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Attending College and Running a Business | a Short Interview

Attending college and running a business time management interview with Natalie Jayne Photography

Ever wanted to actually hear from someone who went to college and started their business, rather than reading online forums? What was it like to run a business while attending college? Why not just run your business? Why even get a degree in something you’re already doing?

How did you balance your school life and your business life? What mistakes did you make doing both? Did you benefit from doing both at the same time or would you recommend against it? What’s one skill that helped you throughout balancing both?

What information, had you known sooner, would have helped you? What was your biggest struggle with balancing both? If you could do it all over again, would you?

I’ve been there.

College or business can be a difficult decision. I know all too well about the process.

I was in school for six and a half years; half a year while I was in high school, two years of community college, and four years at a university. I started my business right as I left for college, and am now a VCUarts graduate.

I earned my Bachelors in Photographer from VCUarts from 2014-2018 and let me tell you; there were so many unexpected turns. I’m going to answer all of your questions in this short interview. If you have any further questions for me, make sure to comment below, and maybe I’ll answer them on another blog post!

What was it like to run a business while attending college?

It was a challenge, to say the least. I mean, really more than I ever saw coming. It was an incredible experience for me to live through, but FWEW I was tired. Often. I always thought photography business’s looked easy if I’m being honest. Probably because of the Instagram trend to only share the best of the best– the traveling, the highlights, the behind the scenes, etc. I’m laughing at myself looking back because it was a lot more time-consuming than I ever imagined. Instagram was a highlight reel for all of those people I was looking at day after day, which I now know.

Truthfully I knew that being in school meant a lot of devoted time, but I don’t know if I knew what that really meant. I was totally up for the challenge that I thought it was going to be. College or business to me was never about if I was going to take on too much. When I was making my decision years ago, I was mostly concerned that I would be wasting money and time.

The reality of choosing to go to school and run a business is that you have to say “no”.

A lot. To things you want to do, people you love, etc. These are temporary no’s, but you have to keep your mental health and try not to take on everything. Spreading myself thin was a common theme over my four years of art school. Time management is easier said than done but POSSIBLE. I learned how to better balance my life, but I’m not sure I ever perfected it!

The one thing that always challenged me during this season in my life was balancing my time. It felt like I was always being pulled in different directions. Not only did I have projects to do (that required me to be fully attentive), but I also had to answer emails and edit sessions. That’s really just the beginning. It was difficult trying to balance self-care, my health, my friends, my family, the cleanliness of my living space, etc, etc, etc.

A lot of people don’t realize how challenging time management can be when you make commitments, so I think the reality was I was constantly juggling a thousand tasks. I still wonder how I’ll do it all over again as a mother one day. *Hopefully*. Shout-out to you moms who have a full-time job and run a business. Bowing down to you, because I could barely handle two!

I think it’s hard to sum up four years into a little white space, but if I have to then I’ll just describe it as…

A lot of freaking work, and a lot of coffee. Also, so rewarding.

Even after all the work I really appreciate the experiences that were given to me. I don’t know if I would have known what I wanted to do now if it wasn’t for always pushing myself.

Why not just run your business? Why even get a degree in something you’re already doing?

This question is a tough one for me. I could answer it for hours because there are so many layers to my decision. I honestly don’t think their is a RIGHT answer, there is just many answers. Maybe I’ll talk about them more one day. Truth be told, I didn’t realize I’d be in school for an additional four years. It happened, and I’m grateful. I thought I was going to be a dentist which I couldn’t imagine now.

Which for the record, requires more school than I ever attended.

I switched into art school thinking it meant an additional semester or maybe two, while what it really meant was two additional years. It took a lot of time for me to decide, but I personally always wanted to have a college degree. Do I think you have to have a college degree? Absolutely not. But, I wasn’t even sure that I was going to be a wedding photographer full-time.

For me, it made all the sense in the world to get the experience that I always wanted. I think that having that education in the art world will help me if I ever decide I don’t want to be a wedding photographer one day.

If you’re a wedding photographer reading this, then you know more than anyone how taxing it can be on your body.

Since becoming a wedding photographer I have pain in my knees, back, hips, shoulders; the list goes on.

I want to be a wedding photographer as long as I can, but I know the day may come when having a degree will come in handy. Even more than that though. I was less concerned with a backup plan. Truly, I wanted to invest in myself and my life into learning something other than wedding photography. However, I also understand that the day may come where I might want the option to get a job, or maybe I won’t. I just understand the uncertainty of life. All I knew for certain that I wasn’t going to go back again if I did it later in life.

My time in college taught me so much more than skills. It taught me life and I truly feel that it expanded me as a person. Their are so many things that I had no intention of learning, that I did and I’m a more well-rounded person for it. Now, that isn’t to say you couldn’t have experiences outside of college to make you well rounded, but that’s just how my story goes. It matured me, in a lot of ways. I didn’t want to have a narrow-minded perspective on thinking photography would be my only interest in life. Of course, now I know I love working in so many other mediums.

While I’m so grateful for that experience, I also totally get why people skip college. I don’t push people to make one decision or the other.

How did you balance your school life and your business life?

Sometimes, I didn’t. The time commitment in a business is already more than I had ever imagined, as well as school. A lot of the time I struggled to balance my life. Time management became a huge part of my life, and to be honest, I learned every single day how to juggle everything. Every time I failed, I learned.

I talk about this on The Real Female Entrepreneur Podcast, but having time is like wanting dessert. You can eat and eat, and you feel full. But you always have a little extra room for dessert. Maybe we don’t need more than 24 hours in a day. Maybe, instead, we need to make more of the hours we already have.

I feel like I had more and more tasks, but somehow when I had fewer tasks I seemed to just get less done. You shouldn’t overwhelm yourself, but to get through school I personally had to. I definitely got through each busy week knowing it was a temporary busy.

 

What mistakes did you make doing both?

Oh gosh, so many. I think my biggest mistake was taking on a full load of clients when I was a full-time student. Limit your bookings, friends.

Did you benefit from doing both at the same time or would you recommend against it?

I have advice that goes both ways. I’ll always wonder what college would have been like if I was only in college. However, I love that I had a job fresh out of college and I had spent years perfecting my craft and learning at a slower pace. I think all and all, I would recommend it. If you have two dreams and one is temporary pain for an ultimate reward, then go for it.

 

What’s one skill that helped you throughout balancing both? What information, had you known sooner, would have helped you?

LIST MAKING. I used to write them out the old-fashioned way. Boy, oh boy, I wish I had heard of Trello or HoneyBook years ago. If you want to read all about what I use to keep track of my clients clicks HERE.

What was your biggest struggle with balancing both?

Deciding whether I should put college or business first whenever I had pressing tasks.

Also, balancing my personal life. Gaining weight, making less time for family and friends, and putting my diet last. I was so focused on getting my emails or homework finished, that I wouldn’t even eat a real meal. Looking back, I wish I had focused more on making my time the most productive time possible.

 

If you could do it all over again, would you?

I think If I could go back, the only thing I would do different is to apply client management software like HoneyBook. It was such a challenge to complete my bachelors while running a business, but I wouldn’t change that experience for the world! I think it shaped me as a photographer and I’m a better person for it.

 

Looking for more help? Here are some additional reading materials just for you:

BEING ORIGINAL | BREAKING OUT OF ROUTINE AND INTO SUCCESS

CLIENT MANAGEMENT HOW I KEEP TRACK OF INQUIRIES, CONTRACTS, AND MORE

THE SECRET TO YOUR DREAM TIMELINE | PLANNING YOUR EVENT

 

Want to know more about choosing college or business? Have a question? ask in the comments below!

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Wedding Photographer, Artist, Storyteller & Hopeless Romantic:


I’m a hopeless romantic with a big smile and a big heart for capturing incredible couples across the globe. I BELIEVE IN giving PHOTOGRAPHERS the TOOLS TO grow a CREATIVE and purpose-filled business, SHARING MY PASSION, educating couples looking to get married, and SNUGGLing UP WITH A WARM CUP OF COFFEE.

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