Monday, March 19, 2012

BUILDING MY BUSINESS | Q+A.

Over time, I've gotten a nice amount of emails asking the questions below. Generally it's about one or two, per email - sometimes its more general such as, "would you mind letting me know how you got started?" I kept telling myself that I wanted to put together a blog post dedicated to questions about building my business.  Please, I beg you ;) take this for what it is - my own personal experience. I do not claim myself to be an expert in entrepreneurship (hopefully one day!), I do however, claim myself to be someone who is insanely passionate about what they do for a living, and lending out any tips I can to those who are on the border of taking the brave leap to a brand new journey.  xoxo


WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST REGRET DURING THE PROCESS OF BUILDING YOUR BUSINESS? WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU WOULD HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY?

To be honest, there isn't much that I'd do differently. That isn't to say that I haven't made mistakes - but as cliche as it all sounds, those mistakes led me to where I am today; and I'm happy. However, I would have become an official LLC right from the get-go. Instead, I decided to wait due to self-doubt. I wasn't sure that I would be good at this whole "entrepreneur" thing. I wasn't sure that my business would take off and grow the way that it has and continues to (in large part to all of my readers, so let me sneak in a warm loving thank you right here :)  So, I waited... Big mistake, for a couple of reasons. One, taxes. Second, that self doubt held me back from doing some great things early on. I let fear get in the way, and its a lesson well learned. 

Now? I'm fearless ;)  

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE BEST THING ABOUT BEING IN THIS INDUSTRY?

Oh gosh.. there are so many amazing things about being in this line of work; the wedding industry especially.  The relationships that you build along the way is by far the most special thing, to me.  A lot is in part to the amazing world of social media. Gina Gomez and Camille Wynn, for instance, are two woman I admire and respect and consider "friends" even though we have yet to meet. How cool is that? Or the fact that I learned almost everything I wanted about this business just by connecting with Justin & Mary Marantz's blog. There are also endless opportunities for collaboration, and creativity explodes on a daily basis. If you play your cards right, and you're fair and kind to your peers, amazing things can happen. Another thing I love, that I learned early on, is that photographers (especially wedding photographers) are so eager and willing to help others in the business.  Again, I'll focus on Justin & Mary. As I mentioned they were a huge learning tool for me in my first year (and continue to be to this day) simply by putting it all out there on their blog for all of us to read and benefit from.  Their encouragement and zest for photography gave me the confidence that I needed to not waste another minute just dreaming about what I wanted to do. Believe it or not, this industry isn't competitive.  It's warm and inviting. And that, is a beautiful and rare thing when it comes to business.

...and being able to form your own schedule doesn't hurt either ;) 

WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO KNOW, IN YOUR OPINION, FOR SOMEONE STARTING OUT IN THIS INDUSTRY? 

It is so important to know who you are, 100%, before diving into this business (or any business for that matter) You are your brand, you are your business, and what you deliver is a direct reflection of your morals and business ethics. Have the confidence in yourself to do great work, and you will. Also, know your gear. This should go without saying, but I think a lot of people assume that a good eye will get you wherever you need to go. While having great composition helps, you have to know the gear that you're working with for those tricky situations (dark chapels, a killer sun, temperamental reception lights, etc) - but really, you should know your gear because people are putting their trust in you to capture their most important day. Invest in your passion - read books, go to seminars in your area, ask questions. Have a desperate thirst for knowledge... never stop learning. 

HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT GETTING SO MANY BOOKINGS? 

In my first year, I never turned down jobs. Weddings and lifestyle sessions alike, I wanted all of the experience I could get. I heard from someone in the industry that you should "only take on jobs that felt right and felt like "you" - I agree, but not for someone who is just starting out and trying to grow their business. Like I said above, you should be desperate for knowledge, and eager to photograph as many things as possible to define your style and learn who you are behind the camera. In doing this, I learned very quickly the importance of building trusting relationships with my clients and delivering on my promises. It was (and still is) the most important thing within the way I run my business - which brings lovely referrals from past clients, and this, my friends, leads to bookings! Lots of them. 85% of my weddings within my 2nd year have come from referrals from previous clients. The other 15% come from vendors I've worked with in the past (event planners, make-up artists, venue coordinators), being featured on wedding blogs (The Knotty Bride, Style Me Pretty, etc) and Google is a God-send. Make sure your analytics are in line and that you're showing up on the web. 

HOW DO YOU HANDLE THE WORK FLOW? HOW DO YOU KEEP FROM GETTING OVERWHELMED?

The wedding photography post-work can definitely be a beast of sorts, if you let it.  Again, my first year, I found myself swimming in a mess of images starting at me in the face with beading eyes - begging to be blogged, delivered, noticed.  While I met all of my timelines, I felt a sense of inner panic, and I promised myself that come 2012, this would change.  I've designed a fail-proof flow that should be a saving grace. Here it is, in bullet points so we're not here for years :) (keep in mind, this is stretched over a 4-6 week timeframe)
  • Immediately gather up all of the images from my second shooter(s) and put them into a labeled folder. The folder is immediately transfered onto my hard drive for peace of mind :) I do the same with my images once I return home
  • The next morning (assuming I don't have another wedding), I begin my culling process in iPhoto, flagging up to 800 images based on my gut reaction to the image. If I don't love it, I don't keep it.
  • After I've culled, I place them into a folder labeled "Jack and Jill Final Picks" and send them off to my favorite post-processing group, Photographer's Edit, for color correction and file organization. 
  • Once I receive my edits, I back these up onto my hard drive.
  • Each image is individually loaded into CS5 where I add my personal touches. I know this sounds incredibly anal, but I'm a perfectionist, and want to ensure that each image reflects my style and is cohesive to the collection. (also why it can take up to 6 weeks!) However, I don't fuss with the images more than a couple of actions - I want the natural beauty of the image to override the edits.
  • I choose a personal favorite (sometimes early on in the process) that will be my Sneak Peek for the blog. This will also show up on Facebook and Twitter where I will "tag" or "@" my clients.
  • After the "touches" to the images have been added, I create a folder called "Jack and Jill Album" where I choose a collection of favorites that I feel would be perfect for their wedding album (this is what I will show them during our follow-up consultation) 
  • Then, I create a folder titled "Blog" - here is where I choose my top 30 images that I will post onto my blog with a personal story of the couple. These are also the images that will go into a Facebook Album.
  • I also create an array of folders each titling the publications that I feel would best represent the wedding at hand. These images are the ones that I will send off for hopeful features.
  • After the blog post has been drafted and the submissions have been sent out, I upload every single image onto my website where my clients have their own password secured gallery. I love this, because this way the couple doesn't have to wait days to see all of their images. They're able to share them with family and friends immediately. 
  • Clients receive their package within 7-10 business days of the blog post date. The day I post, is the day their packages goes out in the mail. 
...So there you have it, the brief(ish) description of my post-work timeline! Wait... are you asleep?? Wake up! :)

WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE FOR SOMEONE WHO FEELS OVERWHELMED WITH THEIR PHOTOGRAPHY BUSINESS? 

I can't say this enough times: Take care of yourself. Always. For instance, this may make me sound like a pre-Madonna, but I'm okay with it - I require myself to take time out for a massage once a week during wedding season. NO EXCEPTIONS.  Generally on Mondays, since the weekends are when I'm working myself into the ground. You will be shocked at how much a small act of kindness to your body will make a difference. Alongside massages, I always make time to sneak off to the gym and spend time with friends. This gives me time to clear my head and keep me grounded. This job can become a lot about your clients (which is great!) but its good to remember who you are at the root of all of this, too, when you're not behind the lens.  Know when you need a break, listen to your body, and never be afraid to ask for help. Post-processing sites are amazing, and they're there for that reason.. to give you your life back :) Again, Photographer's Edit  is my go-to.

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH REJECTION?

Ah, rejection. Embrace it! It's inevitable, and the thing is, everyone gets rejected. Even the best of the best. Never take it personal, because they've reached out to you already. They love your work enough to consider you. The only reason you're getting rejected is because you either a) are priced a little outside of their budget - which is okay! or b) you took far too long to respond - which is not okay! ;) Prompt responses are a must, and something your clients will commend you for - trust me. I get thanked for this on the regular.  In hindsight, you shouldn't expect to book 100% of the clients that reach out to you. In my opinion, that means its definitely time to raise your prices. Know your worth. The rest will take care of itself. 

WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART ABOUT BUILDING A BUSINESS, IN YOUR OPINION?

That, is a loaded question!  I have to say that staying true to who you are, and using your own voice. Once you figure out how to do this, you will have the time of your life! But in the beginning, it's super hard. I won't try and sugar coat it. You can become overwhelmed by all of the success that's happening around you with other people in the industry, and it's so easy to assume you should be doing exactly what they're doing, speaking exactly how they're speaking, tweeting what they're tweeting, shooting how they're shooting. On the contrary - in order to stand out in this industry, being unique is everything. It's beautiful. The most vital piece of advice I can give you is to completely embrace who you are as a person, as an artist. From there, your brand will be born, and consistency will follow. Once you come to terms with your inner-self and why you're in this business, the rest will just come naturally; it will show up for you day in and day out; reminding you that you're special, and that you deserve to be here doing what you love. Because you do. 

HOW DO YOU FIGURE OUT WHERE YOU SHOULD BE PRICED?

I think this is a great question, but its a strange one to answer because it sounds kind of... vain. You have to compare your work to others in your industry and ask yourself, "Am I as good as this person? Do I think I offer something that they don't? Well okay, they're getting a lot of clients, so I know I need to be priced within that neighborhood." From there, as mentioned above, if you notice that you're booking every single client that comes your way, it's time to re-evaluate. Also, look at your experience level. During my first year, I was incredibly affordable because I had only shot a handful of weddings. I had no right to be pricing myself as high as say, a 5 year veteran in the industry being published monthly on Style Me Pretty. I knew I would get there some day - and now, I've had so much more experience that my prices need to reflect this. I offer things to my clients that are worthy of costs, and I charge accordingly for the time that's invested into each and every job. Know what you and your business are worth - but whatever you do, don't sell yourself short. 

I love this quote from one of my favorite wedding bloggers, Alison aka: The Knotty Bride: "The only thing that's as important as being able to do what you love, is staying profitable so that you can do it FOREVER." 

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO REMEMBER WHILE ON THE JOURNEY TO BUILDING YOUR BUSINESS? 

Enjoy every single minute. You are living your dream! You get to wake up, every day, knowing that you are doing what you love. You are creating timeless images that your clients will cherish for the rest of their lives. You are building new relationships with people who believe in your talent. You are documenting love, day in and day out. Go ahead and pinch yourself. This is real life.  ;)



4 comments:

Jennifer Medeiros said...

Thank you so much for this! Truly inspiring and accessible... so appreciated!!! :)

Cassandra Eldridge said...

Jennifer - you are SO welcome!! I'm glad you found it helpful. Thanks for reading! xoxo

Brittany said...

Cassandra - My good friend Jessica Elmore passed your blog on to me because she thought it would inspire me and it certainly has. I recently left my career in advertising to follow my heart and become a wedding photographer. Reading your post made me a little teary eyed because I am feeling how you did early in your career. Thanks for putting this out there and inspiring one aspiring photographer!

Cassandra Eldridge Photography said...

Brittany! That makes me so happy. Thank you for taking the time to write this! I'm SO excited for you - and please, if you have any questions at all, or would ever want to tag along for an engagement session/wedding, don't hesitate to shoot me an email. I'd love to have you! (cassandra.eldridge@gmail.com)

xoxo