I get asked these two questions all the time “What are you doing? and How are you doing it?” These are two questions I get asked over and over again by wedding creatives that want to know how I grew my business. I want to take time today to let you in on some of my secrets on how, within a year, I built a six-figure wedding photography business from a hand-me-down camera and a whole lot of grit and determination. This story will take you on my journey through my marketing strategies and finding my voice in a crowded market. I have to warn you, this did not happen overnight and there definitely weren’t any “get rich quick schemes”, just a whole lot of hard work, sacrifice, and determination to chase my dreams.
To start off my cousin Cassie actually was the one who convinced me to start a photography business…I guess she saw potential that I honestly didn’t see. I had a hand-me-down Nikon D90 (Momfessional Camera!) and didn’t even know how to use it in manual mode. For those of you who are not fellow photographers, manual mode is where I’m able to adjust every setting instead of relying on the camera to choose the best settings. It gives me complete creative freedom and gives me my signature images. Anyways… with my hand-me-down camera in hand I began to take photos of anyone who would let me, I even convinced some of my seniors to model for me. Sidenote: I was a high school science teacher before I became a professional photographer. I learned the ins and outs of how to shoot in manual mode, learned how to edit photos for beautiful natural skin tones and really began to focus on what I wanted my business to be about. I knew that I didn’t want my ‘side hustle’ to be a ‘side hustle’ forever and that I eventually wanted to work for myself.
Once I had the shooting and editing part down enough to begin charging for my work that’s when I got serious about the business side of well, my business. I started to look at my competition and tried to figure out what it was that they were doing and even still what they weren’t doing. Therein lies the secret. So many people get caught up in what their logo or website should look like (don’t get me wrong those are still VERY important) but there was something that they all seemed to lack, a personal connection. I didn’t feel like I really connected with any of them on a personal level and to me that was where there was a void to fill. At that moment I vowed to never be a business owner who didn’t forge true and authentic relationships with my couples. I don’t say this to attack anyone or any business because businesses CAN be successful without having a personal touch, think Nike, Adidas, Chick-fil-A (ok the cow is definitely on my Christmas card list)but I think you get the idea. In my opinion this route requires significant more upfront capital and marketing savvy beyond my brain power.
That’s when I began researching and identifying companies that used what I call ‘Personal Branding’. To give you an idea of what personal branding is I want you to think about the following people; Chip & Joanna Gaines, Oprah Winfrey, & Kim Kardashian West. Now I want you to think about what all of these people have in common. Any guesses? Well I’ll tell you. You could probably tell me everything there is to know about these people. You could tell me where they live, their favorite restaurants or even what they like to do on the weekends. It also probably feels like you know them personally BUT the kicker…you’ve never even met them before. That my friend is ‘Personal Branding’. Using YOURSELF to market in a way in which NO ONE else can. There will never be another Chip & Joanna Gaines…sure someone can try to replicate them and they will create their own following of superfans but no one can ever be them or share their love for renovating their city one dilapidated house at a time like they can. No one else also has their story and the same goes for YOU!
I knew that if I was going to give up nights and weekends from my family to be with couples, I wanted those couples to be my friends and I wanted our time together to be special. So I began sharing myself, even though it was uncomfortable at times to let strangers in. I started talking about things I liked…tacos, margaritas, traveling, and Downton Abbey. It seemed silly but people want to feel connected. I know I do. I love when my couples share their lives with me. Eventually I worked up to sharing about my family and letting them in to our lives. I shared about struggles and wins. I let people get to know me. Pretty soon I wasn’t just a girl who took beautiful pictures (trust me there are a million people who can do what I do) but NO ONE is me and NO ONE can give the experience that I do. That is what personal branding is. I don’t buy Hearth & Home products because they are so unique, I buy them because of who created them. This level of personal branding has helped me forge sweet friendships with my dream couples not once, but over and over again.
This whole process can seem kind of daunting but it’s so powerful and it literally comes down to you! So start sharing YOU and being YOU and I promise your people will find you!