Why You Should be Selfish

Selfishness is never an attractive quality. Whether it’s a room full of toddlers fighting over the same toy or a friend who dumps you for her new boyfriend, selfishness is repulsive… or is it?

Sure, the word selfish has negative connotations, but today I want to encourage you to remember that it’s not always a bad thing to look out for number one… and especially so when you’re trying to run your own business.

David Allen, a work/life management system guru and author of ‘Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity’ once said “You can do anything, but not everything”. So often when we’re working for ourselves we want to be the biggest, the best, the most popular, the most sought after… we don’t want to be left behind, we want to get all the best clients, we want to win the awards and be recognised for what we do… and that’s great, but what does this mentality make us do? Take on too much and try to do it all, that’s what!

This doesn’t benefit anyone and taking this chaotic approach will not only dilute your product and the service you offer your clients (you can’t physically give the same level of service to 100 clients as you can if you only had 1) Cutting down commitments and allowing yourself to focus on a few things, and do them really well, is paramount to success.

You know the drill. It’s 9am Monday morning. You log in to your computer and you have 75 new emails. Your phone rings. It’s a client with an ‘urgent’ enquiry about her order for her wedding in 12 months. You have to pop to the post office to ship orders for next week’s weddings. You have a meeting at 3pm with a potenial new client… which, oh yes, has to be done by you… and definitely in person. You miss lunch, you’re late picking the kids up from school (again) and you forgot to pick something up for dinner. You’re overworked, over-commited and overwhelmed. ARRGH!

According to Allen, this is one of the biggest ‘silent traumas’ of workers everywhere. Plus, it’s got to be a million times worse for someone running their own business, where everything you do has consequences to how much money you have to feed your family. “We inhabit a world,” he says, “where there are no edges to our jobs and no limit to the potential information that can help us do our jobs better”. What’s more, in a highly competitive market like the wedding industry, that’s continually being reshaped by the internet, we’re even more tempted to take on more than we can physically handle to stay ahead of the curve. So how on earth do we know when to stay enough’s enough!?

I’ve had a few people email me recently asking about how I manage my time. While, sure, I’m a busy bee, I am not always running to keep up with myself. I have time off. I watch crap TV. We go out for dinner. I have regular nights out with my friends. I go shopping. I take day trips to London. How? Well it’s actually quite simple. I’m streamlined, I’m strict with myself and I turn things down regularly. I’m totally selfish with my time.

Allen agrees, and argues that the real challenge is not managing your time but managing your focus. “If you get too wrapped up in all of the stuff coming at you, you lose your ability to respond appropriately and effectively”, he explains. “Remember, you’re the one who creates speed, because you’re the one who allows stuff to enter your life.”

After I’d been blogging for a few years, external (and granted, at the time, very exciting) offers started to come in. “We’d love you to write a column for our magazine…erm…no sorry we can’t pay you but it will be great publicity for you!”, “Oh we’d love for you to come as a special guest to our event… we’d love you to take photos and write a report for your blog. Hey, you could even do a talk if you liked. No, we can’t pay you, but it would be great for all of us!”, “I’d love to have an advert on your site… How does a £50 voucher and a free pair of shoes sound?”

And no, I’m not making any of those up. And yes, at the time I accepted all these offers with an excited glee and a thrill to get started on my ‘exciting new project’. In time I realised the unpaid magazine articles were actually taking me at least a day to write, often more with the emails flying back and forth and last minute changes to briefs and deadlines. The ‘free exposure’ I was getting from attending swanky events was reaching a smaller number of people than my blog does in a day. And the advertisers who wanted to pay as little as possible were the biggest pains to deal with!

Cutting down my commitments (and erm… putting my advertising prices up massively!) has been paramount to how I’ve progressed my business over the past year or so. I work with less people, I earn more per project and I have more time to focus my energy on the things that matter to me and my business. The people who will pay for my time and services are the ones I really want to be working with… not just because they pay my bills, but because they really value what I do and they want to work with me over anybody else. I’m never going to apologise for what I charge because I know I do a bloody good job for the people that choose to work with me (as a side note, there’s an excellent guest post from Lisa Devlin about what to do when clients try to barter on your prices, going up on Friday).

I’ve let go of the guilt of saying no to people (which gets much easier to do when you realise how huge the benefits are). By turning down things I’ve been able to really knuckle down and focus on the things I want to do for my business… More travel, more shoots, workshops, brand campaigns, a print magazine, paid freelance writing, the green room… would I be able to do all of these things if I was still committed to everything I was 12 months ago? Would I heck!

I’m not saying you should never work for free and I’m certainly not saying you shouldn’t help other people. Especially when you’re first starting out, collaborations or working for exposure can be hugley beneficial, and helping someone with something for no other reason than to be selfless can, and usually will, come back and reward you in the long term.

But I ask you, what have you done to be selfish recently?

All Photography Credit: Billy Rood via bentrovatoblog
Shoes by Gasoline Glamour


  1. Such a great post Kat. I completely relate to this and am prone to over-working myself. I may be checking back to this over the coming months to remind myself that it is ok to say no! Thank you for sharing it with us x p.s. totally buying this dudes book!

  2. You are so right. You have to value your own time and not apologise for making time to have a life. Part of the reason I came back to self-employment was to take back control; not an easy time to do such a thing. Quite hard at first to cost services and learn to say ‘No’ – in the nicest possible way and DON’T do ‘love-jobs’. That feels the most ‘selfish’ of all. Earning a living is different from doing something as a hobby. A certain amount of ‘selfishness’ is necessary for survival.

  3. Thanks so much for putting this up! I was hoping you would post this one.
    It has been really inspiring and really hit home with me. I suffer from a huge lack of selfishness, and have a problem with people now taking advantage, and expecting alot for nothing. As such just the last couple of weeks I have been looking at my photography business (that has been suffering in the recession and from the shoot me for free problems) and have decided that a lot of what I have been offering is not what I enjoy to do, so I am ditching a lot of the packages that I do, and starting again, just doing a few niche ones that I enjoy and my customers enjoy too!
    thanks it has given me more determination to carry on doing it my way.

  4. Faith Caton-Barber

    Bang on yet again. I really want to make so many people I know read this. Especially the ones who say ‘I’m too busy to read blogs as they are such a waste of time and I can’t get this work done as well as I’d like because I’ve got five jobs on at once and they’re not paying me enough…’ Yeah. Those people. I know I’m not quite 100% there yet myself but I’ve definitely found by turning the meh stuff down I have time and energy to respond to the projects and opportunities that excite me and both my customers and I benefit. Also, I am discovering that the people who choose me on cost alone are rarely the people that truly want the bespoke experience that I offer. I have discovered that offering to steer people to other more appropriate places is much better for everyone involved.

    At this rate Kat, you’ll have enough for your own business book before the year is out 🙂

  5. Post author

    Thanks Faith! ive heard the same from many a wedding photographer. the clients that want to just get the best deal and ‘tick you off a list’ so to speak are the biggest pains… OR they wont let them ‘do their thing’ cos they dont care about that they only care about the price.

    oooh business book! haha can you imagine? id make sure it was illustrated with brightly coloured and stupid photos of my face.

  6. Co-sign on all of this there is not point doing stuff just because you are asked I quote the late great Notorious B.I.G ‘Only make moves when ya heart’s in it’ also I like saying no, it’s a bloody amazing word!

  7. Kat! I absolutly 100% applaud you on this post. Its definitely something everyone who owns a business can relate to, you do feel like you become a “yes man” especially in the first precious months. You have just brought this to my attention! Friends are always asking “How are you?” “Hows the business?” “Are you busy?” all answered by “good, very well, yes bloody busy!” Its the work people dont see that takes the time like researching, long phone calls to suppliers, driving 30 miles to meet a potential client and not a guaranteed booking, the emails…as you know the list goes on! But all it takes is to be the strong person; the person you were when you decided to set up your very own company and just say NO! Its so so sooooo important to make time for friends and family but above all yourself, after all who would beable to run your business like you do? Your post has opened my eyes to something I knew was there but perhaps masking over with the fact all I have ever heard from people is “well you have to work so hard when working for yourself” yes you do have to work hard but not for free and certainly not without having quality time your loved ones! Dont get me wrong I have clients that have been with me from the start that I earn very very little with but they have been there from day one and supported my business more than I could have imagined, but the time has come to stop taking on freebies/cheapies for people and stand my ground. 🙂 thanking you 🙂

  8. When we first started we had people ask for large discounts and even ask us to do things for free “as it’s good advertsiing”, and when you start out you have to do a certain amount to get your name out there, but there has to come a point where you step back and think what do I want out of this?

    Do I want to earn a living and do what I do well, concentrating properly on each aspect or do I want to run around not earning very much working myself into a frazzle?

    I think sometimes we forget that it’s OK to say no, and that saying you want to earn money isn’t like uttering a dirty word!

  9. Post author

    Totally Lucy! As i said, i do still do some things for free…however it has to fall into a strict criteria. I ask myself, “will this benefit me, my readers or my business?” or “is it fun?!” If i can’t say yes to at least one (well hopefully both) of these questions then i turn it down.

  10. Brilliant article Kat, I agree 100%, I’ve been so guilty of over-working myself in the past, and being totally in denial about it, finally learning to value my time and work (but it’s probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do with my business).

  11. Great post Kat and bang on the money. I did some work for free for a local place over a period of a few years thinking about the exposure and having my images out there and so on. I really thought that there was the potential for a great working relationship, but it was so one-sided that recently I had to put my foot down. I had to suffer a huge guilt-trip (from someone who really should know better) but I stood my ground because I knew I had to. I am not a “what’s in it for me” sort of person usually and I do believe what goes around comes around. But there are exceptions to this and when people start to take advantage, or you can see there is no clear benefit then it is definitely time to say “No!”

  12. Kat,

    This is an amazing post! Life can be our biggest time suck, and when you throw in several demanding brides who want shit yesterday, there is no way we can accomplish everything that WE want to accomplish because of all the “side notes”. Thank you for this… I swear, I am going to make this post the Bitchless Bride bible…


  13. An amazing post. And so true. And to be honest, so depressing also. I work as a freelance professional and have no where near the clientele list as yet to turn down any kind of work, paid or unpaid ( unless they are very sweet and the project is amazing). What I try to do, however is be reasonable with myself, a downturn with my health both last year and this year has meant that the days I work, I work hard, the days I give myself off I rest and play hard. I generally work a 8- whenever the Fiance gets home ( usually 6.30), when I’m at home adminning and when I’m on a shoot/ trial/ wedding/ filming I make sure that when I’m home I’m playing/ resting. It’s so far working, I’m much more on the ball than I ever was and I am enjoying my job and networking doesn’t feel as much of a chore.

    I do wish that people would however pay for the quality of work they ask for and expect back. It would make everyone’s lives a lot easier and a lot more pleasurable!

  14. Great post and super timely for me, as I think I’m at the point with my blogging where I should be more selfish, even though it’s very difficult to stand up for myself. xx

  15. great post kat… i only wish I had offers to turn down! haha. maybe one day! i agree with you though, that you really can’t do it all, and time is money!


  16. Kat, I can’t wait for the brightly coloured business book with stupid photo’s of your face =D
    Also, awesome post – I’ve recently been working for barely nothing, not covering my costs and wondering why i’m poor and tired.
    I’m going to be much more selfish now – perfectly timed post! x

  17. Kirsty

    Please Please write a business book, your Green Room posts make me feel normal and you give the BEST advice xx

  18. I definitely needed this advice today. I’m still building my business and often have a very hard time saying no. In the recent weeks, I have had several “would you do this for free” situations. I have a great deal to manage (business, special needs child, homeschooling my child, my own wedding to plan, etc.) and I have to learn to say no. Not just for my family, but for myself too…so that I don’t go batty. 🙂

  19. You, my good woman, are a legend!… Wise, wise words indeed and just what I needed to hear today… Mucho lurve, ~ Sair xx

  20. THANK YOU So So SOOOooooooooooooooo much for this post, I think this has come at a good time for lots of poeple including me. I think I actually had a mini breakdown over the past few months from taking on way too much work and not saying no (no joke!) It’s especially hard when clients are so lovely and you really want to do the work, I get selfish in this way too.

    My Big Selfish Act: I bought a bright pink car to remind me that a) treat yourself for hard work and b) stop being scared of asking for money otherwise the car goes beacuse I won’t be able to pay for it.

    Your business book would be amazing and really helpful to us all. I’m off to buy the other book in the meantime. Do some business workshops!
    Oh The Shoes ……

  21. No no no no no no no no…sorry, just practising. I have an almost pathological fear of appearing selfish so will need some serious encouragement on that front.

    I’m loving this Green Room and, just FYI, stupid faces rock. I would totally buy the book.

    Now excuse me while I sheepishly slink back to my freebie behind-the-scenes edit of a photo shoot that is going to look great on my CV. For the exposure, you understand.

  22. Love this post…..when I used to work in recruitment my old boss used to say ‘is what you’re doing now going to make me money’….it cut straight thought the faff and made me evaluate what I was doing and work in fear of being asked that question…..althought not everything boils down to the bling, time is as much of a commodity as money so I am constantly asking myself a question along those lines….’is what i’m doing now truly gonna benefit me in the long run’……and if it ain’t I gotta ask myself why I’m doing it and say no more!

    Late night ramblings and a long way of saying, love it & agree 100%

  23. Dee

    Oo this applies to lots of employed people too – especially if you love your job, believe in what the organisation does etc etc. Kat – can you do a follow up post on ways to say no? Not so much for the times when what you are being asked to do is truely unreasonable, but for all those times when you would love to be able to do it, but physically just don’t have time???

  24. Hi Kat: I’ve had this blog post bookmarked for weeks now and I’m so happy I finally took a few minutes to read it. I’m a HUGE fan of David Allen and have read and re-read GTD. The re-read was necessary after I’d implemented the principles, but then felt stuck. I couldn’t agree with you more. Life is full, but we accomplish what we make time for. It’s not a lack of time…it’s a lack of priority. I absolutely adore your blog and intend to recap this post on my blog…with links back here, of course. 🙂 Happy Monday, Kat!

  25. You are so right! It is ok to say NO!
    Bellydancers deal with this all the time and it’s so hard for us to say no! Especially for those who are just starting out- I will be sharing this on the bellydance biz facebook group.

  26. Naomi

    Fantastic article. This resounded with me so strongly! How many times have I sacrificed that which is so dear to me and time I can’t get back for myself or my son simply to say yes to another cheeky client trying their luck for never quite enough cash? I love my work as a costume and formalwear designer but when everyone wants bespoke things on the cheap and wants it ‘like, NOW!’ Then there really is a lot to be said for growing a backbone and learning to say no. 8 months pregnant now, I am still finishing commissions and clients are still asking me to ‘just squeeze one more in’ (paying no mind to my massive waiting list) but little unassertive me has finally broken and is able to refuse with the affirming reminders to myself that after working so hard for long long with no breaks, I am entitled to enjoy my partner, newborn and son during these times that can never be reclaimed. I adore reading your articles, they to me are a pillar of strength. Thanks

  27. A really great post that’s actually come at exactly the right time for me. I’ve recently reached a stage where I’ve been giving myself migraines trying to fit everything in. Last week I sat down and made a point of deciding what I can cut out of my life (running 2 businesses makes that hard!) but I’ve made a start and am finally starting to see the bigger picture. It’s hard to turn things down, but I can definitely see that it will be better for me and my business in the long run.

    Also…OMG those shoes! I need those in my life!

  28. Alicia

    I confess I am not an avid reader of your blog, I follow you on FB (LOVE the content!) and stop by when something crops up that piques my interest.

    This article ROCKS.

    I wish I had read it as a professional 6 months ago when I started taking more on thinking that it would allow more exposure, growth and learning – the three white lies of becoming an over-doer. Since I became frazzled from all the crazy, I decided to cut back. Bam! Suddenly, I wasn’t stressed out. I actually enjoyed seeing clients and meeting for consults again. As I said, I wish I had read this article 6 months ago. At the very least though, I now know I am not the only one and also that I am making proper choices.

    Thank you.

    BTW, this definitely crosses many boundaries and borders in our lives. I’m a fitness/personal trainer and pretty much run our home as well.

  29. Paul Robinson

    I have to say I love the article and how it does go into great depth, the only criticism I have is that it seems a little generic. For many years I considered myself to be unselfish, always going the extra mile with work and over and above the call of duty on many occasions, unfortunately this attitude did mean I spent less time with my friends and family and that time lost was a negative.
    therefore time management is important but it is not the actual ability on how to be selfish. (Only to be selfish when managing time) If you want to know how to be Selfish – which is the title of the article than “How to Be Selfish” then the book I would recommend reading is “How to Be Selfish” by Olga Levancuka, would be the book to read as it does delve deep into the reasons and the benefits of being selfish as well as teaching the actual act. It can be bought from Amazon http://bit.ly/how-to-be-selfish I found this to be a great read and certainly worth the money if you are planning a more positive outlook on life.


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