didn’t have real responsibilities like a car payment or mortgage to pay, I did have to manage being a student, a roommate, a girlfriend/fiance’ and a business owner. It was tough. I couldn’t just hangout and do nothing but relax all weekend like my roomies. If they were planning a beach day, I would stay up late Friday night and edit last weekend’s wedding and return emails so that I could go. I’m still practicing that same type of planning to this day. We just went on a week long vacation and so I had to pre-blog 5 days worth of posts and edit all of my shoots before I left so that I could enjoy my time away. So during college, I learned the balancing act… however, I also never slept. I was involved in so much on campus and had multiple leadership roles so my time was very divided. If I only ran my business and wrote papers, I would have gotten more sleep! So that leads me to my first of 5 tips for running a business during college:
1. Be Realistic with your Responsibilities. If you’re in a sorority or have multiple leadership positions with different organizations on campus, you may be setting yourself up for failure or burnout if you try to start a business at the same time. I wasn’t very realistic with my commitments. There were so many times when I would show up at 2am to a retreat because I had a wedding on Saturday. You’re going to think I’m crazy but I have, on multiple occasions, driven to a retreat on Friday night, left at 4am to shoot a wedding in northern VA and then driven back to the retreat that night at midnight…. just so I could feel like I didn’t miss out! We’re talking 6+ hours on the road! It was crazy but I didn’t know what else to do. I was on leadership and needed to be there. The hard part was that I had booked that wedding a year prior before I ever knew the retreat dates! I loved leading the worship team for IV but it was really hard to juggle a full time job, being a student and leading a band. I also led a small group! It’s better to do a couple of things REALLY well rather than to trying to do EVERYTHING under the sun and fail at all of them.
2. Take Night Classes! Professors and parents are going to hate me for this one. Night classes were amazing for me! They are almost 3 hours long but they are only once a week. Normally night classes consist of an hour and a 1/2 of teaching and then they either get out early or you have to sit there and listen to presentations the rest of the time! Well, I used my night classes to answer emails! I still paid attention but I got so much done during that time. While my peers were doodling and trying to stay awake, I was running a business and making money! :) That leads me to my next tip….
3. Don’t be Fooled by your Paychecks! If you’re receiving checks for $1500 for wedding payments, that’s going to feel like you’ve struck a goldmine as a college student! I remember checks coming in and my roommates saying “NICE! Lets go to the outlets!!”. Oh how I wish! I don’t know what kept me from spending everything…. oh wait, yes I do… I needed equipment and was scared to death of TAXES! So instead of going on a shopping spree at the outlets, I saved what I brought in and I bought ALL of my equipment in one year. THIS IS HUGE! I bought “L” series lenses, a new iMac, a new laptop, a Mark II, camera bags, flashes and hardrives. I spent about over $20,000 my first two years in business but I never went into debt. If you’re young and are starting your business in college, you need to take advantage of your financial situation. If you are paying for school yourself, I understand that this means that not all of your income can go back into your business. However, if you’re blessed with some help from your family with room & board, tuition and meal plans, this is your chance to build a business fast and debt-free. Don’t be blindsided by your income… remember that 25% of everything you bring in needs to be saved for taxes and then you need to save even more for emergencies!
4. Try to get a room to yourself. I was SO lucky to have a single room in our college house. This allowed me to stay up and work when I needed to without distractions…. well, my roomies would sit on my bed and talk to me while I edited but I loved that. :) Having a room to yourself also allows you to protect your equipment and stay somewhat organized.
5. Guess what Happens after College?! People get Married! Share your business with your friends on campus! People ask me all the time “How did you get started?” … Well, I started my business during the time in my life when EVERYONE was about to get married! I think we did over 10 CNU Alumni weddings last year! Crazy!! Take advantage of this season of your life! Someone asked me “So should I even go to college if I know I want to do photography??”. My answer to that isn’t going to work for everyone but I said “Yes!” Why? Well, you’re going to create an amazing market for yourself during your years in college AND you can get a degree in business management! For some, college wouldn’t be a smart investment but for me, it catapulted my business!
6. Create Systems! You need a system for everything you do. If you shoot a wedding on Saturday, schedule a time that coming week to cull and edit. It’s not realistic to just say “Oh I’ll get it done”. It will be 4 weeks before you deliver those images and that’s not going to get your clients talking about you. :) Schedule work hours when your roommates are in class! You’ll have the place to yourself and you’ll have a time limit.
7. Take Yourself Seriously. This is so hard to do. I felt so funny prepping estimated tax payments in the same room while my friends were hanging out without a care in the world. It was hard at times but it was so worth it! …. Especially now. I’m so thankful I believed in what I was doing and took it seriously from the very beginning because we’re reaping the benefits of that to this day. I tried to be as professional as possible from the very beginning so that I would be taken seriously by my clients and it worked! The more I grew, the more I was respected for my work. Don’t think that just because you’re a college student, you can’t be a professional business owner. That’s just not the case! It’s going to take hard work and a lot of time and sacrifice but it’s an amazing feeling to graduate with a job that you created from the ground up. :)
I hope this is helpful for all of you young ones out there! I was in your shoes almost 3 years ago and I remember how tough it was. Just keep swimming. ;) It’s worth fighting for!!!