Ever wondered what people do at work? If you’re a voyeur like us, then you’ll love our series A Day in the Life where we get a real behind-the-scenes glimpse into the professional lives of CEOs, business owners, and entrepreneurs we admire. From their morning routine to the rituals that set them up for success and questions such as “do you ever reach inbox zero?” because we all want to know how to streamline our lives.
“Always be open to the pivot. If I had been hellbent determined to stay on the same path forever, I would absolutely not be where I am now.”
Photo: Courtesy of Smith House Photo
There’s something incredibly special about Becki Smith. Her eye has captured hundreds of images at our Create & Cultivate events and despite the organized chaos behind-the-scenes, she is always the grounded, enigmatic, effervescent girl who smiles the widest through it all—and that energy goes straight into every single capture. You can almost feel it when you look at them. It’s Smith’s gift.
But the founder of Smith House Photo wasn’t always a professional photographer by trade. One day, Smith quit her corporate job to see if “I could make this photography thing work” but she didn’t know that one day she would eventually be shooting for C&C, shooting weddings, and for major brands like Chandon. Smith just took the leap and hoped that her feet would find solid ground eventually. It’s safe to say, she has landed safely and is now leading a very successful business—with more exciting projects launching soon—shhh!
So, we took five with Smith recently to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the day in the life of a photographer. She was incredibly candid sharing her experience with founder depression, her typical routine, and why she believes inbox zero is a myth. Read on!
Photo: Courtesy of Smith House Photo
What does an average day in your life look like?
I have never been particularly great at routines and I get bored fairly easily, which is why being a photographer and business owner is the best fit for me as a career. Every day is different. Whether it is a shoot day, an event day, an office day, or an off day, I get to work in so many different roles, stretch my creative muscles, learn something new constantly, and explore places and people I never could have imagined. But no matter what, every single day includes coffee (usually an Americano or a coconut milk latte), my skincare routine (because in addition to wanting to have great skin as I get older, it is incredibly relaxing), and puppy snuggles.
What time do you get up? What’s the first thing you do upon waking?
I have an alarm that goes off every day at 7:30 am. It is a “hey its morning!” kind of alarm. Sometimes I wake up and make breakfast, sometimes I lay in bed and read for a little while, sometimes I go for an early walk with the pups. It really just depends on the day and the calendar or to-do list for the day. The one thing I don’t do (as hard as it is) is check my email—Jaclyn Johnson also follows this rule. I have to give myself time to get moving and caffeinated in the morning before I dive into the inbox. It is life changing and mood changing. I highly recommend it.
Are you a night owl or a morning person? When do you do your most important work and why?
For as long as I can remember I have been a night owl. But as I get closer to wanting to start a family I have tried to make adjustments so I don’t work deep into the evening (and evening is generous because if I’m being honest, it was deep into the dark morning hours). I read the book The Power of When earlier this year and it helped me to figure out my most productive hours are actually around 2 pm to 5 pm, so I make the most of these hours by getting organized in the morning so I am ready to run during those peak times.
“I went down a deep path of depression when this loneliness first set in because I was certain I had a job that would bring me joy. Everyone was always telling me I should feel ‘so lucky’ to pursue my passion and work from home but it didn’t seem so lucky, and it didn’t always bring me joy.”
Photo: Courtesy of Smith House Photo
Being a founder means you are wearing so many hats and across so many facets of the business. How do you manage your time effectively?
Time management? What’s that? I kid, I kid but this is definitely not my strongest suit. The best thing I have done for my own time management is to hire and outsource. I did an audit of all of my tasks, which ones I excelled at and which ones only I could do. Then looked at the other side of what were my pain points and what caused the most stop in my workflows. What could other people do as well, if not better than, me? And then I surrounded myself with people to fill in those tasks—and they are rockstars.
Do you ever reach inbox zero? How do you handle the constant influx of inquiries and communication entrepreneurs are so familiar with?
Oh, inbox zero. I used to think of that as a huge goal, but I realized it is truly a false hope. If I am actively working with clients, or getting inquiries for new work, I don’t actually want my inbox to be at zero. So instead, I make it a goal to keep my inbox cleaned up and organized so that I don’t miss anything and aim to respond to all emails within 48 hours. I still fail at this sometimes—usually on the days where there are 100+ new emails or I have been shooting/out of the office for multiple days in a row.
My saving grace is to always be honest. Own up and apologize when you miss an email or take too long to respond. We’re all human, we all do it, and the person on the other end of the email is much more likely to respond favorably and with kindness if you own your mistake instead of trying to cover it up.
What are some work habits that help you stay healthy, productive, and on track to reach your goals?
Staying healthy is not talked about nearly enough in our entrepreneurship and “hustle” world, but it is so important. I struggle with anxiety, and it flares up the most when I’m not taking care of myself. So, no matter what is going on or how busy I am, I give myself time to rest and time to walk with my dogs. Both of these things stave off anxiety for me, which enables me to stay on track with my goals. I am better off being behind and needing to outsource something extra for the month than being exhausted, lethargic, and anxious.
Keeping this time for myself is also helpful in saying no to projects or clients who aren’t the right fit, and setting future goals. I am constantly learning how much space and time I need, how many projects I can handle simultaneously, etc. So rather than just aiming for more, I am able to set new goals that steer me in the direction I want to go and ensure I have ample time and energy to follow them through.
Photo: Smith House Photo
When do you go to bed? What’s your “optimal” # of sleep hours?
Oh, sleep, how I love thee. The only thing in the world I love more is my dogs. I was very guilty of having no work life balance for the first few years of my business. As I get closer to starting a family I have given myself boundaries, which includes cutting off the computer in the evenings so that I can actually go to bed at a decent hour. (I’ll say, cutting off the computer about 95% of the time, because deadlines, am I right?)
On a regular basis I need a solid eight hours. During event or large shoot weeks, I actually struggle to sleep more than five or six from pure excitement. But when I come home from such weeks, I typically have a 12 to 14 hour sleep night to make up for all of it at once—14 hours sounds crazy, and it totally is, but when your body needs it, it needs it!
What’s the most rewarding part of your day?
Recently someone described me as “the girl next door who works her ass off so that she can stay home and snuggle her dogs” and it is so true. The most rewarding part of any day is when I can come home knowing that I have worked incredibly hard to serve and love my clients and my team well, crash on the couch, and snuggle my pups.
When did you know you wanted to start your own company/brand? What was your journey like? What challenges did you face along the way?
I recently shared about my “Tequila and Two Weeks Notice” story on Instagram. But even after I decided that I wanted to quit my corporate job to see if I could make this photography thing work, I didn’t know that I wanted to start my own company. And I probably didn’t even know what a brand was for a little while. I was just picking up my camera and trying to convince whoever I could to get in front of it. This turned into inquiries and booking paid jobs.
My journey was all over the place; I have photographed families, babies, dogs, weddings, furniture… anything you can imagine. It took me about two years into my journey to really dive into branding, and I don’t think that was a bad thing. I knew more about myself, what I loved, what work I wanted to pursue long term, and who I was as a photographer and business owner by this point which made the branding process so much easier to go through.
What advice do you have for aspiring female founders/entrepreneurs?
Always be open to the pivot. If I had been hellbent determined to stay on the same path forever, I would absolutely not be where I am now. I was given the opportunity to work with a handful of small, local brands when everything else I was shooting was specifically couples and weddings. If I had said “this isn’t my lane, I can’t do it” I would have never gained more commercial and event work, which I have learned is truly what sets my heart on fire.
How do you combat the loneliness often felt by women at the top or branching out on their own?
It may be a cliche sentence, but the struggle is real. Starting off as a solopreneur was hard especially after working with coworkers and in fast-moving environments. I went down a deep path of depression when this loneliness first set in because I was certain I had a job that would bring me joy. Everyone was telling me I should feel so lucky to pursue my passion and work from home but it didn’t seem so lucky, and it didn’t always bring me joy.
After some soul searching, lots of therapy, and realizing that I wasn’t the only person that felt this way, I was able put a network into place of other photographers, business owners, etc. that could be my “remote” co-workers; they were just a phone call away, or a coffee shop date down the road, when I needed someone to lean on.
Now I have a small team, but they are all remote and freelancers. So there is still the work from home loneliness sometimes, but I have coping mechanisms and a great support system, so it doesn’t have nearly the affect that it used to.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
The best piece of advice I have ever been given was “Don’t be a Luke & Cat cover band”. Luke and Cat are fellow photographers and mentors of mine. They are incredible educators and are willing to tell all of their secrets and share all of their knowledge to bring up future photographers and build up the industry as a whole. But they give it all away with the advice that everyone should take the information and create their own brand, their own goals, their own journey because cover bands are never as successful as the real thing.
What’s the worst piece of advice you’ve been given?
There is far too much bad advice out there to narrow it down to a single worst piece. I am a person who believes you can learn something from anyone you meet. But you have to take information, opinions, and advice from people with a grain of salt. Whether it is a stranger in the grocery store who thinks they can tell you how to get new clients without knowing anything about you or your business, or a trusted colleague or mentor, you should always be weighing the advice. Say thank you, take it home, and then decide if it is worth listening to or dismissing.
What are some exciting projects you’re working on this month? What are you most excited for in 2019?
2019 has been a big year for Smith House Photo and we are just getting started. We have been working on a handful of long term projects (stay tuned!) that are launching in the next few months and the excitement is building up so strong that we are bound to pop like a bottle of Chandon once we get to shout it all from the mountains.