Starting Over: What to Do When Your Partnership Falls Apart with Jewels Gray


Starting Over: What to Do When Your Partnership Falls Apart with Jewels Gray

Starting over—the thought of it sounds overwhelming. Imagine all the things you did to get your business going. Sometimes it can take years. Last year, I had no choice but to start over, and as daunting as it seemed, I’m here to tell you it can be done. You just have to be motivated to kick yourself into gear.

It sounded like a great idea at the time—famous last words. My husband was a photographer, but not necessarily good at the business side of things. I, on the other hand, had experience with business, marketing, and an office environment, and was also an artist through and through. So, after we got married, we decided to go into business for ourselves and start shooting weddings.

Of course there was a lot to learn, a lot we didn’t know, and a lot we didn’t do right. After struggling for five or so years, I found Sal. He and Taylor came through Denver, and I took their seminar. I thought to myself, “Finally! Someone willing to show me the ins and outs of the business, and in a way that I want to do it.” I was hooked immediately. Some of you out there know my story. After being on CreativeLive two years ago, my life has changed in so many ways.

My husband/partner and I had struggled since we started, continually wondering what we were doing wrong. I started implementing Sal’s business model, and I was ecstatic with the results. Finally, our numbers were headed up. Unfortunately, my husband was not as thrilled. I won’t go into the dirty details, but let’s just say we weren’t seeing eye to eye, and it created a big wedge between us. This is where things started to unravel. We tried balancing our work/life. We took classes on how to be in business with your spouse, and even went to counseling. It overlapped into our personal lives, and, after 13 years together, 11 years of marriage, eight years in business, and two beautiful children, we divorced last year.

Just because our marriage ended doesn’t mean our business did. We had contracts for 2015 we still had to honor. Sure, we could have returned all the retainers, but we were both dependent on those funds. We decided to remain friends and work together until the last contract was fulfilled. No matter what, we couldn’t risk tarnishing our brand. Our clients didn’t deserve that, and we wanted to keep the energy positive. As far as they were concerned, nothing had changed. I was still the point of contact for everything, and to this day, I handle all sales, meetings, product orders, delivery, accounting, taxes, etc.

When we decided to end it, I had to get my personal affairs in order. That’s when I started freaking out. How was I going to support myself and two kids? Where were we going to live? How would I be able to afford this break?

So. Many. Questions.

I sat down and went to work. I had no other choice. Even before I started packing, I started from zero on my new business, and hit the ground running. I didn’t have time to throw a pity party and feel sorry for myself. Failure was not an option. It all was exciting and terrifying at the same time.

Sure, I have some skills and things to fall back on, but I decided that the best path for me was to continue in the wedding photography industry, because I love shooting weddings. I took a leap of faith.

Since I did all the business stuff, I already had a good handle on what to do. It started with the logo, then came the website, setting up my S corp., business cards, and it went from there. I made lists—big ones. First, I contacted my friends in the industry and let them know I was available to second-shoot, do hair and makeup, anything.

I took another leap of faith because I didn’t want to meet clients at Starbucks, store my equipment in my tiny apartment, or have hair and makeup clients coming to my home. Of course, sometimes you have to do these things, and that’s OK. I just wanted more. I found a space in an up-and-coming neighborhood in a co-op warehouse, and prayed I could afford it.

Investing most of my savings and maxing out my credit cards on new and replacement equipment, studio samples and furniture for my new little studio was extremely stressful. I worked and worked on every aspect of my new business like a busy little beaver, and the inquiries started coming in. I was elated and relieved.

It’s now been a year since those leaps of faith. I am happy to report that not only did I match the goals that I had with my ex, but I exceeded them. In fact, as soon as I went out on my own, my business more than doubled. I have my theories as to why my business is doing well now, when before it was just maintaining, but I don’t know if I will ever know for sure, or if it even matters. I am in love with my brand and happy with my work. My clients are excited to work with me, and have tears in their eyes when they see their photos—this makes it all worth it.

But I still had to learn the side of the business that I didn’t do: editing, equipment, workflow, technical stuff. My partner was always in charge of these things. I have had my share of issues, but I’m working through them and learning how to streamline every little detail of my business. I have made some mistakes. Thankfully, they weren’t detrimental enough to shut me down, and I learned from them. I still struggle with workflow, but Evolve Edits (shameless plug, and no joke) has helped me out tremendously. In fact, I don’t know how I could have done it without them.

A few of my colleagues tell me how amazed they are at how I’ve done it all. How I just charged full steam ahead. How I didn’t look back. How I didn’t waste any time. How they couldn’t have done it. I just smile and say, “I just didn’t have any other choice—and yes, you could too.”

The bottom line is that if you’re not happy doing what you’re doing, do something else. If your partnership isn’t as strong as it used to be, then try to fix it. After all, you went into business with this person for a reason—what was it? Has your perspective changed? How are you going to address the issues?

If you’re unhappy, stop it right now—life is too short. If it seems as though the end is inevitable, figure out what to change. It’s not easy. It’s exhausting. It’ll leave you doubting everything. But do not let that hold you back. Have faith in yourself. Be strong and don’t let anything stand in your way.

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To read the full article, launch the digital version of the October 2015 magazine.

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