Everyone has a story, it’s one of the biggest components of a strong brand. It’s through stories that we form a deeper connection and understand a business’s “why”, which is arguably even more important than a brand’s visuals. And so it only feels fair to partake and take the mic for a day if you will as I share my own; my story with starting the business and how 2020 and the Pandemic pushed me off the deep-end, head-first into entrepreneurship.
As we rang in 2020, my goals and current life looked vastly different from my current reality. I was living in New York City, running around as a photographer’s assistant during the day and grinding it out at night in the hospitality industry at a booked-out Italian restaurant in Brooklyn. All of this hustling was in an effort to push myself closer to my own business goals — to run my own brand photography business. At this point I’d worked with a variety of commercial and wedding photographers to get a lay of the land, all while practicing my own skills. I shot anything and everything, small weddings at City Hall, events, (a lot of events), children’s birthday parties, even family shoots.
My goal were experience and networking, and it seemed I was well on my way. It was right before the true lockdown that I felt closest to that goal. I was in Atlanta for a photography event the week before New York City shut down. While at this conference I had been in conversations with a New York photographer about shooting more regularly for her as an Associate. Things were looking up! We made a date to get coffee and talk about the position, but little did we know we’d never get the chance to meet up.
As the Pandemic started to get more serious by the day, I worried about getting out of Atlanta but thought to myself, “how bad could it truly be?” Flash forward to Saturday, March 14th, 2020, the last day I would serve a table for a very long time. We set up socially-distanced tables on the sidewalk of the restaurant I worked at and I had one of my best sales nights in a long time, while serving folks in the chilly 40 degree weather. No one seemed to mind the cold and they were eating and drinking a lot. It was as if the city was expelling all of its energy, knowing they wouldn’t do so again for a very long time.
It was crazy, that night I walked to the subway past a local, college bar that was packed with a queue out front and the very next day the city as we knew it was shut down. Myself, my husband, and his brother were all left sitting in our apartment wondering “what next?” as we all had relied on New York City’s bustling and lucrative restaurants to pay for our lives there. What next succeeded is a blur of stocking up on what groceries were left on the shelves, attempting and struggling to apply for NYS unemployment, Netflix, and spontaneous Zoom meet-ups of all kinds of creatives talking through the situation.
But my turning point and the true crux of the story comes only a week into quarantine. I saw Alex of High Moon Studio, a Brand & Web Designer, offering a Showit template along with 2 weeks of live training on how to design your own brand. I believe it was $250 which is honestly a steal for a website template and training, but at the time it felt like $5000 as I had little disposable income left. Something in me said to go for it, and it honestly changed my life.
It sounds so dramatic, a class and website template change your life? Let me explain. Alex set this class up for non-designers, creatives like photographers (hey, that was me!) to use Quarantine and the down-time to DIY your website and branding for your service-based business. I attended all live classes religiously as I watched someone take a program, Adobe Illustrator, that I had been fearful of before but always curious about and completely democratize it. I watched, absorbed, and it was like my mind blossomed with all these possibilities. As I began building out my very dramatic, NYC-esque black and white, intimate wedding photography site for elopements and non-traditional celebrations of love — I had an epiphany; this “thing” — building the brand and the website was MORE exciting than the idea of shooting in real life. I saw photography in a new light, as a piece of a puzzle instead of the whole, in the big picture of branding.
A fire was lit inside me and it was burning strong. I began chatting with friends and photographers I knew looking for people to help for free while I learned more about being a brand designer. I watched all the youtube, invested in more education from Alex, from Marisa of , from and countless others. I was hungry for knowledge . I pitched friends of mine who didn’t have branding or a website and offered to do it just to practice, while fully treating it like a paid project and over-delivering. That is one nugget I took from the service industry — always over-deliver and lead with service. It remains
The true writing on the wall came mid-summer. I was finishing up a product photography project I had been lucky to land while working on some branding projects. I dragged my feet to take those photos totally trapped in the house with only my husband for a hand-model, a project that was honestly quite challenging looking back at it. But whenever I opened my computer to Illustrator, my heart raced. Even though I was figuring out everything as I went, it felt natural, exciting, and right in ways photography never had.
And so when I finished that shoot, I sold my second camera, sold some other gear, and kept diving into this branding thing even deeper. I got a Virtual Assistant gig with a Designer, one I maintain til this day where I learn so much from her and about the kind of business owner I aspire to be. I took on ambitious projects, messed up along the way, refined my own brand style (something that is constantly evolving and lilely will forever), led my own brand photoshoot with a team of amazing creatives, launched my website finally, and kept trying and failing and trying and failing and learning along the way.
It’s very possible that the thing about design that sucked me in most IS this path of constant learning and experimentation. With each project’s blank slate the possibilities are endless for what can be created. Looking back on this year and the radical pivot I made, I think the big-picture lesson is to be open to new things and don’t let fear hold you back. While this is something I certainly am far from mastering myself, i wonder what would have become of me if I didn’t try because I don’t hold a degree in graphic design or had never opened Illustrator until this very year. And so as we head into 2021, for my first FULL year in business, I plan to continue pushing that raw energy — to be bold and excited and pursue your wild dreams, even if you don’t know how to get there yet or possess the skills. When you find “that thing” that lights you up, run wild with it and keep pushing…. I promise the moments of self-doubt and confusion are worth the reward of your own creativity.
— Cathryn DeLine of Bloom Allay CBD
—Lindsay Kreighbaum of Linny Co.
—Sarah benner of sarah b photography