We had the good fortune of connecting with Jennifer Siegwart and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jennifer, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
A work/life balance has always been the largest challenge to me when it comes to running my own business. When I started my first photo business with a friend in 2011, I essentially had no balance. I was running another photo studio while trying to build up another one with my business partner. I would work at the other studio until 5 or 6 pm, try to get a workout in before heading home, and then work on our business until 2 or 3 in the morning. Get up again at 8 am and repeat. When any business is first starts, you wear so many hats and are just trying to get it going, you kind of go into auto pilot. As the business grew, I think my (and our) business senses grew along with it. It became easier to time manage, and because there was two of us, one could pick up the slack of the other when one person wasn’t feeling well or present. My partner was amazing and would cover things when I needed time away. Having her help allowed me to kind of reintroduce that personal life time back into my all-consuming work life. When we moved the business from an office space to working from home, I felt a huge struggle to separate things again. I was working out of my bedroom, and it felt like work was literally going to bed with me every night. I felt the only way I could have personal time was by leaving my house, and spent a lot of time visiting friends and family outside of San Diego, going on vacations in the mountains, and really “checking out” entirely. It felt like I was either checked in or checked out, without a ton of in between. Once we decided to close that business we had together and pursue our individual projects, that’s when finding the balance started to really take shape. Right around the same time, my roommate moved in with her boyfriend, and I had a two bedroom apartment to myself. I turned the extra room into an office, and that was HUGE. Being able to close the door to work was a game changer. I had a designated space for my work life, and at the end of the day, I could shut the door and have my personal space without work being involved. Around this same time, I felt like I had a pretty good handle on my clients expectations, how to navigate running my business, and also saying no to projects or people that didn’t serve me. It’s so hard to say no as a freelancer, because you’re always afraid that suddenly the work will dry up, even when things are going well. Having the confidence to say no to certain projects allowed me to free up extra time to either work on bigger projects at a more productive and less stressful pace, but also allowed me to feel ok about closing up at 6:30 to make my 7 pm yoga class. My actual work benefitted from being able to say no, and my mental health definitely benefitted from learning to say no. Lastly, holding myself to somewhat of a schedule has really allowed for me to maintain a work/life balance. Part of the reason I went into business for myself was to control my schedule, but sometimes it feels like I have 100 bosses and I need to be available to everyone all the time. I slowly started taking weekends off so I could free up that time for myself, and only schedule shoots during the week when at all possible. I try to work out every day, and I generally do it at the end of my day because it cuts me off and gives me an “end of day” feeling. Generally, I don’t work out at my house, and instead I go to gyms or classes or even run around the neighborhood (this changed with Covid but we’re dealing haha). It’s that actual physical separation that makes such a huge difference for me. Also, I really try my absolute hardest not to overbook myself. That allows me to spend the proper time on each individual project I’m working on, so my clients can get the best possible results. I’m not doing anyone any favors by overbooking myself. It took about 8 years or so to really feel like I have a decent handle on my work/life balance. In the end, there is always work to be done. There’s always outstanding projects, websites that haven’t been touched in a year, marketing that falls by the wayside, etc. As a business owner, there’s always 1000 hats and you feel like you’re wearing all of them. I’m slowly learning to give up control and outsource certain things, which definitely helps with freeing up time for myself or for other projects. Learning to say no, holding myself to somewhat of a schedule, exercising and a yoga practice, and having a physical door in between work and home life are all huge factors that contributed to finding the balance I have now. It’s allowed my business to grow, and simultaneously allowed me to find more fulfillment in my personal life than I’ve ever had before. It’ll never be perfect, and it’s always a work in progress, but finding this balance has truly been life changing for me.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’m a photographer that specializes in interior spaces and lifestyle+editorial portraiture. To be honest, I’m mostly proud of being able to make a living being a photographer! There’s so many talented people out there, I’m always so grateful to my clients for choosing me when there’s so much great work being produced these days from so many talented photographers. For me, I think becoming successful in my career was a lot of just not giving up. I never, ever planned on starting a wedding photography studio, but it just sort of happened. It was born out of necessity to survive, and we saw an opportunity and ran with it. As the business grew and confidence was built, new opportunities involving editorial clients started to appear, which lead to more networking and more opportunities outside of weddings. We ran with that, and eventually we were able to close the wedding business and move forward with our own businesses that were more creatively fulfilling. Starting any business is definitely 100% not easy, but I do think starting out on my own a few years ago came easier than starting the initial business years ago. I had a good foundation, so it was more of a transition than starting from scratch. Overcoming business challenges, to me, boils down to communication. So much of life in general is just a lack of communication. Whether it be with a partner or a client or a subcontractor, communication is one of the biggest keys to being successful in my opinion. Working together with others, choosing words wisely, body language, being realistic on timelines and expectations, it’s all communication. Even your body talking to you, telling you that shooting 5 days in a row doesn’t feel awesome and you’re going to pay for it later at the chiropractor, is communication. Listening to others, and to yourself, plays a massive role in overcoming challenges and being successful. Being patient is another life lesson that I’m constantly learning. Things aren’t going to just happen because you’ve decided. They have to be nurtured, built, fine tuned, etc. And that all takes time. Being patient with myself, and forgiving to myself, was probably one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned on this journey. I guess I want the “world” to know how grateful I am to be who I am within it. I’ve worked so hard, and so much of it wasn’t easy, but none of it would have been possible without the opportunities that the “world” presented to me. When I look back on this journey as a business owner, I can connect the exact dots to people or moments that changed the course of my life. The universe works in such crazy ways, and the hardest times in my life were the times that I grew the most. The people and the opportunities that presented themselves to me along the way have truly shaped who and where I am right now in this moment, and I’m forever grateful for that.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Well I’m spoiled because I’m in North Park, so I have a ton of great bars and eateries walking distance from my house! We would definitely spend some time in the neighborhood, so for neighborhood spots I’d go to Polite Provisions for a fancy cocktail (best in SD in my humble opinion), and I always love Tribute Pizza for delicious eats. Post dinner would be maybe a trip to Whistle Stop in South Park, West Coast Tavern or Livewire is always a favorite too. The Observatory is always one of my favorite spots to see live music, so if that’s a thing again I’d for sure see who’s playing there. Recovery Acai bowl at Roots Bowls in Hillcrest the next morning is on the agenda for sure. If my friend was in the mood for a California Burrito, for sure a stop at Don Tommys in OB would be in order. Or we could get cheeseburgers at The Friendly Tavern. For non nightlife activities, the hiking up in the Cleveland National Forest is such a fun activity for a day, and it’s shaded for a lot of the hiking which I love. So much of hiking in SD is just open desert, I much prefer the trails with trees. If that’s too much of a driving commitment, Torrey pines is always beautiful and easy to access. If we did a fun overnight staycation, I’d stay at the Inn at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas. It’s an eco-minded B&B walking distance to the water. They harvest a ton of their own food right on site, and it’s a gorgeous getaway with a relaxing and recharging vibe to it. Then I could spent a day up in North County Beaches area! For sure a cocktail at Capt’n Kenos, and a stop off at Lou’s Records in Encinitas. If I felt ambitious, I’d head up to Oside to check out what’s new at The Rising Co. Some other spots on the agenda would be a shopping stop at The Gold Dust Collective on Ray St in NP. Maybe a farmers market morning in Hillcrest or Little Italy. If it’s hockey season, we would for sure be doing a game down at Sports Arena, Friday’s is $2 beer night so that’s always a fun night to go! I also love going to the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa park. If my guest had never been to SD, a trip around the park is a give in. If anything, Balboa Park is great for people watching. For a beach day, I’d head down to OB or up to Solana Beach for the afternoon. My friend’s family has a great condo up north with a small public access beach walk, so I’d head there for a beach with less people. Lastly, I love those Julian vibes, so I’d maybe rent a trailer up at Pinecrest Retreat for the night and enjoy the pool and the close access to the little town of Julian.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Well a huge shoutout goes to Jaimie Derringer for nominating me – talk about the ultimate form of flattery being nominated by such an incredible business woman and artist! Honestly, there are SO many people that have helped me get to where I am now, and I’m so fortunate to have so many amazing people backing me. I think as far as business goes, my former business partner Becca Batista deserves a giant shout out. I learned so much from her as far as the photo side of things go, but aside from that, she’s always been one of my biggest support systems and such a wonderful friend. My parents also deserve a huge shoutout for always providing me with the love, support, tools, and education necessary to find success in my life. I also have such a wonderful photo community of people who have all played roles in helping me succeed, and an amazing list of clients who have put their faith in me! They for sure get a shoutout, I wouldn’t have a career if it wasn’t for my awesome clients!
My headshot was photographed by Becca Batista.