed by what you love to do, don’t forget that your passion can’t be the only dream the family supports.

Yes, you’ll need your significant other to be there for you, to watch the kids while you’re on a shoot, to cheer you up, to drive 20 mins to your photoshoot location to bring your keys when you lock yourself out of the car (….yep, been there).  But it will be a lot easier for them to do all that if you’re pulling your weight doing the same sort of things for them, too.

Spouses can burn out from photography just as much as the photographer.  Be sure you help them discover and feed their passions alongside your own.

9. SAY THANK YOU.   Don’t forget what they’re doing.

“My husband is my rock, he encourages me when I get discouraged and overwhelmed. I could not do what I do without him.”

Guys, we couldn’t do this without them.  Let’s not forget it.

Say thank you when your partner waits for you to finish editing (again) before you start your date night.

Say thank you when they spend half an hour listening to you rant about your latest client fiasco.

Say thank you when they wish you luck, when they express confidence in you, and when they compliment your work.

Get out of the nasty habit of scoffing at compliments and moaning in the face of praise.  Grateful people are easier to support, and we need all the support we can get.

Final note:  Nothing in this post is likely to be earth-shatteringly new.

But like most truths, the simplicity of these suggestions makes them easy to slack off on.

It’s absurdly easy to ignore stuff we “already know” is important.

It’s time to make it important.  I bet you already know what you need to do to make your relationships more fulfilling.  Start today.


Do you have some advice to add?  There’s a comment box for that.  🙂

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  1. Janna Salmela on October 10, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    Great insight! I love reading your blog. I would be nothing without my spouse and I need to remember to tell him that. Thanks!

  2. Alberto on October 10, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    Regarding this topic I’m very lucky. My girlfriend likes my photos very much and sometimes she even wants to sit next to me watching me editing pictures and giving me little sugestions.

  3. Amanda on October 11, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Thank you for this timely post. I just had a blow out with my partner just last night about this very topic. Silence is the real killer. They don’t want to say anything becasue they don’t want to be unsupportive but at the same time if nothing is said we often get so wrapped up in our to-do list that we don’t realise we are being neglectful. We certianly don’t do it on purpose.
    THanks again 🙂

  4. Matt on October 13, 2012 at 3:36 am

    Excellent advice, as always.
    I think talk a lot and listen more takes the cake here.

    Thank you for the article. Good stuff.

  5. Charity on June 23, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    Soooo many good points here! Thanks for the insight. As new business owner, these tips help. I already faced these questions and for me, this list is like lightbulbs turning on one by one in a dark hallway. Thumbs up.

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