January 11, 2013
HAPPY NEW YEAR FRIENDS!
(Ok, ok. Happy nearly-middle-of January. It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.)
I’ve been eagerly anticipating the start of this year for many, many reasons; one of the major reasons is that 2013 is the year I leave my 20′s. I joke that you may find me in the fetal position in a corner somewhere as my birthday gets closer and while I’m mildly serious, I also feel a great excitement towards that number. (Which is weird because my knees feel the exact opposite about it.) Thirty has always been that number that equaled being a grown-up. A career I am both passionate about and challenges me; the decade my marriage will hit both year 10 and year 15. It also is the decade I envisioned starting a family (SLOW YOUR HORSES, we’re not there yet). I have big hopes for for my 30′s and that starts this year.
This is the year I want to be more intentional about my living. Less survival mode and more actual hands-out-the-sun-roof-singing-at-the-top-of-my-lungs living. I want to simplify and get rid of the unnecessary things that clutter my home, brain and business. I want to add a general Oho-ness to everything in my life. I spent all of 2012 defining how I view success within my business and figured out it has nothing to do with a monetary figure or followers on social media or photographing a certain type of wedding. It’s about working with couples, families and people that ignite my heart. And that is what I want to spend 2013 doing.
Instead of looking back at 2012, I want to look forward; to celebrate the New Year, I’m sharing my 2013 goals with you. Some are big, some are small, but they are all dedicated to being more intentional with my life. And that is something to cheers to.
GET BALANCE //
2012 was a defining year for me in terms of balance between my business & personal life and while there were things I did very, very right there are an equal number of things I failed miserably at. Namely anything in the months between May and November.
We all know that Wedding Season (with a capital W and S) is a monster of it’s own. We love it. I love it. But sometimes (all the time?) it has the propensity to just take over our lives. (And by take over, I really mean we allow it to take over.)
Coffee. Email. Editing. Eat lunch (something…anything). Instagram (something…anything…possibly what I’m eating for lunch). Browse Pinterest to bottle the overwhelmed feelings. Edit more. Think about blogging, decide that I spent too much time art directing my Instagram and browsing Pinterest and can’t. Scan. Enter. Burn. Package. Ship. Start thinking about what to do for dinner when the husband walks in the door at 6:30pm. Order Thai. Like EVERYTHING friends post on Facebook while waiting in the car for Matt to go get the food (to appear involved in their lives…virtually anyway). Inhale (literally). Rush off to an 8pm meeting. Arrive back home at 10pm. Ask Matt how his day was while spooncuddling the dog. Fall asleep while he’s talking. Rinse. Repeat.
For a girl who was under the impression that she was an efficient worker (and an achievement driven worker to boot)? That is not a pretty picture.
You guys. I only take on 15 weddings AT MOST a year. I built a business specifically structured around the idea that I wanted to operate a business that allowed me to take truly amazing care of my clients yet still allowed me to be a good wife (and a good dog-mom) however, my reality is that 7 months of the year is spent in total survival mode. And the worst part? IT’S OF MY CREATION AND TOTALLY AVOIDABLE. #supersuck
2013 is the year that stops. Yes, that is a bold statement but this is something I am choosing to view in black and white. Right now, we don’t have children. Our only real keep-it-alive responsibility, outside of ourselves, is our dog. If I can’t get this right now, how can I expect to get it right later when life is infinitely more complicated?
So, how am I doing this? By using tools I already have access to (and you do too; seriously, you do).
This means creating my ideal day and sticking to it. This means starting every day in the Word. This means meal planning & grocery shopping. This means turning off work when Matt comes home. Every day. This means using social media in smarter (aka, less time consuming) ways. This means structuring my business to allow more time to do/develop/create instead of merely surviving. This means better calendar planning so I have more time to spend with the people I love. This means Sundays are my Sabbath.
And, most of all, this means these things have to start now. Before I find excuses to slip into survival mode. This will be my Great Challenge of 2013; I can already feel it. But even if the other two resolutions fail miserably (or even succeed beyond my wildest expectations), this is the one that is the game changer.
GET PRETTY (on the inside too) //
This is not (not, not) what it sounds like. I mean, it is, but it’s not. Stay with me.
We’ve lived in our condo for 5 years now. That is a full five years of accumulated junk; and I mean junk in the literal sense of the word. JUNK. Closets so crammed with things that didn’t have a home that we just have to assume that, at one time, it did have an actual floor. Buffet drawers filled to the brim with old decor items and paper napkins (PAPER NAPKINS, REALLY). Cabinets stuffed with about 100 more plates & glasses than we ever could need & cooking appliances that never had been used. I mean, you get the picture, right? Every spare inch this 850 square foot condo was being taken up by just…stuff.
Last year, I mentioned that I’ve worked hard to create a space that is inspiring, beautiful and filled with things we love. And that is 100% truth. Also true? That concept was completely on a surface level. The minute I opened a closet door to pull out shipping supplies, that beautiful, inspired feeling was instantly replaced with anxiety, frustration and a desire to apply to be a subject on Hoarders.
Begin Ohos Get Organized // 2013.
If you’ve been following my Instagram, you’ve seen some behind the scenes action shots (mostly of Gunnar looking terrified) but this is a real thing. Every closet is getting cleaned out, organized and put back together. Unnecessary items are finding a new storage space in the basement. Unused items are finding their way to the Salvation Army. I am the girl who has kept every card/note/invite/post-it anyone has ever given me since high school. (Speaking of. Dear high-school boyfriends. You had sloppy handwriting but I liked you very much.) NO MORE! I am literally shouting because it took me AN ENTIRE HOUR to finally gain the courage to toss the Christmas cards we received in 2005.
But the amazing thing that I am finding as we clean out, clear up and organize is this amazing lightness. My house feels livable on every level. Suddenly, we have 100 extra square feet that I don’t even know what to do with. WE HAVE ALL THE ROOM IN THE WORLD. This is more than an organization project, it’s become a effort to make our home 100% reflective of the Ohos and filled with our personality. Letting go of things that didn’t work, things that we don’t need and the things that were holding us back. Simplifying on every level.
The Oho House is getting pretty in a deep sense.
GET BUSINESS //
This one goes hand-in-hand with my GET BALANCE resolution. It is less getting (new) business and more getting a better handle on the truly wonderful business I already have.
-find a better system to track clients, contracts, invoices, expenses and mileage.
-find an additional 2nd photographer to join Team Oho for the 2013 & 2014 seasons.
-finalize website updates.
-finalize and rollout a brand refresh and packaging update.
-hire an intern.
-invest in equipment that will aide in better workflow (i.e. a new laptop, a more intuitive file management system).
-blog WAY MORE than instagram photos.
-refine workflow processes (times 1,000,000).
At this point, it looks like just a big and growing list of to-dos (and it is) but every item on my GET BUSINESS list is designed to make my business stronger, more efficient and just about 1,050% more fun on a day-to-day basis.
And who doesn’t want an Oho that is 1,050% more fun?
I put this out there for a reason. To be completely honest, it is (realllllllly) uncomfortable for me to share these goals and dreams. As extroverted as I am, goal setting has always felt very personal and was a vulnerability that I wasn’t willing to risk. But you know what? I don’t want to do this alone anymore. I crave the accountability and welcome the honest questions about where I am at on my goals. And if the J.Crew staffers can do it? So can I. (Also, add “wear lipstick more often” to my goal list.)
PS, if you think you could be the perfect addition to Team Oho either as an intern or as a 2nd photographer? Email me! I would love to hear from you. (Seriously. I would happy dance over your email.)
I would be remiss if I didn’t give one big I LOVE YOU to my 2012 clients. Compiling these photos last night made me so grateful for every single one of you. Thank you for entrusting me, loving me, empowering me and, in so many cases, teaching me how to be a better human, business owner and friend. I would not be on the cusp of this BIG, WONDERFUL 2013 without your presence in my life.
XOXO TO INFINITY
So cheers. And Happy New Year. Eleven days late. (But who’s counting?)
i’m yours, melissa
August 28, 2012
A. It’s starting to be that time of year, isn’t it?
Photographers are spending hours upon hours in our PJ’s behind our computers, only putting on mascara for weddings, client meetings and the occasional family dinner. (Oh, that’s just me then?) We’re spending days in our offices without speaking to another human being, only coming out for coffee refills and Sour Patch Kids. (Again? Just me?) And every week is spent shooting, editing, burning, delivering and then doing it all over again the following week. (If I am alone in this one, I quit.) I have to be honest, it’s no wonder inspiration seems to be running short across the board. All work and no play makes anyone (and everyone) a dull character so why should it be any surprise that we are feeling uninspired?
I am a sensory person by nature. Visuals, sounds, smells, tastes and touches are my holy grail and truly are the things (beyond human to human connection) that fire me up. I won’t lie; I work pretty hard to stay inspired on a sensory level. When you sit at the same desk, in the same chair, in the same room, at the same address, every day, for any extended period of time, it’s easy to start to feel incredibly blasé about the spaces we live our dreams in when in fact, we should be striving for the exact opposite.
Sometimes inspiration comes easy; a color, a photo in a magazine, a piece of home decor, a certain look from a certain loving & lazy dog and my brain is off and running, churning up new ideas, poses, and shoots and I can sail along easily until (what feels like suddenly but is usually a combination of events that drain my energy) inspiration doesn’t come so swiftly anymore. The first time I felt really lost was fairly early on in my photo career. At that point, I was still trying to define the Melissa Oholendt Photography Signature Style and was constantly comparing myself, my brand, my work and my successes to Joe Schmo Photo; I now recognize that comparison of any kind is my main inspiration killer but at the time, I thought what I was doing should actually be inspiring and uplifting. As it turns out, it wasn’t, and I found myself floundering trying to figure out how to re-inflate that sense of inspiration without knowing the cause of what had killed it in the first place.
I think this happens for everyone. There are entire workshops dedicated to figuring out what inspires you and how to push yourself to the next level; this speaks to the fact that this is a common conundrum for creatives. We have sad times, we lack inspiration. We work too hard with too little time with those that power us up, we lack inspiration. We spend weeks on end in a space that amplifies stress instead of calming it, we lack inspiration. We spend TOO MUCH TIME on Twitter or Facebook and are constantly fed with other’s successes (and defeats) and feel uninspired with how our lives are going. It happens. And, unless someone finds some mystery fountain of youth and inspiration and gives me the key, I think it is something that will continue to happen throughout my creative’s career.
For me, figuring out how to not spiral down the pit of feeling uninspired meant figuring out what inspires me to begin with. AND figuring out what things can instantly send me to Uninspiredville and actively avoiding those things. They say the best offense is a good defense and I’ve worked hard to build a planned defense and fill my life with every day inspirations. And sure, things will come up that will blindside my well-built defense but I do feel that knowing my common triggers, how to avoid them and what helps to re-inspire me when I can’t (or don’t) avoid them has been half the battle so far in my creative career.
So where do I actually find inspiration? SO. MANY. PLACES. Like I mentioned, I am a sensory driven human so the majority of my inspirations come from things that affect my senses. You may be different. You may be a dreamer and the idea of spending a quiet afternoon with an empty notebook and your thoughts fires you up. That is awesome. Do that. If you are inspired by encouraging the people who surround you? Make efforts to make that a part of your every day. If you are sensory oriented, like me, find out which of your senses are the most potently affected. My main inspiration triggers are visuals and sounds. This means a beautiful, peaceful and organized workspace that stimulates my brain. This means epic iTunes playlists and thoughtful & quirky indie films, regularly. This means a budget for fashion, home decor and lifestyle magazines. This means dedicated time to catch-up with the husband or time to just laugh with some of my best friends. This means Pinterest! And sometimes? It means a day or two away from my desk and giving myself time to enjoy the outside world without guilt. And that is ok.
Figure out what inspires you and do that. Often. And a lot.
Next Monday I am starting a new weekly blog series called, appropriately, Inspiration Monday. I can’t promise anything groundbreaking but I am still pretty darn excited to share the things that make me think, make me laugh, make me cry and just generally keep my inspiration level at an all time high.
I can’t promise it won’t include a Bieber song.
If there are any questions you would like answered, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org anytime. Night or day. Day or night.
i’m yours, melissa
May 30, 2012
A. Hand over my heart, swear on the Bible answer?
I knew I couldn’t continue living life as I had been living it while working a full-time corporate position, trying to be some semblance of a Godly wife, and spending any and all of my spare time (and hours I never knew actually existed) serving my clients and running a business. I wasn’t giving 100% to any single area of my life and there was no pretending that I was excelling at ANYTHING, let alone the things I truly loved. I missed my husband. I cried every single night. I never saw my friends. I wasn’t eating well. I was under-slept and wildly emotional. I saved any social graces I could still muster for client meetings, sessions and weddings and left my family, co-workers and anyone who happened to be on my warpath to deal with the growing disaster that I was becoming. That is the honest answer. I hit my max. I wasn’t myself anymore. And something had to go.
Woofta. Now that is honesty.
Your answer may be (and goodness, for your sake, I hope it is) different than mine. But there’s a likelihood that my answer touches on something you have hidden away deep in the recesses of your heart. Something you have buried because it’s too painful to acknowledge out loud. I’m with you. I am. Those months between where I felt I was ready to make the leap to my last day at my corporate job were some of the hardest months of my life. The knowledge that while things are going to happen that are out of your control, you are 100% in control of your attitude & emotional responses does not make life or handling the emotions any easier.
This was my situation. And yours? Yours is likely to be different but one thing is true; while I talk a lot about emotions, this is not a decision that you can (or should) make based purely on how you do or don’t feel. (As it turns out, you can’t pay your mortgage with emotions.) If you are thinking about taking that jump into making photography (or, really, any self-owned business) your only source of income, here are three things that I believe imperative to preparing for success.
I won’t go much into this one but if you are thinking about quitting your day job and have not yet incorporated your business or have business insurance to cover your equipment and liability? That is a pretty massive necessity. Make sure you have a solid brand & client experience in place to attract your ideal client. If you have not already, run the numbers; make sure you know how much it costs you to serve your clients. Create a budget. (Yes, you have to.) Hire a great accountant who can help you figure out how the ever changing tax laws affect your business. This isn’t rocket science but if your goal is to make your business your full-time venture you need to be dead serious about making sure your company is in a place to handle that transition.
Emotionally before you make the leap you feel like a big, giant ball of INEEDTOBEFULLTIMERIGHTTHISMINUTE and ICAN’TWAITANYLONGERTODOTHIS but what happens the first Monday you wake up without an obligation to be anywhere but right in front of your computer? Well, let me tell you. You end up spending a full 1/2 day visiting six different area Best Buy & Targets looking for High School Musical 1, 2 AND 3 because you know they will make the perfect background noise to editing and by the time you get lunch (because you are out, duh) and get home it’s nearly 2pm and you’ve spent $200 ($40 of which is in Essie nail polish colors) and you are no closer to finishing the edits for the wedding, 3 engagement sessions and 2 lifestyle sessions in your queue.
I won’t lie to you; my dream-like views of “being my own boss” were so vastly different from the reality that it was hard to reconcile. I envisioned waking up, enjoying a leisurely cup of coffee, walking the dog, taking the time to clean the house, fitting in a solid 6-8 hours of working and then having dinner cooked (or on it’s way to being cooked) by the time Matt came home. HAH. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Little did I realize that fitting all of that in meant a 4am wake-up call, a caffeine IV and a time-space continuum miracle.
There are these little emotional daggers that no one really mentions (or it’s possible they did and I just was too wrapped up in my own ball of I can’t do this one minute longer stress to hear them). Like how necessary boundaries are. Especially when you are on your own. Just because you have an extra 10 hours a day doesn’t mean that you won’t end up working until 2am most nights unless you actively create boundaries for yourself. And that a pile of laundry or dishes in the sink (or your dog) can be enough of a distraction to hinder your work. And that yes, yes you can really can waste an entire day refreshing your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds while simultaneously online shopping at J.Crew.
The truth is that working for yourself can also be incredibly lonely. And yes, that is an understatement for this extreme extrovert. After a full work day of not speaking to one other human being, I would literally attack Matt the minute he walked in the door. Hi. How was your day? What did you do? Who did you see? What did you eat for lunch? Did you miss me? My introverted husband put up with that for about a week before he sat me down and told me I needed to find some way to have some human interaction during the day.
The ability to spend all of my time running my business and calling the shots in my own life on a daily basis is such a HUGE gift; please don’t mistake what I am saying in all of this. But it is hard. Like really hard. It takes discipline, eliminating distractions and a whole case burning candles, soy lattes and mellow music and sometimes it even means turning the wifi off, shutting my office door and focusing on the photos. For me, it meant creating a schedule for my day. It meant giving up the notion of walking Gunnar twice a day every day. It meant giving up the notion that being my own boss did not automatically make me a better wife, (dog)mom, cook, housekeeper or friend. (And there is a lot of relief in saying that statement out loud.)
I don’t have all of this figured out. And I don’t know that I ever will figure it out completely but over the last 12 months, I’ve learned that schedules, plans and boundaries actually are effective. And certainly help keep those emotional daggers at bay to give you the space and the freedom to run your business. There are still days where I greet Matt at the door with 20 questions and a serious need to be hugged but we are working on that. Still.
Arguably the most important part of this readiness triangle and also the hardest to talk about. Double whammy.
No matter your financial situation or management, preparation is your biggest weapon. Have an Emergency Fund. Plan for the slow season. Have a real knowledge of how much money you have to make every month to cover necessary bills. Plan for Health Insurance. Budget for your costs that will go up when you are working from home. Things like coffee. And electricity. And…toilet paper. (Truth.)
I truly believe this is the portion that is the hardest. I don’t say that to scare you but if it doesn’t, maybe it should. I somehow floundered through the emotional portion of the transition but the financial part was the biggest obstacle that I was ill-prepared to handle. (See day I spent $200 with $40 on just nail polish for reference.) Even though this was a topic that was covered ad nauseam in our household, the drastic shift in lifestyle change that I knew (and accepted and desperately wanted) had to happen was far harder to actually put into practice when it came down to it. It is a lovely thought to think that these things will just fall into place once you are doing something you love but the reality can be a lot more complicated.
This is why I say preparation is your biggest weapon. Those sacrifices you said would be no big deal to enforce? (Oh, hey J.Crew.) Why not actually DO THOSE THINGS before you are in a position where you have to. Save the money you would normally spend on your daily latte from Starbucks and put it in your Emergency Fund for a month. See how this affects you emotionally. It’s possible that morning latte gives you a solid start to your day and without it you feel unproductive. You should know these things going into it. I had a bad habit of managing my stress with a trip to (insert any retail store ever); this was something I thought would just go away once I was pursuing my passion 24/7 (go ahead, you can laugh at me) and when it didn’t, I had to find other ways to manage stress. It seems SO small but we build habits like these without realizing we are doing it and 5+ years of this habit (in my case) made it one difficult habit to break.
Listen, I’m not an expert on this area but this guy is. You can ignore everything I’ve said on this post but don’t discount the experts. I’m not here to tell you how to handle your finances but there is no creativity killer like stress and financial stress is up there with the worst kind of stress out there. So plan. And execute before you have to. And make sure you budget for toilet paper.
It came and went without much fanfare but two Saturdays ago marked one year since I left my full-time corporate job. And while I still feel akin to a beginner on this whole be-my-own-boss thing, I’ve certainly learned a few things but there are also approximately one million things I would do differently. What I actually have figured out is that this isn’t an exact science. You may already have things figured out. You may not. You might have already given your notice without any of these points in place or you may have had the points in place for years but are having trouble finding the courage to make the leap.
I can’t tell you what to do; the timing is different for everyone but what I can tell you is that this was the best decision I have ever made for myself, my family, my business and quite frankly, my sanity. It has not been without roadblocks and the occasional detour but even in the darkest of nights, this is still the only path for me.
Don’t discount making efforts to prepare (in fact, DO MAKE CONSIDERABLE EFFORTS), but follow your gut. Don’t let fear control this decision. And always, always, always, serve your clients to the best of your abilities. (Even if this means editing with High School Musical in the background. They will never know. Unless you tell them on your blog. Like right now.)
If there are any questions you would like answered, feel free to email me at email@example.com anytime. Night or day. Day or night.
i’m yours, melissa
February 29, 2012
The day I first attended a Making Things Happen Intensive was very literally the day my life changed. I’ve been cryptic about my experience up until late and, it’s true, I can admit that I am the queen of exaggeration (see?) but please believe me when I say this needs no inflation because it is 100% true.
To be truthful, I wasn’t even sure if Making Things Happen was the right thing for me. In late 2009 / early 2010, there was a lot of chatter among my friends and in the industry about the Making Things Happen movement. I had seen the blogpost and I had half-heartedly answered the questions and I still felt unconvinced and, if I am being honest, a little bit jaded about the whole thing.
I feel deeply but by nature, I’m a thinker more than a feeler. It’s hard for me to shut off the logical side of me that wants to use my strengths to fix things and, instead, focus on my fears. Prior to my MTH experience, if I could have gone my whole life without talking out loud about my fears, I probably would have and thought it an accomplishment. As extroverted as I am, I will avoid being vulnerable at most costs and talking about fears and making hard changes in the public view is not something I’m good at. Especially as I have gotten older and been hurt and wounded along life’s path, it has been exceedingly difficult for me to really open up beyond the surface level and tell someone all the things that are happening in my brain. So when Makings Things Happen started to move from a blogpost to an entire movement, I purposefully plugged my ears and looked away and said it wasn’t my thing.
But I had a friend. A friend who I will never be able to repay for her persistence and the love she showed to me. A friend who emailed me the blogpost multiple times and told me to just do it. A friend who never gave up when I told her that it just wasn’t for me.
And somehow, through a series of I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening moments, in November of 2010 I ended up in Phoenix, Arizona in a very silent and very nervous room of 12 women, praying that I had made the right decision in being there. In those 10 hours, my heart completely, totally, irrevocably changed. I admitted to this room of near strangers the things I had been holding in, fears I had never addressed, self-sabotaging I didn’t even realize I was doing, dreams I dreamt that I never allowed myself to admit… I did the hard, emotional work. I truly committed to being open and honest with myself and with the women in that room and I am here to tell you my life CHANGED. The way I thought shifted entirely and instead of things just happening to me, I realized that I could and absolutely should be the most active participant in my own life. The end of that day was the most empowered I had ever felt in my entire life and I never wanted to NOT feel that way.
I can tell you from experience, you will likely meet opposition the moment you step out into the real world; it’s not easy to come back into your reality that did not change while your entire mind & heart were transforming. You might have some of the closest people in your life roll their eyes when you tell them your life changed. Your old friend self doubt will rear its ugly head and tell you that these changes are hard and the way life was before wasn’t that bad; you go back to old habits, you stop doing the exercises, you start letting the clutter and noise take over again. But the thing that is most beautiful about the Making Things Happen movement is that is truly is, just that, a movement. It is a community. And it is there for you should you choose to get over your insecurities and pride and become a part of this community. Making radical life changes can one of the most isolating things in life, but it doesn’t have to be and it certainly is not when you open yourself up to the MTH community.
When I tell you my life changed, I really was not kidding. I have made some big, huge, monstrous strides in my life since my first Making Things Happen Intensive. My business is more successful than it ever has been. I’ve been published multiple times. My relationship with God has been transformed in major, life changing ways. I have created the most amazing and inspiration filled work space. I’ve made true, beautiful, lifelong friends who truly know the real me and love me for that. I’ve found my voice in my business and my place in this industry. I have cut out the clutter and then recut it out once I found myself slipping into old habits. I quit my day job. I have a 10 year plan that scares the pants off of me but gives me such hope and encouragement. I have a life that I LOVE. I have a community. And I have a clear view of the dreams that every day I work to make happen for myself.
I can’t tell you that every one of those things is attributed solely to MTH but I can honestly say that without it? I’m not sure I would have had the courage or have been able to be honest with myself enough to make those things happen for myself. The work I did at the two amazing Making Things Happen Intensives I have attended has been the ground work for so much of how I make decisions and the mindset I use to reach my goals so that leads me to believe that the things I have made happen in my life ARE a an integral part of my MTH journey. This transformation is not one to take lightly and is something that truly requires a willingness to be changed in the first place. But I promise you that it will change you if you let it.
The MTH ladies are offering 50% off the registration fee if you register for the East Coast Tour by March 1 (which is tomorrow); if you feel - at all - a pull to be a part of Making Things Happen, you owe it to yourself to become a part of the family. I know it is a big commitment and I know it is a lot of money but how much are you willing to pay for an entire life transformation? Today is Leap Day and as Gina pointed out, there is no better time to make the leap. If not now, when?
If you have any questions about my Making Things Happen journey or just need that little push to sign up? Email me. I would love to tell you more.
i’m yours, melissa
February 10, 2012
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?
If you missed Part One last week, I talked a lot about branding and why I branded the way I did. But this second half is about that unique client experience that only you can provide because I believe it is arguably the most important thing you can do for your business. So grab your second latte of the day; this is a long one.
One of the first photography books I ever read was Fast Track Photographer. In it the (awesome) author, Dane Sanders, spoke about building a business based on who you are because there is only one you in this world and no one can duplicate you. It sounds elementary but trust me when I say it took me two excruciating years and a lot of self-doubt to get to the point where I actually was building a business based on me.
That little idea, the little nugget of goodness, that no one can duplicate ME is a thread that runs through my entire business. It’s been repeated one million times in different words, but this is a crucial key of what I have built my client experiences out of.
From the time I first meet with my clients, I want them to feel special. Because they are. After a contract is signed, I want them to know how thankful I am to be their wedding vendor and how excited I am to get to work with them. I want them to love me and not just for vanity sake but because a great working relationship can only mean good things for everyone. I want them to be so pleased from the very beginning of their experience that before they even see an image for their wedding, they are referring me to their friends. After their wedding, I want to photograph their anniversaries, their births, their special moments and even their hard times. This is my goal in my business and everything I do from when I first meet a client to months after I’ve delivered a final product is to get to this end goal.
If this is not your goal, your client experience will look different than mine. But even if your end goal is exactly the same? Your client experience will still look different. And it should.
In Part One, I talked a little bit about how I struggled with looking at what my colleagues and friends were doing and trying to implement those same ideas into my business and how when I finally looked at my business, I didn’t recognize it. There were small parts of me in there – somewhere – but mostly it was a patchwork of ideas and concepts that didn’t reflect me AT ALL. And that terrified me because my business was headed down a path that I couldn’t control because I had so, so little to do with it. (That seems dramatic right? Hello. Welcome to MelissaOholendt.com. You’ve arrived.)
The reality is that the photography industry is saturated and if you are not doing anything to set yourself apart from the crowd in having a solid brand and exemplary client experience that only you can deliver, you will end up competing on price alone and more often than not, you will always lose that war. This is a tough industry to be in just based on the ease of entry and although it’s easy to get sucked into the “what everyone else is doing” bubble, there is nothing more dangerous.
In so many ways, branding and your client experience go hand in hand but they are also vastly different concepts. A brand is a creation; a visual representation to attract your target client and to tell your target client who you are. A client experience is almost always based purely on emotion and the age old customer service question, “At the end of the transaction, how did you make your client feel?”
Have I ever told you the story of the one time, three and a half years ago, I purchased a pair of the most gorgeous pair of blue, ombre, 5 inch, peep-toe Christian Louboutins on impulse? No? Well, I did. An eight hundred dollar pair of shoes for no good reason other than the sales assistant made me feel special on a day where I really needed to feel that way.
How is this experience any different than when we are approached by potential clients? I truly believe it’s not.
My client experience starts, literally, from the moment someone happens upon my website. Is my website fast enough so that this busy bride won’t give-up before the site has loaded and click out of the browser and onto the next photographer? Are my online galleries just pretty pictures or do they tell stories and evoke emotion? Is my client contact form easy to use and understand? If they prefer to email vs. use a contact form, can they do that? These branding items tend to evoke emotional responses (happiness vs. frustration that a website loads fast, pictures that evoke an heart emotion, ease of contact methods, etc) and can add or detract from your (potential) client’s experience and interpretation of your brand.
And even beyond my website “experience”, what about my client communication? I can’t tell you how many potential clients I meet with who tell me that over half of the wedding vendors they contact never email them back. If getting myself in front of a potential client is as simple as returning an email? I’m going to return that email. I know inquiries get lost and junk mail folders eat emails, those things cannot be helped, but if you are not returning phone calls and emails within a reasonable amount of time (and most times for me, that means 24 to 48 hours) you are risking losing that inquiry to someone who does.
Past that, to the first in-person client experience, my preferred way to meet people is over a bottle of wine because the majority of my most memorable dinners and greatest conversations with friends have been over a bottle of wine. Some of my favorite movies are about wine (Bottle Shock, anyone?). And because, quite frankly, I just really love wine. This is a side of my personality that has been integrated so solidly into my brand and client experience but it’s not the only way to do it. I have a great friend who meets potential clients at a tea shop because she adores tea. I have another friend who brings clients into her home and surrounds them with her family’s photos because her home is such a wonderful representation of her life. Just like my friends utilize locations that show who they are, I want these potential clients to remember the good time we had that evening over a bottle of wine getting to know each other because that is how my life actually is.
So now that I’ve attracted my wonderful target clients with my brand and initial client experience and they have just signed a contract (over wine); now what? Would it sound too simplistic to say, “just take really good care of them”?
Return their emails within 24 hours. If you promise, over deliver. Always. Make an effort to not be an added stress in their already stressful lives. Be on time. Keep in contact with them. Create wonderful photos for them. Deliver their files or prints in a well thought out and beautiful way. Be a really wonderful addition to their lives.
You will hear and read the phrase “adding value to your client’s lives” from branding experts and people at the top of their game. The first time I heard this, I mistook the phrase to mean adding a physical value for your client in ways of extra prints or products but I’ve come to realize that for me and my clients it’s more about emotional value. Yes, I do give little gifts but even those gifts are purposed to make my clients feel special, taken care of and really loved. Because that really is a representation of who I am.
You can do this. Think about the things that make you tick. What is your Love Language? What are your Strengths? Implement these things into your business. Utilize your strengths and make them a part of your client experience. If you love coffee and attract couples who love coffee? Include a 1lb bag of beans in your final file delivery. Make an effort to meet at a different local coffee shop every time you meet. Give them a gift card a month prior to their wedding to share a coffee date; just the two of them. There are a hundred million bajillion ways to do this, but it all starts with you.
A client who raves about their experience with you is more valuable than gold. The ability to hire a photographer to document a moment or time in a person’s life is a luxury so give them the best client experience of their lives and I promise, 9 times out of 10, you will have past clients who will tell anyone who will listen how great you are.
Which is kind of amazing if you ask me.
As always, if you have any questions you would like answered, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org anytime. Night or day. Day or night. Preferably day though.
i’m yours, melissa
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
November 14, 2011
I spent the first 6 months of my photography career pretending I was the photographer who had everything in control – always – and had everything and everyone that ever lived figured out and it was exhausting and certainly not who I am or who I want to be. Over the years I’ve fought really hard to find processes, methods and equipment that work for me as a photographer and I have zero qualms in admitting it’s not always perfect but everything I do in my business is authentically me. I could tell you what I do, exactly how I do it and what has worked for me but the responsibility should be to take the information and find something that is true to who you are. You will not find a single photographer that has followed the exact same path and there is a reason for that; in a business that is so much about who we are and what we can offer in client experience, uniquely, there has to come a drastically different business from even your bestie photographer friend.
I truly believe there is so much we can learn from each other but if we are just copy-pasting what another photographer is doing (even the best, most successful in the business), we are missing the point entirely. And not only missing the point but also doing a complete disservice to our businesses & this industry as a whole.
This blogpost is an ode to that photographer who is too afraid to appear as if they don’t know what they are doing so they never ask questions. A friend pointed out to me last week that for every email I have received, there are likely 10 emails that will never be sent out of fear. And I get it. I do. I was that girl in the beginning and I can tell you now, being afraid to appear like you don’t have it all together was the single most isolating thing I have ever unintentionally done. So ask. Ask a photographer you feel safe with. Ask the photographer you look up to. Go ahead, even ask a total stranger. What do you have to lose?
Onto the questions.
Do you shoot film or digital?
Out of all questions, this is by far the one I receive the most. And, to be perfectly honest, the one I dread the absolute most. The short answer? I shoot both.
The long answer is that to date, I have chosen not to specify when an image is film vs. digital. And it’s not because I’m a part of some super secret society of film shooters who get together, wear giant robes and say film chants late into the night but because film is so, so personal to me. Film is the medium I grew up on; it’s what I first learned on and those first images are the ones where I quietly whispered. “I want to be a photographer” before I ever said anything to anyone else, There are many opinions out there about the film trend comeback (or for some, never left) and while I have no interest in the debate, I want to be clear that film is where my heart was, is and always will be in photography. I firmly believe a photographer needs to find a medium of creating photos where they find a deep connection with the look & process of the image; for some that is digital, for me it is film. (And for others and even some of my closest photo friends; it is both.) When a photographer finds a medium that they connect with; what else matters?
A quick example of why I prefer film over digital is below. I shot Sarah & David’s engagement session on both film and digital; both images were taken within 30 seconds of each other with the only difference in settings being the film image on the left was shot at f/1.4 and the digital image on the right was shot at f/1.8. Even with the slight difference in composition, my connection to the image on the left is overwhelming. I’m not trying to prove which medium is better; I don’t think there is a correct answer. All I want to do is share why I prefer film and encourage you to find whatever medium makes you want to yell, dance and throw confetti in the air because that is what it is all about.
Some may ask why I don’t shoot 100% film if I am so passionate about the difference and the answer is: I am working on it, friends. One day soon.
How do you get your clients to look so comfortable in front of the camera?
True story; the first time I received this question via email I snorted water out of my nose and had to go back to look through my images to make sure the email was really meant for me. I’m certain there are a bajillion ways to get your clients to be themselves in front of the camera and my way is very true to my personality and my style so please know that my shoddy “techniques” may not actually work for you and your target client.
My style of photography is one rooted in the desire to show someone who they are as a couple. I talk extensively about this in my potential client consultations and strive with every wedding, engagement and lifestyle session to really get to the heart of what makes a couple tick. If they are silly together, I want to capture that. If they are sweet and intimate together, I want to capture that. I don’t want an engagement session full of smile-and-look-straight-at-the-camera, grandma-is-really-going-to-like-this-one images because 99% of the time, those images are not what sets my heart on fire. To me, an engagement session should show a couple how they love each other and be a representation of who they are as a couple. I tell you all of this because I think it is imperative to know a little about how I view my style to understand why I do the things I do to get my clients comfortable.
Early in my career I found that one thing I really struggled with was giving direction to those who weren’t the most comfortable in front of the camera so I dedicated myself to finding a style of directing clients that both worked for me and also allowed my style of photography to shine. And somehow, in the middle of trying to figure out what worked while remaining true to my style, it clicked (clicked, get it?!?) and I found a way to be authentically me and still make clients feel at ease. Sometimes that is giving them space and not allowing my inner photo-ADD to interrupt a moment that is happening between them. Sometimes that is telling an incessant amount of dumb jokes that I can never really remember the endings to. Sometimes it includes accidentally falling flat on my face in a field of weeds to lower the boundaries of photographer/client, even just a little bit, and allow for a couple to realize it’s ok to be themselves. It truly is different with each client and that is why this question is SO hard for me to answer.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the number one most important thing ever to making clients feel comfortable in front of the camera is confidence and technical knowledge of your equipment. If I am fumbling around behind my camera, trying to find the correct settings, I am going to lose the connection with my clients in one second flat. Clients are exceedingly sensitive to this and rightfully so. How often do we, as photographers, get in front of a camera? It’s not easy and it’s certainly a little bit uncomfortable at first.
Know your equipment and then some. Practice until your shutter finger bleeds. (Ok, maybe not but kind-of.) And then practice some more. Read books, online tutorials and your camera’s manual and figure out how to shoot in different lighting situations. However, education is not a good substitute for real life shooting & lighting situations so the only thing left to do is shoot. Grab a friend, the dog or your child and shoot them (with your camera, duh) until they lay down and refuse to be photographed anymore. Do it until you feel confident and then practice just a little bit more.
Do you really love every single one of your clients like you claim to?
I will admit that I wax poetically about my clients and their sessions and wedding days, but here’s the thing. I really feel those things about my clients. This is a much bigger topic but the bottom-line is that I work very hard and have been exceedingly successful at finding (and being hired by) clients that I want to have in my life; clients that value my work but above all else truly connect with me. This leads into a conversation about branding and target clients and I am happy to talk about that but I think that is a (very large) single blogpost in and of itself. All to say, I really do love all my clients. And I believe you should strive to too.
If you have any questions you would like answered, feel free to email me at email@example.com anytime. Night or day. Day or night. Preferably day though.
i’m yours, melissa