Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The making of a senior portrait photographer

Lack luster photo shoots. Endless hours of editing. A saturated shoot and share EVERYTHING photographer market. Four years of ‘business’, with nothing to show for it. Exhausted, burnt out, bored.

Sounds like a booming successful photography business huh!? To quote the 90’s: NOT!

I was ready to quit. I wanted to walk away from my ‘photography business’ for all the fore mentioned reasons and more. The problem with that though, was that I wasn't really walking away from a business. I was walking away from a hobby that had beat me up.

There were some good times in there. Some great shots. Lots learned… and lots of bruises too.
So I took a break – nearly a year long break. But you can’t turn your back on passion, purpose and desire for long. These are the things that drive us, that are a part of who we are. We cannot separate ourselves from these things. (whoa! cheesy factor – sorry about that! But passion does fire ya up don’t it!)

It’s been a dream in the making for the past 5 years to own and run a photography business that would allow me to replace my current income and day job. That would give me the freedom to be the master of my own time - to finally have motivating work to get out of bed for. (Besides being a mom and a wife – those things are definitely worth getting out of bed for – unless someone is puking, then I’m out!)

I love photography. I love beautiful images. I love people even more.

Particularly I love working with women.

I went to college to become a high school art teacher. I had dreams of mentoring adolescents and being a role model for young women. I wanted to help kids see their potential and to help them reach it. I imagined having meaningful conversations, laughing together and motivating teenage girls to be confident and empowered and working together to achieve their dreams.

Through the past few years I have realized that these passions extend far beyond my small minded scope of being a teacher. I have found that I have these same passions and desires for all women. Sometimes God tests us to see if our dreams are really worth fighting for. This dream of working with teens has been TESTED. I never got an art teaching job and I almost nearly quit photography all together. Now I'm dreaming of how to take those same passions and weave them into my photography business.

I’m not sure why I never focused more energy on shooting senior portraits when I first started out, maybe I thought having a photography business meant shooting everything. In fact I’m quite sure that’s what I thought. I had no niche, no target market, no specific areas of interest. I had a dream business in my mind, with no plan to get there.

So this time I was going to do it right. I wanted to take what I had learned during my first ‘business’ attempt and do it better. I began a 6 month research and learning journey.  I knew of some photographers/bloggers that shot amazing senior portraits. I started learning more and tapped into a bubble of amazing photographers who were willing to share their knowledge with me.

This year (2014) will be my first year shooting primarily senior portraits! I have so many other wonderful ideas and passions that I want to add into this business, but for now I’m taking small steps to achieving the larger goal - which this year is all about senior clients.

Here’s a quick list of areas I focused on learning a lot about in order to make this dream a reality. There are three main topics: senior portrait specific, marketing strategy/campaign and what I’m calling ‘business savvy’.

Senior Portrait Specific
  • Target audience: I had a big brainstorming session to help me determine the kind of photographer I wanted to be and the style I wanted to capture. I made up a fake character that personifies my ideal senior client. THIS IS CRUCIAL! It’s like your north star to everything you do. (SIDE note: I LOVE doing these kinds of exercises! I'd be totally up for helping any one with similar idea sessions - email me!)
  • Rep program: This is where I have spent the majority of my time. Holy moly is there a lot to learn! I took the Seniorologie Rep Program course in November last year. Thank you Leslie Kerrigan and to all the other amazing women who were willing to share their knowledge!
  • Hair & makeup and wardrobe: I LOVE FASHION. I LOVE MAKEUP. I knew I wanted these elements to play a big part in my business. I reached out to several wardrobe, and hair & makeup stylists until I found people that fit my brand and made them a part of my team. I love them! They have the same passion and desire to empower women.

Marketing Strategy and Campaign
  • Mock senior portrait session: since I hadn't done more than 2 or 3 portrait senior sessions in the past, I needed to create material to help me market my new business. We (my team) created the whole experience. Hair, makeup, outfits, photo shoot and everything in between!
    • I asked a family friend who has a daughter in high school (Abby - a sophomore) to help me. She has made such a big impact on the development of my senior business. Her ideas are genius and she knows what tens like and want. Find your Abby!
  •  Updated branding: Of course I couldn't use the same logos or websites with my new senior brand, so I spent COUNTLESS hours rebuilding my website, updating Facebook, my blog and Instagram accounts to create consistent communication channels and look. AND I’m STILL working on it…
  •  Marketing materials: with the mock photo shoot complete, I started making a variety of materials to advertise with. Everything from Facebook timelines, Instagram posts, Senior Model Rep promo flyers, updated business cards and so much more. We even made a video! How legit is that?!
  • Networking: this is the scary part. Putting myself out there. Being confident in my new plan and getting others on board was/ is not easy. I started carrying my new business cards and rep flyers with me every where. I left them at businesses, gave them to strangers and tagged my friends and family in Facebook posts about needing new clients.

Business Savvy
  • Setting goals: I had never done this before (did I just admit that!?). These goals are written down and they are measurable. They don't just say ‘become a successful senior photographer’. I have numbers to track and financial milestones to hit. This brings me to my next point…
  •  Being financially smart: One thing in particular that I’m really trying to focus on, is to actually be profitable (again, did I just admit that!?). I don’t want to go into debt getting this thing off the ground. It’s hard because there are so many cool things I want to do and get. Like studio space?! Hello! Anyone else with me? I’m dying for a place to make my own.
  • Pricing and packages:  A big part of being profitable. Knowing your costs of business and charging to make a profit. (I really can’t believe I’m saying these things!) Like, DUH – Business 101 right? I finally created session and product packages that make me a profit. Wahoo!

I know I don’t have it all figured out and that this year will likely amount to a lot of ups and downs! But I’m really proud of the thought and planning I've put in so far. I’m most excited about the people I’ll get to meet this year and the relationships that will begin to grow with my team and our clients.

I’ll leave you with this quote from John Acuff (love him. BIG fan.) that really struck me. It helps me narrow down what’s most important.

‘A dream that doesn’t get you out of bed to hustle isn’t the right dream.’

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