I am so thrilled by the amount of love my first post in this series has had!! It blows me away that I can inspire people to go for their dreams, because the facts are — if I can succeed and meet my dreams, literally anyone can!
We left my last post talking about how 2014 – 2016 were my “seed” years. One thing I want anyone who reads this to realize is that building a business does not happen overnight.
Read that again.
Building a business does not happen overnight. Especially in the wedding industry where you have SO much competition and each market is different depending on where in the country (or world) you are based out of. Even if you aren’t looking to do weddings, photographers in general are everywhere.
I realized that very quickly when I transitioned from a part-time business owner to a full-time business owner. But before we get into all that, let me tell you how that transition happened!!
Me moving to being a full-time wedding photographer was not planned in the slightest. At the end of 2017 I was in a car accident. Nothing too crazy — I survived! But the predicament it put me and KJ in was not ideal. We went from a two car household down to one. We were not in the position to just up and pay for a brand new car, considering we were still not that well off at that time. My business wasn’t providing for us in a way I would have ever imagined, especially taking into account I had only moved to North Carolina one year prior and we had two babies in daycare (which is not cheap!!).
So, after becoming a one car household and working full-time 9-5 jobs in opposite directions from one another, making it close to impossible to get to each of our jobs on time, get the kids to and from daycare, then come home with more than an hour to do everything else… I was faced with a choice.
I could continue to make the impossible happen with my current job, having only one car, and not enough time in the day. Or, I could take the plunge and work my butt off to make my business profitable so that I can continue to help provide for my family.
Y’all. Flat out… I was scared. I didn’t know what to do. I had so much doubt in my mind. Not to mention I was in the LAST SEMESTER of my degree program for Medical Administration and only had my internship to complete. Some people have given me grief for not finishing my degree, given how far I had come. But where I was going to be doing my internship was at my job, and if I couldn’t get to my job, it meant I couldn’t get to my internship, which means… you get the idea!!
I don’t regret making the choice to go full time in my business. Not one single bit. If I was faced with the same choice again, I wouldn’t choose differently. Was I scared to heck? You bet. Was I doubtful? Oh yeah. Did it take a lot of time, sleepless nights, energy, tears, worry, hard work, dedication and consistency? Abso-freakin’-lutely. But I have loved every minute of it.
In September of 2017, after my car accident, we also made the decision to move back home. I remember I left New Hampshire with no intention of ever coming back, but like I never pictured myself running a successful photography business, I never thought I’d come back home! Once we nailed down the decision to come back to NH, I knew I needed to gear my marketing towards New England. So, I hit the ground running and started marketing to every single New England state!
By the time we moved back home in May of 2018, I had booked 22 weddings in total for the 2018 wedding season
It is not common for someone in their first full-time wedding season to have 22 weddings booked. But that is why I fully believe that consistency is a large factor in the first few years of business. Had I not been consistently marketing myself, putting my name out there for people to see, not practicing, not educating myself, not replying to emails at all hours of the night (you don’t have to do that last part unless you’re a little crazy night owl like myself)… had I not planted all those seeds early on, I wouldn’t be in the positive position I am in being in the middle of a global pandemic.
2017 was the pivotal year for me. It’s when I pushed myself to really try and the long work began. It’s when I challenged myself to work harder at creating images I was proud of. It’s when I forced myself to learn my camera like the back of my hand so if I was really going to do this, I was going to do it right.
2017 was the year I never saw coming.
Trust me when I say I understand if people aren’t able to do what I did. It’s not easy to leave the comfort of your day job where you know you will get a paycheck at the end of every week. It’s not easy going blind into unknown territory, especially if you do things the absolute hardest way like I did.
When I say I did things the hard way, I mean I didn’t second shoot for others to learn wedding days in and out. I didn’t beef up my portfolio to showcase perfectly curated styled shoots. I didn’t find someone who would mentor me. I didn’t know what made a good website. I didn’t have a workflow process. Because the truth is I had NO idea any of that stuff existed.
I’m not saying any of this to impress anyone. I am literally voicing how I have reached my success. I am not anywhere near where I want to be. I have so many visions, ideas, plans, goals, new dreams… but I am proud of what I have accomplished so far.
It hasn’t always been this way. Building a business takes time, patience and a bit of resilience in order to get to the good parts. I didn’t know when I took the leap that I was going to survive, let alone thrive. Statistics show that most businesses don’t make it past 5 years. And I am thankful beyond measure to be heading into official year number 6 in October!!
Thank you to all my followers, clients — new and repeat, family and friends. So many of you have shared my work and left some really encouraging words over the last few years and even though every single point has been different, it’s all led me to this!! Thankful and blessed don’t even begin to cover it <3
My strategy was to put myself out there and see what happens. Or, for lack of better words, none. I didn’t have any specific strategy when I first started, which looking back now — oof. I didn’t hire a marketing consultant. I didn’t hire someone super knowledgable to help me start my business. I started from scratch, with no experience and like I said in post one, I wasn’t exactly qualified. It’s super hard to admit these things, but it’s also super important for people to understand that no one is perfect right out of the gate. And if you are, and have all your ducks in a row, well congrats!
I can’t say what my specific strategy was because I didn’t have one other than marketing to wedding groups in New England. I didn’t have a specific agenda, other than I was looking for some really cool couples getting married! Now, my strategies are a bit different. I have social media calendars, I have monthly business agendas for myself, I blog, I market on different platforms. I have notes upon notes for topics and ideas. Let’s just say I went through a lot of “what not to do’s” before I got to the “what works!”
This is a hard one! Thinking back to my early days, everything was kind of a blur. I had a lot going on in my personal life and again, trying to start a business is hard! There’s a lot of moving pieces. I have to say the funniest story I have was from a shoot in North Carolina after I first moved down. it was like 110* out and I had a family session at this beautiful location with a dam so there was this spot with moving water that we could go next to for some photos. Well… I slipped off the rock incredibly slimy rock and went waste deep into the water. I was so embarrassed but played it off like it was totally normal! My camera was fine (didn’t get wet — perks of being a tall woman), I was fine and we finished the shoot with me half soaking wet! ?
I started on a gifted Canon Rebel T5! I had that and a stock lens. Nothing else. It is so incredibly painful for me to think about doing a wedding without any of the gear I have now, but, we all start somewhere! I highly recommend having at least the following for weddings if you’re looking to start up: 2 camera bodies (main + backup), 1-2 prime lens, 1 zoom lens, 1-2 flashes (ideally 1 on camera, 1 off camera). Full disclosure — wedding gear is NOT cheap! I recommend if you can’t invest in all the gear, at least rent some to practice and/or use for sessions/events. Many photographers I know still rent a ton of equipment! I personally don’t but will try to get some recommendations on where to rent from.
Since I primarily shoot weddings, this is a list of everything I bring and primarily use on wedding days:
Katelyn James!! I will sing her praises til the day I die. She has been one of the biggest pushes in my business since 2018. I found her educational content for the very first time in I believe 2016 (after doing a lot of research on my own). I came across a freebie she was giving to photographers and I remember learning what foreground was from that piece of education!! I didn’t know it at the time but it wasn’t until I started following her in 2018 that I realized “Holy crap! She was the same person I got that freebie from two years ago!!” I took her year long Business Journey course in 2019, and actually got to meet her in Virginia last December to do our final lesson in person!! The stuff she teaches is so powerful, and I owe a lot of my success to her educational resources!! There are so many different photographers who teach other photographers how to grow a business. I have collected various educational content from many different educators over the years, but Katelyn’s has really stuck the most. KJ fangirl for life haha!!
designed by Gillian Sarah; Photographs by Jessica Casey
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