Fighting fire with fire: the How To.
After blogging and reflecting on last year and the differences I see in my business, I realized how annoying I may sound. To me, when I am working on making things happen, like getting in shape, or trying to make business dreams a reality, I find myself easily discouraged when I see someone else reach theirs, and seemingly quickly. While if your name is Ashley Goodwin, then the battle of getting Beyonce Super Bowl legs sure as heck doesn’t seem to happen over night, or, ever. Nothing ever does. Yet it’s exceptionally annoying when you see someone being “successful” (for lack of a better word) at what it is you are looking to do, leaving you wondering “well what did they do? Juice all day. Psst, PLEASE.” And their response? “Ooooh, you knowwwww, I just ate good and worked out...and lost 10 Lbs this week!”. You don’t think I have tried that??!?! THIS IS LUDACRIS! (rollll out). Ihave aslowmetabolismandthyroidproblemsandIdon’thavetimetoworkoutanymorethisshitjust isn’tgoingtohappenI'mgoingforTacoBell. Hence I am here to explain the past year (truly, less) that’s behind last Friday’s post, because although it requires discipline and like Beyonce’s choreography is challenging, it certainly isn’t secret, nor impossible. Or require freshly juiced kale. But sadly, it won’t make you skinny...maybe that will come soon.
Here’s out I worked on getting out of my last year and turned it into this year.
Attended Local Networking Events. Sounds cheesy, and the world networking sounds sleazy, but it’s a great opportunity to be introduced to people you may not have had the chance to meet and a great way for people to connect a face to a name. Another seemingly cheeseball (but unexpectedly good) event to attend is a local bridal expo--as a roaming talking, meeting, and smiling photographer! Not unlike a Bride, it gives you an idea of the professional options in your local market and is a great source of referrals for upcoming Brides. Better yet, take your camera and snap some awesome photos of booths you love, then send them to that vendor--FOR FREE (that is what I did)! They will appreciate your thoughtfulness, get to admire your work, and it is a great way to introduce yourself in a “how can I help you?” manner. Although I myself have never set up a booth, the Hawai’i Bridal Expo is where I met the majority of the creatives I now have cocktails work alongside. Check out some magazine parties, Pursuit 31 Photography group meetings, Pictage or SmugMug meet-ups, Flickr gatherings, local county business events ( I hear REALLY good things about these in several states!) or, better yet, host your own!
Other Photographers. Back in December of 2011 I nearly fainted when Jasmine emailed me to come along in Febuary for logistics planning and doing what I do best--talking on her tour “the Fix”. I hadn’t really started to pick up business in O’ahu considering we had just moved there, but I was secretly hoping that this opportunity would somehow send people knocking down my door. Shew. That’s honesty. Truth is, it didn’t, and I should have known better. Neither did being an in studio attendee of her Creative Live workshop (April, 2011). No one was going to see me talking and joking on myself on stage when they came to see Jasmine Star and say “HEY! I want THAT girl who lives in Hawai’i to photograph my wedding here in D.C.!”. Doi. There was no overnight business that would come from the exposure of their of those fabulous events. But, what they did provide was the opportunity to connect with other creatives which unexpectedly helped create a circle of referrals, something I NEVER would have seen coming, and way more importantly than business, continued to introduce me to people with similar interests and help pave the way for what I REALLY want to do with my life, and that is help people. More on that later. Although no one came banging on my door wanting me to shoot their wedding, it was a way to introduce myself to people in other states to “a photographer in Hawai’i”. The FIX wasn’t the only was this has or could have happened--simply networking online with other photographers via Filckr, Facebook Forums, and blogs LETTING PEOPLE KNOW WHAT YOU DO AND WHERE YOU DO IT is an incredible tool. That way it gives them a way to talk about you and possibly refer you. I am thankful to the fellow photographers who have referred their friends and clients to the southern girl living in Hawai’i. I have gotten several referrals and destination weddings this way. THANK YOU, FELLOW PHOTOGS! Way to have each other’s back. *internet hugs*.
Videos. This sounds silly, but from the “vlog for 30 days” challenge proposed by good friend and crazy man Tim King, I never ever expected what video could do for my business. I just thought I was acting a fool (aka my typical self) in front of my photobooth camera. Turns out, people actually watched, and responded saying they felt like they KNEW me. And ALL I WAS DOING WAS BEING STUPID IN FRONT OF THE LENS. And somehow, somewhere, they must be some stupid people out there too who felt like we were one. ;) Seeing someone on video helps people decide if they like you or not (hopefully I haven’t weeded out half the population with mine) and can be an insightful tool into your business, life, and creative eye. It is a time consuming medium, but well worth the effort. I plan to incorporate more!
Met Creatives. I when got back from the Fix and had met creatives at the Bridal Expo, the Wedding Cafe, and via google, I then figured out who I could see recruiting as potential BFF (there is no sarcasm here--I am dead serious ya’ll) and emailed to set up coffee dates with them. THEY thought they were meeting to talk business, but I was interviewing friends. Creeepppyyyy. Great thing is, they all passed! ;) I literally had a “date” with someone every other day for the first few weeks (soon I had to learn to start getting decaf past 2 PM), and made it a point to NOT talk weddings at first and to just take the time to get to know each other. Don’t just force yourself to align with “heavy hitters” in the industry where you live, that will do no good. Plan to meet people that you admire and enjoy who happen to also be movers and shakers and up & coming in the wedding (or fashion, or entertainment) world. For me, I just wanted to make friends when I moved to Hawai’i, and right-brained people are who I mesh the best with. Having weddings in common was simply a guise for me to buy people coffee, pick their brains, and establish a personal connection that had the opportunity to turn into working relationships--hoping to make a friend to have beach days with. Truthfully, nothing is worse than sitting across the table from someone who leaves you eyeing the front door, so focus on connecting with people that you see yourself hanging with, NOT who can “help you out the most”. Where did I find these people? Via Facebook, Facebook photography groups (Pursuit 31 Hawaiian Islands and a local Chic & Creative group), googling the vast and often times scary nsfw interwebs, and mostly, at the Hawai’i Wedding Expo at I attended in January of 2012.
Offered up my services. After meeting with local coordinators, florists, and mainly--gasp--other photographers, I offered up my services...FOR FREE. If they needed a new headshot for their website, I scheduled a mini session. If they wanted product images of their vases and lanterns for a product catalogue, I shot it. If they were looking for a second shooter, I gladly tagged along. I was thrilled to be able to help, and for the first month or two scheduled several complimentary sessions to creatives I had connected with. After all, I hadn’t done much professional shooting on the island, so I was happy to get some practice in while helping out someone else.
Rebranding, and rethinking pricing. By this time, I recognized that the “seeds were planted” and personal relationships were flourishing. I was truly connecting with people I loved and realized that if I wanted working relationships to come to fruition, I needed to showcase myself and change up my god awful website. I padlocked myself to my desk chair and spent a solid week of grinding out a new website (legwork was already in place, I just needed to sit down and DO it). Once I designed a website and blog I was proud to present, I hoped the creatives I had met would be proud to present me to future clients as well. Along with putting together an online presence that permeated “Ashley Goodwin” full of seafoam greens, watermelon pinks, and bright, fun, golden images, I restructured my pricing--and lowered it. I designed four pricing packages that would cover the range of wedding options that my brides are looking for in O’ahu (from Elopement to full on celebration), and I made my packages easier to understand and more appealing. Along with that, I dropped my ego of ‘I have shot a lot of weddings, I have earned my previous pricing” and realized that if I wanted to get my name out on O’ahu, I first had to book weddings, even if that meant at a fraction of the cost I was accustomed to.
Second Shooting. This was a big one! When we first moved, I had shot a multitude of East Coast weddings, 8 hour events filled to the brim with barnyard light and southern hospitality. Taking the opportunity to shoot weddings on O’ahu with other photographers (Malia Cano, Marissa Rodriguez, Alyssa Turner, James Moes, Erin Hearts Court) not taught me the ways of the different cultures, shooting elopements vs. full day celebrations, and how to eat poke, but working with local coordinators and DJs, shooting beach sunsets, and the ins & outs of a local formal program. It was invaluable experience shooting without the pressures and risk of it being my “own” bride (not to mention I had been out of the game for a few months, I needed to get back in!). I even assisted (i.e. set up lights and carried bags) for Erin Hearts Court when they traveled to Waikiki to shoot at the Moana Surfrider. I am never too good to carry bags, and was ecstatic to be able to watch these creative geniuses work. In turn, Erin generously explained logistics of film and setting up lighting during downtime and I got to drool over the beautiful wedding works of Jill La Fleur. Selflessly helping someone else grow their business also came back ten fold as Malia Cano, the photographer I mainly second shot for, began referring weddings to me. With a new, exciting business venture in her life, Malia has recently decided to accept very select weddings and sends multitudes of inquiring brides my way. For her, I am eternally grateful for her kind heart, selfless giving spirit, letting me borrow lenses when I needed them, and for bringing along spam musubi to tame our growling tummies. She has been a ginormous catalyst for my business. And to think, we first connected last January when I saw her booth at the wedding expo and thought “now SHE can be my friend!”. She has great taste.
Getting Out There. When I wasn’t second shooting, I was working part-time serving. The restaurant where I was hired was new and I was excited to help make someone else’s dream come to life as I also worked on my own. I had myself convinced it was a brilliant “pay it forward” moment and would work out beautifully. A few months later, seemingly not much richer, I walked away from serving beers--thankfully as business began to pick up. (The few months I did work put some pocket change in the bank and did help me get by--and make more friends!) I continued to blog about my experiences (the fun stuff, the hard trials, and things that I later look back and think WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING TELLING EVERYONE THAT?!?!”). I posted weddings and recent work, and I set up shoots with friends and local people to continue to hone my skill and style. I have submitted to blogs that I believe my type of Bride looks toward for inspiration (Style Me Pretty Destinations and Le Magnifique) and I have accepted offers to contribute my two cents to online publications. Strengthening my online presence and posting shoots has been a huge factor in getting my name out into the public’s eye--along with tagging the HECK out of my blog pictures. Their names are usually something like “Romantic Bella Sophia Kailua Oahu Hawai’i Wedding Photographer”. I know very little about SEO, but this seems to work!
Honing the consistency. This one is a HARD one, but it is something that just comes with practice, and that is consistency throughout your images. My main goal being providing a fun, laid-back experience that is full of life and void of static poses and the traditional photography evening, I want couples in front of my camera to leave more in love than when they came. That means I have to make them feel comfortable and have fun behind MY camera, too. That is where practice comes in. I scheduled shoots of Marissa, tagged along on her shoots (without pay--that’s what friends do!), with more “potential friends” (Yasmin Dar and her Fiance), and practiced, practiced, practiced. Finally I started to think less about my camera settings (because I was finally PAYING ATTENTION and remembering them!) and more about having a good time with my client. This paid off tremendously. I remember a beach shoot where Marissa and I took photos of each other spontaneously, with no pressure (they are now my website and blog headshots). When we looked at each other’s images, we cried. We then sat together and analyzed WHY we loved the photos so much, and decided that it was because we were being ourselves in front of the camera, and we thought we looked beautiful laughing and being less posed. That was a turning point for my images, and I began to focus less on just a “pretty picture” and more on the experience of my clients--which surprisingly helped my images, exposure, and style become more consistent. This helped develop trust of the people in front of my camera, and they were more inclined to spread the word about their good experience!
Patience & Faith. I followed all the steps. I met with people. I busted ass. I sent out contracts. I poured my heart out at client meetings. And, silence. I remember calling my mom and crying, telling her I just wasn’t sure if it was going to happen, I wasn’t hearing back from people. But I always felt a spark to keep going. She consoled me as any good mother would and assured me that “soon, you will be so busy you won’t know what to do with yourself, you just have to be patient”. So I did. I was patient. And around this time, I rekindled a strong relationship in Christ and put my faith in God. I prayed. And prayed. And Lord did I pray. I still pray, big, bold, scary prayers. And God answered. God answers prayers sometimes that blow me away. He doesn’t answer some as well, and I pout, but I always know that I will see the reason later because he has other plans for me, and what I thought I wanted wasn’t what was meant for me.
Soon, my type of client started inquiring. Malia was forwarding me Brides left and right. Shilhi at Passion Roots was singing my praises, and the girls at Best Day Ever were wanting to work on elopements together. Things were looking up and Brides who I would love to be friends with wanted to meet up. As things were happening, I was working on streamlining a more consistent experience and workflow (this I am still working on). And before I knew it, I was so busy I didn’t know what to do with myself. Within three weeks I had doubled my booking goal of the year and was zooming past the next one. I cried, and I toasted, and I rejoiced. And I knew that I had to keep working hard and getting even better to keep the momentum going. And that now, I need to give all my glory to God, because that’s what I am here for, and who has helped make it all possible. It didn’t happen overnight, and it requires work and upkeep every single day, but with some hardwork and faith things can change in a matter of months, I promise. At least that’s how the Brazil Butt Lift infomercial sucked me in.
The Winter/Spring issue of Pacific Weddings. Whitney & Tyler's wedding featured in Passion Root's ad where Shilhi so generously provided me with photography credit--free advertisement! I am so appreciative of her, her talent is beautiful and makes my job easy. It's the perfect example of helping each other grow further!