Dear A & J,

As I sit here, nearly in tears, writing this email to you, with my husband next to me looking at our finances, I am at a loss. Our business, our livelihood, our passion is fading right before my eyes. We have exhausted all of our money and efforts to try to bring in new clients this year with no luck. I have never met you two although I have been an admirer from afar for quite some time but, for some reason, as my husband and I face the difficult this talk of what to do, you two came to my mind. Why? No idea! I don’t even want to waste your time with all of the details as I am not expecting anything from you. I just have to at least know, is this normal?! Have you two faced this? You reading my email is amazing enough as it is. You two have been a great inspiration business and photography wise.

Sincerely,

JL

Oh, friend, this breaks our heart, because we’ve been there. We’ve had those crying on the bathroom floor moments. The scared ones. The uncertain ones. The ones where we felt trapped by a monster we’d created but couldn’t tame. We get it, friend. All too well. Small business isn’t easy. It’s really, really hard. In our highlight reel social media culture, it looks effortless, though, doesn’t it? The truth — because you asked for it — is that you’re only seeing the swan above the water. All of us are swans. You never see us furiously paddling just below the surface, but it’s the reality of life as small business owners. As we write this, we’re in our pajamas, working from bed, drinking coffee with disheveled hair and without makeup. It doesn’t look pretty OR glamorous, even though our Instagram accounts might say otherwise! We heard a wise man say recently that every entrepreneur should wake up every morning with a strong dose of excitement, but a healthy dose of fear, too. We should all wake up feeling just a little bit scared.  Have you ever felt that? We sure have.

Small business isn’t easy

It takes risk and sacrifice, this small business thing. And a lot of faith, too. Let’s tackle the risk part first, since you mentioned your livelihood is one of the things fading before your eyes. In all transparency, we can’t say that we’ve ever experienced that. We haven’t. We worked a day job as elementary school teachers for four years while we built our business on nights and weekends. We lived on one small salary and banked the other for a rainy day, so that when we went full-time in our business, we’d have years and years of savings in case things didn’t go right. But that’s where sacrifice comes in, right? It was a long four years, especially the last few as our business got bigger. We were working from 7 a.m. until midnight most days to keep up with both. It was a sacrifice financially in the sense that we didn’t go out to eat a lot or buy the other fun things our friends were enjoying. Our date night budget was $25 per month. Everything we made in our business went back into our business. We didn’t pay ourselves anything from our business —not a
dime —until the fall of 2013, months after we left our full-time teaching jobs to pursue our dream, two and a half years after we shot our first wedding together. It was a sacrifice. Of time. Of money. People poked fun at us for being cheap. Frugal. We lost our nights and weekends. We didn’t see friends as much as we wanted to. Same with our family. Because, to get real, there’s no such thing as a work-life balance when you’re working two full-time jobs, one as a teacher (that’s like two full-time job in itself) and the other as a new business builder. We drove beat-up Hondas, one of which had over 200,000 miles on it (we still have it) and the other didn’t even have power locks or windows. We rented because we couldn’t afford to buy a home. We needed the extra cash as a safety net for our full-time dream. And we hustled. We met everyone we could. We read every business book we could get our hands on. We pursued education in our craft relentlessly.  We threw every thing we had and the kitchen sink at our dream, and, for awhile, it didn’t seem to work.

It was like pushing a boulder up a hill with no end in sight. Progress felt slow. And, a few times, we felt like giving up. There were moments where we threw our hands up in the air and yelled, “Why are we even doing this! Let’s just cut our losses now.” But we didn’t. Because we had — and still have — a deeper why behind what we do that’s more than something you just throw away because things get hard. The road less traveled is that way because it’s harder. It’s more work. It’s less secure and more unknown. Anything can happen when you’re blazing a new trail, your own trail. The paved path is simpler, maybe, but it’s not more rewarding. We know, because we’ve traveled on both.

We don’t know how long you’ve been at this, friend, your circumstances, life stage, and the details that would make your situation easier to diagnose, but we’d encourage you to do two things, one you’ll like hearing and the other you might not, but we feel called to say it because, thus far, we’ve been totally up front and honest with you, so why stop now. We think, in a lot of ways, the perception social media can create a false truth as it is.

1. Take a minute to applaud yourself, to give yourself some credit. Spend some time looking back at how far you’ve come from where you started in the beginning. Our guess? You’ve grown by leaps and bounds. You just haven’t noticed because it’s been happening right under your nose and you’ve been too busy to stop and give yourself credit where credit is due. Be proud. You created something out of nothing. Less people can say that than people who can. That takes bravery.

2. This one comes from a place of love, but it’s not going to be easy to hear. Ask yourself this question honestly: Have you really done everything as strategically, sacrificially, intentionally as you possibly can? Are you working every hour you can? Are you living on way less than you make? Are you committed to improving your craft and branding to attract the right clients? Are you seeking the best education in both business and photography? Can you say that you’ve done everything you possibly can to make your dream a reality?

Maybe you have. Maybe you haven’t. Maybe in some areas and less in others, but we’d encourage you to go all in. Sell the car that’s costing you each month and buy a beater with cash. Move to a less expensive place in a different part of town. Have date nights at home, budget strategically with your grocery money and shop consignment instead of retail. Save money in every place you can so you can make investments in places that will make you grow. That’s what we did and, finally, we’re seeing the fruit of five years of labor. People tell us all the time, It’s like you guys came out of nowhere! 

No way. We’ve been here the whole time. We’ve been paddling furiously under the water.

We hope this can be an encouragement, friend, because we know what’s it’s like to have our backs against the wall. You are so not alone in this. But do you know what the exciting thing is about having your back to the wall?

The only way out is to fight your way through.

And you will.

sacrifice to win

Have a Question You Want Answered?
Send an email to info[at]amyandjordan.com with your question and we’ll do our best to answer it in an upcoming blog post!

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If you liked this post, you might also like the rest of the Dear A&J series:

Alisa
7 comments
filed in: Education

    Meg Long

    This was so encouraging! Thank you Amy & Jordan!
    && JL for being so brave and sharing your fears, that so many too struggle with!
    Blessings to all!

    Amy & Jordan

    You bet, Meg! So glad it helped :-)

    Ashley Durham

    All I have to say is Amen and Hallelujah.

    Amy & Jordan

    Thanks, Ashley!

    Cameron Clark

    All I have to say is DAVE RAMSEY, baby!

    Amy & Jordan

    Yeah! If you live like no one else, then later you get to live and GIVE like no one else!

    Amber

    I love this blog post! Thank you for being so honest and so real!