Priorities, Priorities (and Opportunities)

First of all, life priorities. (Scroll down to get to business.)

How many of us wish we never had to bother with those words?

The truth is, of course, that we all have priorities. Sometimes they are clear, and sometimes they are not. The last month and a half I have noticed that this work is not my top priority, or even in my top three, but I am okay with that. Here’s why.

My top priority always has to be my spiritual walk, my Jesus time, my soul. If I am not caring for my soul, how am I going to care for the needs of others? If I’m not hanging out with my savior, how am I to know what his next steps for me are? If I’m not walking on the right path, things are going to get screwy. That’s just the way it is. Really, I don’t even like listing this as a priority, because that implies that it can change. Like breathing, it can’t. If it does, things die.

Priority number two is my marriage and, now, family. I love my husband more than any project I could possibly take on. The baby in my belly has already taken over a good deal of my life. For example, I am drafting this at 11:44 pm. My man went to bed almost an hour ago but if I lay down I am going to vomit and I really don’t feel like doing that. So, I am doing my best to turn it into something productive. Babies kick you in the butt, man. Anyway, marriage (or whatever serious relationship you are in) must have priority or it won’t be there. Opportunities come and go, and so will people. If you love him or her first, he or she will know that you love them even through the business and will encourage you and help you pick up potential clients, even if it may mean a temporary reorganization of time and energy (never permanent). If you don’t, why would they care to help you further remove yourself from their lives? Love comes first.

The third thing I have noticed take a stand above this work has been my other family, parents and siblings, my other “real” job, as well as dear friends. This mostly goes along with the principle explained above, although it’s more likely I’ll focus on an upcoming project than hang out with this crowd when compared to the likelihood of me choosing work over Daniel.

And I am totally fine with all of this.

You are not alive to work, but work so you can live. When these lines cross, beautiful things or terrible things can happen. I love being creative and I love getting to help people and I love the power of media and I love that none of that defines my ultimate future and I love my family more than all of that put together. It’s ok to not have your job in your top three, so long as that isn’t hurting anyone.

Now then, business priorities.

You define these for yourself. Would you rather make money or make what you want to make? Would you rather spend your profit on new equipment or expanding horizons? Would you rather you run your business or your business run you?

This is the most intense game of Would You Rather you will ever play, because your future is on the line.

I strongly recommend you get your journal back out and write down what you think your priorities are. Over the next month, make notes if you notice your guess was not entirely accurate. If you have a friend whose opinion you trust, ask them to help you figure out what your current priorities are and if they need to change. For example, my priority of finding new clients is low due to current life situations, but that is also fine, given my current circumstances. Those will be changing in January, and so my energies will be reorganized. If for some reason you are spending the time and energy needed to broaden your client base on testing all flavors of Doritos, maybe you need to reorganize your priorities. Or get a YouTube channel. My point is, growing your business has to be toward the top.

You also need to decide if your personal work is more important than client work. Those may require different paths. For example, I focus on my clients. I need to, therefore, talk to people, offer my services, follow up, listen, collaborate, and deliver. That’s my workflow. If you are focusing on, say, getting your own line of graphic tees, you will need to create, build a marketplace, advertise, network, deliver, and follow up, making changes from feedback you get from customers. Don’t be like those people on America’s Got Talent or wherever where the contestant thinks they are the cream of the crop but everyone else know they are nuts. You need to listen. If you are offering photography services, spread the word that you are easy to work with, produce quality images, and always meet your deadlines. If you sell original artistic photos, make sure everyone can see that your framing, canvas, digital prints, whatever, are top notch and the images are really thoughtful and clever. Do you see what I am getting at here? Every person has a different goal, and therefore has different steps to meet that goal. You need to make sure you are taking your own steps.

I promised in the title that I’d bring up how this relates to opportunities, so here we go.

If you have your life priorities in order, that will allow you to take on opportunities knowing that they are within reason. I know that if work reaches becoming more important than my marriage, I will stop the work, or scale it back to a manageable level. When I am considering a project, I automatically start figuring the time and energy it will take me, and if I will still have “enough” time and energy for the things that matter more than the income or exposure. If you don’t already practice setting and living within these boundaries, things will go south.

If you have your business priorities in order, that will also help you decide which opportunities to take on and which to let slide. If you have a major goal of making money and all the offers coming at you are for that dreaded word “Exposure” you need to say no. Demand some respect for your work. You know it is worth something if people are asking for it. Sometimes you may have to adjust your pricing or other marketing to meet clients in the middle, but don’t be afraid to ask for compensation. One thing you might still consider doing for “free” would be straight up charity work, like donating a painting to a fundraiser to build a new pediatric wing or buy the JV team new uniforms. This will provide you with a networking opportunity, plus a great photo op of you working with the community. Use your following to get more people involved in the event. If it works out, the organizers will thank you, and likely ask you back next time. And if the lobby is needing a new art piece, are they more likely to contact the friendly community member, or the guy who refused to show up?

I realize there might be a fuzzy line there, so let me expand a little. And you always have to draw this line for yourself. To me, working with a charity or charity event is fun, an great opportunity for genuine exposure to a potential client base and/or future collaborators, and some kudos you can give yourself on your media outlets. Share the progress of the work on Instagram, post the event to your Facebook, send a snap as a sneak peak before revealing the piece to the organization, take lots of pictures with people at the event and of attendees interacting with your piece, and use those photos later as flashbacks. You know, a nice, humble, look at this amazing event that I participated in and helped the organization pass their financial goal by 10%. It kindof sounds selfish, but it’s also genuinely helping some people in need. I would go, and have gone, for stuff like that almost regardless of other projects. I genuinely enjoy being able to build a better community. So, what’s the other side of the line? False exposure. Design my logo, you’ll get exposure. Yeah, listen bud, that’s only going to work out for me if your company is any good. And if it is, you can afford to pay me. If Disney asked you to work on a scene in their upcoming film, consider that. That is an excellent addition to your resume. If they ask you to make the whole thing and don’t pay you, they can obviously afford that and are being jerks. Does that make sense? Or, here is a real-life example; I helped a friend with some behind-the-scenes paperwork (side note, if you don’t have a contract system you need, need, need one) because 1) she needed the help and 2) we have many plans to work together on projects such as photo shoots, YouTube videos, and referrals as we are in slightly different fields (yes, most of these things were supposed to be done already, but, as I mentioned earlier, baby). It was a win-win for me, and she feels the same way. I also helped build a website for a local non-profit because they sorely needed one and I can add that to my range of experience. Yesterday I met a few people who happened to mention needing a website/social media outlet for their business. Now, these are small business people, and locals, but I am not going to work for them for free because of the balance of exposure and cost. I may or may not gain new clients, and their business ideas may or may not pan out. I will get experience and get paid, though, so that works for me. Anyway, I hope that helps you decide when and where to do free work, when to charge less, and when to call them on it and ask for reasonable compensation.

To summarize, being organized will save your butt. Know what you want out of life, and know how your business fits into that. You got this.

And, final question, would a video series based on some of the ideas explored in these blogs be helpful to you? A video on how to start up, organize contracts, set up media for clients, and so on? Let me know in the comments!

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