In the family photography world, the first three months of the year are commonly and sometimes not-so-affectionately referred to as “slow season.”

I’ve always thought this a misnomer, as there’s always something to do when you’re running a business.

Slow season is a chance to focus on the many important things that get put on the back-burner during the other crazy months of the year when there barely seems to be enough time in each day for meeting deadlines and the basic needs of your family. I thought it would be fun to give a glimpse of some of the things that keep me busy, inspired and happy during “slow” season with The Life in Your Years Photography (LYYP).

1. Bumps and Babies

Every year, there’s always a family or two who believes me when I explain that the weather doesn’t matter when it comes to in-home family lifestyle sessions with LYYP. These people are the best, and I always have a great time with them, either hanging inside or playing outside in the snow.

Thankfully, in addition to these few rogue families, there are always several families who are either expecting a baby or have just welcomed a new baby into their home and invite me in to tell their story. Or, even better yet, they have a chunky 6-12-month-old baby and they know that by spring, those rolls will be gone, so they call me for a session.

Reach out to your client base and find out if any of them are in this position. Come up dry? Run a promotion specifically for babies who are a particular age – or any category of session during the months you’ve got the time to spare.

chunky baby toes by Jaye McLaughlin

2. Education

Whether a big trip for a workshop is in your budget or an online class is more your speed (or hey, even a few dedicated hours curled up on the couch with a notebook and a stack of great photography books), these months are made for digging into those aspects of photography that you want to develop and learn more about.

Last slow season, I was not able to manage any photography-related travel (boo hoo), but I took two online courses with family documentary photographers I admire in the hopes of strengthening my skills in the candid/documentary style category. It’s one of my favorite things about photography; there’s always something else to learn and improve upon.

3. Giving Back

There are so many worthy organizations I’d love to support – but during the busiest months for my business, there is simply not an extra minute to spare. Not so during the slow season! Think about reaching out to the organizations whose missions are meaningful to you and see whether they need photography for their website or promotional pieces.

Last winter, I was able to tell the story of a local volunteer food rescue organization for their new website. It’s a great story, too. I shadowed a set of volunteers through their entire delivery run — from their pick-up of excess food from a large grocery store through loading up the vans and delivery to a soup kitchen in the area, where breakfast was being served. Along the way, I was able to capture the interactions between the volunteers and the donors, to show the fulfillment each drew from the help they were providing, and to capture the gratitude of the soup kitchen organizers and patrons as they prepared and enjoyed the food.

Just like in any in-home family session situation, I dealt with unfamiliar settings, challenging light, and unpredictable interactions. It was great practice for me and truly satisfying to think that my photos on the new website might help recruit more donors and volunteers, thereby enabling more delivery routes to feed more hungry people with excess food that would otherwise have been wasted.

Or how about taking photos for your kids’ school or a local community theater? For the last seven years, I’ve been involved in telling the story and spreading the news of our local children’s theater as a member of the Board of Directors in charge of photography and publicity. This is a super fun one, and a great way to keep you photography skills sharp as well.

little girl playing on the stairs by Jaye McLaughlin

4. Networking

The cold winter months are a great time to nurture connections, both in business and within your local community. Reach out to local photographers, or get back in touch with photographer friends who have been similarly swamped in the past few months. Schedule a lunch or plan a gathering.

Sharing ideas, stories, and questions with someone who’s passionate about the same things as you are? Pretty priceless. While I do value online connections, there’s really nothing like face-to-face.

To connect with your local community, contact your town’s chamber of commerce or business club to see if they have any networking events planned during the time you have available. Fostering connections in your local community could lead to new business, in the short or long term.

Last year, I set up a table at our town’s “Easter Bunny Boulevard” showcasing my work and chatting with passers-by about what I do. My business cards were at-the-ready, and I invited anyone interested to enter a raffle for an LYYP gift certificate in exchange for their email address. While I didn’t leave that event with any bookings, I added names of several interested people to my newsletter subscriber list and a few I met that day contacted me throughout the year when they were ready to think about family photography.

Even without a formal networking event, you might simply drop into local small businesses whose target market overlaps yours and talk about what you do and how you might help each other. Is there a framing store, a children’s bookstore, a party planning business near you? How might you help each other in the coming year?

Casual, in-person interactions could lead to collaborations between businesses, or simply create an informal mutual referral agreement between two people who appreciate the value in what the other does. Small business owners understand the importance of referrals, and their access to your client base could pay off down the road with a simple good word.

5. Personal Projects

Shooting with no purpose other than your own enjoyment is a great way to stretch your creative wings, challenge yourself and give you plenty of room for experimenting and taking risks. Outside the confines of other people’s expectations, you might find that you do better work than you ever have before.

Think about one or two things that have inspired or brought you joy in the last year, and create a project that will immerse you in those things. Work with a goal (posting daily or weekly or compiling a series at the end) or with no goal other than to enjoy it as you go. Slow season is made for this kind of project.

family newborn photos by Jaye McLaughlin

6. Playing catch up

We all know what happens when we’re on the nonstop treadmill of shooting and delivering fall sessions. Things fall by the wayside.

Running low on packaging supplies? Need to update your website, contract, branding? Haven’t blogged a session since September? Your bookkeeping’s a mess? Hundreds of personal pics sitting unedited on your hard drive? Now’s the time to make it right. I like to keep a list of tasks that are not quite important enough to squeeze onto the busy season to-do list and then methodically check them off when my time frees up after the holidays.

7. Reflection

One thing I love to do during the slow season is to reflect on how my business has evolved in the last year and think about how it might adapt with new products or other offerings. Should you simplify your offerings to focus on what your clients are most interested in? Expand your offerings to fill a need that has been thus far lacking? Now’s the time to think it through.

picture of baby in crib by Jaye McLaughlin

8. Planning

I’m told that A.A. Milne once said,

Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it’s not all mixed up.

While your head’s on straight and your mind’s uncluttered with deadlines and client pressure, decide on a plan for your business in the new year. Write it down. Create a new package or pricing structure. Try new studio or design software to see what might work for you. Create a marketing plan. Research new vendors and products.  When things get busy again, you won’t have time to put the same considered energy into these things. Now’s your chance!

9. Relaxation

This probably goes without saying, but I think recharging your batteries by indulging in what would be considered heathen-like relaxation during the busier months of the year is a must. For me, this means devouring that pile of novels that has been collecting dust on my nightstand. For you, it might mean serial Netflix consumption or sleeping late. Whatever it is, you deserve it (and you may even need it!).

That doesn’t sound like a “slow” season at all, don’t you agree?

When you think it through and plan it out, this period can be productive, inspiring and fun.