You're here just in time to check out our next installment of Ones to Watch with none other than Josh & Jenny Solar (and family!!) I first met these two when Jenny came to our WPPI platform two years ago. We started emailing shortly after that, and it wasn't long at all before I was head over heels in love with all things Solar. We got to connect with these guys again most recently when they made the trip from Kansas City out to the OC for our Spread the Love & Walk Through a Wedding out there. And more importantly, we got to catch up on all the amazing things they've been doing, the newest of which being the Happy Family Movement. I know you're going to love this idea as much as I do.
So sit back, relax and just prepare yourself to fall as as head over heels as we did!
Ones to Watch: The Solars
1) You guys have three kids, a business, a busy travel schedule...how do you balance it all? What's the hardest part about having a business AND a family?
With 3 little kids in our house (Max is 6, Ava's 4, and Lia is 2 1/2), we are definitely busy!! A lot of it boils down to routine and schedule. When we're not traveling, our schedule is pretty much the same every week. We plan out our time and TRY to maintain a balance between work and family. We really value our time with our kids, so we only work one day during the week. We do the rest of our working at night, after the kiddos are in bed. We plan our shoots around the kids schedules, so that we can be at most of their sports practices and games. We also schedule time every week for one on one dates with each of the kids. And we both attend all of Max's kindergarten parties, field trips, and lunch every Friday. And on the rare weekend we aren't shooting, we're ready for adventure! Sometimes adventure shows up in the form of pancakes and lightsaber fighting in the backyard. Sometimes it shows up as a spur of the moment, fly by the seat of our pants road trip.
When we are working, Josh's parents hang out with our babies. They are a huge part of our success. It's awesome knowing that we can give 100% of our time and attention to the people we're shooting, instead of worrying about the kids. And they love hanging out with their Papa & Ee, so it's a win win. We also have a lot of routines. We have a routine for bed time, one for getting Max out the door to school, one for dinnertime, etc. We're also crazy organized and we have dry erase boards all over the kitchen with our week's schedule, Max's school stuff, the shopping list, and chore chart. We do travel a lot, but most of our traveling we do with our kids, so it's a great way to squeeze in more family time. We don't get much work done while we're traveling, so we try to squeeze in a few late nights before and after we travel to get it all done.
The hardest part about having a business AND a family is the guilt you feel when you're playing with the kids instead of working and vice versa... Because the to do list NEVER ends and there's always something you could be doing. I also think it comes down to lowering your expectations on some things... Like the laundry might not always be done and the kitchen is a mess constantly, but that's okay.
2) What are your three can't live without parts of your business/workflow?
1) Efficient workflow. Right now, we don't outsource our editing (Don't worry Justin & Mary, it's a goal for this year!). So, we've made our workflow as efficient as possible. We use Photo Mechanic to cull images because it's lightning fast. We use Lightroom to color correct (and Josh is totally digging the Motibodo keyboard he got at WPPI!). And we batch most of our editing with actions we've bought or created using Photoshop. We also keep our editing very simple, basic color and black & white, which minimizes our work time and keeps our images looking more real and timeless.
2) ShootQ. Holy moly! We've only been ShootQ users for like a month, but let me tell you, it's worth every penny! We spent some time really getting our workflows down to a science. Then I entered them into ShootQ and now, when we have a shoot, a wedding, or an ordering session, I pop it into ShootQ and it tells us all the things we need to do. And let me tell you, I LOVE lists and checking stuff off. So it has taken all of the burden of remembering what needs to be done off of me. Oh joy!
3) Each other. We know that we're super blessed to be doing this business together. We both have backgrounds in business, but Josh is definitely more of the creative side and I'm more the organized/business side. And that has been so great in keeping a balance in our business. Josh does the editing, the blogging, SEO, and handles keeping the websites and blogs up to date. He also shoots most of the engagement sessions alone. I do the ordering sessions and handle most of the scheduling, album design, print orders, bookkeeping, and all the other million little things it takes to make a business successful. We try to each do the parts of the business that we're best at.
3) What does your ideal client look like? How are you going about finding people/weddings like that?
Our ideal wedding client is a couple who is madly in love, fun, down to earth, happy, has close relationships with friends and family, and values our photography. We don't advertise and we avoid bridal shows at all costs! We want all of our clients to come to us from a past client or a vendor we love working with. People in general tend to be friends with people who are similar to them. So if we shoot the wedding of a couple who is perfect for us, we really want to shoot all their friends' weddings. We have a blast shooting their wedding, put up a slideshow of images at the reception, and rock out Justin & Mary's facbook/blog workflow as well as the client experiences (if you've been to Spread the Love, you know what I'm talking about! And if you haven't, what are you waiting for?!). We try to overwhelm them with such an amazing experience that they can't help but rave about us to their friends.We also try to network with vendors that we love and who have the same passion we do for weddings and their clients. That way, if they send us some potential clients, they are typically a great fit for us.
4) Tell us about the Happy Family movement. It sounds awesome!
The Happy Family Movement is something we are SO SO proud of. We just launched it in late March, while we were road tripping with the family. We talk a lot about what mark we want to leave on this world. How can we make the world a better place? What do WE have to offer? We’ve spent many nights up late talking about just that… about what we’re passionate about. About our WHY. Why do we do what we do? WHY do we choose to live our life the way we do?
And it always comes back to our relationships with our loved ones. The ones we’re connected to the most, each other and our kids. We live our life pretty unconventionally. Both Jenny & I are pretty much stay at home parents. When we are spending time away from our kids, it’s doing something we love, photographing couples in love and families with strong connections. Being with our kids and doing what we love has taught us many things, but the most important is that we should be LOVING the life we’re living, and we do our best to do just that. We like to have fun with our kids. We love traveling with them and visiting new places. We’re pretty spontaneous. We’re trying our best to live a life full of joy, and to do the things we love with our amazing kiddos.
So, where does that leave us? With a new project, this project, The Happy Family Movement. It started with a tiny idea and happy music, but it also started with a much bigger idea, years ago, an idea that WE could raise a happy, loving family. An idea that WE could do things differently, that WE could have fun with our kids, that WE could live by our own rules. So, here it is: our newest project, something we couldn’t possibly be more excited about or more proud of.
So, what is the Happy Family Movement? It's simple ideas for happy family living. I’ll leave you with our manifesto and then encourage you to visit the website (http://thehappyfamilymovement.com) to find out more for yourself!
Raising a happy, loving family is one of the most important things we will do in this lifetime.
Because we know that happy kids raised in joy-filled environments will change the world.
That’s why we believe in …
jumping on the bed;
pancakes for dinner;
laughing ‘til you cry;
We believe in creating memorable experiences for our family and sharing that love with the world.
We believe happiness is not something you find. It’s something you make.
So go ahead… Cut loose. Live out loud. Love a lot!
The Happy Family Movement.
5) Where will the Solars be in 5 years? (Both business & life)
In five years, all of our kiddos will be in full time school. So we'll be spending 8:45 am to 3:45 pm every day squeezing in all of our editing, portrait sessions, grocery shopping, laundry, and blogging. We want to make sure that we'll have our evenings with our kids, since we won't our days with them anymore. We hope to still be shooting quite a few weddings and probably a few more family sessions. We plan on traveling more... a lot more! In five years, we want to have enough money saved so that we can take 4 weeks off during the summer (aka wedding season!) to travel to Europe with the kids. And hopefully, we'll still have our sense of adventure!
It's time for our next edition of "Ones to Watch," and this month there was absolutely no question who it should be. They are a couple who is near & dear to my heart. Partly because they used to be part of our CT crew, partly because you never see either of them without a smile on their face, but mostly because they are out there doing what they love and taking this photography world by storm. It has been just a year since they moved to a brand new market in Atlanta and purchased scobeyphotography.com, and already they are booking up their entire calendar and being named to a lil' list you just may have heard of: JuneBug Wedding's Best of the Best. In. One. Year. Holy wow. I am so proud of these two I could just pop. Confetti and all. And there is not a question in my mind, that they're just getting started. And that's what makes Ashley & Graham (affectionately known around these parts as The Scobey's) most definitely....
Ones to Watch! (Love you guys!!)
PS: I dare you guys to click over and spend 30 second on their site and not fall as much in love with them as I am!
1. You guys just started a business (in a brand new market) AND a family....how do you find time to balance it all?
This is a daily battle for us… and something that we are slowly but surely getting better at. We’ve learned that we have to be extremely organized in the way we plan our work week, and it helps to have a to-the-minute weekly schedule. Every Wednesday, no matter what, is family day. We pack a picnic, leave our phones at home, and go hang out at the park. Monday is daddy-daughter day and Friday is mommy-daughter day. We still catch ourselves answering e-mails and working late into the night, but hey, it’s a work in progress.
2. No seriously, what are the secrets to running a business while having kids. Any words of wisdom for those of us who don't have them? :)
We have a chalkboard and coloring table in our studio for when Evie gets home from school :) Also, we have the most supportive families in the entire world. They are 110% behind our dream and vision, and we couldn’t survive without their amazing help and love. There is no easy way to run a business with a little one running around, but we think it is absolutely the most rewarding thing in the world.
3. How is it working as a husband and wife team together? What do you guys do to keep your marriage first? And hot & spicy?
So, we need to preface this answer by saying two things: Graham and I have been together since Middle School. Don’t believe me? Here’s a picture :)
So we have been in each others’ lives for a long time. Second: we are complete, polar opposites. I am an ESTJ, and Graham is an INFP (yes I did just get all psychological up in here!), so we disagree on juuuuust about everything from what color ribbon we should use to how to price our prints. But it’s cool… because, without each other, things just wouldn’t work. I would constantly be dreaming big dreams, too terrified to speak them out loud and take the risk of failing, and Graham would never know where his wallet was.
We’ve learned that disagreements are totally OK. Good, even… so long as we handle them the right way. We try to remind ourselves that we are on the same team. There is no Scobey Photography without Graham and Ashley loving each other, so we give our marriage the time and attention it deserves. We take time out to be goofy together; no work-week is complete without an impromptu dance party. We talk about our goals (probably exhaustively) and we figure out ways to work towards them together. Throughout the past 13 years we have learned that anything we could do separately, we do much better together.
Hot and Spicy have never been words that other people would use to describe us. We have tickle-fights, and do the running man. But, to us, the running man is hot… and spicy. We commit to spending time together: no work-talk allowed. We go running, rock climbing and we play catch with our puppy. We also really like to cook together. We hate hiring a sitter since we travel so much, so our date nights usually take place at our dining room table, glass of wine in hand as Evie snoozes upstairs in her crib.
4. You guys have only been in business about a year and already you have burst on to the scene, most recently winning JuneBug's Best of the Best in Wedding Photography. Any tips for someone just getting started on how to get their name out there?
Be diligent. Know where you want to go and figure out how to get there. Wedding Photography is such an amazing job, and we get to see a lot of love and glitter and unicorns, but it also takes business sense and hard work to get a studio off the ground. The people who we look up to didn’t get to where they are because of luck – they got there because they were smart; they buckled down and got the job done (glitter and unicorns notwithstanding). So, brass tax?
- Establish your referral base: reach out to other photographers, planners, friends and family members. Make sure that they know who you are and what you do, and then establish a genuine relationship with them.
- Put your work out there: You may have just shot the most epically beautiful wedding in the history of all man and alien kind… but no one will ever know about it unless you show them. Blog about it. Facebook it. Then, for good measure, Tweet about it. And, for heaven’s sake, get it published. If you learn how to successfully utilize all of the beautiful wedding blogs and magazines out there, you will never have to pay a dime in advertising. Ever. Pinky swear.
- Feed yourself: Carve out space to live and breath. Spend time seeking inspiration. Create personal goals and have fun. This looks different for everyone. For me, it’s reading a good book and going to bed early. For Graham, it’s watching documentaries or taking Evie to the park.
- Do something good with your talent: We truly believe that this world is a beautiful place full of a lot of opportunity to do good. Find somewhere to volunteer your photography – there are many wonderful organizations that can help you with this. http://help-portrait.com/ and http://www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org/ …just to name a couple.
5. Alright, putting it all on the table. Pie in the sky, as big as you can dream.....where do you want to be 5 years from now? Wow me. :)
Oh gosh… ok. Sometimes you have to breathe a little before saying these things out loud… so I’m gonna take a little breathing break. Ok, I’m back. In five years we want to have spoken at WPPI. We want to publish a book that documents the lives of the world’s greatest do-gooders. We want to have been named on Pop Photo’s list of Top Ten Wedding Photographers. We want to have found that ever-elusive balance between the work you love and the rest of your life. And, if Kristin Chenoweth gets married in the next five years, I’ll be on that wedding like white on rice (Kristin, if you’re reading this, call me).
Life has such an incredible way of surprising us for the better, though, so we’ll see :)
And since this is a day for love, I thought it would only be fitting to introduce you guys to one of my biggest photography couple crushes: Ms. Gina Meola & Mr. Marcus A. Murphy! We were first introduced to Gina when I got an email from her about shooting their wedding. I was heartbroken when I looked at the calendar and saw that we were already traveling that weekend (all you have to do is get one email from Gina & you'll instantly understand why I was so crushed). She is adorable, effervescent, absolutely bubbling to the surface with life. But in that quiet, comes from her core sort of way that makes you instantly fall in love with her. And then I met Marcus. Her center. Her balance. The rock that she relies on. Strong and well spoken, Marcus is one of those rare people with a gravitational force around him that just pulls you in. Close enough to see just how very big his heart is.
I adore these two. Fully. So you can imagine how happy it makes my heart to see them just blowing up their two passions: Gina Meola Photography & Marcus's (Marcusesess) motivational speaking. And I think maybe what is the coolest thing about these two is that they are instantly people you want to build up, people you consider the closest kind of friends, and people you turn to when you need some building up of your own. As you can imagine, friends like that are rare in this world. And we are so grateful to have found them.
That is why these two are most definitely Ones to Watch.
We have to preface this with the face that Justin and Mary Marantz have been one of THEE greatest tools and influences in our business!! We are so incredibly thankful and blessed by their hearts and minds.
1) You guys recently made the move to a brand new market across the country.....in many ways, that can be like starting over. What have you guys done to get your name out there? What advice do you have for someone who is just getting started and asks "how the heck do you find clients in the first place?"
We’re crazy. And we’re told this often. But none of our nutty adventures were as serious as packing and hitching a trailer to our little Honda in New York, and driving 2,600 miles West to set up shop in a place we’d never even BEEN. The battles we fought through our first year were hellish, and I wouldn’t wish those stresses on any newly married couple. But with big dreams come big risks, and as entrepreneurs, we knew we had to step out in faith if we were ever going to reach them.
Here’s what we learned along the way ::
It wasn’t long before we realized our lack of a network - personal AND professional - in Arizona would eventually hurt our business. Although we’re international photographers and shoot throughout the country and beyond, frequent work travel is exhausting. We needed to be recognized in our local market... We needed to create a network of people that wanted us to WIN! And really, relationship is the foundation of most great businesses.
Meet Local Photographers
We started meeting with local photographers whose work we appreciated, and the majority ended up as really wonderful friends. From those relationships, we were referred some work. Photography groups like Smugs or Pugs can also be a good avenue to connect.
After we created our “ideal client profile” (thankyouverymuch, J+M!), we intentionally sought out vendors that would come in contact with our couples. Again, we wanted to create meaningful, genuine relationships, and were able to do this with our vendors by identifying a need in their business, and filling it. We also didn’t reach out to 20 florists and 30 caterers. We were very specific in who we contacted, based on our client profile.
You are ALWAYS Advertising
If you are your business, and what sets you apart from every other photographer is you, then anyone interacting with you is being introduced to your brand. Whether you’re out to lunch or shopping, you have the potential to meet and network with the people who live around you. This is another reason why your brand should be authentic and not a poor replica of someone you’re not. Networking doesn’t have to look like cold calling businesses - get out and MEET PEOPLE!
We’ve been incredibly blessed to be featured on numerous wedding blogs. That was a great way to been seen and recognized across the country as Phoenix-based, international wedding photographers.
2) Do you guys have set work hours? What does a typical day at Gina Meola Photography look like?
Naturally, I’m a workaholic. I could wake up at 6am, and with bulging red eyes, work until midnight with no human interaction... happily. But I believe this to be a draining, judgemental, and ultimately self-centered lifestyle. God calls us to relationship, and I didn’t begin working for myself so I would never have time to live life or share my talents, right?
Marcus, however, fits on the other end of the spectrum. Mr. Social would be surrounded by people 24/7 and volunteering his life away if he could! What a blessing (and challenge) it’s been to work out those differences and begin balancing one another.
Our schedule, on a day without meetings, looks something like this ::
6:30am :: I take Paisley out and Marcus leaves for devotions and the gym
7:00am :: Paisley and I hop back into bed for devotions and prayer
8:00am :: Make tea and breakfast to munch while I read three to four business-related articles
9:00am :: Marcus comes home to shower and eat, and I answer emails
10:30am :: BREAK and clean (I love cleaning... doesn’t get much lamer)
11:00am :: Marcus heads out for the day’s errands (drop-offs, post office, etc) and I work on
anything photo-related (blog posts, uploads, editing, albums)
1:00pm :: Marcus and I stare at one another until one of us gives in and makes lunch OR we
grab a quick bite and jet out for a hike or tennis match
2pm - 5pm :: Both finish our tasks and projects for the day
5:30pm :: Answer any emails that came in that afternoon
I’d like to say the computer’s off the rest of the night, but it’s not. If something is pressing, or we’re inspired to work, we do. There are also days when doing anything work-related feels like the biggest drag in the world - so I stop. It’s a waste of time. Here’s a quote of Seth Godin’s I love from his book, Rework;
“If you are inspired on Friday, swear off the weekend and dive into the project. When you
are high on inspiration you can get two weeks of work done in 24 hours. Inspiration is a time
machine in that way.”
We take Sundays off completely, and are becoming much more intentional about spending time lovin’ on people in and outside the industry.
3) What are the 3 biggest mistakes you've made in your business?
Instead of running a business the first year, we let our business run us. I knew where I wanted to be, and I felt like everything outside of work was a waste of time. In many ways, I was becoming someone I didn’t want to be - including a resentful spouse. Our first year as a business was also very trying financially. We were so concerned with surviving, with didn’t give any attention to setting up systems for our finances. Marcus has since taken over those responsibilities. We lacked long-term vision for our business when we started. When you don’t have an overarching vision, it’s so easy to be taken off course by seemingly “good” opportunities. Knowing where your business is going and what it is a vehicle for will give you the freedom to turn down opportunities, good or bad, that are ultimately distractions.
4) What are the 3 things you use for your biz that you couldn't live without.
I loooove my Wacom tablet. I started using it in college for design, and can’t imagine editing without it! iMac, iPad, iPhone... i... am obsessed? We love Apple and its consistent user platform. Mentors. In life and business. We intentionally seek out people that inspire us, are where we want to be, or will challenge us on an honest, hard to hear level. We believe the closest people in your life are a direct reflection of YOU, and we want to be a God-glorifying, humble, motivated couple who use their gifts to love others.
5) Where do you want to see yourselves in 5 years? What's the BIG goal?
In five years, we’ll probably have insane children running through the living room... likely with scissors :) We’d like to create a service or product that makes money for us. We’re planning to block nine months out of the year for work, and spend the other three abroad. I’d like to be debt free. We’d like to be in a place where we’re an authority and have a platform to make change. And I’d also love to see Marcus using his incredible gift as a speaker. All of those are important to us, but for a while we were really consumed by our goals. So, we’ve shifted our focus to being open to whatever God has in store for us - even if that means putting down our cameras. We’ll plan for the future, but live in today.
We first met these two when Spread the Love made its way through Texas, and I instantly fell in love with them. Not just because they are two of the nicest people you could *EVER* meet (and they are!), but also because I could just see a spark there. Somehow I just knew (and said to Justin that night), those two just get it. AND they're the kind of people who are going to go out and do something about it. And I am incredibly proud to report....I was right!! :)
Chelsea & Mack just unveiled their brand new brand last night at their private launch party. It's something that's been a year in the making, but it was worth every second. Because what they've come up with is....them. Everywhere you look oozes the two of them and what they stand for. And when you look at....you just get it.
I know this is just the beginning for these two because they are just getting warmed up. And I for one can't wait to see what's next.
As a journalist, I was trained on film cameras and had a good eye for composition. I shot portraits for friends and family as a hobby and enjoyed it! But after I shot my first wedding, for friends on a really tight budget, the interest in my work really skyrocketed. Mack wasn’t really into it at the time… he’d never taken an interest in photography. But all it took was a little time playing with the camera, and he was hooked, too.
So then, we had the basis. We knew we both enjoyed it. However, we were just starting on a new path of better financial stewardship, so we wanted to be very VERY cautious. We decided in the winter of 2008 that we’d start actively heading toward the goal of making photography my full time job, but that we wouldn’t even consider me leaving the newspaper until my income from photography matched that of my “real” job. We estimated that this goal would take about 3 years to reach, and we were happy with that.
We reached that goal in 6 months.
So, I quit my job at the newspaper in August 2009. We talked, and we prayed, and we decided that the next step would be for Mack to leave his position as graphic design director at the marketing firm where he worked. We estimated that this goal would take another 3 years to reach, and we were happy with that. We reached that goal this past fall, and now, we are both full time photographers and McGowan Images is our sole income.
Lots of things had to work together in order to make this happen so fast for us. First and foremost, God has been faithful. He is so good. We’ve also had incredible clients who really enjoy spreading the word about us, and that is worth its weight in something even better than gold. But beyond that, we live in a house we bought on the cheap and are restoring ourselves. We live near my parents and grandparents, who are constant (free) babysitting for our two kiddos. We enjoy traveling and working together. If any of these things weren’t true, we wouldn’t have been able to do this. Obviously, deciding to pursue photography was a big decision we made as a couple. But the confirmation of that decision from God and the market has been overwhelming, and it’s hard to see how we could have chosen any other path.
2) What advice do you have for a husband & wife team wanting to both go full time together in the business? Any tips for working together?
Make sure it’s something you both enjoy. Had Mack not discovered that he could translate his eye for design into photographic composition, and truly found joy in photography, I could never have convinced him to shoot with me. And if I did, it still wouldn’t have been a success, because there would have been no life in his images. He’d just be there to make me happy. As it stands, we both love what we do.
Also, give each other a break. We’ve had to learn to say we need time. For instance, I sometimes take a Tuesday morning and sit in the living room and watch the Law & Order marathon on the USA Network. Mack will sometimes spend a day doing home-renovation projects on his own. These kinds of days give our brains a break, and allow us to miss each other a little bit. More than anything, we’ve learned that spending this much time together will expose the cracks in your relationship. You make a choice to either love each other through that with a love so sticky sweet that it seals up the cracks, or allow those cracks to become ravines that divide you. We decided to stick together. We’re pretty pleased with that decision.
3) What are the three biggest mistakes you've made in your business?
The first big mistake was taking every job we were offered. I can say without hesitation that we’ve shot at least 3 weddings that we shouldn’t have taken. Not that the brides were horrid or anything… we just weren’t the right fit. Even if we’d stayed home with our kids those weekends and made nary a cent, it would have been better for our growth as photographers to have not invested our time into those situations. That said, we learned something from each situation. And because we’ve lived through it, we’re now confident when we have to tell a bride we think someone else can serve her needs better. It’s hard to say, but it’s worth it for everyone involved.
The second big mistake we made was listening to people who talked to us like we were kids with a hobby. We allowed people who don’t value photography to make us devalue ourselves. That’s hard on the spirit. We’ve corrected this initial mistake by surrounding ourselves with a group of friends who loves us, and appreciates what we do, and thinks we’re worth more than we charge. It’s not about ego… it’s about not having to constantly convince the world that you’re legit. We’ve got better things to do with our time.
Lastly, we asked God to send rain, but didn’t pack an umbrella. If you have big goals for yourself, then you have to expect them to be realized. If you don’t, then you’re thrown for a loop, and you’ll wear your legs out running to keep up. This last year would have gone much smoother for us if we had actually expected to achieve the goals we set for ourselves. At every turn, we were surprised when stuff went right, and we wasted a lot of energy just getting caught up.
Embrace positivity, and expect good things. That way, when good things happen, you’re prepared for them.
4) Who/what inspires you?
Is it cheating to say that we’re inspired by lots and lots of things? In life, we’re inspired by our children. Our son Jack is so compassionate, and so full of dreams. He truly believes that he can be and do anything in the world, and he believes that for others as well. He’s so quick to hug, and to say “I love you”. We learn from him every day. We’re likewise inspired by our baby daughter, Dorothy. She’s just so darn HAPPY. She can bump her head, and burst into tears, then see her favorite stuffed animal, and be happy again. She is a reminder to us that sometimes life sucks… sometimes you bump your head. But there’s always something close by worth smiling about again.
As business owners, we’re inspired by my dad. He’s a graphic designer that moved from San Diego to Texas, and built a successful freelance business on his own. He is talented and persistent, and smart, and responsible. He’s a good example for us.
As photographers, we’re inspired by different people. I’m inspired by Jasmine Star, for the way she captures her clients’ spirits. I’m inspired by you guys, because you make EVERYONE look like Hollywood royalty with your ease in posing and simple drama. I’m a Style Me Pretty junkie, and I’m always researching new ways to bring details to life in our weddings. Mack is inspired by photographers who push the envelope in lighting and style. He’s a techie geek, and I love him for it. We’re hoping to get to do more experimenting in this vein this year. He’s a particular fan of Tim Tedder, whose advertising portraits are pretty incredible. To hear someone say that we’ve inspired them is the highest honor we can receive, and we never take it lightly. That’s about the best thing anyone’s ever said to us!
5) You guys just did an AMAZING rebrand of your business....what is your best advice for someone wanting to hone their brand to feel most like them?
Thank you! We launched the new website with a big party last night, and ohemgee, it was so much fun! Since Mack was a graphic designer and marketing guru in his “former life”, we have the tools and knowledge at our disposal to do our own design work. That’s definitely helpful. But my best advice to anyone who’s looking to rebrand is this: “Sit on it.” Come up with an idea, and rest on it for a while. Don’t find something that you think will look good, and throw it up online. The internet is forever. Branding is worth taking time for. We came up with the design for our new look almost a year ago, and mulled it over, and made small changes, and really invested time in every facet of it. We feel like that helped it be a cohesive online representation of our business, and something we’re not going to have to change anytime soon.
If you’re looking to rebrand, find a designer who will really listen to you. Once you’ve got that person, take the time to come up with something that feels right, and then make sure it still feels right in a couple months. Then get excited. Because if your product has a brand new shiny face to show the world, you can bet the world is going to take notice.
6) Where do you want to be in your business/life in 5 years? Further down the road.We have learned in the last few years not to make our plans too firm. We feel like we can best serve our clients when we shoot 25-30 weddings a year, so we want to continue in that range. We’d like to travel more, so we’d love to do more destination weddings, or weddings for people in other areas of the country. More than anything, we just want to keep enjoying what we’re doing. It’s so easy to suffer burnout in this industry. I want us to continue to protect our hearts from that hardness, and to continue to prioritize our relationship with each other, and with our children. In five years, McGowan Images could be more successful than I can even imagine right now. But it’s more important to me that we’re happy, healthy, and that we still enjoy the heck out what we’re doing.
And now it's time for this month's "Ones to Watch"!! And even though that's the title of this series, the truth is most of you have probably already been watching these two for a while now. They are the super talented & adorable Jeff & Erin Youngren . A force to be reckoned with from our sister Coast (west siiiiiide!) and two of the nicest people you could ever meet. Jeff & Erin have been rockin' out, building people up and building up a crazy big following these past couple years. And with a brand new re-brand (which we were incredibly honored that J&E asked us to shoot the pictures for!) of their fantastic blog (seriously, go start reading it now if you haven't yet!), I'd say the sky's the limit for these two.
Which makes them most definitely, Ones to Watch.
Jeff & Erin, we LOVE you guys. Like love, love you guys. For-ehh-ver! :) And I can't tell you how proud of you we are!
How did you know when you were ready to start your business?
As much as I’d like to sound all cool, the first year of our “business” was MADNESS - Jeff decided to try shooting a few weddings ‘on the side’ and everything kind of snowballed out of control from there. However, once we realized that we wanted to make a living by photographing weddings, we got our bootys in order and developed a three-year financial and business plan for both of us to leave our corporate jobs and become full-time photographers. I was able to leave my job a year into that plan, and we relied on Jeff's lovely salary and uber corporate benefits until we could meet our financial goals, which included an 18 month emergency fund. We both went full-time two years into the plan, and we’ve been traveling and shooting ever since!
What advice do you have for a husband & wife team wanting to both go full time together in the business? Any tips for working together?
Other than space heaters and a stock pile of coffee and tea?
First and foremost, make sure your finances are in check. Make sure that you will be able to support yourselves and know exactly how much income you need to make in order to pay your bills. That may mean reevaluating your lifestyle, or cutting back on some living expenses (do you really need cable TV?). Keep at least a 12 month emergency fund, if not more, since our paychecks are not as reliable as other professions.
As far as working together, map out your specific roles for the business and be clear on your job titles. Make an organizational chart and assign your names to each job. Who is the CEO? CMO? CFO? These need to be crystal clear as you begin your business together.
Jeff and I are also big proponents of closed systems. That means that our roles in the business are completely separate from each other and we don’t have to rely or wait on each other to get a job done. For example, my job is to manage the blog, which means that I do everything for the blog – writing, scheduling, image editing, etc. By the way, I had to learn how to edit images in order to do this, so don’t be afraid to learn new skills in order to close a system. We avoid tons of fights this way. Buh-leive me. I don’t have to wait on him, and he doesn’t have to wait on me. We just get stuff done.
What are the three biggest mistakes you've made in your business?
Outsource Sooner. We found ourselves thick in the middle of our busiest season a few years ago with nowhere to go with our editing but outsourcing, but trying to switch a major component of our business like that while working at full capacity was extremely difficult. If we could do it all over again, we would have dialed in our post processing outsourcing solution much sooner and during our slow season.
Focus Decisions using Mission Statements. As small business owners, we’re constantly faced with countless decisions about potential clients, vendor relationships, and even photographer relationships. Only recently have we crafted specific mission statements for the different areas of our business (not just our business as a whole) that help to serve as guiding lights for the decisions we have to make. This helps us to make decisions that make sense, not ones that just “feel good”
Don’t Compare. Early on in our business when we didn’t know up from down, we spent a lot of time comparing ourselves to our peers. We’d compare our business practices, images, personality, achievements – everything. And this is really easy to do with blogs and websites being so personal and open. The lesson we learned? Don’t compare. It’s one thing to take a temperature of the industry to make sure what you’re doing is in line with what is accepted / best practices, but another thing to play the comparison game. Don’t read blogs after 10pm. You’ll feel bad about yourself.
Who/what inspires you?
For photography, I love studying food photography in magazines like Martha Stewart living, and following current style trends in catalogs like Anthropologie, Pottery Barn, Free People, and Restoration Hardware since our target clients are devouring these catalogs the moment they receive them in the mail.
Jeff draws inspiration from commercial, journalistic, and editorial work, and I often see him sifting through the back catalog of Pulitzer Prize nominees & winners. Jeff always reminds me that he never wants to create something for a client that he couldn’t have created on film, so that’s why these areas focus him so much.
For writing, I’ve been reading a lot of memoirists: Annie Dillard, Anne Lamott, Donald Miller, Stephanie Klein… But I also enjoy some good ‘ol classics: The (lovely) Brontes, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Austen.
Oh, and we also get a lot of our packaging concepts from places like World Market and Anthropologie. Love them!
You guys just did an AMAZING rebrand of your blog.... what is your best advice for someone wanting to hone their brand to feel most like them?
My best advice is that there is no advice. Seriously. It’s hard stuff and it’s taken us years to develop the brand we now own. We didn’t jump out of the gate with fabulous branding, so don’t get discouraged if it takes a while for everything to come together and feel right. Just keep plugging at it and don’t give up.
The only tidbit I can really say is that if you could put together a gift basket of five to ten things that totally describe you, what would they be? Would it have a box of chai tea? An empty Starbucks cup? Designer stilettos? A passport? What common theme brings these things together? What makes them you?
Don’t start with other brands or other photographers/blogs/designs/etc. Start with YOU, figure that out, and then you can derive inspiration from elsewhere. Our new blog design began when we started wrapping our client gifts in a way that we knew we’d love if we received a gift. And then it just went from there…
Where do you want to be in your business/life in 5 years?
We’ve definitely got some ideas up our sleeves… Our goal for our business is freedom. We want to be business owners, not business managers. So with every decision we make, we have to decide if it pulls us out of the day to day management of our business, or if it pulls us back in. In five years, I expect our business to be running independently of us so that we can choose how we spend our time, whether that be shooting, traveling, or just plain dreaming.