What if I told you that I strongly disagree with a piece of advice that a professor once gave me? A piece of business advice from a business professor. Someone who is very well trained and educated at the doctoral level in business? What if I told you that this person is my dad?
You heard me right, I’m diving into a piece of advice that Dr. Fenner PhD in business and ethics, gave me ten years ago that I clung onto like a fly on shit. And now, how I see things entirely differently and I’m ready to go to toe-to-toe with my Dad, and I’m bringing you along for the ride.
Make no mistake, my dad has been a fundamental part of CFP and I respect him and his views enormously, which is exactly why I know, being the well rounded and respected educator that he is, he’ll appreciate this debate.
Early on in my business, I was in college and debating whether or not I wanted to take on photography full time. 8am classes were certainly not my thing, and I thought that sole-proprietorship was my ticket to sleeping in until 10am.
Alright, you may be thinking, “what the hell does soccer, business and a tool belt have to do with any of this??” Let’s break it down: I played soccer for many years, and decided not to play my senior year to focus on photography, so that’s where the soccer reference came from. Next, he’s saying that anyone can start a photography business and I might not be the new hot shit on the block for long, and so It would be in my best interest to continue my formal education, and become skilled in other areas, just in case things don’t work out with my photography gig. Fair enough.
Despite the 8am classes, I did continue on and earned my Bachelors in Graphic & Multimedia Design, then my Masters in Instructional Design. And while I am very proud of those achievements and don’t think my educational pursuits were a mistake by any means, the feeling of scarcity that my dad’s words of wisdom left me with, is what I raise issue with today.
I was afraid that someone was going to pop up and “steal” all of my clients. That someone would come along with a better camera, more experience and someone who didn’t cry every time they couldn’t find a button or action in Photoshop. I was most certainly “faking it until I would hopefully make it” and I was paranoid that someone would see right through me. This fear of scarcity pushed me to explore different ways of getting my name out onto people’s newsfeed. I didn’t exactly know how to shoot in manual mode yet, but I did know that Big Lots had the best Christmas decor that year. I also knew that people liked seeing my dog and my latest DIY home renovations. When I wasn’t posting my work, I was posting and sharing everything else that was going on in my life. Unknowingly at the time, I was starting to create a personal-based brand. I was creating interest outside of my skill and my work, outside of what someone else could post. I wanted to stay relevant, and continue to be seen, even if I hadn’t had new work to share in three weeks.
I was unknowingly setting myself up for the industry shift that was coming, and coming fast. Now, more than ever, people want more than just a transaction. They want personal connection, they want to feel like they’re a part of a purpose, journey, or something bigger than just handing over a check. I was letting potential and future clients into on my life, to watch what was happening as CFP grew.
THIS is the part that I no longer choose to believe. I spent so many years scrambling to keep that soccer ball at my feet instead of realizing that by serving my clients well and authentically sharing my journey, I was turning myself into my greatest asset. My work lands me my first client, but word of mouth lands me my second. Not only am I focused on providing a stellar product, but I’m also focused on building personal connection both in person and online. Because THAT is what no one else but me can deliver.
The magic of a small business lies within the personal and relatable niche. WE ARE NOT WALMART. We are not a big faceless business competing with Target down the street to sell toilet paper. There is MORE than just a product from a personal-based brand that people want to buy into. There is NO ONE on this earth that will ever be able to do what you do, how you do it. There are a bunch of great local photographers in my area, but NONE of them will ever be able to deliver a CFP image or experience the way that I do. One of the best parts of being in the service industry in the first place, is that WE are our most important asset. We have the opportunity to be human connecting with other humans. Walmart isn’t relatable and doesn’t have a personality, but CFP does. The reason that my clients book me is not only because they like my images, but it’s because they like ME along with their personal experience with me. Don’t be afraid to show the world who you are and what you love, outside of the work you’re hired to do. If I read one more Instagram bio that says “loves capturing timeless memories” I’m going to stab my eyeball out with a fork. Stop with the generic shit. We see the success and growth of personal-based businesses every single day. This entire concept is based on the “like, know and trust” factor, which in summary, states that people are more likely to purchase, join in, subscribe or buy into something from someONE that they feel they know, they like and they trust – even if they don’t actually “know” them in real life.
Now, I totally know what you’re thinking. MLM. And yes, it’s true, the “like, know and trust” factor is the very same concept that MLM company representatives use every single day to grow their following. It’s no secret that big business has turned much of its’ efforts to influencer-based advertising. Has this muddied the waters a bit? Absolutely. Now, I could sit here and type out all the reasons that I feel that MLM should not be categorized in the same bubble as small business, but that’s not my place, and that’s not the focus for today. What I want you to take away from this, is that people buy from people who they feel connected with. Who they can relate to and who they vibe with. They will support and buy from that one girl, even if there’s 30 other girls in the same town, selling the same shit. Even if there’s 30 other photographers in the same town, taking the same photos. Let’s use this to our advantage. There’s no one else out there who can share and relate to others the way that you can.
Nobody can take my soccer ball, because they’re not even on my field. I’m not on your field, and you’re not on mine. The only person who will miss or make the net is you. No one is on my field because I’ve made it that way by focusing my business around me as a person. As a human, not just pretty pictures and a transaction.
Now, in all fairness, do I think my dad’s statement was more relevant 10 years ago than it is now? Yes, absolutely. As I mentioned, the “like, know and trust” factor is a somewhat newly adopted concept. I am thankful for everything that he has taught me, and I’m thankful for the growth that I’ve experienced which has allowed me to have enough understanding to debate his advice. You have a choice to make. You can either hide behind your product, service or offering, inviting others to run up onto your soccer field. Or, you can BE the field.
THIS is the part that I DO agree with, but it looks different for every single person. Everyone’s tool belt will carry different items. No, I don’t think you should put all of your eggs in one basket because, despite our greatest efforts, shit does happen. There are many great small business owners who have built a wildly successful personal-based brand around their offerings who are no longer in business for one reason or another. Does this mean I think you should go to college? Not necessarily. I think you should absolutely focus your efforts on what you feel drawn to do, but don’t limit your possibilities for learning just because they don’t exactly “fit” within your intended job description. I won’t ever tell you that being skilled in various areas is a bad thing, because it’s not. But, I also can’t tell you whether or not the student loan payments are going to be worth it, or whether you’ll actually use any of your formal education in the job you land. There is no magic answer, and as we all know, there are many highly successful people who didn’t receive a formal education, and there are also many people we see that never reached their full potential because they didn’t pursue a degree. There are great photographers who learned everything they know from YouTube, and there are shit photographers who have a framed piece of paper hanging on their wall.
One of my greatest assets is my ability to think like my Dad. A realist, sometimes harsh but always honest with the best intentions. Just as he wants to see for me, I want to see you and your business thrive, but I want you to be smart about it. Learn from those who have made the mistakes, give yourself the opportunity to challenge their advice, and never turn down a learning opportunity. And that is exactly why I started this blog series in the first place.
My advice to you is to share your life outside of your work and business. Let people connect with, relate to and vibe with you, because that’s the only thing that you can offer that your competitors can’t. In the blog post “You’re Not Everyone’s Photographer”, I talked about the importance of finding “your people” and this is exactly how you put yourself on the fast-track to finding those ideal clients who book you time and time again. SO MANY TIMES we’re afraid to publish or share something in fear that it’s not “in alignment” with our business. That we’ll come off as unprofessional, or that people won’t take us seriously. Yes, there is absolutely a level of discretion (and common sense) needed to successfully implement the “like, know and trust” factor within your business. No, you won’t see me drunk at the bar on Instagram stories, but you still see my home renovations, my love for alien shows, my dogs, my latest Bath & Body Works haul and anything else that I feel is real and connection based.
Remember that you’re not only trying to appeal to and connect with current potential clients, but also future potential clients. For example, not every girl who follows me on Instagram is engaged. She might not be for another 2 years, but within those 2 years, I’m continuing to not only share my work, but I’m sharing my everyday, real life shit that she connects with and enjoys watching. And when the time comes, and she’s got a little bling on her finger, guess who the first photographer is that pops into her brain? Me.
I know some of you right now may be feeling a little uneasy or intimidated about showing up online. It can be uncomfortable to feel like you always have to be sharing and posting to stay relevant. Let’s remember that at it’s core, this is a marketing strategy. And a strategy is a skill that can be built, improved upon, tweaked and made to fit YOU and your business. I encourage you to practice, explore and find a groove that works for you. It’s okay to set boundaries. I’m not telling you that you need to document on Insta Stories every time you wipe your ass. You will rarely ever see my kid on social media because that’s not something I’m comfortable sharing all of the time. The most important thing here is that whatever you decide to share, however you share it, needs to be genuine. If we’re only sharing and talking when we’ve got something to sell, people see RIGHT THROUGH THAT SHIT.
To wrap this up, here are some easy ways that you can use to start building a personal connection with your online audience if you’re not totally sold on diving right in to your personal life just yet:
- Share “behind-the-scenes” of a project.
- Share step-by-step progress of a project.
- Share how you got started in business.
- Introduce your team members if you have any. Pets count too!
- Share your workspace or do a studio tour.
- Share a “day-in-the-life” of what a workday looks like for you.
- Share your favorite tools or pieces of equipment.
- Share a “then and now” post of your work when you first got started vs. now.
- Share a celebratory post if you booked a client, or sold out a product.
I encourage you to look back on the content you’ve shared in the past 2-3 months. How much of it is actually about you as a person? Challenge yourself to share something that no one else in your industry can share, because believe me, that “like, know and trust” factor is here to stay, and people do actually care about more than just the final product that you can deliver.
Cheering you on from Instagram stories,