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Learn From Your Mistakes

Lesson 19 from: Find Your Niche and Build Your Family Photography Business

Julia Kelleher

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Lesson Info

19. Learn From Your Mistakes

Lesson Info

Learn From Your Mistakes

Let me tell you a little story. Stories, we love stories. The story of when I hit rock bottom, okay? This is actually kind of a fun story, it's a little embarrassing at times. But that was my studio basically right after I moved in. Okay, kind of junky. I moved into this studio having relocated from Portland, a town of about a million people, to Bend, a town of 88,000. Okay? And I had basically sunk 15,000 dollars into a remodel of this place, of my own money that I had saved from Portland. I was paying 1,000 a month in rent. I had two failed marketing projects. I'm new in town with zero clients, and I have 200 dollars in my checking account, I can't pay my rent. (laughs) Yikes! Okay, let's talk about those, one of those failed marketing projects. How cheesy is this? I opened my studio in December of 2009 in Bend, I had been in business in Portland for three years prior to that. I thought oh, I'm opening right before Christmas! Yay, everybody's gonna want Christmas portraits! Well, it'...

s December 9th and I'm sorry, but, you know, nobody wants Christmas portraits at that point, it's done. Bad time to open. So I thought well, if I just put on this little event, you know Mrs. Clause is coming and cookies and story time for the kids, make a donation that benefits the Humane Society. I did three days of storytelling, and the donations benefitted the Central Oregon Humane Society and the St. Charles Foundation, which is a local hospital, and then the Bend Ronald McDonald House, okay? Look at all that text. Like, my marketing pieces were terrible, okay? But I was trying. I wanted people to at least make a donation, I was offering double-dollar gift cards and special session client pricing, I thought this is gonna be a slam dunk, I'm gonna get clients like crazy, I'm new in town, everybody's gonna love me! You know, like that fake confidence, yeah. It bombed, big time. Okay, what happened? Three days of storytelling, two children showed up. Over three days. I sent out press releases, I thought great, even the Humane Society marketing director came in on the last Saturday, the last day, with a dog and a cat. From the Humane Society, so the kids can pet it. Not one child showed up. I was so embarrassed, I was like oh, oh my gosh, well, at least if I can just help these animals get adopted, something good can come out of this, right? So, I photographed the dog and I photographed the cat, and quickly just made a little trip tick, printed it on my printer, and I had been invited to Lynn, the marketing director for the Humane Society, super sweet, like really nice lady. She was very, like she had empathy for me, she was very compassionate like she knew that this was not going well, I was totally embarrassed. She was like "Why don't you just come, we're having an Open House at the Humane Society today, why don't you and Mrs. Claus just come over and visit the kids. Literally, she had come over on the day of her own open house to be at my event, this amazing lady. And no one showed up. Okay, so, I'm like freaked out, I need to get income fast. I spent money on this event, I did the marketing materials, I put out press releases, I cannot pay my January rent. Like I cannot pay my January rent, I have 200 dollars in my checking account, okay? I owe 1,000 dollars January one and I'm kind of, in the freak zone, okay? I went to the Humane Society with Mrs. Clause, and this is what I saw. Right there, that's Lynn. These walls were empty, this is my work, okay? These walls were empty, and lit like this. And I looked at the walls, and I went (gasp), Lynn, will you let me photograph your biggest donors from 2009 and put them on the walls in your Humane Society? And she goes "Oh my gosh, you are bleeping brilliant." (audience chuckles) That's what she said to me. She said the real word, I can't because of FCC regulations say that word, but she did actually say that word, and because she understood marketing. And she knew that it gave her an opportunity to go back and talk to every single one of those donors, gift them a free session from us, and then hang them on the walls of the Humane Society. We had a Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting open house that night, we did the display, I put it on my credit card. Okay, I spent 3,000 dollars putting this display together on my credit card. I took another leap, jumped off the cliff knowing I would build a plane on the way down. We had this open house for 250 people in my little studio space and we unveiled each client, each donor got to pull the sheet off their portrait and told a story of what they did for the Humane Society, all about their pets, their animals, oh my gosh, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. That display saved my butt. We photographed 36 dogs, six cats, two lizards, a ferret and a guinea pig. Yeah. In three weeks. I ordered all that display material and had our open house February one. I put my rent on a credit card, okay? I all in all was about 5,000 dollars in debt after this process. There were 22 sessions, we made over 40,000 dollars from that thing. Because we did the display, we did the open house, the Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting, and then the sales sessions were after that. All the donors came in and bought extra. We averaged about two grand a sale doing that, okay? It literally saved my butt, it also taught me that marketing can it made me understand what brand management and marketing does for community, for an idea, for a cause, and how vendors can help you if you play your cards right. So this is what my studio looked like right before we remodeled it, it was a very organic, cozy, soft brand. Textural, a little busy. This is when I thought I knew my brand, okay? And my space and then about literally a year ago, we tore it out. (laughs) As you can see, if you go backwards, those beams like the chair, the staircase, you see the staircase? That was the staircase. This right here, the staircase is gone, okay? (chuckles) And that now is my psyche wall. Okay, we blew out the back wall so you can see back here, this is now open, we expanded by 1,000 square feet. And put in like ship black floor, 'cause it's my favorite thing in the world. Front entrance there and, again, you guys saw this a little bit earlier, the psyche wall. But today, it looks like this. This is my sales room, Porter, my pug, loves to hang out. He's our little mascot there at the studio. But this is my sales room and my office, and then I just kind of wanted you to get a feel for what the brand is today compared to what it was a year ago. But prior to that, it was even a little more scattered and disorganized, it wasn't what it is today. It evolved and changed over the course of ten years. We have a little kitchenette area, bathroom is that door right there. My props for my newborn sessions, and Porter there in the client waiting area. Even my bathroom is branded. (chuckle) Okay you can see here on the right, oh sorry, there we go. My bathroom is even branded, okay? Crazy, but I understood now, I understand now how much a studio space, if you have one, must integrate who you are as a company, okay? This is our newborn shooting area, this is the waiting area, the kitchen, and the clients can be in the kitchen and get snacks for themselves. And then this is the shooting area, we're looking into the sales room. So, keep in mind this took 10 years. Ten years to build. And I know everybody goes oh, I want that dream so now I'm gonna have a studio like that. It was 10 years of hard work and it was 10 years of developing a style and an identity, and learning who I was as an artist to build that. And it took a lot of money, you know, it was 150,000 dollar venture to remodel that. And you're not gonna do it right away, okay? I never thought I would. I'm really lucky that we're in that position that that could happen and it has elevated everything about the studio. Our average has gone up, my imagery is in line with my brand, the products are in line with the brand, everything is kind of finally coming together. And what that has done for what my clients perceive is unbelievable. My clients walk in and know without a doubt they're dropping two or three grand no problem. It's just not a question. This can be built, I started in my garage. My two-car garage that had no heating and air conditioning, it was freezing in the winter, and it had spider webs, okay? I started in my garage. My living room was my sales room. My basement was my editing area, okay? I did that for years. So this can be built up, but you have to keep your eye on the prize, you have to keep your goals in mind and constantly zoom out am I reaching, am I going towards that goal, am I reaching that? Am I building my business, am I pricing myself, am I profiting, am I building product line, is my identity solid, is my style of my work solid? All of this contributes to the marketing of your company. All of this gives some kind of feeling or impression to the client or the potential client about who you are as a company, okay? How much money they're gonna spend with you, how much they're not going to. Are you different? Or do you look like everyone else? I don't look like everybody else now. Way different. But very on trend, but still timeless.

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Ratings and Reviews

Courtney Ranck-Copher

I own I think all of Julia's classes. This is probably my favorite. I will say that it's because its exactly the type of photography I have been wanting to focus on. So the information was extremely valuable to me. But I do love all of Julia's classes and you can learn so much from her as a mentor regardless of the type of portraits you shoot. Thanks Julia for a wonderful class I have watched it multiple times!


As always, Julia never disappoints! It has been so awesome to watch her work with such incredible intention, from concept to session to sales. Her energy and strategy are so motivational and very, very creative! This class rocks from start to finish, and is a perfect addition to my Creative Live business arsenal! Five stars all the way!!!!!

Amy Vaughn

My favorite part was seeing how Julia's business evolved over time and transformed into what it is today. Good tips for finding inspiration to develop a niche and practical marketing advice. I'm glad I took this alongside Tamara's business class - the two photographers had very different approaches to their business and shooting family photography in many ways, but it really illustrators how there's no one way to do everything. I learned so much from both of them.

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