Archive: December 2010  |  View all recent posts

Fri. Dec 31, 2010 by Mary    Pancake Sessions

What's Next

And that brings us to What's Next. This definitely isn't an exhaustive list of our goals (or BHAG's as I like to call them....big, hairy, audacious goals!!) for next year....hey a girl's got to play some cards close to the chest! :) But there are some in there that I had to take a double gulp of courage to write out for the whole world to see. Because c'mon what fun is talking about goals if you're not actually going to put them out there, right??

What's Next

* A two-week turnaround on all jobs, with the exception of albums.
* To blog a wedding within the week following it (gulp, gulp!)
* To create (and stick to) weekly work hours and days off.
* To create (and stick to) a daily routine, including working out, showering and eating a good breakfast
* To document *our* lives a lot more and to blog about it. Which means you're going to be seeing a lot more of our smiling faces....not because we think you want to stare at us all day long, but because I want to stop and remember this life as it's blurring by.
* To go along with that, blog at least one personal, tell the story of us post a week.
* Blog at least one Pancake Session every two weeks (ideally every week, but I'm going to leave some room for grace)
* Get custom packaging tape w/ J&M logo
* Stock up all supplies needed for office, gifts, etc in bulk for start of 2011 season.
* Clear off all rugged drives & re-implement the pyramid workflow.
* Invest in nice suits/outfits for weddings, dressing as a representation of our brand.
* Pre-schedule days completely open on the calendar for blogging shoots & dreaming so I have to honor them.
* Have our editing workflow & editor established and in place for the first wedding of 2011 (Jan 15th)
* Finally set up Shoot Q
* Order the flash drives, custom branded with our logo
* Take my dad on the trip of his life (more on this to come!)
* Find a way to move every day, even if it's just a walk with Coop.
* Begin every week with Quadrant II planning
* Host dinner parties & game nights
* Date night every week, without fail.
* All files organized, cleaned out, desktop cleaned off by the start of 2011 season. It's clean slate time.
* Clean out the remaining boxes in the basement
* Get published in Inside Weddings or Your Wedding Day (or both!)
* Get custom letterpress business cards & stationery made
* A book. I'm just putting it out there.
* Quadruple the monthly hits on this blog. Yikes, and I just put THAT out there!
* An off the charts STL 2011!
* Do weekly meal-planning & have a set day to grocer.
* Grow deeper in love with photography
* Grow deeper in love with my husband (not in that order)
* Invest in studio-quality lighting
* Two words: Deee-Four!!
* Put in our kitchen on the 2nd floor.
* Finish the outside of the house.
* Rock out our WPPI platform this year (and find a way to actually get people there since it's the morning of the last day! :)
* Find a mentor
* Be a mentor
* Do my "lunch project" (more on this to come!)
* Justin to start his "100 project" more on this to come
* Did I mention dream & breathe?
* Gah....about a million other things, but my head is swimming right now! But I'm sure at some point I'll be sharing some more.

This was exhausting. In the best possible way.

Stay tuned tomorrow as we'll be running a pretty killer contest for you guys for your own "what worked, what didn't and what's next" answers. Until then, HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Fri. Dec 31, 2010 by Mary    Pancake Sessions

What Didn't

And now....what didn't work this past year.

What Didn't

* Over-scheduling. I am still really bad about this, which is a big problem considering I run the calendar. If I see an open day, then in my head that means we can shoot on it or have a meeting. I forget that we need to build in days that are wide open so that we can actually do the blogging of the shoots we've already done, or just have the time and space to breathe and dream. And this is the number one reason why we get behind/get so run down & exhausted in the first place. Me. Right there. I'm taking accountability. Mary Marantz, that is YOUR fault.
* While handing off things like editing definitely fell under the "what worked" category, not having a consistent workflow with a permanent editor falls under "what didn't." We had a few different people helping us out earlier in the year who also had their own businesses and jobs to deal with. Which meant that when they hit busy streaks, our editing would have to wait until things slowed down again for them (which given that arrangement was totally understandable). But now we know that whoever we have doing editing for us, they have to look at that like it's one of their main jobs (if not the main job). And it has to be understood that our editing gets done on the same schedule/turn around no matter what. We finally got someone in like that toward the end of the year, and it's made all the difference.
* Similarly, just like doing the info sheets definitely falls under "what worked," not sending them out sooner falls under "what didn't." When we would get busy, we would send them out only a week or two out from the wedding and then it's not only harder for the couple to fill out because they are so busy, there's not a lot of wiggle room for us to recommend changes if we do see problems.
* Not carving out the time to breathe and dream and just be. We're really bad at that.
* The parts of our workflow above that I mentioned where we do have to wait on each other.
* Not keeping our "three drive" pyramid workflow in place. This all stems back to being backed up and not having enough free space on our drives (even though we continued to buy more throughout the year....which also falls under the didn't work category). The three drive system is what our workflow *should* look like: We shoot a wedding and we download it and back it up on the Drobo, Justin then burns three drives: one goes to me for blogging, one to Julia to pull extra images for the vendors and one to our editor. We each do our edits and then send the drives back to Justin so that they too can be backed up on the Drobo. Thus forming the pyramid....see how that works? :) We were still more or less doing this workflow, it just became a lot more piecemeal and on a need to have basis. So as I needed a drive for blogging, Justin would burn one. As Julia was ready to do the vendor edits, he would burn another drive. When our editor was ready, a final drive. Which pretty much meant it was three times the work taking three times as long. And that is how things snowball.
* Along the same lines, culling our images down before they are edited most definitely does NOT work for us. It creates a huge bottleneck in the workflow because it requires Justin to be home and have the time to do it. And it takes so much time to do that at that point Justin may as well do the edits himself. So we realized by the end of the year, we need an editing solution that does not require us to cull first. We have that now by just telling our editor to get rid of the "blinks, blurs and really bad ones."
* Burning DVD's instead of using flash drives. It takes so much longer to do, slows down the computers, we're constantly running out for dvd's, cases or labels. And the flash drives tend to be a much more reliable media. This one really boiled down to just not having the time to go meet with the (local!) company to order them. Which brings us to....
* Being too busy to stop, sit down and implement systems or choices that would save a lot more time & money over the long haul definitely WASN'T working.
* Here's another good example: not buying our office supplies (like padded envelopes) in bulk and instead running out for them every time, wasting money, time and gas.
* While Spread the Love & buying this house are two of the proudest things I've ever done, starting off into our wedding season just coming off two and a half months on the road into a house full of boxes was one of the most stressful things I've ever done. It has literally take us until right now to bounce back from that.
* Spending time on the Facebook news feed or clicking on links in our statcounter that I knew would be a bad idea definitely wasn't working this past year. Put another way, spending even one second of my life worried about what the "crows" have to say about us is not something that can have any place in our lives any more. Because that's the thing about crows, the higher you try to fly the more noise they're going to make. And I'm officially over it.
* Not taking care of ourselves by getting enough sleep (not just amount, but quality), exercise and healthy food didn't work this year.
* Not taking care of ourselves by taking the time to be put together and polished wasn't working this year. We are a division of our brand, and it's time to start acting like it.
* Not documenting our own lives does not work for me anymore. We spend so much time documenting other people's lives (which I LOVE), but we forget to do that for ourselves. That's going to change.
* Not doing more Pancake Session wasn't working. So you can expect to see this one on the What's Next list.
* 95% of the stress in our business comes from clients or vendors asking for something. And guess what? That's OUR fault, not theirs. Because if we had it back to them in a remarkable amount of time, then they wouldn't have to ask. And 95% of that stress would be eliminated.
* Moving just for moving's sake wasn't working in 2010. What do I mean by that? Well....just when you do so that it feels like you're doing something. Run, run, run so that it feels like you're going somewhere. I plan on doing a lot of moving in 2011....but I want it all to be forward.
* Not enforcing regular work hours and days off most definitely didn't work for us this year.
* By the same token, not having daily schedules and good habits and routines did not work for us this year.
* Believing that someone else's path to success had to be mine.
* Ok, whew... this one's gonna hurt. Making daily (sometimes twice daily) trips to Starbucks isn't working. :( It wastes money I know, but more than that it wastes a TON of time. And if I'm being really honest, I use it as a procrastination technique. Ugh....this is really hard.
* Not spending more time making friends outside of photography.
* Not spending enough time doing "Quadrant II" planning. I'm going to do a Pancake Session about this, but basically Quadrant II planning is all that forward thinking, system creating, life-bettering time management that I put off because I'm too busy putting out fires.
* Drinking coffee on wedding days most definitely wasn't working. The crash is way too hard and it made me cranky. :)
* Not making the time to pray more/ having more quiet time.
* Two blog posts a day. The jury is still out on this one. The thing is I actually love blogging, and I love talking to you guys a couple of times a day. You just can't be afraid to talk back, ok? We're in this together.
* Over-thinking things/making them harder than they need to be (like blog posts!) leads to procrastination. I know this about myself and it needs to stop.
* Not buying rechargeable batteries for our flashes didn't work in 2010.
* Not doing meal-planning/grocering for the week. We ended up eating out a lot and it was usually pretty unhealthy stuff.
* Not enforcing boundaries. If i say I'm on vacation and not answering emails, then I shouldn't be answering emails.
* Losing the ability to unplug. It's an addiction really. And I'm only half joking when I say I think I need help. :)
* An oldie but a goodie: making comparisons with other way more successful people, instead of just being grateful for having their example in my life.
* Letting other people's "false emergencies" pull me away from my family and what matters most.
* And finally, not cutting "false friends" loose sooner. Because really, who has time for that?

Stay Tuned....the riveting part III, "What's Next",!

Fri. Dec 31, 2010 by Mary    Pancake Sessions

What Worked

First of all, Happy New Year's Eve! I hope you all have something really fun planned for tonight. For me, that involves pajamas and wine and a fire and movie marathons. I can't help it, I am *such* a home body. And that just sounds like the PERFECT end to a crazy year to me. Who's with me?? :)

Second of all, I decided to actually force myself to sit down and go through the exercise of doing what I've heard a lot of other people talk about doing before (but have never really & fully done myself): to sit down and write out what worked about this last year, what didn't, and what we want to do differently or more of for next year. At first, I was going to do this all in one post....but we very quickly realized that we had so much of all three (especially the what didn't work stuff) that they should each have their own posts. So I'm going to post all three here today (so keep checking back!), but this way I can just get it all out there without any one post being too much to read (although this one is close!). Also, as we were writing these we tried to think about putting them out there in a way so that someone who was just getting started could benefit from them. So hopefully you guys can get something out of this too!

I pretty much just wrote things out stream of consciousness with very little editing because I feel like that's when I'm the most honest. So forgive me if I ramble or it's not always super clear. But at least you'll know it's the truth. Here goes!

What Worked

*Spread the Love. Taking the very huge risk to hit the road for two and a half months with four people, one dog and one very large overstuffed trailer...and just hope that somehow we would leap and the net would appear. To not necessarily have it all figured out or know exactly what we were doing, but to have a dream and just go for it anyway. To face the very real fear that we might fail, to have no idea how it would work out in the end, but to try anyway. Because at least that's better than never knowing. It is by far, one of the things I am most proud of in my life to date.
*In the same way, I'm so proud of The Walk Through a Wedding Workshops. We've worked really hard on them and it's been so incredible to see each different theme come together and what each new group of attendees has taken from it. I love all of you who have been a part of them!
*Julia, Julia, Julia! She is by far one of the best decisions we have ever made and I can't imagine our business without her now. And trust me, this past year she has "worked".....worked her butt off for us!! We love & appreciate her more than she could ever possibly know.
* Letting go of things! From editing to album design to hiring house cleaners, this has been the year of admitting I can't do it all. And for a type-A, over-achiever that was really hard to do. But every time I've let go of something, I've seen our business and my overall happiness grow by leaps and bounds. So yea, that's definitely worked.
*Moving into the new studio space in the new house. We now have a meeting room, Justin & have our own offices, and there is plenty of room for storage so everything has it's place. That has been huge!
*Having this kind of unspoken game plane when we shoot weddings. Without even saying a word, Justin, Julia & I just know what the other two are going to cover and what angle we should be working. I am super grateful for that kind of synergy. And words like synergy. Because they are just fun to say.
* Not over-thinking the family portraits: Recognizing them as just a documentation who was there, having consistent lighting & background, and making the "family photo football" list so we can bang them out quickly & efficiently.
* Handing over all the magazine & blog submissions to Julia. Having one person dedicated to this means she becomes an expert in all the different submission requirements and can do them quickly. She has been ROCKING them out and we have been published more this year by far than we ever have.
* Continuing to have all of our client meetings at home. We have long been a big proponent of doing the client meetings on our own turf. We are much more comfortable in our own chairs, playing host, serving our wine, burning our candles, playing our music, etc and getting to know our clients on a personal level. So we kept this up, even when the house was in construction and there was dry wall dust on the floor and exposed wires coming out of the ceiling. I think it's a great example of working with what you've got.
* Having mostly closed systems. For the most part, I have my jobs, Julia has hers and Justin has his. And we can all just do our own thing and hold ourselves accountable. But there is a point in all of those jobs when we need something from someone else (Julia needs to go over the final album design with one of us for approval, I need RAW files from Justin, Justin needs order requests from me, etc) and those are the places in the workflow where things tend to bottleneck. So this one will also be listed under "what didn't."
* Having Julia manage all the album design. Not just the fact that she's doing the design themselves, but all the communication and back & forth she has with our clients. There was no need for me to be in that loop, so taking me out has freed up a lot of my time and our clients know that they can always go to Julia for whatever they need and still be really taken care of.
* Hiring a cleaning crew for the house. This one is only very recent, but it has already made a HUGE difference. This house is old and dusty and we have a golden retriever who sheds enough each day to make three more of him. And by the time I would get the third floor cleaned, the first floor was dirty again. And I spent a lot of time feeling bad about about the state of our lives based on the state of our house. The first time they came in, I can't tell you what a relief that was. I literally felt like a better wife. Sad, but true! :)
* Scheduling out blog posts in advance. Most of the time I was spending on blogging was just trying to figure out what to write about. Now all I have to do is look at the calendar and get right to the work of it: the actual writing.
*The Pancake Sessions. The ones we've done seem to have been very well-received. But we also know that we just haven't committed ourselves to doing enough of them. So that's also going in the "what didn't" list as well as the what we want to do more of in 2011 list.
* Our info sheet we send to clients. That has made such a difference in keeping us organized, giving us a game plan and vision for the day, and feeling out what really matters to our couples.
* Getting our custom boxes from DNL packaging. We did the chocolate brown ones with our logo embossed on them, We got the 5x7, 8x10 and 11x14 thin ones that we can use for prints and discs. But then we also got the 2in thick 5x7 ones that we can use to ship things like our vendor cards (the pearl paper post cards from WHCC we have made for all of our vendors from each wedding) and we plan on doing that in the 11x14 so we can start using those for our "info boxes" when we meet with couples. It's a very affordable way to get into custom packaging!
* Doing the cards for our vendors. With the pearl paper from WHCC they actually turn out really nice, and the vendors seem to really appreciate them.
* Saying "no" more. Whether it's to someone wanting a deal, to someone making unreasonable demands on our time or to jobs that just don't feel like a good fit, saying no has been really good for our sanity.
* Our one-light set up for weddings. It's just an SB 900 on a light stand that we fire through a 45in" white shoot-through umbrella, and it has changed so much about the way we shoot. We use it all throughout the day, especially in the ceremony and for the reception details to create directional, dimensional light. It's not a very expensive set up (the umbrella at $20 is hands down one of the best purchases we've ever made) and it packs a ton of bang for the buck!
* Photoshop Shortcuts. Justin took the time to sit down and make Photoshop shortcuts for the few actions that we use in our post-processing. And he had them automatically set to the opacity we most commonly use. For example, we use a midtones boost on nearly every blog image, but we only use it at about 30%. So now when we push the button for the action, it not only runs the action but it also automatically sets it at 30%. We also have actions that will resize, sharpen for the web and stamp our watermark with the push of one button, as well as ones that make our grids of paired verticals. It's saved a TON of time.
* Blogging two parts to the weddings. I know this is not the prevailing opinion which says blog less and less, but at the end of the day those aren't the people we're blogging for. We're blogging them for our couples and their friends & family who love seeing that many pictures and can't wait to come back for Part II. Also, by doing that many images up front we automatically have our "faves" folder for Pictage and the folder that Julia can use for the first mock up of the albums, so all of that work is done too and we don't end up having to go back and add more faves (i.e re-do the work) to be able to tell the full story of the day.
* Facebook. It's been rockin our world. Period.
* Storing up all post office shipments until the end of the day, one or two days a week. I can't believe this now, but we used to run out every time we needed to ship something and it wasted SO much time. Now not only do we have dedicated shipment days, but we don't even do them. Julia will take them and either do the run on her way home or her way back in to work the next morning. Justin & I were in the post office a week and a half ago to ship our Christmas Cards, and we realized it was the first time we'd been in one in months. That was an awesome feeling!
* Along the same lines, buying & shipping out our client gifts in two month blocks. So we'll do a "date night" gift shipment for all of our May & June clients in April. Then Julia only has to make a run to buy everything every two months. But that's still close enough to their weddings to fit with the date night idea.
* Realizing how we work best. My mind is a constant flutter of all the things we need to get done. So as I'm going through that mental list, I will just shout out the things that fall under Justin's umbrella. On the way to Starbucks "don't forget to burn that drive" At the grocery store, "did you order those prints yet. make sure you do that!" As we're falling asleep, "can you put so and so on a drive for me in the morning?" And then I would get MAD when he somehow didn't remember them all. The nerve, right?? :) And the more things I would throw at Justin, the more stressed out he would get. So I have *finally* come to understand that I need to take the time to stop, sit down, think through what I need him to do and actually write out a list. Then he can just take that and power through everything and it all gets done (and much faster than me just shouting stuff out).
* Our Think Tank bag. It is AMAZING! We can just zip through any airport and it is regulation carry on size for all planes, so we never have to worry about checking our gear on destination weddings.
* Google Checkout. Super easy way to take credit card payments. 95% of our payments are done this way now and the fact that we hardly ever have to make bank runs anymore is totally worth the minimal fee.
* Google Docs. Julia set us up on this for all of our workflow spreadsheets and now we can all access & update them from anywhere in the world.
* Blogging twice a day. This has been amazing for traffic and keeping people checking in, and our readership has definitely gone way up. On the other hand, I think it can be overwhelming and we get less comments per post now which is not good for the conversation because I think it makes people even more shy than they already are. :) So this one will also go under "wasn't working" because I'm just not quite sure yet.
* Charity shoots. We've gotten to do a number of charity shoots and those are just good for the soul.
* WPPI. Holy crap, we spoke at WPPI. 'Nuff said.
* Even though we got pretty backed up there at the end, we are super close to having everything shipped out and can start with a clean slate in 2011. This makes me very happy.
* Our promo video. It was real and it was honest and it was us. And even if it's been accused of just being "clever marketing" or "self-indulgent" I know what it really stands for, and I am so thankful that we have something like that to always look back on in this stage of our lives together.
* Not being afraid to ask. Or maybe being really afraid but asking anyway. It is directly because of asking that we got in both Rangefinder and Professional Photographer Magazine this year. The answer hasn't always been yes, but it's been yes WAY more than no.
* Wedding Blogs! The wedding blogs have been rockin our SOCKS this year and have brought us some really great clients along with it. So a huge thank you to all of them for everything they do!
* As always, our clients. I could really care less who thinks it's cliche: we have the most amazing clients on the PLANET. And they allow us to dream every dream. From the bottom of our hearts, we can't thank them enough for that.
* Our 3 card pack system. We bought enough CF cards to have three packs full. One pack is enough to get us through an entire wedding. So even if we have a triple header (which may the good Lord help us, we do next year! :) we don't have to write over any cards until they are backed up in multiple places, including offsite.
* Our email auto-responder. Yea, it's a little cheeky and says something to the effect of "we just want you to know we received your email and will get back to it as soon as possible. So there's no need to send a follow up email as that won't bump you any higher (and may even bump you down the list! :)" I said...CHEEKY! But we had to do something because we were in all seriousness getting people who would: email multiple times, post on facebook, direct message on facebook, at reply on twitter, direct message on twitter and leave blog comments if we didn't get back to them right away. Clearly, something had to give! And since we've put up that responder, cheeky as it is, that has all but stopped and people have been MUCH more respectful of our time.
* Along the same lines, insisting that people be more respectful of our time. Which of course goes back to setting boundaries and saying "no".
* Also along the same lines, not answering messages on Facebook or Twitter anymore. We also have a voicemail that asks people to email instead. Keeping it all in one place has made it SO much more manageable.
* And ALSO along the same lines, Spam Arrest has been amazing for filtering out all the junk before it even makes it in our inboxes. I highly recommend it.
*And finally, my husband. My husband has worked his tail off this year building this life together and reminding me why we're doing all this in the first place. I would be nothing without him. Having him as my partner both in business and in life...just works.

Up next, What Didn't. You're not going to want to miss this one!

Wed. Dec 29, 2010 by Mary    Stuff we Love

Stuff We Love: Mooses (Or is it Meese?)

There are many reasons I love her.

Her chocolate chip cookies and homemade ice box cake definitely top the list. But there's also how she always smiles when she sees me. And her hugs. Because she's the kind of person who hugs with her whole heart. How she says the nice things that other people might just let slide by. And the good that she sees in everyone around her.

Plus she just gets me. She has from day one.

And each Christmas I'm reminded of that. From the perfect pink sweater to the blueberry pancake mix I can't believe I was living without.....she gets me.

I think her son gets that from her.

Well this year, my mama-in-law outdid herself because she found the perfect bag for me. A corduroy tote covered in Mooses (hmmm or is it Meese....I never get that one right :) And I fully intend on carrying it with me everywhere from here on out.... y'know while wearing a pink sweater and making blueberry pancakes.

So tell me, what was one of YOUR favorite gifts you got this year? Leave a lil' comment in the box below, and I'll be picking one lucky commenter to win their very own Meese bag!

Wed. Dec 29, 2010 by Mary    Ones to Watch

Ones to Watch: The Youngrens

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!
Much love,

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.

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