Wedding photos by Seth Jacobson Photography
Shaun and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary this week. We met 15 years ago this fall.
Here are the past 15 years in 1000 pixels for your viewing pleasure:
If you’re just meeting us, here is a quick background: I started Heidi Hope Photography just a little over a year into our marriage while I was home with our first baby. Shaun came over to help me manage and run the business less than a year later.
Seeing our successful business, people often ask us how we work together every day.
They think, “I could never work with my spouse, we would kill each other!”
or the opposite:
“I wish my husband would come over and help me (especially at tax time). You’re sooooo lucky!”
The truth is, you will likely feel all of those feelings at one time or another when working together with your spouse.
Sometimes you feel extremely blessed… and other times you wish you had a pistol in your top drawer!
I don’t have much to compare my experience to because we jumped into being business owners just over a year into our married life.
Would married life be much different if we weren’t working together?
I can’t answer that because I’ve never been through it.
Is working with your spouse the best choice for everyone?
I’ve known plenty of business owners who have ended their marriages. I’ve known plenty of non-business owners who have too.
Doesn’t everyone want to kill their spouse at one point or another?!
Because we get so many questions regarding this, and in honor of our anniversary this week, I thought I would share with you what we’ve learned working together over the years. Even if you would never in a million years want to drag your spouse into your photography business, these lessons are equally as applicable to hiring a business partner of any kind (except for the pillow talk part… well, maybe).
This is not meant to be marital advice or counseling. It’s just what’s worked so far for 2 crazy kids who fell in love 15 years ago.
1. Running a business is like having a baby. Only more stressful.
You know when you see that couple with a million problems and they think having a baby will solve everything for them? They’ll fall back in love. They’ll spend more time together. They’ll get their priorities straight.
I see so many people romanticize running a business with their spouse in the same way.
And guess what?
It doesn’t work.
Running a business is like having a baby… only more stressful.
It brings all of your faults, your weaknesses, your insecurities and your judgements to the forefront of your relationship.
You HAVE to deal with your shit because it’s in front of your face all day, every day.
There is no such thing as getting into a fight at home and cooling off away from each other the next day. When you work together each day, you have to put disagreements aside and come together to make important decisions. You have to field stressful situations together and remain professional even if you feel like pulling the pistol out of your top drawer. You often have to give up your pride or your own wishes and make choices that are best for the business as a whole.
Personally, I think it is an amazing benefit for a marriage when you are forced to confront and work through your differences… if you’re both willing to do it!
2. You might lose your hobby.
If you are seriously considering your spouse working with you full time, be sure to think long and hard about what it will be like to make photography your only source of household income.
Many professional photographers start with photography as a hobby. They get into the industry because they love taking pictures so much, they would do it for free!
Doing it for free isn’t an option when every hour and every dollar is the difference between paying your bills or losing your home.
There’s a whole lot less time to shoot for yourself and your own creative fulfillment.
You may have to take some jobs (or many, many jobs) you’d rather not, just to make your mortgage payment.
You have to plan for slow season and sick or vacation time.
Instead of WANTING to do photography, you HAVE to do photography. And that is usually a big change from how you started.
There is NO BACKUP INCOME if business is bad. Can your business really replace your spouses entire income, paid time off, benefits, insurance and retirement? This is something we never thought of at first and have had to change our business model and pricing to support over the years.
3. You’ll probably have to adjust your business practices.
Yes, you’ll probably have to charge more then your competition. You’ll have to look closely at your numbers and learn ways to become more efficient and profitable. If you don’t have a strong brand and marketing plan in place, you’ll need to begin focusing your attention on those areas of your business.
In our industry, much of your competition may be working for hardly any pay and often for free! Many photographers don’t need the money, so they don’t charge the money. That’s all well and good until you really need the money and really have to charge it. Then you have to find clients who will pay it. That’s when your brand and your marketing are more important then ever!
Once you set your pricing to support your household income needs, insurance and retirement, you can ask yourself: “will people in my market pay this?”
Now, my answer for you is “YES, they will!”, but it takes a lot of business planning, a strong brand, and heavy marketing to establish yourself and command any price you need.
Silver lining: Without that type of pressure, there is no way HHP would have grown to be so successful in such short period of time. We worked our butts off… because we had to. And now we’re enjoying the rewards of that hard work!
4. Leave work at work.
This is probably obvious, but save work discussions for work hours. It’s tough to leave work behind as business owners, but it is so important to have some fun and remember why you like each other… outside of business. Work should never be your pillow talk! 😉
5. Discover your strengths.
Have you read this book?
I love it!
Assessing your strengths and weaknesses is an important practice as a business owner and it’s advice I give at all of my workshops. None of us are cut out to do it all. Understanding your strengths within your business can help you highlight and capitalize on what you do best. It can make your job more enjoyable and fulfilling.
Understanding your weaknesses can show you areas that you may try to improve or outsource all together. Your weaknesses are areas that you can consider hiring help and getting off of your already busy plate.
When it comes to working with your spouse, it’s helpful to be honest about what you’re each good at. Even if you are both photographers within the business, one of you might have a better way with customer service and the other love crunching numbers. One may be more extroverted and one more reserved and observant.
With Shaun and I, we divided our business roles early on. We often joke that we only see each other at lunch, and it’s true! Perhaps that is the secret! 😉
But seriously, each person within the business should have specific job roles, just as you would give an employee ownership of particular tasks.
The important thing is that once you assign each person ownership, you have to GIVE UP CONTROL of what’s not yours.
Entrepreneurs are typically control freaks. Let’s face it, we’d rather work 60 hours a week in business for ourselves so that we can control our own day rather then show up and collect an easy paycheck. You also put a lot of time and love and passion into building your business. It’s hard to give elements of it up for someone else to take over.
Get over it!
Elsa had it right. You have to let it go.
No one is going to do things exactly the way you would do them. When I first began growing this business I would often cringe at how someone else would handle something, whether it was Shaun or an employee. I learned fast that I had two choices: Do everything myself and have absolutely no personal life or give up the micromanagement and let people do the job they’re there to do. Guess which one I picked?
Give up the ownership of tasks that you aren’t great at and enjoy the freedom!
In our business there is some overlap, but generally, Shaun handles the finances, accounting, taxes, insurance, benefits, retirement, staff management, sales, scheduling, record keeping, and client correspondences (to name a few things). I oversee the creative side of things, marketing, branding, social media and web presence, shooting and editing, session preparation and props, teaching and PR. So far, it works!
I look back at the past 7 years and everything Shaun and I have accomplished together and can’t help feeling proud of the life we’ve made. I’m grateful for our decision to be business partners, even if it hasn’t always been the easiest choice.
I know I could have never built HHP into such a strong business without Shaun by my side, building it with me. And it really helps that he likes doing the Quickbooks!
So, happy anniversary to us!
If you want to meet us and learn more about how we built our business (we’re pretty fun!):
June is already 1/2 sold out… so what are you waiting for?!
Are you considering working with your spouse? Do you already? Do you just wish someone would step in and balance your Quickbooks?! Are you impressed with our wardrobe choices over the years (bandanas and navel rings?). I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!