Divvying out hugs and gratitude for getting together for the evening, Rachael, Yusuf and I discussed many things we had in common. Moving to the islands from the South, our slight twangs, and the perks + perils of military life which can sometimes send you on unexpected adventures all over the place. Just before she hopped in her car to head out she asked the one question I'm always asked: "How do you get business while moving so often?". I laughed and gave credit where all the credit is totally due: Friends.
She exclaimed that's in fact how she found me, a referral from another gracious photographer on Maui (thanks, Caitlin!) and I was honored to feel the love. When I decided to follow my heart and officially switch careers from Interior Designer to Wedding Photographer my husband (then boyfriend) had just joined the military and to be quite honest the future of my business wasn't something I had really considered...or the years to follow via the Army (OR that most 'Army Wives' get stigmatized as "Wannabe Photographers", but let's just ignore that crap because it's B.S. and will send me into a rage). I never considered having to pick up and move and certainly didn't put much thought into building a business I could confidently take anywhere until we found out we were relocating from North Carolina to Hawai'i (in which we did a little dance). I knew business was going to be tough as hell. A sincere struggle from that moment forward, and just as making new friends was going to be daunting so was starting all over again. From scratch. Knowing no one. Then starting over again one day after that, too. It was that realization where two things became the crux which determined my ultimate life as a photographer wherever I may be: a strong online presence and genuine connections. If I'm being totally honest there really isn't much 'business' to my business. I like to keep it real. I tried to make that sentence sound more ghetto, kinda how I would say it, but it looked more like I couldn't type. So I skipped it. Just imagine it in your head.
1. Friends: I will happily say I am fortunate enough to have to have friends I grew up with who also became photographers. Collectively it made learning the industry and building a foundation a lot easier, paired with my an undeniable passion for meeting new people--connecting wherever I go--has developed relationships all across the world, spreading the word naturally. By constantly (and possibly annoyingly) proclaiming "Hey, I'm a Photographer! I'm a PHOTOGRAPHER. I'm a phooottoggraphhherrrrr" means colleagues and BFFs are more likely to give you a shout out to their engaged pals "Hey! I know a photographer..." Couples are always heading from the mainland to O'ahu to get married, these relationships with friends and photographers (both via the internet and real life) have been pivotal in helping my business blossom and help me work with couples off-island. Thanks, ya'll! :)
Majority of my local business comes from besties on island (who either happen to be Photographers or in the wedding industry themselves) and past clients turned friends. Spending time with people I enjoy is important to me, as are authentic, genuine connections. They aren't just Coordinators, Florists, or Photographers. They are friends who's babies I watch (okay that happened once but MAN are they cute!), whose families I adore, and peers I can sit and talk to about life all day every day. When I am friends with someone I am in it, invested and I've got their back, so I'm grateful that the people I've met scattered throughout the Hawai'ian islands that are equally thoughtful and have become a big part of my life that extends far beyond business. I consider the people I appreciate more than clients or vendors, they're legit friends.
The Internet: I don't know much about SEO. Okay, in fact I don't know a single thing, but what I do know is that I love being a photographer and shooting film, and I let my passion for my craft seep out into everything I put on the web. I use the social media sites that feel natural (instagramming like a fool!), I keep up with people via Facebook, and I try (ohhhh do I try!) to consistently update my blog. I am an advocate of connecting online (but not living there) and love when internet friends become real life ones. Again--I find it incredibly important to keep media presence fresh with updated content to help spread the word of where you are and what you're shooting (and what you had for lunch, duh) but most importantly I use it as a platform to continue to harbor sincere relationships with fellow photographers, colleagues, and the people I love. Yes I just saw that video you posted of your dog eating bubbles, it was the cutest thing in the world *like*. My website doesn't appear to be anywhere near the first page of Google and I'm not gracing the covers of Martha Stewart weddings (one day!) but being featured on reputable of-the-moment wedding blogs and simply being Ashley online does the trick.
Having real genuine relationships on the web (but mostly real life!) while showcasing an authentic online presence has helped me to create a sturdy foundation for my photography business that I am confident I will be able to easily carry on wherever God may lead us next. (please be Italy, pleaseeeee be Italy).