small business

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

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. 

This isn't (just) a photo...

This isn't a photo...
This isn't a portrait...

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This is the story of a business. This is the story of a brand. This is how you connect to your audience. And I'm here to support you by bringing the art of storytelling to your business.

What does that mean?

It means sitting down with me, a hot cup of coffee and your favorite inspiration. We create a mood board that nails the aesthetic of your photo shoot. We pick the perfect location (or two) as a backdrop for your story; choose your props (hint: your brand is on point when you can mine your own home for photo props); and style a wardrobe with attitude. YOUR attitude. And lots of personality.

We do this work so that on your shoot day, you're excited, comfortable, and most importantly, in your element. This is where the magic happens. This is where your personality shines through. This is where your brand becomes the story that clients connect to and engage with.

So, I won't just take your photo. I'll tell your story. Your audience is waiting.