If you’re a photographer or a creative entrepreneur running your own business, chances are if you are reading this, it’s slow season for you. For me living in the Shetland Islands in Scotland, my slow season is at the time of publishing this post: January. If you’re in the southern hemisphere, or reading at a different time of year, this may be your busiest season! Either way, I hope this helps you with your slow season.
So slow season doesn’t necessarily mean winter. Instead, its the time of year where you’ve got less going on in your business. Less bookings, less editing to do, or a schedule that isn’t as jam packed as it would be during your busy season.
So is this the time to binge Netflix?
Let your routine go out the window?
Close your office door and let the dust gather?
Or is this the perfect opportunity to utilise your time to grow?
I know you know the answers to these questions.
So how can you use this time effectively and efficiently?
How To Approach Slow Season
This is a chance to look at how the last 12 months progressed, what went well and what didn’t. There’s so much time during slow season to reflect and improve your systems, refresh your inspiration and upgrade the products you are offering.
Yes, it is so inviting to sleep in, ignore the schedule and just pick up where you left off once business picks up again. But the time you have now is just as important and valuable as the time you have during the client-a-day season.
However, you don’t need every single moment to be spent hustling or producing products. Sleep in on the days you allocate as self-care days. Allocate time for REST.
Resting on purpose during slow season is so important to me. Including rest during busy season is too (I’m still very much working on that). Slow season resting can look like a number of things, all of which are still super productive.
Approach slow season with a mindset that inspires you to get creative with your current systems, to use the time to make changes that will simplify your year ahead while also ensuring you make the effort to intentionally rest.
This is a great time to refresh routines and set new habits within your business. I know that when I’m in the middle of busy season, there’s no way I have time to improve workflows, change the look of automated e-mails, update the layout of my monthly newsletter – even if I wanted to. This is slow season business.
How To Structure Slow Season
Refleeeeeeect. SO much of the information you are craving that’ll help up-level your business is sitting right in front of you. Just because it’s over doesn’t mean it has lost its value. Look back to push forward.
What worked really well last year that you want to make better for this year?
What did not work?
What made you feel overwhelmed?
What gave you imposter syndrome and made you feel like you weren’t good enough?
What did clients compliment you on?
Have you improved or enhanced or expanded from these positive reviews?
Did you receive any negative feedback?
Have you put new structures and boundaries in place to make sure that you won’t receive the same again in the future and that your future clients won’t feel the same way?
What or who inspired you throughout the year?
Have you analysed why it impacted you so much?
Once you’ve taken notes from your previous year, slow season is the perfect time to plan for the upcoming one. Take your notes and set goals for the year ahead. Be ambitious and set out clear steps for how you’re going to achieve these over the next 12 months. I tend to refresh routines and set new habits during my personal life at this time too.
For example, one of my 2023 business goals is:
To be more confident in creative ways of storytelling
Instead of just leaving it like that, I can break it down into manageable and achievable portions such as:
Arranging at least 2 styled shoots this year so that I can experiment with different ways of photographing and interacting with clients. This also gives me extra content to play with in editing and trying out new techniques.
Spend an hour a week researching what inspires me and creating a Pinterest board to come back to when I need ideas.
Have a monthly review where I can curate a collection of images I’m most proud of so that at the end of the year I can see how far my creative storytelling has developed.
Listen to podcasts, audio books, read books and blog posts and educate myself on storytelling, enhancing visual narratives and how I can best implement advice from others into my work.
In terms of structuring your slow season, looking at an overview of your year is a great way to determine when is the best time to implement your different strategies. For me, the end of December and the start of January are real moments of rest for me. I wind down from the previous year and let myself fully immerse into spending quality time with family and friends. By mid January I tend to naturally want to start turning the wheels of the business again.
This is just a peek into what my yearly seasons tend to look like so that you can plan out yours:
January – March
I reconnect with myself: I read more, I cook from a place of passion not need, I relax and spend more intentional time with friends and family
I start behind the scenes work, looking at how can I make things better
I start reviewing last year, planning next year
Business development, updating systems, workflows
Batch writing blogs, batch creating social media content, helping out my future self
Connecting with potential clients (it’s engagement season!)
April – June
Family sessions and weddings start picking up for me, so this is the time I might put into place the steps for achieving balance between work and family life that I planned in the previous months
I do my best to stick to routines, editing schedules and resting on purpose
I stay up to date and present on social media thanks to past me for batching all that content
July – September
It is wedding seeeeeasssssoooooooooon!!
I use my slow season development and the work I put in to have a smoother wedding season and happier clients – always striving for better
Lots of editing, lots of sharing new and current content, engaging with clients
Making notes of what did and didn’t work to use in future slow season
Submitting weddings to blogs, magazines, features and recognizing what made submissions successful or learning from rejection critique
Using planned time off to reset and recharge for the final quarter
October – December
Starting to wind down from photographing wedding season, but still lots of BTS work
Still lots of editing, submitting, emailing, and implementing time off to recharge
Putting energy into sales and encouraging clients to use the store in the build up to Christmas. Educating clients on the power of why their wedding photos shouldn’t live solely on a computer – albums, prints etc.
Start cleaning up systems, hard drives, preparing for upcoming slow season.
It’s all well and good to plan for a healthy, productive slow season but how to make it happen?
How To Make Things Happen During Slow Season
Be kind to yourself and listen to your body. Commit to yourself with the same level of dedication you would a client.
Don’t convince yourself that you need to start everything from scratch, or that you need to take on multiple new projects. Chances are you already have perfectly good systems in place, so a good place to begin is by taking those systems and applying changes to them that you’ve learned in the last year.
Do this year after year and you’ll see the growth in your business that you dreamed of. I am absolutely still learning this, and often make this my affirmation.
Using slow season to grow and develop doesn’t mean you have to spend your whole day locked in your office. Here are some ways you can use slow seasons in ways that will help you to continually expand your creative business:
Read or listen to business books or self development books.
Educate yourself – there are so many ways to learn out there. Invest in a course, finish a course you bought that didn’t complete (guilty over here). Find free webinars on areas of your business that you need help with. Hire a 1-1 coach and discuss your areas of development with someone who has been through the same journey as you.
Do what inspires you! Revisit films, books, places, music that you know gets your creative ideas flowing. Take the time to remind yourself why you started what you’re doing. Use social media with intention – there are so many exceptional creators on social media that share their work with you. Engage with them, learn from them.
Website cleaning and refreshing. Workflow tweaking. CRM updating. I make new workflows and new questionnaires, update contracts, check over the flow of client experience every single slow season. And I make changes – every single time. Because each year my business grows and changes just as I do.
Book in for mentoring sessions with professionals you look up to. Where are they in their business that you want to strive to be? Ask them the big questions and implement their advice into your year ahead. They were once where you are now.
Set up new systems that will help you. I’ll do a different blog post on the top apps, programs and systems I use but here are a few examples of ones you could look into setting up: A CRM (Studio Ninja, Dubsado), Project Management System (Asana, Trello, Monday), Social Media (Instagram, Tik Tok), Product Delivery (for photographers – Pic-Time, Shoot Proof, Pixieset).
REST. Do what fills you up. It’s no secret that being self-employed is challenging and sometimes all consuming. It’s so vital to use your slow season to be just that: slow.
Essentially, it’s about balance. Take time off to switch off completely, reset, rest. Then take time to refresh, revisit and re-inspire yourself for the exciting times ahead.
If this blog post helped you, please leave me a comment below before you download the Slow Season Checklist. It includes journal prompts, how to lay out your year ahead and a step-by-step checklist to achieve your business goals and a whole bunch more.
I really hope this helped you lean into your slow season and get the most out of your year ahead!