As creative entrepreneurs, we all have a lot on our plates. But, at the end of the day, we should be able to enjoy our families, friends, hobbies, and—well—life outside of work! Whether you’re in a season requiring additional hours on the job or more intentional time with a loved one at home, balancing everything on your schedule can be challenging.
Mark and Nicole Pasternack know this struggle well. These married business owners, wedding photographers, and parents of four weren’t always in alignment when it came to work-life balance. Nicole tells us, “I was focusing on growing a family while Mark was focusing on growing a business. And, we weren’t seeing how these things worked together. It felt like it was a constant competition for our time.” So, the Pasternacks asked themselves how they could support each other, get on the same page with work and family, and chase their goals together.
Since then, Mark and Nicole have viewed their life as one cohesive unit—and, as Mark puts it, “Everything in our family is equally important.” Whether it’s doing the dishes, filming a corporate video, enrolling the kids in fun activities, or shooting a wedding, the Pasternacks have systems in place to help their businesses and lives run smoothly (and not in competition with each other). The Pasternacks love mentoring other creatives and sharing tips on how you can make more money doing what you love, be present for your family and friends, and get your time back.
In this episode of Priority Pursuit, Mark and Nicole explain how you can find work-life balance as a creative entrepreneur, serve your clients and family well, and escape the overwhelm of being in survival mode.
The definition of “work-life balance” is constantly evolving, but Business News Daily describes it as “the state of equilibrium where a person equally prioritizes the demands of one’s career and the demands of one’s personal life.”
Now, this sounds great in theory, but it’s not always possible to equally prioritize loved ones, your job, non-work activities, and so on. For example, there will be times when you’ll need to spend more time at the office to complete a major project. Or, perhaps you have a family emergency that requires you to take time off work. In any case, it’s often challenging to separate your personal and professional life, and a perfectly even balance isn’t realistic.
Instead of work-life balance, Mark and Nicole prefer the term “work-life blend,” as coined by wedding photographer and entrepreneur Jenna Kutcher. Jenna defines work-life blend as “combining one thing with another so that they become a whole,” a philosophy that Mark and Nicole live by—combining family and business systems so that everything functions together as smoothly as possible.
“There will never be a day when the kids don’t interrupt us [while we’re working] and ask a million questions,” Nicole says with a laugh. On the other hand, Mark often has to put out fires with video clients while he and Nicole are enjoying family time at home with the kids. But, Mark and Nicole have stopped running from a work-life blend and embraced it; they even talk about business ideas during date nights! So, while a 50/50 work-life balance isn’t always achievable for Mark and Nicole, it’s also not the goal. Instead, they’re integrating family, marriage, and business so they can build a life they love.
Helping clients succeed, bonding with loved ones, and making time for yourself are all worthwhile pursuits—but how in the world can we find enough hours in the day to do all of these things? Well, according to Mark and Nicole, you can start saving time by learning who your best customers are, putting the work into family life, and delegating or automating whatever you can.
When Mark ran his own corporate video agency, he learned the hard way how important it is to understand who your best clients are (and aren’t). One-off customers exhausted Mark and his team, and the 80-hour workweeks he spent on their projects sent him spiraling toward burnout.
Now, Mark will only take his ideal clients, which are people who can enter a long-term partnership with him. If someone is unable to do that, Mark probably isn’t the best fit for them—and he’s okay with that! “You have the freedom to say no,” Mark tells us. You don’t have to take on every client who shows interest if your business isn’t a great match for some of them, or vice versa.
Whether it’s corporate film or wedding photography. Mark and Nicole dedicate their time to focusing on their best customers and giving them a second-to-none experience. They also set expectations early in the relationship so their clients understand their communication boundaries and schedule limitations. For example, Nicole won’t shoot a wedding every single weekend—and, she tells her brides that she and Mark have four kids they love spending time with at home, so she doesn’t respond to emails while they’re having family time. But, Nicole also lets clients know that they can send her follow-up emails in case she opened their first message and forgot to respond because one of the kiddos needed her. By communicating expectations and real-life happenings early on, you can help clients understand if you’re a good fit for each other and what they can expect from you.
Nicole tells us, “It’s easy to assume that your family life and marriage will just fall into place, but it’s taken us a lot of work.” Your business takes a great deal of time and energy, but so do your friendships, your marriage, and/or your relationship with your children. By keeping this in mind—AKA putting in the effort at home—you can avoid resentment and improve communication with your loved ones.
Mark and Nicole are pretty honest about their struggles with prioritizing family in the early days of parenthood. Nicole was a stay-at-home mom before she started her wedding photography business, and Mark was working crazy hours and traveling often for his corporate video projects. They kept fighting about childcare, dishes, and meal planning—Mark was exhausted from work, but Nicole needed help with the house and the kids. Eventually, Mark and Nicole each realized how hard their spouse was working, and they joined forces to make their home life run more smoothly. Mark even shut down his agency so he could focus on Nicole and the kids before they began their photography business and mentoring program.
Now, stepping away from your business completely may not be an option for you, but you can still consider ways to make more time for your family. As Mark says, “Everything that you do in life is an investment.” For example, dinner with your spouse at a nice restaurant is an investment in your marriage. You may have to rearrange your calendar to finish a project before date night, but remember, working on your marriage (and family life) is time well spent.
There’s only so much time in the day, and you may not be able to get everything done yourself. And, friend, that’s okay! Delegating tasks or automating certain parts of your business can help you stop spending time on less urgent matters—and more time on growing your business, being present with your loved ones, and everything else you want to do well. From using technology (like automated thank-you emails to clients) to outsourcing an item on your to-do list (like hiring a nanny to help you with childcare during the day), you can get creative with time-saving tactics.
For example, when it comes to the Pasternacks’ photography business, Nicole is the primary wedding photographer while Mark, as her second shooter, culls (sorts) all the ceremony photos as Nicole shoots the reception. Then, on Sundays, Mark takes care of the kids and chores while Nicole edits photos and sends sneak previews to their clients. In this case, Nicole focuses on what she’s best at (shooting an entire wedding and editing previews) and delegates culling, childcare, and housework to Mark.
Mark and Nicole recommend this kind of delegation for all creative entrepreneurs, at home and in your business. Whether you outsource photo editing or use Instacart for grocery shopping and pickup, you can save lots of energy by delegating tasks—giving you personal time back for family, friends, hobbies, and so on.
Automation is another great way to save time in your business (and have more hours in the day for loved ones). For example, Nicole has automated her sales process so her leads can qualify themselves to receive her pricing guide, then a proposal, then an initial consultation they can schedule themselves.
Once clients book Nicole and sign an online contract, they get an automated email from her with a wedding guide—vendors she recommends, engagement session details, top locations for engagement shoots, and so on. Automating your sales process like Nicole does will cut down on back-and-forth communication with clients, as you’re giving them necessary information up front. This will not only save you time, but also help you set communication boundaries and expectations with your clients.
Does work-life balance or a work-life blend feel unattainable right now? Mark and Nicole want you to know that they’ve been there! From colicky babies who wouldn’t stop crying to bills and business debt piling up, the Pasternacks know what it’s like to be completely overwhelmed with work and life. That’s why Mark and Nicole love guiding creatives toward getting out of survival mode and helping their businesses and families thrive.
If you’re ready to find work-life balance as a creative entrepreneur, Mark and Nicole have a few tips for you:
Reviewing your personal and professional calendar will help you prepare for meetings, doctor’s appointments, kids’ activities, and more—plus, you can ensure that you don’t overbook yourself or conflict with a loved one’s schedule. Mark and Nicole go over their calendars together on a weekly, quarterly, and yearly basis to make sure they’re on the same page about their family and business schedules. For example, if one of them is traveling soon, the other will have a heads-up that they’ll need to take on extra childcare and housework duties. And, if there’s a conflict on your calendar, reviewing your schedule ahead of time will help you figure out the logistics of rescheduling events as necessary.
One of the ways that Mark and Nicole were able to get their finances under control was to direct their earnings into savings buckets. They consider what they’re saving for—whether that’s a new computer for their business next month or a new roof for their hours in 10 years—and put a percentage of each paycheck into these buckets, reviewing their savings quarterly to make sure they’re on track for their personal and business goals. Mark and Nicole also recommend setting up a vacation fund so you can save up for work-free time with your family.
While dirty dishes or toys all over the floor may not seem like a big deal, chaos or mess in your house might be stressing you out. Mark learned that Nicole wanted a clean house and kitchen before they went to bed so she could feel a sense of peace and security—and not start the next day already overwhelmed with housework, on top of childcare. So, they now go to bed every night with an empty sink, clean dishes, and picked-up toys. No matter what chores you have on your to-do list, keeping up with the dishes, laundry, and other home tasks can help you start the day with a clean slate—freeing you to focus on your next big idea at work.
Friend, I hope this conversation with Mark and Nicole has inspired you to create systems for your home and business that help you care for your clients, family, friends, and yourself. With a bit of planning, saving, scheduling, and delegating, you can find work-life balance as a creative entrepreneur—and free up time for the people and activities you love most.
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