by Jenna Kutcher
A $300 Craigslist camera launched my photography career and turned into all of this. Stop me if you’ve heard this one… I’ve told it a million times because it’s a reminder of how I got this whole thing going.
When I speak to entrepreneurs, many aren’t sure they want to be doing what they are currently doing ten years from now. Wedding photography wasn’t something I could see myself doing 10, 20 years down the road. But I made a powerful pivot and what came next was my dream business.
In this episode I get into the HOW of my pivot and hopefully inspire you to start thinking about what’s next for you. You don’t have to back yourself into a corner, I want you to already be thinking forward about the next step so that when your passion fades, you’ve got a powerful pivot ready to propel you forward without sacrificing profits.
How am I using my camera now? Find out! Press play on the player above.
The Very Beginning
If you’re in a 9-5 job but dreaming of turning your passions into profits, pay attention because when I look back at my journey, so much of it was trial/error and I’d love for you to have less trials and errors and have a better plan in place from the jump! For the sake of you understanding my photography career and how it looks entirely different than when I started, let me give you a minute long overview of how it all went down.
I shot a wedding in Jamaica after I bought that $300 Craigslist camera, got super passionate, started a blog, wanted to leave my job and hustled my butt off to make it possible within one year. My first full-time wedding season, I knew I needed to match my $55,000 salary at my corporate job and so I booked 25 weddings to match that income before I made the leap. After that first year, I was on an upward trajectory and I booked 27 weddings the next year, 30 the following… And then something happened: I was SO burnt out. For the first time in my life I found myself crippled with anxiety, I felt like I couldn’t stop working, I brought my computer with me everywhere, I answered emails at 11PM from bed… I had absolutely no semblance of balance and the burnout felt suffocating. I knew I couldn’t do another wedding season like that and so I sat down with Drew to figure out what was next.
Powerful Pivot #1: FREE UP TIME
I didn’t realize it at the time but the first ever powerful pivot happened during my season of burnout. I remember talking to Drew and we sat down and looked at our finances… like we actually ran every number from rent to cable, phone bills, and operating expenses for my business. If I were to ask you for your numbers right now, could you tell me what that looks like? Both in life and business? I remember us running through every number and realizing that while my personal pride goal had been to make 6-figures, I had been working SO much to hit that goal that it was affecting my health, my life, my marriage and it was causing me to hate what I was doing. I had built a business that made me feel like I was trapped on a hamster wheel and the second I stopped running, everything would stop and I would fail.
In our conversation, we realized that I didn’t actually need to make 6-figures, in fact, I could go back to making that $55,000 that I had once made in the corporate world, which meant I didn’t need to book 30 weddings, but I only needed to book 16 weddings for us to live, pay our bills, and have a life. For the three years and the 82 weddings I had shot, I was able to raise my rates incrementally which meant I could work less and still make the same amount of money and so I approached that 4th wedding season with a new plan: Work less, free up time.
Time to live, time to relax, time to be present, time to disconnect… That was my plan, but in doing all of that, something even bigger shifted. I was finally freed of the hamster wheel, I was finally given the clarity that I needed to see the things I had done right as an entrepreneur and to right the things that had led me to burnout. Suddenly I wasn’t working 50-60 hours a week and I had time to pick up other passions.
I had started to paint watercolor to help with my anxiety and I shared my art, which led to me opening a little print shop online and selling my prints. This was my first additional revenue stream that was unexpected. With my extra time, I was able to focus on marketing and I bought my first ever online course that came with a mentor. I invested $5,000 into learning business in a new way and that was the first time where I said: “No, I don’t have to figure this ALL out on my own, I can shortcut my success and get answers to the questions I have without having Google everything and piecemeal a plan together.”
That investment helped me to imagine how I could help others. My new found freedom from being a slave to photography inspired me to teach other photographers how to set up their business right and none of this would have happened if I wouldn’t have cut back on the work I was taking on so that I could have time to work smarter… Because so many people just focus on working harder to get the results they want but what would it look like if you had time to create systems and explore new opportunities or learn new strategies?
Where to Start Your First Time Pivot
If you’re looking for the first powerful pivot to make: Free up time… Whatever that looks like for you. Take one or two weeks and track your hours. Where are you spending most of your time? What do you dread? What is taking you longer than it should? Where could you cut back or get help?
Once you see those numbers in terms of hours, let’s talk about how you can free up some of that time where you’re doing tasks that aren’t actually moving the needle. Common struggles for entrepreneurs include: Inbox management, social media planning, content creation, editing, etc.
Whether it’s hiring a VA so you aren’t spending 10 hours a week answering emails or outsourcing editing or taking a course to learn something new, faster… Those options might cost you money but when we look at the TIME it will get us back, it will almost always be worth it. We so freely trade time, which is a non-renewable resource but we cling tightly to our money. When I started to look at not what it was costing me but what it was giving me back, I realized that outsourcing was the key for scaling.
If I wouldn’t have been willing to lose that “6-figure” title, I would have never been able to free up the time it took for me to make it to 7-figures. The best part is? Choosing to cut back and being willing to make less actually yielded more, because I had the time to dream up and start other ventures that led to more profits and a new direction for my business which gave me the ultimate freedom. Wild, isn’t it?
Powerful Pivot #2: From Photography Business to a BRAND
One of MY personal, all time favorite episodes is “Why you need a brand, not a business” which is way back to episode 59. Here’s where the second pivot happened. I stopped building just a business and focused on building a true brand. Honestly, this piece of the puzzle is where I see most entrepreneurs mess up. Basically stated, a business is a place where you sell a product, service, or opportunity BUT a brand on the other hand is: the image and personality the business applies to it’s offers. If I were to ask you what your brand is, you might jump to sharing things like your logo, the colors you use, maybe the typefaces I’d find on your website, but to me, a true brand is how you make people FEEL. It’s the personality behind those paid offers.
When I started to pay attention, I realized that in order to charge premium prices as a wedding photographer, I had to own what made me different and at the end of the day, what made me different was… ME. I talk about “owning your awesome” and I’ll be the first to admit that it took me a few years to realize that I didn’t want to blend in, that I had to figure out what my personal awesome was and how to not only market it, but to be fully confident that it could extend beyond wedding photography.
At the time, I was sharing only my work with an occasional personal post but when I started to really look, people were far more interested in ME than the work I was sharing. I was confused at first because I didn’t understand why people would care about me or what I had to say and surely they’d rather look at pretty photos than hear about my boring life, but the truth was, they had to be connected to me as an artist or photographer before they actually could appreciate or care about what I created.
I started to understand that if I was only sharing my work, then I was really on able to attract a narrow audience… basically limiting myself to midwest brides, specifically women in Wisconsin currently planning a wedding and in need of a photographer. So when you look at who I could attract, it was a few hundred to a few thousand people tops — and after they had chosen a photographer or their wedding was over, they really didn’t have much reason to stay following me.
Think about this for a minute: What kind of audience are you attracting right now through what you’re sharing? Is it a super niche and narrow audience OR are you giving people reasons to follow you beyond just what you sell. When I started to open up and share more aspects of my life from marriage to body image, from our home decor to fashion, I started to open up the chance to connect with people beyond just what I do, so that they’d have a reason to follow me, even IF they weren’t currently on the market for a wedding photographer. So while I would still share my work, I would sprinkle in my life and thus when someone said, “I need a wedding photographer” those followers would be the first to tell someone about me.
While some businesses benefit from serving a super small, niche audience, most people would benefit even greater if you were able to attract people who felt connection with your BRAND so that if/when they are looking for a solution and you have the answer to their problem, they will spend their money with you. Sometimes people don’t even know they need what you’re selling, so getting in front of them and serving them until they are ready to react to the sell is one of the best ways to focus on a brand and not just a business.
Where to Start Your Business to Brand Pivot
Determine if you’re running a business or if you’re building at true brand. If you only have a business (AKA, you’d have to start fully over if you stopped doing what you’re currently doing) consider building a brand — even if you’re unsure of where you want to go in the future. If you start a brand now, it will give you opportunities to pivot it when you’re ready to spread your wings.
The key to a brand is having multiple connection points beyond what services you sell or products you offer, so you want to make sure that you have clear connection points that will connect you to other people. Things like where you live, travels, what you eat, clothing, decor, hobbies, the pets you have, brands you love…. The list goes on and on and on but when you can create connection with people, you’ll give them a reason to follow you even if they aren’t currently interested on what you sell. Show up, share your story, and build your legacy post by post, when you’re ready to rock your brand or monetize, you’ll have an excited audience on the edge of their seats, waiting to hear your offer.
POWERFUL PIVOT #3: Transferring My Talent in a New Way
You have a talent, you have a gift — and sometimes the business we originally build doesn’t give us joy anymore. Sometimes we just need a little break or a little more help but sometimes we need a new option or a new way to transition our businesses in a way that serves us again. I’ve never been beyond doing work to simply pay the bills and to suck up the fact that I’m not going to be 100% excited or passionate about what I’m doing 100% of the time… BUT, when I started to realize that shooting weddings no long made me excited but instead brought on anxiety, I knew I needed to begin working on a plan to pivot out of weddings and into a new type of photography business.
My last 3 years of shooting weddings looked like the reverse of my first 3… instead of booking more and believing that more was better, I became more picky and booked less intentionally to continue to free up time to focus on building my brand and extending my business. I went from 16 weddings to 8 weddings and finished last wedding season with only 4 weddings. I planned this phase out so that I could keep doing the thing I was known for while building my brand that was going to look different.
As I transitioned out of weddings, I continued to shoot and share my work and began to pitch my photography in a new way! I was able to replace that “6-figure” wedding photography through things like brand collaborations, shooting for companies, and creating and shooting campaign concepts. I’m still a photographer, I’m just shooting and showing up with my talent in a way that excites me again, doesn’t require me shooting on the weekends, and is a lot less volume intensive.
When I think of this year and the photographic work I’ve done, it’s things like: shooting food for a 5-star resort, shooting our family life, shooting campaigns for big brands, shooting content for our feeds, etc. I am almost shooting more — or at least more frequently — in this new role then when I was solely a photographer who grabbed her camera on the weekends.
Where to Start Your Talent Pivot
Perhaps your current business isn’t exactly lighting your fire anymore OR you’re building something but are feeling the burnout OR maybe you’re creating something now but you know that 5 or 10 years from now you’ll probably want to change directions. Whatever the case may be, it’s important to understand where your talent lies and imagine how you can use those talents in new ways, but also to utilize your skill set to drive profits in a new way while you pivot. While weddings specifically weren’t my cup of tea any longer, I was able to use those gifts and talents to transition my business and to pitch myself in a new way, which allowed me to replace that income that would be loss in closing the wedding side of my business without closing that chapter completely.
Sit down and make a list of your talents or the things that make you unique. How can you use those talents in a new way? How could you change your business model to support your bigger life vision? How a package your talents in a new way? When you start to recognize the things that make you different and where they intersect with the things you are passionate about, that is when you can start to plan and prepare for a powerful pivot. It’s important that you can be confident in sharing what makes you different and when you truly understand the gifts you have, you will be able to market them in a way that will ensure your success in what you’re doing.
Struggling with this part? Ask the people who love you the most what they consider you an expert in, think of the things that you’re the go-to guy or gal for, do an audit of what posts perform the best and figure out how you can tie those things together into your brand and create new offers via products or services that fuel your passions and allow you to do what you love and get paid for it!
I’ll give you a clue: you’re going to feel SUPER boring — You’re going to think, man… My life is so boring, I need to become more interesting, more beautiful, more of all the things, BUT the things that make you feel boring? They make you relatable, they make you seem more like a true friend, they make people realize that they are just like you and that is where the power lies. People relate more to normal and boring then they could ever relate to the things you wish you were doing in your life. So yes, own your awesome, but own your norm, too, because if we’re all being honest, most of us are living in yoga pants, doing the work, and wondering how many days dry shampoo can work effectively.
The Big Picture
Sometimes the business we started building suddenly feels more like a trap. Sometimes we build something so big and busy that we crave that 9-5 and what it felt like to shut the door of the office after a long day and disconnect. Or sometimes what we’re building isn’t taking off like we thought it would and it feels like we’re beating our head against the wall trying to get traction. There’s a lot of scenarios that can play out when you’re an entrepreneur but I want you to know this: You are not a tree, you can move and pivot and change and transform. Instead of waiting for it all to be perfect, just START growing knowing that you have the permission to change as your passions shift or as you realize what really sets your heart on fire.
If anyone is proof that you don’t have to do one thing for the rest of your life, it’s me. When I look back at that business I started all those years ago, I smile, because I had NO idea that that business would lead to this one, but since I did the three things I shared here: free up time to pursue other passions, build a brand and not a business, and learned how to use and market my talents in a new way, I’ve been able to close a chapter of my business to pursue those bigger dreams on my heart and still use the gifts I’ve honed over all the years in a way that inspires me and gives me that balance that I was seeking. It’s better to start now than to wait until you know exactly where you want to go, because we’re all just figuring it out along the way and your future self will thank you for putting perfection aside and getting those passions out there. Get the full episode and all my how to pivot your business advice, just press play on the player above.
Oh and P.S. if you’re a photographer or you’re wondering if you can take photos for a living while still having a life, don’t forget about my free training! You can sign up, tune in, and take notes by going to photowebinar.com! I can’t wait to see you inside of the training so we can continue this conversation there!