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Shit no one wants to talk about: What if you die?

This business can be isolating.

That was one of the first things I learned in my first weeks of self employment.  At first, it sounded so glamorous.  No time clocks, no “man” to report to, no asking for days off, no office politics to navigate, no godforsaken grey cube.

But what I missed, desperately, was the water cooler.  I missed having people to bounce ideas off of, I missed  that on my birthday no one brought me a birthday donut.

I started my full time business before Al Gore’s internet was a staple in most homes, and I missed people.

Enter the internet, and shortly thereafter, Facebook.

Here, at the touch of a few keystrokes were my people.  People to ask questions to, joke with, to bitch to.   Forums!  Groups!   In navigating the forums and Facebook, names became familiar. I realized with a start one day that I knew more about what was going on with Shalista in North Dakota than I did with my own sister because we interacted more on a daily basis.

And one day, one of those familiar faces was gone.  A gal I never met but had known from the forums for about 5 years. In a freak, unbelievable accident she was gone, leaving behind her husband, her two small children and her busy photography business.

In the ensuing months photographers from her area rallied around her family helping her husband sort out contractual issues and piecing together what needed to be done. Like many of us, she started as a mom with a camera, went pro after a few years, had babies and was working part time while being a stay at home mom.  You know someone just like this, right?

Maybe it’s you.
Her husband was supportive of her business and her biggest fan. But he knew nothing about the day-to-day running of her business.

Nothing.  All he knew was her yearly income for the household, as he was the one who did the family taxes every year.

He didn’t even know the password to get into her computer.

It took nearly a year to unravel where things were, who needed what, and there were several really stressful situations where clients called not knowing the photographer had passed  who were very angry that  she missed their event.

Imagine dealing with that as a grieving husband and dad.

That was the moment I realized for that all my organization that if I died tomorrow, no one would really be able to navigate my file system in a quick and timely manner.  As much as I think it all makes sense, it just would not for someone who didn’t live in my head and work in my industry.

Checking into studio management software programs was next on the list.  There are many powerful ones out there, but I’m a one woman show with not nearly the volume to justify the price tag and they contained so many components I would not use or that were duplicated in my own system.

In the next few weeks were going to be talking about some morbid shit, ya’ll.  It’s not fun to talk about death and what-if’s.

But it’s necessary.

So put on your big girl panties and your big boy underoos, because we have some organization to do to get our houses in order for the people we love.

 

 

6 Comments

  1. I learned organization and always being prepared from my dad. He has some serious hobbies (astronomy, photography and building things). His workspace was always ready for the next project and one could always find things as needed.

    One day he told me that I should be ready when his time comes and he will pass on. He gave me a huge file of things that I would need with all the paperwork needed for selling, transferring… on everything he and my mom owned. He even went so far as to design his own gravestone for my mom and him. They took me out there to see it as they were proud that they custom designed it with the things that were important to them (outdoors for my dad and dogs for my mom). I took a photo and it was one of the most surreal photos I have ever taken. My parents standing and smiling next to their gravestone. The only thing missing was their date of passing.

    To this day I carry on his perspective of organizing and being prepared. If needed anyone could walk into my office and pretty much find what is needed (both paperwork and digital files) for any past or recent wedding.
    Now the question here is how much time should be spent constantly preparing compared to living and enjoying the moment.

  2. Thanks for this. Before my hip replacement surgery, I spent a few minutes trying to explain my haphazard system with my assistant. Thank God she didn’t have to go in and clean it up for me. I am having more surgery tomorrow. You and Charo should have gotten me organized first!

  3. Obviously the focus of this article is being organized. As a self employed person in one business, a partner in another, a husband and one who recently lost an elderly parent, the issue of being organized for myself as well as those I leave behind is top of mind right now. This is great advise – whatever you do, from notepad or ledger to studio management software, get yourself organized.

    On the topic of boards, forums and Facebook, here’s my old school perspective. I don’t friend people I’ve never personally met. Yes I follow the business pages of many local and national photographers, suppliers and businesses, but if I haven’t connected with you personally, I don’t do it on Facebook. Old fashioned? Out of touch? Maybe but it works for me and I don’t feel any less connected or enriched. I know I won’t start a trend but my personal relationships are just that, personal, Facebook is not – it’s virtual and I choose not to spend too much time there.

  4. A few years ago I was part of a messy team of 4 women who salvaged a studio after a sudden death. An assistant thankfully knew passwords, PPA helped with contract changes, we got all weddings covered, prints delivered, files edited, then liquidated her gear to pay off as much debt as possible. It was grueling. Her husband and 2 toddlers grieved. We were amazed at how much of a mess it was to clean up. It was terrible. We met every week. We contacted people whose numbers were on scraps of paper, we convinced advertisers to stop taking her money from her account, we cancelled credit cards,contacted the IRS, sold sample albums. We burned discs of all sessions and offered them to the clients for $500 and they complained about the price. We put a vague message on her website. We all simplified our own workflow and management ASAP.

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