How I Went From Backed Up To Back In The Game

How I Went From Backed Up To Back In The Game

Let’s get really honest really fast here. I consider myself a good business person. I make decisions swiftly and effectively most of the time. I have strong ideas with a lot of follow through. But the reality is that being a good business person isn’t all about gavel banging and big ideas; that is just the fun stuff. I’m good at the fun stuff. I can take pictures for days, post on social media endlessly, find topics to write about on my blog, etc. etc. etc…

But that isn’t the GRIT that it takes to run a successful business.

Let’s define successful business. I don’t just mean a “working” business, or a “bringing in money” business, or a “getting by” business. I mean a business that runs smoothly, is profitable in the ways that it wants to be, and treats clients in the most respectful way possible.

I started my business when I was 22 years old, and was 21 when I started laying the groundwork for it. I was very naive. I had no experience in running a business or in business at all. I never even bothered to take a class in college despite having that available to me (Oh what I would do differently now!). I would say that I entered into my business selfishly. Not in every way, but in some ways that ended up being really detrimental to my work. The number one way I messed up from the get-go is thinking that I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to do. Let me explain.

My stubbornness in wanting to do only what pleased me was really good in some ways. It allowed me to focus like a lightning rod on the tasks that brought me joy. That proved to be helpful in starting a very specific business that eventually grew in only those aspects. I wouldn’t do that differently at all. I would never go back and accept odd jobs or different types of photography sessions because that was not my passion and therefore not my pursuit.

What took me six or seven years to learn was how to separate what I want from what my clients deserve. A business requires two types of respect: respect for your clients and respect for yourself. I had respect for myself, enough to only do what I loved. I lacked in respect for clients. I did what they asked for the most part, but I did it in my own time. I lacked respect for other people’s time, and in doing so, didn’t respect my own time.

For years and years I told myself that I simply got too many emails to deal with it. I wouldn’t respond to people, or I would take months to get back with people. It cost me money in jobs, but far more importantly, it cost me relationships. My attitude was that I was above it all – that I could respond whenever it suited me and I rarely thought about that person waiting. (Well, I might be exaggerating at how bad I was, but still, it wasn’t good!). I decided at some point that I wanted to change my behavior so I hired an assistant. She helped a lot and I was able to mostly stay on top of my work. It was a wonderful 2 1/2 years. And then that ended, and in October I found myself alone again working as a business of one.

Come December 1st I knew I wanted to make a change, and I didn’t want to go back to my old ways of being unreliable. I liked the feeling of being in control of every aspect of my business. In that way it felt the same as doing self-portraits. I love being in full control, so why not in business as well as creativity?

On December 1st I reformed. I became a totally new business person. I made these significant changes:

  1. Email Labels. I have had email labels for a long time, but I really got to using them properly. I made two folders, one called “Fresh Greetings” and another called “Pending”. Every time I would receive an email I would put it in Fresh Greetings, and when I answered it, I took it out. When my Fresh Greetings folder was empty, I knew I had finished my emails. My Pending folder is for emails that couldn’t be responded to yet.

  2. The 24 Hour Policy. I decided I would not let any emails go unanswered for more than 24 hours. I carved time out every single morning for 20-30 minutes to knock out my emails. I am a morning person, so I use my best energy on tasks that aren’t as much fun as taking pictures or writing, etc. So, my best 20 minutes are spent emailing. Further, as emails come in through the day, if I am conveniently at my desk and can answer, I do. I don’t let it linger. I used to think I would look too “uncool” if I started answering people immediately, but it is better for everyone.

  3. I shifted my attitude. I used to see emails as annoying or time consuming. Now I see them as neither. I look upon the sender with genuine love and appreciation that they took the time to email me. I want to give them that same respect by sending my heartfelt thanks to their message, or to give clients the respect they deserve with a prompt reply.

From December until now I have completed a photo a day challenge, spent a full month traveling, and am selling my house. Busy, right? Even in that chaos, I haven’t gone more than 24 hours without responding to an email. Further, in January alone, I received 3 emails from clients thanking me for being so easy to work with – for making decisions quickly and for responding immediately.

I stopped the toxic behavior I was exhibiting. If there was a decision to be made, I used to put it off for weeks if I was unsure. Now, I make it immediately. I don’t wait and let it linger, I simply search my soul and say what I feel is best. Sometimes it means outright turning jobs down, or taking them, or telling people to hold off for a better time. Sometimes it involves answering interview questions right then and there, and other times I simply can’t at all. This new way of working has revolutionized my time.

The downside is the increased desire to check my phone and make sure my inbox is cleared, that all decisions are made etc. So, the next step in my business reform is to lock my phone up after a certain time of day until I wake up. Productivity should only be taken so far. How far? As far as you can take it to be on top of your work while not letting everything you do need a productive excuse. Read more about that idea in this incredible article.

And it isn’t just emails. It is everything. For example, I have a tax day on the first of each month. I organize and categorize my receipts. I backup my files once a week. I follow up with people by creating events on my calendar to remind me.

The big change I made was IMMEDIACY. I always thought that was crazy. I thought people who were on top of their emails didn’t have a personal life, or were addicted to their phones. That doesn’t have to be true. I spend most of my days without a phone in front of me. I try to be in the moment for whatever I am doing, truly committed. I have found that I have more freedom – with my time as well as in my mind. I no longer stress about getting back to people. I no longer worry about if I’ve missed a deadline. And while I do suffer from thinking even more about my work now that I’m on top of it, I know that I can change that as well and not let the immediacy of my business bleed into my personal time.

Yes, it could all crumble and I could slide back into my old ways. But so far, so good. I’m 4 months into working alone again and I have never had a more smooth running business.

Want more details or to share what works for you? Leave a comment!

I am arranging a small mentorship for anyone interested in this topic.
A totally-free, just-because-I-love-business, Skype session with about 10 or so people.
To turn YOUR business around and to help each other grow!
Want to join? Let me know below!


81 thoughts on “How I Went From Backed Up To Back In The Game

    1. Fantastic! I don’t know how or when I turned into such a business-loving person, but here we are 😀 I’ll send you details soon!

  1. Oh, this is so what I needed right now! ♡
    And I’d love to be included in your Skype session if you’re not already maxed out, please!

    1. I was so excited I did not even read the part about skype session…Eep that would be perfect timing.

  2. Dear Brooke,
    I would love to join the free session! I am considering about earning money on the side from giving Sketchnote workshops. On that I need all the advice I can get.
    Big hug from Germany,

  3. Hello,
    I am a self learnt photographer and I am just setting myself up in toe professional field of photography. I would love to join your mentorship. I believe it would be very very helpful for me. Looking forward to hearing from you.
    Thank you! ^_^

  4. Hello,
    I am a self learnt photographer and I am just setting myself up in toe professional field of photography. I would love to join your mentorship. I believe it would be very very helpful for me. Looking forward to hearing from you.
    Thank you! ^_^

  5. Email, oh email, thou art evil! haha. I’m the same way you were with email, always putting it off. I’ve been more focused daily on making it happen, because I don’t want to miss out on opportunities.

    I’d love to be involved, if there’s still space. As a creative, business is a thing I have struggled with, for a variety of reasons. I’m starting to identify and move through.


  6. I’m really bad at managing my time. Hanging out too much on social media is also a major problem (even though it’s mostly work related). I hope I can join your group on this topic .

  7. ohh Brooke I left the message on Facebook and didn’t realise I had to leave a comment here as well. I hope I can make it!!I would love to be part of the group!!!

  8. I would love to be apart of this!
    I started my fine art but I haven’t been able to support myself solely on that. I’m kind of stuck doing these client shoots. You’re a big inspiration to me because, you have done The typical client shoots like family, senior pictures, etc. And I would love to learn how you got out of that and to make a living doing what you love, creating beautiful art and traveling. That’s what I want to do. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do. ❤️

  9. I really glad for you Brooke that you have so many people wanting to hear you on this topic and thank you, hearty, for making this happen, as you are a busy person 🙂
    I hope to have a chance and be in this talk, but there are more that want it, even much more then me, so I’ll gladly give my sit for another

    will you consider recording this session though? I dont mind even paying to hear you talking more on this subject, truly.

    much love to you all 🙂

  10. Love all these ideas…I love that you are so daring all the time…would love to be part of the talk on this subject

  11. Yes please! I would like to be included. I have already learned so much from you via creative live.

  12. Brooke this is such a thoughtful and helpful thing to do. I would be so incredibly grateful to be under your mentorship and learn from someone I gave so much admiration for. You should be so proud of the steps you’ve taken on this journey and I can’t wait to learn from it 🙂 x

  13. Yes please this is exactly what I need I’m just starting out in the very early stages whilst studying and although my course is wonderful there’s no business side and the sheer thought of trying to do it all alone is terrifying me!

  14. I have 3 things I know I absolutely need to keep the energy and motivation up that most people underestimate.

    1. Sleep. I sleep more then most 9 hour
    2. Eating healthy good meals with out stress. Fully present enjoying the food.
    3. Meditating and spending time with people I love.

    But this is not business advice??? OR IS IT?? hehehehe.

    People overestimate what they can do in a year and understand what they can do in a decade! I am in for the long run, so for me it is important to look at this as a marathon and not like a sprint.

    Spending a lot of time working is not the same as being effective. Everything is going so fast this days that I at least feel that I am not working fast anuf. But if you are going to fast then you start getting sloppy, you push out work with out any substance.

    So if I am going to be happy, create work that is meaningful to me and connect with people I meet. I first of all need sleep, food and love.

  15. I felt like I was reading about myself this whole post! I am in the same situation – 21 and hoping to start my own business soon; I’d love some tips on doing it as best as I can from the start. If there are open spots, count me in! Thank you.

  16. I would Love to be part of mentoring session. I look forward to learning new ways of doing things. I Love the Tardis on your desk, I have the same one 🙂

    Thank you,

    Stacey A Jaynes

    My website needs work 🙁

  17. I am not in business “yet”, but these are great ideas and I will definitely keep them in mind for when I do take that plunge.

  18. Really great post, i feel like you at 22 right now xD. I would love to be part of that skype session, for me photography has always been something really personal and is hard to start seeing it as work.

  19. My darlings!!! I truly only expected a few people to want to do the mentorship. My brain works in mysterious ways. I will be in touch about this topic again really soon when I’ve figure out a way to offer a small class on the topic. I regret that I could only choose a handful of people for this particular opportunity, and to be fair have to go with first-come-first-serve. Lots of happiness, be in touch soon!

  20. Hi Brooke, I would love to be part of this business mentoring program!
    My passion is imagery and using it to tell stories, or set moods to evoke a reaction. I shoot fine art creatives for me, and offer portrait / headshot and wedding services for hire at the moment. Been taking courses online for social media marketing via creative live, and other photographer blogs ( where a couple try to sell their ad campaign ideas for several hundred at the end..)
    Really looking to take the next step to reach the right people who will want to hire me based off my personal branding.
    There is the why. Now I must say, you have inspired me since I discovered you online several years ago. I love that your photography speaks of your imagination and truth, I always see something emitting from your artistic images!
    Storytelling and emotion. I appreciate that, and continue to follow your work, projects and creativity. Thank you for sharing your brilliance! ❤️

  21. Wow this took off fast!!! LOL
    Right now I don’t have enough of anything to worry about business, but it is kind of you to offer something like this. 🙂
    I think I will also incorporate a lot of this into daily life, which reminds me, I have an email I need to reply to that has been waiting to long! LOL

  22. Dear Brooke thank you for letting me join the group, “amazing” I’m getting on now but I’m still up for making my business better as I’m rubbish at that side of things lol. So I would love to learn more on this side of the fence x Wayne

  23. Hi Brooke,
    I’d love to be part of your business mentorship, I am trying to tidy up my own business habits.
    Thank you for all of the inspiration you give to this world.

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