With over 140 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!

Today, I'd like to introduce you to Melissa Arlena -- an attendee of the Charlotte MJ2Day three years ago this month! Melissa is located in Virginia and specializes in weddings. She is a go-getter, and I remember thinking when she attended the workshop that she was going places and had a bright future ahead of her!

This is cute Melissa (photos by Katelyn James):
We get photographers at all stages of their businesses at the MJ2Day. At the time that Melissa attended, she had been in business for 2 years and had just been thrust into making a go of taking her business full-time after her IT contract job was in-sourced. She only had two weddings of her own booked for the upcoming year, and she felt the need to gain more business knowledge so she could build up to a full-time level. The workshop came at the perfect time for her to do just that.

I interviewed Melissa for this post and here's her answer to my first question:

Q: What is the biggest difference in your photography since attending the MJ2Day?

A: I had always been a fan of Melissa Jill’s, so I was constantly getting inspiration and technical advice from her blog. Add to that the experience I was gaining second shooting, and my photography improved dramatically over the next year. Before the workshop, my editing was all over the place, some images were underexposed, others oversaturated, and of course I was way into vignettes. I was also scared to death to talk to my clients on a wedding day about what I needed. One example below is from my first solo wedding and I was terrified to ask the couple to go outside for portraits. Instead we did them in the church and I totally winged it with my flash. Last year, I was honored to be asked by the groom’s sister to photograph her wedding and I made sure to get an updated photo of my first couple. That is probably my best example of how my work has progressed. The sister had a church wedding also, but I had the confidence this time to guide them to getting the best photos. Now I strive for clean edits and I stay away from vignettes!

Here are some examples of Melissa's work before the workshop:
The two images below show a perfect "before/after" example of the same client. The image on the left was taken before the workshop, and the image on the right was taken after the workshop.
And here are some more examples of her work since attending:
What a transformation!

Q: What is the biggest difference in your business since attending the MJ2DAY?

A: The change in my business was dramatic; I gained so much confidence in being a businesswoman. I no longer let myself be pushed or challenged by clients on my pricing and practices, and in turn I gained more respect from them. It’s been 3 years since that workshop and I still pull out the workbook Melissa provided for advice. There were things that didn’t apply to me then but do now, so it has been a great resource!

Q: What are some of your goals that you set after attending the workshop that you have since completed?

A: Goal-wise I wanted to book more weddings! I average 15 weddings per year now and while I’d love a few more I’m happy with the number I have. I also wanted to increase my pricing and, after building a solid portfolio, I’ve been able to do that. Since the workshop, I'm booking at double the rate that I was previously, and I'm one of the most expensive photographers in my area now. I feel confident in the experience I provide my clients and the price point I charge for it.

Q: Have you made any changes to your website/branding?

A: I was pretty set with my branding when I attended the workshop but I made sure to volunteer my website for critique and MJ gave me some great tips to improve it. As a result, I dropped my main website and moved to a blog-site, which is so much easier to update. As I’m about to launch a new website, I keep referring back to her notes to make sure I’m not repeating old mistakes.

Q: What relationships did you build as a result of the workshop?

A: Our workshop group put together a FB group and we still bounce ideas off each other and ask for advice. Just last week I shared my client marketing plan with the girls and gave some advice on client gallery software based on my experience. There is a pet photographer in our group that I plan to chat up for advice on branching out more into pet photography, so it’s great to have made those connections and keep them up. I firmly believe that making connections at a workshop is just as important as the information you get out of the workshop. It’s so nice to have a group that is in a similar stage as you to bounce questions and ideas off of, or even just to vent when you are frustrated.

Q: Are there any other changes or exciting developments you'd like to share?

A: Since the workshop my business and my life have been on a roller coaster! I’ve gone through two deployments with my husband, had a baby, am expecting another one, opened a studio, moved out of the studio, bought a new house, and opened a home studio. My current goal right now is to simplify and streamline my business so I can spend more time with my family and manage the craziness that is about to ensue with two babies just 15 months apart! I have been outsourcing my album design to Melissa Jill’s company Align and I love it. I’ve freed up so much time from doing this one simple thing! I just started outsourcing my color correction to ShootDotEdit and I no longer have this weight on my shoulders thinking about all the editing I still have to do. I have so many ideas to keep moving my business forward, and now I finally have the time to accomplish them! I’ve had many of my weddings published, and this year I was selected to be a Style Me Pretty Little Black Book vendor! It was a goal of mine to have a wedding published by them, so being selected as one of their top vendors was awesome! I really feel the MJ2Day gave me the confidence and business knowledge to get where I am now!

Incredible stuff Melissa!! Thank you SO much for sharing how far you've come and all of the wisdom you've gained in the years since the workshop! I love what you shared about how valuable the relationships you built at the workshop are, and continue to be. I see that time and again with each workshop crew, and couldn't agree more! I've had so much fun watching your business flourish. Great job working hard to make it happen!

If you're a photographer and would like to take your photography and business to the next level like Melissa has, join us at an upcoming MJ2Day! January and June 2014 workshops are filling up, and if you attend, you could be sharing your transformation story in the years to come!
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