A soccer goal net in a field
Glenn Carrie

It’s 11PM. Your eyes are a little blurry from staring at your computer. But, you have 2 more sessions you wanted to edit tonight, you realize you forgot to post the sneak peek for last week’s client, and you still haven’t gotten around to figuring out the promo you are running for the fall sessions.

You glance at your notebook … the list of ‘to-do’ items run across 3 pages – 3 pages! And very few of those items have a checkmark beside them.

Sound familiar? If so, you are not alone. But the good news is, there is a way to get out of this hamster wheel. And it all comes down to setting goals strategically (and to stop trying to multitask…it doesn’t work!).

First, are you setting goals at all? For many of us, just trying to keep up with the day to day of running a photography business can keep us with our heads down, deep into the ‘busy work.’ I’m not saying this work doesn’t need to happen. Some of it does. But, what is the point of it all?

Get Clear on Your ‘Why’

What is your big why? As in, why do you want to have a photography business? How do you want it to add to your life? How do you want it to make you feel?

It’s so very, very important to understand ‘why’ you are doing all this so you can make sure that when you are setting up your goals, it is supporting your ‘why.’

And please don’t get altruistic here…if you want to have your own business to work less, or make more money, or be with your kids more, write it down. You need to know what you are working towards.

But if your goal is to have weekends off for your family, have you set up your business to support that? Are you structuring your pricing so you can make the amount you want to earn with the number of sessions you ideally want to take every month?

Do you know what you need to make each session? If not, please take the time to do that now. Because setting up a bunch of goals that aren’t going to support what you really want is not a great strategy!

I even recommend re-examining your whys at least twice a year. They can change, and you want to be sure that the business you are building still supports them.

Ok, so once you are clear on your Whys, it’s time to start setting some goals to move your business in the right direction (or keep it moving in the right direction if you already were clear on this)!

Pick 1 or 2 Immediate Goals

You know where you want your business to be – what are the main obstacles, challenges or roadblocks currently standing in your way?

Do you need to focus on getting more clients? Better managing the ones you have? Are you struggling with getting repeat clients? Is your portfolio showing off your best work? Do you have a website that is clear and easy to navigate? Do your client processes and policies need work? Or maybe you still need to work on creating consistent images for clients?

The truth is that there is no shortage of things we could be working on. But what should you be working on? And more importantly, what will you work on in the next 12 weeks?

There is no one right answer (sorry!) – because each and every one of you has a different ‘why’ for their business. And you are all in different stages of your business which is why looking at what other photographers are doing and just copying them isn’t that helpful – you have no idea what goals they have for their business.

So, looking at where you are and where you want to go, start listing out the things that need to happen to bridge that gap. Then, take a look at that list and pick the 1 or 2 that you think will have the biggest impact on your business in the next 12 weeks.

Why 12 weeks? It seems to be enough time to accomplish some pretty large projects, but short enough that you still need to be focused to hit your deadlines. Some projects won’t need more than a couple weeks to complete. However, resist the temptation to stack on a bunch of goals even if some can be completed quickly. How come? Because you will bounce around from project to project, completing exactly none of them (more on this in a minute).

Break Down Your Goals

Make sure your goals are specific – and realistic.

They can be stretch goals (goals that are difficult but achievable with some extra effort), but don’t make them so far from your current reality that when the time comes to take action on them, you’ll throw your hands up in the air and say “impossible!” Seriously. This is important.

You may have heard people talking about making sure your goals are “SMART” goals (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and timely). That’s all well and good, except most people fail to lay out the small steps that need to happen to get from A to B.

Example: Book 5 new clients with new fall promo campaign by August 15th.

That’s a “SMART” goal – but what exactly needs to happen to book those 5 clients? And that’s where you need to get into the action items. What actually needs to happen in order to make that goal a reality? Take the goal that you plan on achieving in the next 12 weeks and break it down into smaller sub-goals. Schedule deadlines for these. And don’t give yourself too much time…or you’ll fall prey to Parkinson’s Law where “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

Take Action and Avoid Task-Hopping

Fact: we are not truly capable of multitasking.

The quicker you believe this to be true and adjust the way you work, the quicker you can step off the hamster wheel and start seeing real results for your efforts.

Every time you jump from task to task, it takes time for your brain to readjust and get back on track for that particular project. And if you spend the whole week task-hopping, you’ll end up having started many things by the end of the week, but completed nothing.

And it’s completed goals that get us to our desired outcome – not half-finished goals. In step 3 you identified the top 1-2 goals for the next 12 weeks.

Take a moment now to consider whether these are truly goals that are going to move your business forward (and whether they can be achieved in the next 12 weeks). If they can’t be, you need to break it down further.

These are your top priorities to tackle with every block of time you’ve set aside for projects.

Block of time? Yes. And this is key. As photographers, we can spend the whole day reacting to things – email, Facebook messages, Pinterest rabbit holes, etc – but in order to truly be effective at achieving your goals, you need to protect your time. Because everyone’s schedule varies widely, it’s hard to say what that block might look like – but, let’s just use an example to illustrate the point.

Let’s say Jane has 30 hours/week to work on her photography business. She generally has 4 sessions/week and knows that with shooting, editing and delivering galleries, it takes around 5 hours per session (Jane has an efficient workflow). That’s already 20 hours accounted for in her work week.

She knows that she spends 30 minutes a day on email + posting on social media, which means another 4.5 hours are gone, leaving her with just 5.5 hours to work on projects. Of course, this is assuming nothing unexpected comes up…and when is that ever the case?

So you can see that it is essential that those few hours per week are scheduled (and protected!) for diving into a project with singular focus.

Once a goal is completed, add another one. But resist the temptation to keep goal-stacking – because the urge to start them all will be extremely high.

Generally speaking, the start of projects are the fun part (but when the time comes to start doing the real work, procrastination can kick in!).

The other temptation that can present itself is working all the time.

Set some hard start and stop times in your business. I think you’ll find that you are much more mindful of your time, you’ll achieve your goals faster and you won’t feel completely burned out.

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