My big WHY: Making money after divorce and thriving as a brand photographer

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Oops. 

I’ve been remiss, and I owe you an apology. Why?

I ask my clients, every day, to share their WHY with their audience and to go deep with it. I also encourage them to share the emotions BEHIND their story. It takes vulnerability and courage, and sometimes a big push.

I never ask anyone to do or share something that I haven't done myself. But I recently realized... I haven't ever shared my WHY with you.

Last week, I was chatting with a friend said these words: “So that NO woman ever has to be in the position I was in.” 

I stopped immediately and had to take a breath.

It dawned on my that I’d never said this to YOU GUYS before… I have never actually shared my WHY (and the emotions behind it) with the amazing people who show up and read these posts. I appreciate so much that you’re here! 

So today, I want to talk to you about WHY. 

First, we have to time travel back in time four years. Allllll the way to my second year in business, when I was still a newbie photographer.

My then-husband and I made a difficult decision. It was time for a divorce. Suddenly, I had two months until we closed the joint checking account and absolutely no plan past then about how to pay the rent.

Reality check: That year, I had made $9,000 in my business. You read that right.

Can you spell Y-I-K-E-S?

I was terrified, and I had a very real decision to make: I could go back to my 9-to-5 job as a journalist—something that made my stomach do flips because I had no interest in working for someone else again or in not being a full-time photographer (and that was only IF someone would hire me after I’d been gone from the industry for two years.)

OR

Or, I could find a way to make money in my business. Like, LEGIT money. Pay-the-bills money. Fix-my-car money. Build-a-future money. Save-for-retirement money. MONEY money.

Obviously, I chose to stay in my business. But it took years to figure out how to turn a profit. It wasn't a pretty time.

These years were filled with worry. 

There was a lot of crying because I thought I might not make rent; taking photo jobs from people who were rude and treated me as less-than human; wishing I could update my wardrobe or get a haircut; and wondering how everyone else was doing it—making legit money, charging high prices, working with awesome clients and THRIVING.

It was through many (many many many) trial-and-errors that I finally figured out how to bring in clients who made me excited to work, charge prices worthy of my skills and actually turn a profit.

And after all those years, when I could finally see the light at the end of the financial tunnel, I promised myself one big thing: NEVER AGAIN.

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I promised myself that I would never again put my financial well-being in someone else’s hands. 

Do I want a billion dollars in my bank account? HECK YES.

Am I going to be the one who put it there? YOU CAN BET ON IT.

After this realization of "never again," I knew my why—the reason I’m driven to support creative women in building their empires as a creative force for their industry. 

I don’t want any women to ever be in the position I was in—a position of no options, of constant stress and strain, of staying up late trying to squeeze enough pennies to pay the bills.

Here's WHY I do what I do: To empower and inspire women by giving them tools to build a profitable, successful business that feels authentic and exciting.

You CAN stand out in your market. You CAN make money by leveraging your special sauce. You CAN build your dream business. This is the power of purposeful brand photography.

The dreams you have, they come to life in photos. And my special sauce? I translate your vision into images in a way that is UNIQUELY YOU, so you can connect with your audience on a deeper level, build trust, and convert them to clients. 

How do I do it?


Let’s talk. Email me at hello@courtneypaigeray.com. And don’t forget to share YOUR why with me in the comments. Thank you for being here, you amazing, creative human!
 

xx

Courtney Paige

10 Ways to Build a Cohesive Brand + Make Your Life Easier

I bet it’s easy to think of the obvious ways to use your brand photos—social media came to mind right? And then your website? And then… hmm, then what?


I see my clients using their brand photos is such creative ways. But most importantly, I see how brand photos make your life easier. How? Here are the top 10:

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1. Social media

2. Websites

3. Lead magnets

4. Media features

5. Speaking engagements

6. Newsletters + email list building

7. Profile pictures

8. Advertising + event promotions

9. Online courses

10. Sales pages

With this in mind, let's stop for a minute to ask, "What if..."

  • What if you didn’t have to struggle with what to post on social media?

  • What if you didn’t get that stress headache when a media outlet asks for a headshot to go with the article you’re featured in?

  • What if your clients knew EXACTLY why they should hire you in those precious 3 seconds after they land on your home page?


Beautifully branded photos help you achieve brand COHESIVENESS across all platforms.

Where you’ve struggled in the past to achieve this—suddenly, the stress headache turns into relief. Of course you know what photo to send when the media comes calling! Promoting your business and reaching your clients just got a whole lot easier.

And cohesive branding? Well, when your audience sees you show up consistently, in the same style, on the same platforms, they start to trust you. And when they’re ready to trade views for dollars, you’re top of mind.

That’s the mark of a killer brand that dominates an industry.

Want to know more ways to use your brand photos? Get in touch; Email hello@courtneypaigeray.com to find out more.

"Why are you so expensive"

It's a question that creatives get ALL THE TIME: “Why are you so expensive?”



It's not a question we love.



It's a question that feels, well, a little insulting.



So... what's the best answer?


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The myth of "expensive"


Here's the thing about being expensive: It's a myth.



Our prices aren't just based on cost of materials, overhead, tools, etc. It's what we create from those tools that makes us unique. Our work has a special signature that only we can add.



The creative magic that we bring to the table? It can't be replicated. THAT is where our prices are determined.



If your clients understand that value, then nothing becomes too expensive if it addresses exactly what they need.



But how do you communicate that to your clients? They've seen your stunning work, your website, your Insta, your lead magnet, your live videos—what else could there be?



The answer is simple. Really, really simple.

How to respond, every time

Here’s my answer when someone tells me I’m expensive. I want you to practice this phrase over and over until it rolls off your tongue easily. It’s the only answer you need to give when someone questions your pricing:

Good work costs good money.

And I’m very good at what I do.


Need some help with this? Get in touch; I offer 1:1 mentoring sessions for photographers to help you grow your business and refine your process. Email hello@courtneypaigeray.com to find out more.

My Biggest Risk (And Reward)

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Three years ago, I froze. I was finalizing my divorce, healing from health issues caused by a bad reaction to an IUD that followed a miscarriage, and struggling to turn my fledgling business into a suddenly-profitable, money-making machine. Did I mention I had about two months of fiscal runway to get there before the joint checking was closed? It was one of the most stressful times in my life. I had a panic attack about, oh, every other day. My hair was falling out and I gained weight. I barely slept. There was no room for failure.

On the outside though, I was totally fine.

“Hey!” I spun my story, “The divorce is friendly, I get to focus on my work and I’m learning how to heal my body! All good!”

That was true—the divorce WAS friendly. So friendly that many of our mutual friends thought I was totally OK. And I was too embarrassed about having so many feelings to reach out; I DID get to focus on my work... all day. And all night. And on the weekends. And it crept into my dreams, when I was able to sleep long enough to have them. I couldn’t turn it off because the next rent check was always due soon; I WAS learning how to heal my body, and I still am. I felt like a tourist in my own body, it just didn’t feel right. Now I know how out of balance I was. There were a lot of tears and confusion on how to get better. And it was never as fast as I wanted it to be. SO, with all this on my plate, I froze.

I stopped taking creative risks because I couldn’t afford them. I only made safe business decisions that would guarantee food on my table. If I had only known then how wrong I was... that I should’ve taken a very calculated BIG risk, the same one I finally took six months ago. What was it?

For the first four years of my photography business, I did nearly everything: weddings, events, family, bloggers and, of course, branding. I wanted to be the expert at everything—the kind of photographer that everyone wanted to use.

That was a huge mistake. I was good at everything, but an expert at nothing. I wasn't top-of-mind when it came to choosing a photographer—I was somewhere in the middle. "Oh yeah, Courtney, I think she can do that." was the general thought. And though I was always a good photographer—professional yet fun, made beautiful photos and delivered them early for my clients—I was just one of many who did exactly that. 

At the beginning of this year, I'd had enough of hovering around the middle. I wanted to be the first thought that people had when it came to choosing a photographer. So I dropped every single type of photography from my menu of services except for ONE: Branding.

I went all-in on being a branding photographer for female creative entrepreneurs. I niched down to a small group, and I focused all my marketing efforts on them. I blogged and IG posted and FB posted and emailed and live video-ed, and everytime I used my platform, I was talking about how to create a strong brand for creative entrepreneurs through visual storytelling. 

That's a pretty specific audience, huh? It seems like I'd quickly run out of material, but an interesting thing happened. The more I niched down, the more I found to talk about. Interest and engagement from my audience grew rapidly. My calendar started to fill up with photo shoots. I'm starting to hear from clients, "I've been following your work, and you're the first person who came to mind for my branding photos."

Here's the mistake I was making: I was too broad in the services I offered. If you're at the same place in your business, I recommend taking a moment to examine the type of work that really fills your cup. I noticed that at the end of branding shoots, I felt energized and excited. I was inspired by collaborating with my branding clients. We made some killer art together! Over time, it became clear what type of work made me the happiest.

Recently, I sat down for coffee with a friend and business connection that I'd met at a networking event. Thought there were multiple photographers at the event, she said she was drawn to my work because I was so clear and focused when it came to talking about what type of photography I do: Branding. All day, every day.

My advice: Get specific, and don't be afraid to niche down. Your audience wants to know what you're an expert at and how it can benefit them. You need focus in order to grow. 

Bossladies Magazine Work Sesh

I talk about this a lot, but with good reason: Los Angeles is a hot spot of creativity right now, and women are starting businesses like whoa. We're all inspired, driven, ambitious, and ready to support each other. The woman at Bossladies Magazine work sesh inspire me to grow and go go go with my work. 

One day, after work sash, I sat back and thought about what life would look like 10, 20, 30 years from now. I realized that I'd want to look back at where it all started, who I was growing with, the community that started it all. And I knew I needed to document these meetings of the minds. The is a set from the March 2018 work sesh of Bossladies, and I always encourage women new to business to attend. We need each other to lean on, to inspire, to collaborate, to laugh and to hug.

The HUGE Mistake that Repels Your Ideal Clients

I LITERALLY woke up like this...

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I just can't help myself. When it comes to supporting you guys—you crazy, dream-filled artists and entrepreneurs—I'd do anything to encourage you to chase your dreams in the most ambitious way possible.

I'd even roll out of bed and take a photo in the bathroom mirror, no makeup, dirty hair and not even a drop of coffee to give me a decent "awake" look.

And then I would share it with hundreds of people.

Why would I ever do that?

I'm doing this because you're making a huge mistake.

Would you roll out of bed, LIKE THIS, and meet up with your ideal client? Would you put on a face mask, throw up a topknot bun, and promote your business at a networking event?

Would you let this silliness be the literal face of your business?

HECK. TO. THE. NO. 

Then why would you let the face of your business online—your brand photos—function the same way? 

You should be putting your best face forward when it comes to photos that represent your brand.

But I see the same mistake, over and over, and it leads to hearing this from creative entrepreneurs:

—"People tell me I'm too expensive."
—"My clients are asking for something completely different than my style."
—"I haven't had an inquiry in weeks."

Here's the harsh truth: You're attracting the wrong clients—or no clients—because you're not putting your best "brand face" forward. The photos you post don't tell your brand story in a clear, consistent way.   

"But my friend has a fancy camera and likes to take photos, so she did it for fun. The photos are really nice!"

Yes, they're nice photos. But crafting a visual message (i.e. the story you tell with photography) that consistently attracts your ideal client takes something more than niceIf you're relying on amateur photography to connect with your ideal clients, then you're making a huge mistake.

Amateur photography only attracts "amateur" clients: The ones who don't want to pay full price, constantly ask for a discount, don't put their full trust in your expertise and micromanage your end product.

Sound familiar? 

There is a solution (but it's a little scary)...

People, these days, are quite photo savvy. They know when you've invested in professional photos and when you've handed the job to an amateur. And when they see your "nice" photos, they think, "If she won't put her money behind her own work, then why should I?" 

Bottom line: If you won't put your OWN money into your business, neither will your clients.

What you need is skilled brand photography, which turns your brand story into a visual message that is unique, purposefuleffective and empowered.
You invest a lot of money, time + energy in your business—your photos should be no exception. Your brand photography is just as important in creating a successful business as all the other investments you make.

Do you want photos that truly represent your brand, tell your story and attract your ideal client? Just shoot me an email here.  I'll make it easy for you, promise. :)

xx

Courtney Paige

3 Simple Steps to Compelling Storytelling

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The point of being on social media is to be social—to connect with people and find common interests. We connect through sharing our stories. This is one of the most powerful tools that you have in creating a business that stands out. But where do you start?
 

1. Risk It
The entire point of telling your story online, every day, is to connect with your audience; bring them into your process so they continue to follow the next chapter; and turn them into dedicated viewers who become clients.

The keyword here is CONNECT—and there is no connection without vulnerability. This means you're going to have to take a few risks in the story you tell. Make it personal in a way that your audience thinks, "Hey, I've been through that. This is my story too." Share the scars and the lessons you've learned. It's scary, but it's vital in telling a compelling story. Otherwise... you've got a bored audience that remains unconnected and ready to click away.

2. Cut it Down, Keep it Clear
In my days as a magazine editor, my writers would often call with a dilemma: "I know my story is due today! I've written it, but it's SOOO LOOONG. Can I have more time to cut it down?" Nope. I never cared that a story that was too long—I could always distill it down to the most important elements while still retaining the writer's distinct voice.

That's what I want you to do: Don't worry about choosing the absolute perfect words, or writing too many of them. Write all that you can, and maybe even a little bit more. Step away for a bit, let your copy marinate on the page.

Then come back to it with a fresh mind and a red pen. And start killing your masterpiece. Cut cut cut words until you've got only the most important, compelling parts left. That's what your audience is interested in: an engagingstory that doesn't take too long to read (you ARE still on social media, where attention spans don't last long).

3. Rinse + Repeat
The thing about sharing your story online is that you have to do it more than once. Actually, you have to do it over and over and over again. You'll never be done telling it. There will always be followers who missed it the first (second and third) time, and then there will be new followers ready to learn more about you.

Keep telling your story every day. Share the bigger picture every once in awhile (a perfect time is #fridayintroductions) and then share details of how your story is evolving on a daily basis.

For example, I share my overall story (the one I edited down in step two) about once per week, and then every day, give my followers a peek into my process: How I composed and edited a photo, my thought process behind an image, why I chose certain colors, etc.

I want to read your stories! Be sure to tag @courtneypaigeray when you share so I can keep up with you.

Courtney Paige Ray on the Feed Your Brand Podcast with Tracy + Tom Hazzard

I've got some big news! This week, I'm a guest on the Feed Your Brand podcast with Tracy + Tom Hazzard. They're mission is to get you off the marketing roller coaster and onto the fast track with  digital marketing for your biz. If you like the episode, I'd be so grateful if you could leave a 5-star review and a few kind words of support on their podcast page!

Feed Your Brand, The Art of Storytelling For Your Business, Courtney Paige Ray

Don't let your brand be THAT guy on Tinder...

When you think your date will be normal, but she ends up dancing like this... smh

When you think your date will be normal, but she ends up dancing like this... smh

You know the one: You swiped right on his profile pic, but when you showed up to meet in person, well... He's at least 10 years older than his picture, has a lot less hair and is missing some teeth (ok, that's an exaggeration, but you get it).

Is your brand making the same mistake?

This is a common mistake brands make with their visual message, but in reverse. Your services are FANTASTIC in person, but your profile pic (or any photo you put out there) is just, meh. Imagine if you did that on a dating app: You're gorgeous in person, but you used an "I-literally-woke-up-like-this" photo to attract attention.

Nuh-uh. Nope. Not happening. So why would you risk it with your business?

Yes, it's rad when your friend has a nice camera and can take an ok picture of you for social media. But audiences have a way of sniffing out when you haven't put your full effort and energy behind your offering—even when it's just a photo. And if you won't put your full energy behind the profile pic for your business on social media... what kind of energy would you put behind their business? Uh-oh.

If you're ready to step up your visual messaging and put your full effort into our brand photos—get in MY inbox! Click here or the button below to shoot me a quick message with your questions.