Self-Employment: Tis the Season ~ Turning Away Work & Making Time

I recently had a moment of panic in one of the photography groups I’m a part of on Facebook. This group is comprised of some of my closest friends in life, and in the business – so I knew I could trust their opinions. Thankfully, as we all always do for each other, they talked me off my proverbial ledge and eased my worries.

Basically, this is the situation… most years around this time lots of people inquire for last minute proposals and sessions. While I would LOVE to take on all the work that comes our way… Christmas is its own version of crazy if you overbook yourself – because not only do people usually want to do the session before Christmas, they also want to have the photos back in time to order holiday cards or use as gifts for the holidays. (So during a time when you would prefer to be enjoying the holidays with your family – you’re up late editing into the wee hours of the night right up until Christmas, hoping to get all the work done in time!)

In the past, I took on every session that came my way… because as we all know – soon the holidays will be over and we’ll hear nothing but crickets over here in photo-world for a couple of months while we all hibernate through the deep freeze in Chicago. 😉 So you should take all the work you can get while the getting is good… right?

Well… I used to follow that rule, but because of that when we first went full-time (during a time when I thought I’d have the BEST Christmas ever because I no longer had a day job to report to), I ended up being more overworked and stressed than I ever was when I was working a job and running a business! The pressure I put on myself to book every session and turn around all the photos before the holidays was CRAZY. I learned really quickly that if I didn’t absolutely HAVE to book something to pay the bills that I should probably evaluate first if I was able to manage it among not only my business obligations, but also my personal life.

This year was an odd one in that we were gone for a couple of weeks straight over Thanksgiving and the following week. When I would normally be busy Christmas shopping, decorating and enjoying prepping for the holidays… we were gone. So I knew I’d need some down time when we got back into the office (& home) to settle back in, catch up on editing, catch up on work/emails/budgeting/contracts, and also get our personal lives back in order (i.e. clean the house, do laundry from our trip, go through weeks of mail, get Christmas presents, a tree, and decorate the house). Of course not all of these things are pressing things, but some of them are things I genuinely enjoy doing and only have the opportunity to enjoy once a year! So instead of booking myself up non-stop over December, I made the conscious decision to set aside time to catch-up, settle in, and then enjoy the holidays with my family.

Of course – for someone who loves what they do so much and is a people pleaser – turning away work is NOT easy. Nearly every inquiry I got – I’d read through then run into the other room and ask James if we should take it… to which he would reply something to the tune of, “Didn’t you say you weren’t going to overbook yourself this year? Do you have time to shoot and edit that before the holidays?” To which I would reply…“You’re right. Thanks.” And I would let the client know we were unavailable and refer them to a friend in the industry we trust to do a phenomenal job.

It was not easy. We turned away thousands of dollars we could have booked. But you know what we got in return?

  • Our sanity.
  • Time to give 110% to the clients who had already booked us.
  • A (relatively) quiet and manageable holiday season.
  • Time with our family. (Time we would not have had if I felt the need to say YES! YES! YES! to every inquiry that came in.)


And since I seem to forget why balance is SO important (and have to write panicked posts in Facebook groups asking if I’ve totally lost my mind if I’m turning away work) – I’m posting this as a reminder to myself… Just a little peek into what saying “No” when I know deep down that I really cannot handle anymore work has allowed me…

1. Midday snow breaks with Chloe during office days at home.


2. Time to design branding and print collateral for my sister’s new business (Rosewood & Brass Restorations!!) when she was in town this weekend!


3. Time to decorate our home, put up a tree, and relax with James after a very busy year working side by side almost non-stop.


4. A weekend off to catch-up with some of my siblings that I never see enough of (who came to stay with us this weekend!) and laugh harder than I have in a while!


So, although saying “No” is incredibly difficult, this is a little reminder to myself (and anyone else there that could use the reminder) – that it is totally worth your sanity during this sometimes overwhelming time of year!


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Christy & James are Chicago based but happily travel anywhere in the world that beautiful love stories take them!