When I’m telling my story of leaving that windowless office at Target, I can guarantee someone will ask “But HOW did you book 25 weddings your first year and match your salary so you could make the leap?” I get asked about this SO much and it’s a part of my story that I sometimes breeze over because I’m often on a webinar or speaking at an event and don’t have the time to really dive into it. So today, I thought I’d spill the beans once and for all!
So here are some of the strategies I used and I hope they’re helpful to all of you starting out and wondering how the heck you find people who will pay you to do what you love and help you get the courage and the ability to make the giant leap into full-time entrepreneurship.
I created a brand
I knew that if I wanted to do this, I needed a site and a logo right away. I knew right away that I needed a space beyond social media. I got a free WordPress (yes, free) site and started to put together a simple little page where people could learn about me, see my work, and figure out if I’m the right fit for them. At first I piece-mealed it all together but then I realized that I needed to really have a brand, so I hired a graphic design student for a few hundred dollars I got a logo and created my first brand: Photos by Jenna Leigh. I wanted one space that was cohesive and clear and my brand was born for less than a few hundred dollars.
I started sharing consistent content
You know those fun little reminders from Facebook of your memories? Well, every day I am reminded of how much I was sharing when I was starting out. I was constantly posting photos whether it was of a random cat, pictures of me, or pictures I snapped of our friends and family. Yes, I even had a Facebook album titled “Life through a new lens…” which was really just a point and shoot I got for my college graduation. I wanted people to start seeing images and thinking of me as a photographer and I learned early on that you have to teach people what to think about you. When they saw me, I wanted them to think photographer and not just any photographer but a wedding photographer and so I shared a lot about weddings (mostly mine, when I didn’t have clients yet.)
I asked for what I wanted
I posted telling the world I wanted to shoot weddings (put it out into the universe!) and I openly shared my dreams and goals. Now a days I see so many people with passion but they are holding it so close they are afraid to share it. They are afraid of what others think or what they will say or who will judge them and so they hold their gifts in and believe the lie that they aren’t qualified enough and they never go on to do big things. I started to put it out into the world and boldly. I’d say, “I’m booking weddings for next summer so if you or anyone you know is getting married, email me, I’d love to chat!” I would message anyone that Facebook notified me was getting married and tell them about me, my services, and that I’d love to work with them. You can’t expect people to seek you out if they don’t even know what you’re doing.
I studied anything I could get my hands-on
which at the time looked like wedding magazines + blogs! Yup, I started this whole thing before Pinterest even existed. I would spend days looking at images I loved and going through how I would pose people to get that shot, I would practice directing in my bedroom, and made Drew be my light guy when I figured out how to use my camera (if you ever see him, ask him about me making him slow dance with my dog in our bedroom while I worked out my flash.) I bookmarked posts that inspired me, watched what style of editing I was drawn to (which sadly, at the time was that reallllly washed out look that is soooo 2011.) I became a student to my passion and shot on my camera every single day even when there was nothing to shoot because I needed 2 things: practice and confidence.
I created a vision board
this is a little embarrassing but I would literally make a collage in Microsoft word of photos that inspired me and I laminated it and kept it in my camera bag so I could sneak peeks while I was learning and it helped remind me of poses I loved and direction cues I needed as I practiced on friends and family. I made basically anyone I could get in front of my camera, I even shot a few weddings for just a few hundred dollars just so that I had a portfolio (my first wedding ever was my brother-in-laws in Jamaica, so yeah, destination wedding photographer was a title I held before I really knew what I was doing.) I wanted to do a good job and so I pulled out all the stops even when I wasn’t getting paid the big bucks and I stretched those 2 weddings so far to make it look like I had experience and a portfolio. This also helped me recognize what I loved, what I needed to work on, and where I wanted to take my business.
I created an experience that I personally wanted as a bride
When I was starting my wedding photography business I was a bride myself so I was walking through the process my potential clients were walking through and I knew what was important to me: I responded quickly and thoroughly, I showed up prepared to meetings, and I totally faked it until I made it. I talked to brides about things I was doing in my own planning process and we would always hit it off like we were best friends. I made my pricing middle of the road – not super cheap and not high end but what I expected to pay as a bride and then I made sure that I showed up big on their wedding day, going above and beyond. I basically created an experience and sold it (without having done it) and I shared what that vision was with my clients so that they would know if those chose me, I would treat them so well.
I invested in paid advertising and didn’t play small
I remember driving to my 9-5 and I was on the call with an advertiser. She wanted me to pay hundreds of dollars a month to advertise on her site and was absolutely swindling me (which I fell for, by the way!) I remember thinking: if I don’t believe in myself enough to put money down, why would anyone believe in me enough to spend their precious dollars on me? It was then that I really decided to go for it. I knew that if I was putting money down, I would absolutely make it worth every penny and when I ran the numbers I knew if I booked just one wedding, it would be worth it. While I’m hesitant to share that piece of this puzzle it’s important because it definitely helped fill my calendar but looking back, I wish I knew then what I know now about building a true brand and not just a business because I would have saved myself hundreds of dollars and found clients that truly wanted me and not just any other photographer. I only did paid advertising for one year and after that it was all word of mouth, referrals, and my own personal marketing efforts.
I think sometimes people are looking for a magic quick fix easy answer, but the truth is – I hustled. No idea was too small, every effort was worth pursuing and I worked hard. I worked hard because I was motivated to make it work and I had the big goal of leaving my corporate job. Set a goal and a timeline for yourself and then do the work.
Ready to up your photo game?