**Today we are SO honored & excited to have the amazing Abbey Kyhl on to guest blog in a very open, honest & raw post about what happens when the business takes over….and how to take back your life! Thank you SO much Abbey for sharing your story & your incredible heart!
When I first started this journey into a photography business I thought it was about two things…taking pictures and making money. I had no idea what was in store for me. I had no idea that it would become about so much more than that, and that this thing, this business, would become the journey through which I would truly discover who I am and “why” I do this thing I do (as Justin and Mary would say). And I am excited for the opportunity to share with you three moments that propelled me to the place I am now and living a life I love, with a business that is so much more than just a way to make money.
Right from the beginning, I got really lucky in my business. Or at least that was what I thought. My business instantly exploded and I had more clients than I knew what to do with. I found myself constantly bombarded with inquiries and I was jam packed with bookings all the time. In 2010, I worked with 460 clients. That isn’t a typo…FOUR HUNDRED AND SIXTY. It was because I found myself always saying yes. I said yes to everyone…well almost everyone.
See these three. They, along with their daddy, are my everything. And during that period where I was saying yes to every client in the world, they were all hungry for my time and attention, but I said no to them. All the time in fact. “Not right now. In a minute. Hold on.” were words that came out of my mouth dozens of times during the day. And then there for a minute, they started to lose faith in me, and it wasn’t me that they wanted to be around anymore.
Along came life altering moment number one. My amazing, wonderful son taught me an important lesson about my “why”. Kids are funny like that, aren’t they? Always teaching us. He was five at the time and was taking a hip hop class with a bunch of his friends and they had two recitals in the year. Because his first recital wasn’t scheduled months in advance like my weddings were, I missed it. Daddy was there, Grandma and Grandpa were there, even my assistant was there, but mommy was working. So for his next recital, I made huge efforts to make sure I could be there. I wasn’t going to miss this one. But I never told him that, he was five, he wouldn’t understand how much effort I put into being there for him. Then one afternoon I could hear him chatting with my assistant in the other room while I was busy emailing, editing, blogging, posting on social media and doing more work than I knew how to handle. I heard him say to her, “Will you come see me dance hip hop?” She, of course, said she would. But then the next thing that came out of his mouth were the most painful words I have ever heard in my life…”Oh good, because my mommy won’t be there. She will be working.”
My heart sank. My five year old had lost faith in me to show up for him. To be there for him. He was so desperate to be with me, but I wasn’t putting that same energy into being there for him. Something had to change…In fact, just about everything needed to change.
Not long after that my husband’s grandmother, whom I love so dearly, unexpectedly passed away. My heart broke. I thought about all the times I missed out on trips to spend the day with her because I was too busy working. In the days before her funeral, we gathered as a family and shared experiences and memories we had of her. And one thing so vividly stuck out to me. Out of all her children and all her grandchildren, not one person could remember a time when she didn’t show up for them. No missed dance recitals, no missed basketball games, no missed important moments. Grandma always showed up. She was always there for the moments that mattered.
Moment number two, when again, my heart stopped. I knew I wasn’t that person for my family. I was trying, but it still wasn’t enough. Truthfully, there were so many days when I wondered why my husband stayed with me. How we could put up with all that I was doing to our family? And for what? It wasn’t just my family that was suffering, my business was failing too. Because it was impossible to run a successful business the way I was doing it. So I was putting everything at risk for nothing. I gave myself a deadline. One year to turn everything around…or walk away from my business.
Then along came Mary. She was my moment number three. She didn’t know me. She had no idea that her entire WPPI talk that year was for me. She spoke about her own grandmother, and I sat in my seat and wept uncontrollable tears. She knew what it was like. She understood. She spoke about the things we leave behind, and how they need to count for something. She talked about how you can make more than just a living, but can truly create a beautiful life with purpose. About creating a history that mattered. Like my grandmother did. And I knew as I sat there listening that I could do it too.
And I did. I came home. I sought out the help I needed. I found ways to streamline absolutely everything. Ways to work smarter, not harder. Ways to integrate balance into my business and my life. I learned amazing tricks, and techniques, and created a system for running my business that was truly life altering. And I did do it. I really did. I changed everything. I created the business that I knew in my heart I was capable of. And I not only discovered my “why” but maybe more importantly for me, I created a successful business that is centered around my “who.” The ones I am doing this all for. The ones I am building my legacy for. Those who really matter in my story. And it isn’t just my family, but also those special amazing brides whose lives I am supposed to be a part of. They are part of my legacy to, and I a part of theirs.
So you may be in this place. This place where you don’t know the “why”, or maybe you do, but you are drowning trying to figure out the “how”. How to run a business that doesn’t run you. How to do what is important first, and let everything else fall into place. Because I can guarantee it will. If you focus on your “why” and your “who,” everything else will fall into place. And if I was going to give you three tips to get you started, here is what they would be.
1. Learn to say “no” to the wrong things, so you can say “yes” to the right things.
Learning how to do this will change everything. This concept, this idea of saying “no” was one of the biggest stepping stones to taking back my life and in turn taking my business to a whole new level. Think about all the people in your business you say “yes” to that you know that you shouldn’t. Have you ever thought of it this way? Each time you say “yes” when you know you shouldn’t, you are also saying “no” to the people who really matter. And I can honestly tell you, when you start to say “yes” to the right things and “no” to the wrong things, you will find you actually have more business than you know what to do with. On average I receive at least two wedding inquires a day, that’s over 730 wedding inquires a year. And now, because I put my family first I only book 8% of the brides that contact me.
And here is the best part, I have more time to be with my family than I ever did before. Each year, I take a full month off in the summer. That’s right I am a wedding photographer, who takes a good chunk of the busy summer season off. But my brides just understand how important taking a summer break with my kids is, because there are so few of them in a lifetime. And my brides, the ones I do say “yes” to, they want me to be able to be a good mom. They support me in that. They are willing to be flexible with me, because they know that when I am giving them my time, I am giving them my very best. My brides now become my friends, because we have the time to cultivate that relationship, and my friends value my family. So of course, there are still days when I have to be away from my family, but those days are not as big of a deal anymore. Because I am there for them a lot. I am there for them when they need me, and many times when they don’t, just sitting here quietly watching them grow and falling in love with them even more. I’ve found out I can have the best of both worlds. Being a great mom and being a great business owner…because I learned to say “no” when I should.
2. Systems = Success
It’s impossible to be successful when you are trying to do everything yourself. You need systems. And you need things like Shoot Q, PASS, Zenfolio, and others to lighten the load. You need a streamlined workflow. You need time managing techniques that will help you balance your life. You need to utilize these important tools so you can make your business as efficient as possible. Implementing systems will drastically change everything. In my system (the one I teach in my Evolving Workshop), I now save 20 hours per client for a simple cost of $48.00 per client. Imagine what you could do if you gained 20 hours of your life back per client and all you had to do was raise your prices by $48.00 dollars.
3. Think like a boss, so you can feel like an artist.
Once you get your business together, and can organize and balance all the behind the scenes day-to-day tasks that have to be done, you can begin to focus on the importance of this work. What you are doing, what you are capturing for your clients, and the difference you can make in people’s lives. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you can get that time back to follow your heart and your art. Instead of seeing deadlines, demanding clients, and being overwhelmed with to-do lists, you begin to see the beauty in this work again.
The truth is this…Life is all about our moments. And these moments that we are given are so fleeting. In a breath they become a whisper of a precious memory. But how we choose to spend our moments is what really matters. Being with my family matters. Being a part of a brides most important day matters. And if I could stand all day and pour out my heart to you about one thing, it would be this…You can have it all. You can have the best of both worlds. I know this without a doubt, because I am living it.
Abbey Kyhl is the owner of AK Studio & Design and is a thriving and successful wedding photographer located in Southern Utah. She has created the Evolving Workshop where she teaches all about the system she designed and integrated for running your business, taking back your life, and catapulting yourself to success. It truly is the “everything business” workshop. She also runs the private facebook group, the AK Crew, where each day she answers a different business question and gives her advice on anything and everything related to your photography business. To learn more about her visit her website www.akstudiodesign.com.