January 30, 2012
I don’t think anyone knew how hard it was for me to hit publish on the first Q&A with an Oho. I sat at my desk and debated scrubbing the whole thing and pulling out bits and pieces for another (less opinionated) blogpost. Out of nowhere, my iPhone chimed with a text from a dear friend I hadn’t talked with in months.
“I just wanted to tell you how proud I am of you for building a business that is so true to who you are.”
Seconds before, I had decided to not publish. I was going to leave the public advice giving to the people who were experts and keep my safe, comfortable blog safe and comfortable. But here’s the thing. I’m an opinionated person. And I’ve done my research. I don’t know everything and that is ok but if I am so passionate about building a business that is authentic to who I am, that business – this blog – has to include the open book side of me. I mean, I already told you about Chuck Norris; why would my opinion on film be any more shocking?
Something surprising happened when I did hit publish. Over the last two months I have received more emails from young photographers than ever. I didn’t expect that; I really didn’t. But it told me something. That this, this kind of openness, is needed. And desperately wanted.
Here’s the thing. The honest to goodness truth is that I want you to succeed. I want you and your business to blow up and for you to be so busy that you are turning away business. Because when your business is successful in the true, authentic, brand-driven way, that turns up the heat for all of us. THAT pushes me to be better and do more for my clients and up my game to not be left behind. And when we all are pushing ourselves to do and be better, that is how the wedding industry elevates as a whole. And that, my friends, is good for everyone.
Now, let’s talk about target clients…
I am having a hard time attracting the type of clients I want to serve in my business. How do you find clients you love and who love you?
This is such a huge, huge topic. Can I say huge again because it is. Huge. Big enough, even, that I’m going to tackle this question in two parts; the first being my thoughts about the importance of a solid, cohesive, true-to-you BRAND. The second, of which I will cover next week, is that unique client experience that only you can create for your clients.
Let’s be honest, my first website was a flash-based nightmare. I loved my logo but hated everything else about the slow, clunky, esthetically seizure inducing mess of a website I had. My marketing collateral was anything but consistent with a navy blue and gray logo on my website and coral/light blue business cards that I adored to (not) match. My blog was an incredibly well known and commonly used template that I liked well enough but wasn’t perfect – and about 40 other Minneapolis photographers were using some version of that template at the time. This followed through even to my communication with clients and my blog writing and email writing were incredibly inconsistent and, truly, just a bunch of nonsense most days. I looked to what my friends were doing and tried to implement their methods. I looked to what industry peers were doing and I tried their processes. I looked anywhere but at myself to see that what I was actually doing was the exact opposite of a solid business practice. I was marketing to some pretend generic client that never really existed, pieced together from so many different sources and in the process was likely alienating some of the people I actually did want to work with.
After all of that, it really was a MIRACLE that these amazing clients who were so wonderful and perfect for me fell into my lap. I am, literally, at a loss for words about that since there really is no rhyme or reason to how or why that happened; it just did. (To my clients who were the beginnings of Melissa Oholendt Photography, THANK YOU. And I’m sorry.)
During the early stages of the Great Rebrand Of 2010, I gained some advice from an much loved mentor of mine who asked me point blank – who exactly is this client you are targeting? I assume she could tell that the way I was currently operating was…all over the place. I was flailing around trying to hit something, anything, that resembled some version of a target client and in the process, not actually accomplishing anything.
She encouraged me to take literal pen to paper and detail this ideal bride I wanted to work with. Things she liked to do. Places she shopped. Things that were important to her. Places she like to eat. Did she prioritize her career over having children right away? Did she love animals? Did she get regular pedicures? Did she like to cook? What kind of music did she listen to? What were her great loves in life? On a free day would she head to an art museum or would she stay at home and watch movies? Questions like that, anything really, that could better help me understand this person I was trying to market to.
And it really did all start there for me. Detailing this target client was the beginning part of my brand. I had ideas of the emotions I wanted to convey and the colors I wanted to use and while most of those things changed during the branding process, one thing never did; that target client. I was fortunate enough to have the ability to enlist the help of a brilliant designer who worked and reworked until we both felt like it was a brand worthy of this bride. But even if you don’t – this is a concept that goes WAY beyond a logo & beautiful marketing materials.
Since the beginning of my business, I knew one thing: I wanted to create a business that was 100% me. I am the girl who loves J.Crew, the smell of grapefruit and can talk endlessly about her dog. I’m the girl who is scared of lightening but loves rainy days. I’m the girl who thinks of a person as a friend the first time she meets them and truly does believe in happily ever after. And even though I’m not always great at blogging about my personal life, if you look at my business and my brand, every single, little, simple, big thing is a reflection of who I am.
Even this target client. This wasn’t someone I pulled out of thin air, this is someone I would be – and in a lot of cases am already – friends with. This is someone I knew I would connect with on a deeper level than just the fact that we both love J.Crew & dogs. I knew that given the opportunity outside of a business setting, we would likely be friends. And I knew that for my brand to be a good representation of me, this target client would need to be someone I truly wanted in my life.
I know for some in the industry, they have built a brand around the wedding they would like to photograph (destination, glamourous, vintage, etc) and believe me when I say, that is a perfectly wonderful way to build a brand. I chose to keep my brand centered around targeting a specific type of person because I believe that is where I shine. You have to do what is right for your business and I do believe this means examining what motivates you to do and be better for your clients. If that is a stunning, detail-heavy wedding? By all means. I know, for myself, that truly getting to know my clients and falling even just a little bit in love with them pushes me to do the very best job I could ever do because I want to do that for them.
Now is every inquiry a perfect fit? No. Not at all. But the majority of the potential clients I end up meeting are. And that, to me, is a sign that this brand is a genuine reflection of who I am and where I want to be.
I know what you’re thinking; “I don’t have the money to hire a fancy-schmancy designer to hand me everything on a silver platter”. I want to be honest and very, very clear about this. I THOUGHT I DIDN’T EITHER. Really. But I made it happen. I made this happen because I knew how important it was. And if you really just can’t afford to hire a designer for the full monty, you certainly can take on a few extra sessions and hire a designer to create a logo. I cannot stress enough how much this is going to pay off for you in the long run and it’s worth making a small sacrifice now to get it done sooner rather than later. If I were 2012 Melissa giving 2009 “am I going to rebrand or not” Melissa advice? I’d tell myself to quit making excuses and just do it. It’s 1,000,000% worth it.
You can fumble around the first couple years of being in business like I did and hope the right clients come to you or you can consciously brand yourself to those clients and get them in the door from day one.
I’m not an expert in branding and I don’t think I will ever claim to be one but this is what is working for me to get the clients who make my heart sing. I’ve been blessed enough to have some wonderful, wise counsel from a variety of trusted sources and while my brand – any brand – is a work in progress, this is a brand I am extremely proud of and that has come a long way even from a year and a half ago.
Next week, I’ll talk about how I went about creating that unique client experience. A solid, authentic brand will get someone in the door; a unique & special client experience will create a fan for a lifetime…
i’m yours, melissa
January 13, 2012
It was a “DATE”. And yes those quotation marks are on purpose. A fake date. A date that wasn’t actually a date. The “we have an uneven number of people” date that seemed entirely accidental but was completely orchestrated by a very, very knowing group of mutual friends. A from that? True love. And swing dancing. And Japan. And two adorable black cats. And travel. And amazing friends, plum wine and cookie decorating parties. And now? A life together. Forever. Together. Forever.
Emma & Brian. The words fail me. You two, your wedding, your friends, your love, your families, your individual selves, your laughter, your silliness, your everything make my entire heart happy. You believed in me and gave me so much all those months ago and I hope, I really hope, that this sneak peak into the romance & heart filled event that was your wedding day gives you a little piece of that back. Starting 2012 off with your wedding was quite possibly the best thing ever and I’m not afraid to say it. Love you both oh so much. Mean it. xo
Wedding Planner: Lasting Impressions Weddings
Ceremony & Reception Location: James J. Hill Reference Library
Bride’s Dress: The Wedding Shoppe
Hair: Mezzanine Salon
Groom’s Suit: Custom Suit from Top Shelf
Floral: Custom Floral Design
Invites co-designed by Emma Phillips, Liz Maddy
Custom Tree Illustration by Abby Phillips
Catering: Chowgirls Killer Catering
Cake: Amy Hughes
DJ: Krista Haskins
Officiant: Peter Kirwin
Many thanks to my fabulous friend and super second shooter, Gina Zeidler!
And this blogpost would not be complete without a HUGE thank you to the amazing ladies at Lasting Impressions Weddings who truly took care of everyone and everything throughout the day and coordinated and executed to perfection!
i’m yours, melissa
January 6, 2012
Guess who is bringing Christmas trees, mistletoe & gifts back? This girl. Along with nostalgia over those beautiful white layers of fluff conspicuously missing from the landscape? Bringing it all back to you today. What is better than a little Friday eye candy?
Winter Wonderland of Love, a styled shoot. A shoot I’m incredibly proud of for multiple reasons, one being this shoot was photographed using 100% film. But secondly is that the gorgeous styling was the pure brain child of one of my dearest & most talented friends, Faith Brue, who’s stunning fashion views for this shoot equaled sequins, J.Crew plaid, Minnetonka Moccasins, and vintage fur. Right? I know.
And even more HUGE sparkly, heartfelt thanks is owed to the beautiful real-life couple, Julia & Kye Samuelson who certainly know how to make this photographer one happy girl.
i’m yours, melissa
January 3, 2012
My goodness. 2011… You were a big year.
BIG. Huge. BIG, BIG year.
This is going to sound cliche and you might throw-up a little but I am going to say it anyway; 2011 is the year I finally found myself and the year I found my voice more than as just the person behind the lens. And justifiably, it became the year that I changed. That my business changed. That my marriage changed. That everything changed. Everything.
It was the year I was pushed out of my comfort zone and the year that I conquered my biggest personal struggle to date. The year I learned how to say no. The year I dance-partied. A lot. Maybe too much. Jury is still out.
The year I said yes to photographing things that actually meant something to me. The year I chose to only photograph couples that touched my heart in deep ways. The year I learned the best thing in life is a Blueberry Almond Milk smoothie.
The year I traveled a lot less but was ok with that. The same year I invested in my friends and family more than social media. The year 90% of my friends had babies or ended the year pregnant. (Coincidence? I think not.)
The year I made the animals in Japan my priority. The year I turned an age older than Julia Robert’s character in “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and learned that life is more than a steady paycheck and a matching 401K.
The year my work was published in a national magazine and on the Washington Post website. The same year I was published or featured in 10 different online blogs & magazines, including Minnesota Bride and Real Simple. Oh and Pinterest. But that doesn’t really count.
The year I looked fear, uncertainty and the guarantee that life was never going to be the same in the face and made things happen for myself that I never thought possible. The year I learned that the stove really wasn’t out to get me and that I kind-of, maybe, sort-of really enjoy cooking.
2012 already holds so many big, huge, wonderful, exciting things I can’t wait to do, announce and make happen but let me just say. 2011, you were good to me. 2011 clients? You were the BEST and changed my life and my heart.
If the past two years have been any kind of indication, 2012 is going to change everything. All over again.
i’m yours, melissa