PART NINE: Starting Over
2018 felt like a big year right from the start. It was my first year dipping my toe back in to photography. I had 3 weddings scheduled for the summer, plus my best friend’s wedding that I was in instead of photographing. I was staying on track with my 365 project when we got the news that McDonald’s was closing in February for remodeling and was projected to be done in four months.
Anyone that has ever worked in fast food can tell you that when a competitor closes, all of their customers flock to the next best thing.
My life became a revolving door of sleep, drink coffee, go to work, come home, eat, repeat. 6 days a week, day in and out. I felt like a fast food zombie. To say that I was exhausted would be putting it lightly. By the time my first wedding of the year rolled around in May, I think the smell of Hardee’s grease and stale French fries was ingrained into everything I owned.
I knew that this life wasn’t sustainable.
Sooner or later, something was going to have to give.
The gears were already turning in my head. I knew in my heart that I wanted to take this dream of mine full time… I just didn’t know how to make it happen.
And so I sucked it up. I went to work every day, and did my usual routine of keeping the store standing and keeping my crew members from killing each other (or the customers). I started scribbling down notes in my planner. Ideas, “brain dumps” I call them — everything from session ideas to branding to those BIG dreams that you can’t even believe it’s time to make them happen.
The one thing I didn’t see coming?
The day I quit fast food for good.
Okay, y’all: Story time.
My first wedding of the year went off without a hitch. My couple was lovely, their day was awesome, and aside from getting lost in Oshkosh, aka the city of roundabouts — everything was perfect.
My second wedding of 2018 left me with tears in my eyes, leaving before the reception even started, and then coming home and ordering a new camera because my beloved Canon XSi that I had been shooting with since high school finally bit the dust.
I was in the middle of doing family portraits, getting everyone gathered up and then shouting, “NEXT!” like a director holding an open casting call.
The next thing I knew, my camera flashed an ERROR 99 message at me and DIED. Right there, in the middle of a wedding.
Luckily, my couple was super understanding. They said, “Hey, pull out your phone. It’s not the end of the world!” And that’s exactly what I did.
It wasn’t exactly my proudest moment. Not by far. But it was a good lesson in letting go — and investing in better equipment. That night, after frantically trying to get their wedding photos off of my broken camera and chipped memory card that had gotten me through my crazy 2012 senior season, I scoured Amazon and B&H Photo websites looking for the best deal on a new camera.
$1600 and two days later, I was the proud new mama to a Canon EOS 6D Mark II.
And after that?
I quit my day job the very next day.
What’s that? I’m crazy? Yes, I know. But the only way to follow your dreams is to finally take that leap and learn how to use your wings.
I already knew the life that I was living wasn’t sustainable. I was exhausted, burnt out, crabby all the time, and I knew that something was going to have to give eventually. I hustled through the stress, danced it out, and fulfilled my shift leader duties at Hardee’s until McDonald’s opened again in June.
Taking that leap and saying it out loud, quitting my day job to finally focus on photography full time, was the scariest thing I have ever done.
Spoiler alert: I had no idea what I was doing. I applied a few places after quitting Hardee’s because that’s what you do when you quit your day job. You look for another one. But nothing felt like the right fit. None of the jobs that I had interviewed for gave me the same rush that picking up my camera always did.
I had one more wedding on my photo calendar for 2018, another portrait day event with Next Stop Kid’s Shop in the works, and a handful of family sessions for that summer.
Let’s see where this goes, I told myself. But remember that progress and growth are quiet and slow.
My last wedding of 2018 left me dancing around my hotel room, wine glass in hand, while waiting for photos to import. I knew in my gut that I had ultimately made the right decision. I had spent so long running and distancing myself from this kind of all-encompassing joy because I whole-heartedly believed that I wasn’t worthy of it. Dancing around my hotel room that night felt like freedom, grace, and joy and wrapped up into one.
My portrait day with Next Stop Kids Shop in September was an entirely different story.
Unlike our portrait day that we had held in the spring, nobody showed up.
Nobody bought tickets.
Z E R O.
It was another one of those womp, womp moments for me.
And so I did what I knew how to do… I went online and started searching for education. I landed on a bunch of free webinars.
HOW TO FIND YOUR IDEAL CLIENT!
MARKETING MADE EASY!
ADD PHYSICAL PRODUCTS TO YOUR SERVICES!
I devoured it all. Free webinar after free webinar, sales pitch after sales pitch. Using all of the notes that I had taken in my webinars, I started to really think about what I wanted my business to look like in the long run. I filled pages and pages with notes and ideas and charts and numbers… Trying to get a plan down on paper: who I want to sell to, what I want to sell to them, and how to make myself stand out from everyone else.
I connected the dots after spending about a month researching and diving deep into what these photographers I was watching on Instagram were using, how they were gaining their following and their clients, I knew that it was time to put my money where my mouth was and actually invest in my education. Something I hadn’t really done since my time at SCAD in 2010.
I started with Jenna Kutcher’s course, The Instagram Lab. I wanted to get smart about social media and how I could use it to better my business and not only grow my following, but really find my ideal client and speak directly to them. Instagram is my favorite and most-used app so it seemed like a no-brainer to start there.
After diving deep into The Instagram Lab and feeling like I had a relatively good take on the information I learned from Jenna, I found one of her mastermind students and newborn photographer extraordinaire, Jenni Maroney. At the time, she was offering her Money Maker course that promised to take you from hobby pricing and barely breaking even, to planning your collections and sessions accordingly so that you can actually make money.
Side note: every day, I am more and more thankful that we live in the technological climate that we do today where this kind of information would have only been available to me in an actual classroom with a much larger price tag.
I revamped my business from head to toe. Branding, website, started an email list…
Because of the investment I had made with Jenni’s class, I had the opportunity to have three 1-on-1 mentoring calls with her. Those calls were life-giving. Talking to Jenni over FaceTime once a month gave me the opportunity to think out loud and really problem solve with another creative — something I hadn’t really experienced since my studio days, six years earlier.
There was a switch this time. I had passion and joy and drive to motivate me to do better, to be better this time around.
And then I almost died.
You think I’m kidding? Come back next week and I’ll tell you all about it…