I don’t have guest bloggers very often, so you know that when I do, it’s gotta be something good!! And what could be better than a wedding photographer who loves systems as much as I do?! I’m so excited to have Manali Sontakke on the blog today sharing her system for stepping into the role of CEO and embracing a CEO mindset in your small business!!

Manali is a wedding photographer and educator based in Charlottesville, VA!! When she’s not making couples laugh or teaching other photographers how to save time in their business, you can find her at a vineyard sipping on wine and snacking on cheese with her friends and family. She’s always been a HUGE proponent of investing in education and truly believes that investing wisely, learning from the best, and putting systems in place EARLY is what allowed her to go full-time with photography just 11 months after officially opening the doors of her business. She knows how hard it can be balancing a full-time job with your business, so her mission is to help other photographers put systems and resources in place on the backend so they can grow their business without sacrificing time with those who matter most!

Take it away, Manali!

5 WAYS TO STEP INTO THE ROLE OF CEO AND EMBRACE A CEO MINDSET

When I say the word CEO, what’s the first thing that pops to mind? If you’re anything like me, it’s probably Steve Jobs with his wire-rim glasses or Tony Robbins speaking on stage with a blazer.

Do you ever feel like you’re running in circles and not quite GROWING your business? Yes you’re serving your clients and getting inquiries but that big website update has been continually pushed to the back-burner or find yourself tweaking that email template EVERY time you send it out to a client? Well, then it’s time to step into the CEO mindset within your own business.

Well friend, it’s time for you to step into the role of CEO in your own business. You’ve probably heard the phrase working ON your business instead of constantly IN it and thought, well that’s an incredible idea! But when it comes to actually executing on that idea, you get a little stuck figuring out how to make it work for your particular business. 

I’m breaking down 5 tangible ways to step into the CEO mindset & focus on your business from a higher level standpoint:

1 | GET CLEAR ON YOUR LONG TERM VISION AND DEFINITION OF SUCCESS

This is arguably one of the most important steps that people tend to miss when they’re first starting out. Adopting a CEO mindset means that you understand that there are so many ways to build a “successful” business but you take the time to find the way that fits your life and your dreams well. With all the noise out there lately, it’s so easy to get caught up in what other industry friends are doing & posting about on social media. I consider myself guilty of this as well! 

However, I think it’s important to take some time away from the noise, get quiet and really take the time to figure out what it is that you see as running a successful business. As women, we tend to play small but I invite you to think big, write down ideas that come to mind WITHOUT letting your brain filter them through what it thinks is possible or too daunting or scary. 

How do you see your business structured in five years down the road? How about three years down the road? What does your day to day look like? Who do you serve? Is your business built around your personal values? These are all great questions to ask yourself to get into the CEO mindset!

Making your vision so compelling that it encourages and motivates you to stick through the discomfort of trying something new and putting yourself out there. 

Reminding yourself daily of your vision – taking time to think / visualize it using all five senses – tricks your amygdala into thinking it’s safe & not uncertain. 

Every year or so I revisit what I envision for my 10 year, 5 year and 3 year vision. Every quarter I re-evaluate how I’m tracking towards the 1 year vision.

2 | BUILD YOUR BUSINESS AROUND WHAT SETS YOU APART

Think through what it is that you most desire: creative freedom, flexibility, or impact and how you will build a business that allows for this! What are your unique strengths? Things that you are known for not just in your business but also most likely in your personal life as well. How do you bring these strengths to your business and how do they help you stand out in a saturated market? 

If you’re not quite sure what your characteristics or strengths are consider taking the StrengthsFinder, Myers-Briggs or Enneagram test to find out!

Now think through how you can play to your strength in every part of your business from your client experience, to touchpoints on your website & in your marketing to even building relationships with other vendors in the industry. Leaning into your strengths and how you do things differently can help build your brand, strengthen your CEO mindset and confidence by knowing what sets you apart in the market.

How do you help them achieve their goals through your unique process or strengths? How do your strengths best equip you to help them?

A couple of places to add in your UVP:

  • Website home & about page
  • Sprinkle it into your services page on your website
  • Instagram bio 
  • Email signature
  • Inquiry email
  • Your investment guide
  • Your welcome guide
  • Your FB about page

If you need to figure out exactly how to put that into words, check out the Promptlate Shop for getting started speaking right to your ideal clients on your website pages!

3 | BREAK DOWN YOUR GOALS INTO 90-DAY INCREMENTS

You know what is crazy? When you set your goals before it strikes midnight on December 31st and then look back MONTHS later to realize that you’ve hit 1 of your 10 goals. Yea, that kind of system just does not work unless you’re a magical fairy that can wave your wand and make things come to life within an instant.

Let’s change that friend! Instead of trying to tackle a year’s worth of goals and feeling like we need to work on everything at once (a surefire way down burnout road!), let’s break things down into manageable steps. Pull out your CEO hat for a little bit and make a game plan on how you’re going to tackle your big, dreamy goals!

I always evaluate the year based on a quarterly basis. This gives me the time and space to pick out 1 big project to focus on each quarter or 4 big projects throughout the year. Obviously if I have something that needs to span multiple quarters, that’s ok but this way it gives me a breakdown of what needs to get done when! 

Each month I tackle one part of the larger project making it very easy to know what my overall goal for any month is! From there I will pick out the Top 3 tasks that I need to get done on any given week. This gives me enough flexibility to manage client work and working on growing my own business at any given time. I batch work on my business on Thursdays every week! This helps you step into the CEO mindset on a weekly basis and makes sure that spending time working on your own business — you want to treat it like a real client!!

4 | GET COMFORTABLE WITH THE NUMBERS AND ANALYTICS

CEO’s are not afraid to dig in deep to the numbers to truly understand what’s going on in the business rather than relying on their feelings of how things are going. Numbers don’t lie my friend and they don’t have to be scary either!

To make things easy, here are a couple of key metrics to track on a monthly basis:

  • Inquiries (bonus point if you can track WHERE they’re coming from as well to further focus your marketing efforts down the road)
  • Income & expenses
  • Website traffic & sources – where are you getting the most website traffic from? 
  • Social media & email list engagement – what type of content is performing best?

Have a product or service that’s hardly bringing in any money but you find yourself spending a LOT of time on it? What would it look like to maybe nix that product/service and instead dedicate that time to something that’s already working in your business that you can expand on even more and really become the expert in?

Knowing your numbers will help you step into that strategic CEO mindset and treat your business AS a business — and not a glorified hobby! We want to make sure that we’re staying profitable, making decisions and focusing our time and energy on things that ultimately help impact our bottom line!

5 | SYSTEMS AND AUTOMATIONS

Systems are EVERYTHING!! Systems can make sure that you are staying on task, no detail is missed and can save you time and brainspace by taking the guesswork out of what you need to do to keep your business running. 

I recommend having a system in place for the following parts of your business:

  • Website, branding & collateral for clients
  • Client workflow – for ever type of service you offer
  • Client communication
  • Blogging workflow / Marketing workflow
  • Vendor/collaboration networking workflow
  • Posing, Shooting & Editing workflow — Or process workflow for if you’re a designer, florist, DJ, copywriter, whatever your service is!
  • Batch Scheduling & goal-crushing system

Having systems in place allows you to see on paper — or on your laptop — what everything looks like visually when broken down! It also allows you to see all the moving pieces in one place and see if there’s anything you can add, automate, streamline, or even nix from your processes to improve! 

Systems give you your time and mental sanity back and take the mental pressure off yourself to keep ALL the details in your brain and having to decide every month, week or day where you need to focus energy when you have a million tasks all calling for your attention. This is a surefire way to the land of overwhelm. 

Also, delegating parts of your system or automating your tasks through apps and software can free up your time to spend it GROWING your business rather than constantly working in it! For example, batching creating all my social media content in 1-2 days at the beginning of the month and having them run on auto post frees up time during the rest of the month to interact with people on social media, work on a bigger project like putting together a webinar, etc. Let’s put our CEO mindset to good use by working smarter, not harder and batching our work and using the most of our mental energy!

I recommend putting in place a very loose monthly & weekly schedule! The key term being LOOSE – we have to stay flexible but having a guideline stops us from relying on guesswork of when everything is going to get done! 

To break this down tactically here’s a quick run down on my quarterly/monthly/weekly schedules:

QUARTERLY

I spend 1-2 days running through ALL aspects of my business to tweak/update/refresh them! Alexandra of the Productivity Zone has an entire system for this called the Fresh Start Systems that can help you flesh these out regardless of what type of creative small business you’re running!

Here are the main categories I’ll run through:

  • Upcoming 90 day goals / big projects to tackle & planning out steps, what worked well and what didn’t work well over the last 90 days?
  • Marketing – deciding on my overarching marketing goal & deciding blog topics & roughly outlining posts, looking over what content did particularly well over the last quarter in emails, Instagram & on Pinterest to repurpose it! I also add to my email nurture sequence each quarter with emails that did particularly well!
  • Finances – what money will be coming in the next quarter, how many more projects do I need to focus on booking to stay on track with revenue goals? Is everything in Quickbooks organized?
  • Digital Files/Workspace – cleaning up my computer & Google Drive as well as my office space
  • Website & branding updates 
  • Update passwords! 

MONTHLY

I have a monthly duty day list to check & complete all the little miscellaneous maintenance tasks in my business! Also, Ashlyn of Ashlyn Writes has a great blog post that dives deeper into this topic!

  • To give you a bit of an idea these include business AND personal tasks that includes everything from paying sales tax, to ensuring my receipts are all attached & uploaded in Quickbooks to backing up my phone images to Google Photos! 
  • Every time that I think of a miscellaneous task that I need to do about every couple of weeks I’ll add it to my monthly list so it’s not popping up in my brain randomly throughout the month and I know that I have time dedicated to knock it out!

WEEKLY

Each week follows roughly the same schedule for me with specific days designated to certain TYPES of tasks within my business! Here’s a quick rundown of how I structure my weeks but you can dig into even greater tips on creating your own weekly batch schedule by checking out this blog post here on it!

Mondays: Marketing days to make sure my emails, Instagram posts are scheduled, Instagram story ideas are written, FB posts are scheduled and that my Tailwind queue is all filled up for the week! If I still need to finish writing up a blog post or any marketing content, I’ll take time to work on that on Mondays. I also start culling and editing the blog post images for any weddings that I shot the previous weekend!

Tuesdays: Tuesdays are dedicated to knocking out client-related tasks for the week in HoneyBook and in Asana. A lot of my client communication, sending proposals, questionnaires and timelines are done on Tuesday mornings. In the afternoons I’ll spend time syncing edits from my latest shoot or wedding and in the evenings I have my engagement sessions and consults!

Wednesdays: I spend time going through admin and financial work and time networking with other industry professionals in the morning and the afternoons are dedicated to syncing edits again! 

Thursdays: Are my big internal project days! These are the days that I clean up my website, work on putting together any resources in my business (say an investment guide!) and essentially am working ON my business and treating it like it’s a client! I will spend some time prepping gear for an upcoming wedding that weekend but it’s not usually too much hands on work since I gather all the info I need on Tuesdays! 

Fridays: Fridays are my overflow days! Most weeks I try to take half of Friday off and really reset and refresh my personal space & run through errands. But in busier seasons I’ll use it to knock off any tasks that weren’t completed during the week!

If Thursdays get taken over that’s a surefire sign that I need to delegate or automate more within my business! I always want to make sure that I’m protecting time to work on and actively GROW my business. Working on my business allows me to BETTER serve my clients in the future by being proactive in my processes rather than putting out fires and always being one step behind!

WRAPPING IT IP!

Well, whew that was a doozy but I do truly believe that adopting a CEO mindset even early on as a business owner (or hey, even before you have your official biz license!) can help set you up well to grow! Don’t be afraid to give yourself time to work ON your business and treat it like a client, I promise that it’ll pay off in how you show up for your clients down the road!

If you’re looking to kick overwhelm and disorganization to the curb and ready to get started with batching within your own business but need some help knowing where to start, then check out the Resources Vault for an all-in-one approach to systemizing and organizing your photography business! The Vault walks you through putting systems in place to keep your business running like a well-oiled machine WITHOUT the headache of not knowing where to start or getting overwhelmed with the process of organizing and creating systems that work for your life and business! If you want to dive into a totally FREE 30 page guide on more tactical tips to grow your business, check it out here!