Or within a few hours, or even a day or two, or three (sometimes!) if I'm being really honest.
"Wait... she said what??"
Yes, that's right! I would like to start out by stating emphatically and with many high-fives that I respect the way other business owners run their business, even if it's different than me. I also respect the preferences and needs of my clients.
There are many reasons why my response time can vary between a few hours to a few days, and I want to tell you why. There are no smoke and mirrors hiding anything, just some real talk!
I am a one-woman show. I do call out to other amazing stylists to assist me on wedding days, and I have a wonderful administrative assistant who helps me with office tasks. Though there are some tasks I can delegate to Nichole, I still wear the majority of the hats of this business, and oversee and lead everything else.
"But you're a hair and makeup artist, how many kinds of business tasks can you have that would make you really unavailable to answer an email within the day? We are so connected these days anyway, couldn't you just send a quick response on your phone?," you might be thinking.
There are so many tasks I do on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis that is not actually doing hair and makeup. Everything from emailing clients (dozens of inquiries a day, plus ongoing conversations with any one of the 20-60 clients I may be engaging with at the time, booked or in the process of booking), to taxes, to buying new tools and products, to cleaning makeup brushes, combs, irons, palettes, surfaces, and chairs, to developing contracts, to adjusting my policies and my systems consistently, to ongoing business education, to keeping updated and relevant with social media (my main source of marketing), to writing content. Then there's the whole actually seeing clients face-to-face thing, for sessions and weddings several times a week, with setup, cleanup, and drive-time if it's not at my home/studio. And then all over again. Again and again. It's love, but it's a lot of work!
These tasks take my business from being good (advertising that I provide a service, and providing said service) to being great. Great businesses have a purpose, a vision, a voice, a cohesive personality/brand, and stand for something bigger than themselves.
I like to have clear boundaries between my work life and my life life. I am a very normal human, with many other facets to my life other than work. Family, relationships, health, home management (meals, cleaning, finances, personal schedule), church and my spiritual life, and other hobbies (like music!) All of these things, when nurtured and given their own sacred space, serve my craft and my business well - they don't take away from it.
I do own my own business, and I am my own boss - and every good boss draws very clear lines of what their worker is supposed to do, how they're supposed to do it, and when. I knew from experience that answering emails at 10pm on my couch in a frenzy knowing I had a wedding at 7am the next morning was not how I wanted to be running my business. I was constantly maximizing the small things (I have to answer this email right away and they just emailed 10 minutes ago and they seem stressed and I need to respond right away or they'll go to someone else!) and minimizing the really important things (The X-factor, quality over quantity, being Sam - who no one else can be, speaking into women's lives and encouraging their beauty, creating, having fun, and being a sweet addition to a woman's wedding day with all her best girls!)
I quickly learned that having my work email in plan view on my cell phone, with notifications on, stressed me out all. the. time. It would take my thoughts immediately away from the current task or person in front of me, into whatever the email was saying. I was prioritizing the person in the email over the person or task right in front of me, within a minute of their sending the message. I would stop listening and completely change gears. It would be one thing if that happened once a day, but it was happening all the time. Those minutes add up. They add up on family vacations, on date nights, during coffee with friends I missed and hadn't seen in a while, during workouts - basically I was never allowing myself to truly have and shamelessly enjoy my me-time. The kind of me-time that does not answer the text, the phone, or the email for a period of time.
With the lack of that full enjoyment of my me time (and actually feeling guilty for it), my work suffered. I was working for my work, but my work wasn't working for me. I was letting my clients tell me what to do, instead of clearly, concisely, and confidently telling them what I can do for them, when, and how. In my case, I was not respecting myself, and in turn I was not respecting my clients to the fullest. I was saying yes all the time and overbooking myself. If there was a free fragment of time on my calendar, I considered myself available - even if I was doing something directly before and directly after and wouldn't factor in that, you know, I needed to eat and drink water and pee and be human. It was affecting the actual quality of work I was doing on people, and why should they be paying a premium price for that??
Respect for your clients does not mean full access. It does not mean availability 24/7 - even when you run your own business out of your own home and technically could do things all the time, if you want. I don't have kids, but we are praying them in, and I don't want to do a complete overhaul of my business when they get here. I want to already have established systems and boundaries that will serve my present and my future well.
So I have very specific times I answer my emails, and very specific ways.
I triage my emails according to clients with the closest wedding dates, and out from there. I spend specific time answering new emails, and separate time sending out proactive emails confirming client appointments in the upcoming week, or following up with clients I haven't heard back from in a while to continue the conversation or clear my schedule for someone else. I spend specific time creating and adjusting contracts and emailing them to clients.
Last year I had 202 in-person sessions, 202 times actually putting make-up or doing hair on people, sometimes up to 7 or 8 people per session! Weddings, trials, engagement sessions, proms, training sessions, editorials, styled shoots, whatever the reason - that's a lot! With every meeting meant the extensive communication beforehand, the time to prepare, the time for the actual session, then clean-up afterwards. That didn't leave me with a whole lot of time for my other work tasks, not even factoring in non-work-life. This year I want to focus on the parts of my business that make my business great, and that's emails, but it is also so much more.
I have always been a big believer in quality over quantity. Last year, I was really trying to test my capacity, and the quantity I was able to book by myself surprised me! I still said no to hundreds of potential clients last year. I am still super proud of the work I did in 2016, but I let quantity take precedence over quality. I was hygienic and did pretty hair and makeup, yes, but I am talking about that intangible quality in someone's experience with me - asking quality questions and interacting meaningfully with brides-to-be, calming their nerves and reassuring them of their beauty, navigating them through difficult decisions with a mix of my expertise and their taste, and creating fresh looks vs. following Pinterest trends. That's the stuff that feels most me, brings me the most joy, and gives me a sense of purpose. I missed out on that X-factor a little too much last year, and I found myself going through stretches of weeks where I wondered if I even liked my job anymore.
As it pertains to emails, going forward, I want to remember that I cannot say yes to everyone, I shouldn't say yes to everyone, and I'm not trying to book as many brides as possible this year, book more brides than last year, or book brides before they book with someone else. I am trying to book the right brides, in a way that fits my life and needs for that season, so that I can provide THE highest quality service to them, while being 100% myself.
Now, I do want to mention that there have been several times I have let emails fall through the cracks (read it, didn't respond because it wasn't a simple yes or no, I didn't mark it as "unread", lost forever until they emailed me back wondering if I ever got it in the first place.) There have been whole seasons where I was not organizing my time well, but was just treading water and trying to just show up when I was supposed to with a clean kit. My emails would pile up for days and I would be too intimidated to really crack into them. I am not super-proud of those things, but they are also what make my business real - it was really me, I was really trying, life happened, I made mistakes, it happens to everyone, and I still have the stretch marks from the growing pains of a great business. I am so thankful for those lessons.
One thing you can be sure of now, as I have improved some of my policies, boundaries, and added an admin assistant - if you email me, I will get back to you. I want to respond to you mindfully, not distracted, half addressing your particular needs and half somewhere else. I want to give you my best yes or my most helpful no. Remember, as you email your vendors, your colleagues, or your family or friends - extend grace to everyone and understand people may not be on the same timeframe as you. If you don't hear back right away, don't assume why. If you don't hear back in several days, extend a kind follow up. We all need a little grace!
My policy works for me. It helps me fully enjoy my business so I can do my best possible work on each girl I serve, and really enjoy the process of helping women feel their most beautiful. And I'm trying to get better all around, all the time, for me and for you.
With blush and bobby pins, & lots of love & thankfulness for all my clients & LULA friends!!