With over 160 MJ2Day alumni now taking over the globe, I thought it would be fun to do a series on my blog to check in on past attendees and see what they're up to now and how their businesses, lives and photography have been impacted by their experience at the workshop. I've heard so many fun stories from past attendees that leave me beaming with pride at their coolness and I can't wait to share!
We get photographers at all stages of their businesses at the MJ2Day and Emily was a little further along in her journey when she came to the workshop. She had been in business for 3 years, and had been specializing in weddings & engagement shoots exclusively for one year. At the time of the workshop, Emily was looking to break away from being a wedding photographer that clients hired to check a box, and become someone that couples sought out -- not just for her images -- but for who she was, and for her brand. She was also still working a part-time job and was hoping to gain momentum to allow her to focus on her business full-time.
I interviewed Emily for this post and it was so great to get her perspective on how the workshop has impacted her business at this juncture in her journey. Here are Emily's thoughts:
Q: What is the biggest difference in your photography since attending the MJ2Day?
A: One of the challenges for me prior to the workshop was feeling like I had to take so many photos in so many locations in order to please my clients. One of the things that hit home for me was that I needed to slow down, frame with intention, and move more. What I mean by that is, there are so many images I can capture in one location just by moving around a bit and by directing my clients to move. For me, quality images come from the emotion in them, not a plethora of landscapes and backgrounds.
Here is a sample of some of Emily's images before attending the workshop:
And here is some of her work since attending:
Q: What is the biggest difference in your business since attending the MJ2Day?
A: The biggest change is that I quit my part-time job to work solely for my business! It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but it was the best move I could’ve made for my business. I set to work right away to standardize my workflow and create a better system for my business management. I set office hours and spent the evenings with my husband. As a small business owner, it’s hard to turn off your brain from work when you step away from your desk, but it’s been something I’ve been working on. Having a very specific workflow in place has helped with that because I know I won’t forget something. I also have a notebook that I keep with me in case I think of something that needs to be done. I jot it down so that I can do it when I’m back at my desk working.
Q: What are some of your goals that you set after attending the workshop that you have since completed?
A: Standardizing workflow! I’m pretty equal parts left- and right-brained so I love the creativity and artistic side of my job, but I also love the management, numbers, and spreadsheets. (Interesting fact: my favorite time of the month is when I get our bank statements and I can reconcile our accounts!) In the beginning when there was little money to spend, I utilized Google Docs to it’s fullest powers. I had spreadsheets for workflow, money management, wedding day timelines, mileage, you name it! I used the form function for my wedding questionnaire and scanned/uploaded all my contracts for safekeeping online. As I planned on growing my business, I needed a better management system for my workflow. I use Pixifi now and absolutely love it. It took some intensive set-up work, but now, it works for me. I use it for everything from electronic contracts, workflows (one for right after they book me, one for their engagement session, and one for their wedding), and invoicing, to proposals and referral tracking. Standardizing has given my mind so much freedom!
Q: Have you made any changes to your website/branding?
A: I was in the process of a complete branding overhaul at the time of the workshop. Again, in the early years of my business, the idea of spending thousands of dollars on a professional logo, website, blog, etcetera was completely overwhelming and out of the question. I made do with what I had and created my own logo, website, and blog. Once I began specializing in weddings and getting a clear vision of the kind of brides I wanted to work with, I knew it was time to up the ante and invest in a brand that portrayed me since, after all, the first thing most clients see about me is online. I worked with Jennifer Olmstead of Deleted Space Creative to create a cohesive, personalized, online presence that was ME. I wanted something that was fun and classy, a little bit girly, but also very structured and grown-up. I first fell in love with my logo; it’s a statement piece that is so terribly sophisticated and clever. I adore it. My overall website and blog changed from nice to wow. I love that it is fun without being frilly. It’s clean, classic, and gives my brides an instant idea of who I am.
Here's a screenshot of my website before:
And here's how it looks now:
Emily Crall" target="_blank">Click here to see Emily's website in action!
Q: Have you seen a change in your booking rate or the type of clients you book changed since the workshop?
A: I’m much more picky about the type of client I work with now. I’m not afraid to stick to my style and refer a potential bride to someone else if she is wanting a different look or we don’t click well. Since my husband and I purchased our home last year, I designed our living room to be a great meeting space for my consultations. I invite clients over, get to know them, make fresh cookies, and have tea and coffee for them. They can look through albums from real weddings I’ve photographed and, maybe the best part, being in our home solidifies my overall style. I’ve found that if they connect with me through my website, then come to my home and talk about the curtains and the paint colors and my piano shelf, well, we’re pretty much best friends. It's great because I no longer feel like I should be someone else. I totally love my life, my sense of style, and who I am. If brides can connect with that, then we’re golden.
Q: Talk about the relationships you made as a result of the workshop. What relevance do they have for your business today?
A: I made so many good friendships through the MJ2Day! I still talk with many of the ladies (we were an all-ladies group) online and love keeping up on their lives and business journeys. My good friend, Jill, was gracious enough to let me make a giant canvas from one of her images and it’s hanging in the entryway of our home. I love seeing it every day and thinking of my Jilly. :)
Q: Are there any other changes or exciting developments you'd like to share?
A: I had originally wanted to attend the MJ2Day not so much for the photo aspect as the business aspect. Melissa is a crazy-amazing business woman and I really needed some oomph and knowledge to push me ahead. I came back refreshed and ready to get my business life in order. Getting that workflow in place meant that everything -- from editing and album design to email response and proactivity in getting published -- benefited. I feel I’ve grown so much as a person and a business owner since the workshop and I truly love this stage of my life!
Amazing Emily! I'm so happy for you and so proud of you for working so hard and accomplishing so much in one year's time! Thank you for sharing with us!
One of my super-talented associate photographers, Rachel, recently shot a wedding that is so gorgeous and I just have to share some of my favorite photos with you. Santino and Khristine were married at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort and it looks like it was such a dreamy, romantic affair!
Here are some of my favorite images:
Wow! Outstanding work Rachel! What an amazing wedding!
To find out more about our associate program and see more of Rachel, Michelle, Mary, Janelle and Tina's work, click here. If you are interested in hiring one of them for your upcoming wedding, please fill out our contact form!
Frivolous: playful, lighthearted, trivial; the little things in life that should be savored.
Highlight of the week: A spontaneous visit with my cousin (another one from MN) who let me know she was in town and leaving town the same day. So thankful it worked out for me to see her!
Yes, I did this:
1 -- Wrote 3 blog posts in one day -- a personal record.
2 -- Finally learned to cook fish.
In my continued effort to resupply the blood bank after my dad's aneurysm, I donated blood. The really kind technician didn't heed my warning that the right arm tends to work better. He thought the left looked like a better candidate. So I ended up getting stuck twice. Again. I'm considering a more emphatic approach next time.
Celebrating: It's a small victory, but I did Insanity (at least partially) four times this week. AND I'm making a concerted effort to work on my posture.
Feeling Blessed: Tomorrow I'm heading to Boston to support my sweet and super-human friend Julie as she fulfills her long-term dream of running the Boston Marathon. Can't wait to wear boots again, eat yummy food, and see my friend conquer!
This little surprise made our day recently when it showed up in the mail. One of our associate photographers, Rachel, recently shot a gorgeous wedding that I'm so excited to share with you soon. Our clients Khristine & Santino are not only drop dead beautiful -- wait until you see! -- but they are also apparently super-kind and thoughtful.
We don't ever expect to get a "thank you" from our clients for three reasons:
1 - They're paying us for a service and we are doing our job.
2 - I myself am not very good at stopping to say "thanks". So I guess, while this isn't something I'm proud of, it causes me to not expect it from others.
3 - The days and weeks after a couple gets married are typically CRAZY busy. So if we hear from them at all, we're pleasantly surprised.
So we are always so blown away and blessed when we get an email from a client with the sole purpose of thanking us, let alone when we get a hand-written card. Khristine & Santino took it to a whole other level, though, by including a print of an instagram photo taken of Rachel in action on the wedding day. A client sending US a photo!! haha -- so awesome!! This was so over-the-top sweet and blessed us so much, I just had to share. It's yet another reminder to me of the immense value of saying "thank you."
I'm so impressed with the instagram too -- I need to track down the person who took it and offer THEM a job! haha!
Stay tuned -- I'll be sharing Khristine & Santino's wedding photos on Monday!
So you are working hard on your business. You want it to be the best it can be. You've been following this series and see the value of systematizing so you can give your clients a consistent experience, stay efficient with your workflow, make sure nothing falls through the cracks and make your business scalable and able to handle growth. Despite your best efforts something goes wrong. A client is upset about something that wasn't they way they expected it to be. You forgot to send an email at just the right time so that you have the information you need from the client to meet the next deadline in your workflow. You're struggling to get any response from your client and as a result you are backed up on album orders for years. AHHHHH! SO FRUSTRATING!! What now!?
So here's the thing. No matter how good our intensions are, no matter how hard we work to make our businesses the best they can be -- to manage our client's expectations, to make our workflow speedy and efficient, to set up our systems so that nothing falls through the cracks -- things inevitably will. Problems arise, and they will continue to do so for every business until the end of time. And while this news is an incredible bummer for those of us who are recovering perfectionists (finger pointed at self), it helps me to realize this truth so I don't spiral into a pit of despair every time something goes wrong. Instead, I try my best to take a more constructive approach to problems.
There's an analogy I like to use to help me explain systematizing a business, and help paint a picture of this effort as an ongoing process. Let's pretend for a moment that you and I are for some reason out in nature and we're each trying to build a dam. The dam is in a dry river bed, but we know the water is coming. The goal is to build the dam super-strong with sticks, rocks, debris -- anything we can get our hands on -- so that when the water does come, it can't penetrate our creation. We do our best to build it strong, and to fill in any holes we can see with our naked eye. But we don't really know how well it will hold up until it is put to the test. When the water finally comes, we stand on the other side and wait in expectation. It does a pretty good job holding back the bulk of the water, but guess what? There are leaks. The water has found a path through at points that we didn't even notice before.
Since this isn't a remarkably sophisticated analogy, you've probably figured out that the dam is the system we build for our business. We build it to the best of our ability, attempting to anticipate issues that might arise, but problems, or leaks, are bound to happen. Part of the process of systematizing is plugging those leaks when we find them. And because problems are bound to continue to arise throughout the life of a business, plugging these leaks will be an ongoing process. The goal is to plug the leak or solve the problem by tweaking the system so that that specific issue does not arise again.
For instance, when a client is upset about something that wasn't they way they expected it to be, rather than writing them off for not paying attention when you so clearly explained it during your initial client meeting, add additional client education for future clients. In addition to telling them verbally, add a clause to the contract and add it to an email template you send out as a reminder of what they can expect from you.
If you forget to send an email at a specific point in your workflow process, don't get mad at yourself and simply determine to try harder to remember next time. Add a reminder to iCal and make putting this reminder on iCal a step on your workflow checklist.
If you're struggling to get a response from clients and as a result you are backed up on album orders for years, instead of getting increasingly frustrated with them, evaluate what the obstacle to their response might be. Is it possible you are asking too much of them and that could be causing their paralysis? Could you simplify the task or even remove it altogether? Is there a deadline or incentive you could add to your workflow to encourage them to reply? (Incidentally, I have had to plug A LOT of leaks in my album workflow. I haven't talked much about albums in this series so far, but I will be starting a series on album sales and workflow on Align's blog here -- so stay tuned for that!)
If you take this constructive approach to problems in your business, and commit yourself to continually improving your system, you will greatly improve your client's experience over time, become super-efficient, and create a business that can scale and grow.
I hope you have found this tip helpful!
Up to this point in the workflow series, I have been sharing workflow strategies and resources that I consider vital to a basic wedding workflow. I've shared them roughly in priority order and with the conclusion of Part 20 today, the basics are covered. I'm going to continue it the coming months to share what I like to call, "The Bells & Whistles". These are additional components I have added to my workflow over time as I've increased my prices, in order to improve my clients' experience. They aren't vital to a wedding workflow, but they are fun extras that can set you apart from other photographers. So stay tuned for more goodness soon!