Photographer Liz Wan started her wedding photography business in 2013. In 2014 she gave birth to a male diva baby who she calls Fin or Finster or Fin-a-lin or Finboy depending on how she feels. In this guest blog series she shares her efforts on how to tackle running a business from home and caring for a baby who changes his mind over what he wants about every two weeks. For this first episode she interviewed fellow photographer & new mother Joanna Brown.
Fin was 5 weeks old when I shot my first wedding since labour day. I remember missing him a lot, but I wanted to get back to work, too. I really felt that I couldn’t afford to take time off, especially as I had just got going with my business. Fin is now one and I still daydream about packing him off with some toy elves for the day, so I can get on with some work without interruption (especially when he decides he can’t possibly allow anyone or anything else have my attention for more than 3 seconds except him).
I often laugh at how naïve I once was about my idea of how ‘convenient’ it would be running a business from home while taking care of a baby. Sure, it’s convenient that I don’t have to commute to work, but there have been days where, if I managed to put on a pair of clean knickers and brush my teeth, I’d congratulate myself with a pat on the back. Looking after a baby on your own most of the time whilst trying to work from home is no piece of cake. If it were cake it’d be those crap ones you get from the supermarket that have a shelf life of forever, because it’s so pumped with additives and preservatives. You might as well not bother. But for most of us, it’s not an option and neither is full-time nursery (just yet!)
I really wanted to know how others manage this baby and business juggling thing, so for this post I interviewed sparkle magnet Joanna Brown of Joanna Brown Photography to see how she shakes her baby and business management thing.
Are you fully back to work or part-time? If so, how old was Beau when you decided to start work again?
Well I am back to work now, I am not sure if its full-time or part-time. I naïvely did not scale my business back, so I still have a full-time schedule (at the rate I was working at pre-baby), but now with much less time. So I am currently running a full time business with part time hours! I shot my first wedding when Beau was 5 weeks old, and in the first 6 months of his life have shot 6 weddings, mentored 5 students, shot an engagement shoot and opened up a print shop! I must be mad.
What's your workspace like and are there rules on how you manage the space?
I have an office in a small house… I am trying to keep work contained to the office, but that is not really working out. I often have my laptop in the kitchen and whilst I am cooking I am dealing with admin tasks of emailing!
Do you have a routine for the Beau? If so, how did you decide to start it? (I had no routine for ages because Fin needed feeding every couple of hours and I was constantly trying to keep up with all the changes from week to week!)
I have no routine as such… I breastfeed and that is something that I have tried hard to do. I am pretty laid back and now Beau is at 6 months (at the time of the interview) we are just getting into some kind of a routine. Up at 7, nap at 11 ish, nap at 2 ish, bath at 6 ish and bed 7 ish… that’s as far as I have got…
How much do you share the childcare with Beau's dad? Do you get regular support from other family members?
Dad is out at work, so he sees the boy in the evenings and weekends. My shoots are mainly at the weekend, so Dad steps in and looks after Beau then, which is nice. On Sundays I have a strict no work day, and we kick back as a family. That’s important to maintain. I now have regular help in the week, as I am lucky that I have family around. I am trying to be disciplined and lock myself in the office and work from 10-3.30 on those days where I have childcare. As I am breastfeeding I pop downstairs to feed him and have a cuddle then back up I go. I am in the office 12.5 hours per week doing editing and admin, and then shoot at the weekends, with some shoots here and there during the week. It has taken a whirlwind of 6 months to get to this point and it is still not the perfect work/mum balance, but I am getting nearer to it… I see it as an ever-evolving puzzle – I have to do what I think is instinctively right for Beau and me.
In your experience, what has been the most challenging about being a new mum and running your own business?
I am really ambitious and passionate about my craft and up to this point I have sacrificed a lot and given the business my total focus. However, once I held my boy in my arms I knew things had changed forever… so the challenge for me personally now is how to make it all fit. I wanted so long to be a mum, to create a home, live a full life with my boyfriend, and also realise my ambitions that I still have. Making old ambitions and new role as a mum work is a challenge. I have a feeling it’s going to be like the tide: it will come and go. I am learning that I have to adapt, change, listen to my instinct, be truthful, make decisions, and let things go, seek advice and support, be myself as a mum and myself as a photographer and a businesswoman! If someone can bottle that I would appreciate it! To be honest, at first I found it frustrating, I felt all sorts of emotions letting go of the life I knew and making way for the new. Now I am starting to get to grips with it, my new motto is to ‘attack it’. I don’t want to hold back through fear, so yes, that is the challenge.
How much do you work to schedules or does it just depend on how you feel?
In the beginning I went back to work so soon I had no idea what day of the week it was, let alone any order. I don't know how I managed to do it to be honest. Up until he was 5 months old I felt like I was firefighting with no plan. Over Christmas I had a meltdown and realised that I need more structure for this to work out so came up with a plan which is now rolling out… we are getting there. I think it takes time, you can’t prepare for this until you are in it, as you have no idea how you will be.
Have there ever been times when you have had to throw your plans or schedules out the window, because, for example, Beau is ill and only wants you to hold him?
Well, not really. I remember a period when I was regularly sending emails at 5 am, as I was awake and I was struggling getting the time to do the admin and fed up of emailing with him on my knee. I found that I can be really productive in the dead of night with no distractions. However, I quickly got too exhausted so that had to stop and I needed to work out a better way.
In hindsight, if you were to advice your pregnant self about managing a baby and work life, what advice would you give yourself?
I don’t think there is any advice that I would have understood before I was a mum, as there are SO many variables which are dependent on how you cope, how your priorities change, and then just logistics like breastfeeding or bottle-feeding etc.… I guess to have support in place and an ideally to have some flexibility with work, so you can suck it and see. Also, to get as many systems in place for work as you can, so you can ask other people to help you out and then they can do this with ease. I guess go with your gut and instinct as a mum and keep life as simple as possible and most of all enjoy every moment, whether good or bad or stressful, it’s all part of the package!
All images: Joanna Brown Photography.